It is quite easy, if you ask him to draw up a list of Swiss watch brands; nowadays it’s even quite simple to name a few Brits, then maybe add a few Italians and a few French. Finding American watch brands, however, is a bit more difficult. The names don’t really come out of the tongue, which is a shame because in the late 1800s the United States was giving the Swiss a hard time when it came to producing precise and reliable watches.
American watchmaking was so advanced that in the late 1870s a Swiss engineer named Jacques David was sent to the United States to carry out industrial espionage activities at the factories in Waltham and Elgin. He came back with such a damning conjecture of the failings of the Swiss watch industry that the report was labeled “secret” and buried, but not before the Swiss took note and started to perform en masse.
Although Switzerland regained its momentum, American brands continued to dominate the domestic market before the entire company was destroyed by World War II. When the United States entered the war, machines from watch factories were used to make artillery shells, military clocks, and precision instruments. The Swiss, being neutral, continued to make technological advances and were also still able to export thanks to special permission from the Nazi government.
Hamilton was one of the few names to continue producing watches and supplying 9,800 marine chronometers to the US Navy and one million watches to the military. By the late 1950s companies like Elgin and Waltham were going out of business, and by the 1970s the American watch market was dead.
Recently, however, there has been a resurgence of brands that assemble watches in the United States, making inroads to revive an industry that has been dormant for over 30 years. Here are some of the names that are bringing American watchmaking to life.
The best American watch brands
Yes, it belongs to Swatch, has “Swiss made” on the dial and since 1969 all its watches have been made in Biel, but Hamilton’s DNA is essentially American. It originated in Pennsylvania, gained a reputation for making pocket watches as precise as railroad clocks and, thanks to the superior quality of its escapements, was the only American watch brand to survive WWII. global.
In 1957, it overtook Bob Dylan and went electric, creating the first watch of its kind; whose movement was used in the Ventura worn by Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii. Despite its obvious Swiss character, it is most certainly a brand whose heart, if not the pace, is still 100% American.
Watch to own: Mechanical Hamilton Khaki Field – the direct descendant of the legendary WWII GI hack watch
Founded in 1875 by Joseph Bulova who emigrated from Bohemia, which is part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Europe, this brand is best known for its tuning fork technology. Designed by Max Hetzel, who assumed that a tuning fork with a resonant frequency of a few hundred hertz, thanks to its insensitivity to temperature changes and purity of sound, would keep time better than the mechanical and electrical options of the ‘era.
In the late 1960s, this revolutionary technology was unveiled in the form of the Accutron. It has become an integral part of the US space program – there should always be one in the Sea of Tranquility that Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong have put there. The movements are Swiss, Japanese or Hong Kong and the watches are assembled in Switzerland or Asia. However, despite its acquisition by Citizen in 2008, Bulova still retains its headquarters in New York; the place where its story began.
Watch to own: The ultra-precise Precisionist
There is a lot of controversy surrounding Shinola, the watch and lifestyle brand created by Fossil Group founder Tom Kartsotis and named after the now defunct shoe polish brand. He has been accused of trading fake Americana and capitalizing on the story of Detroit’s comeback when he set up his factory there, despite job creation in the area.
In 2016, the Federal Trade Commission ordered it to stop using the slogan “Where American is Made” due to the use of Swiss Ronda movements and foreign manufacturers for dials, hands, cases, crystals and the loops and its advertising campaigns have been accused of perpetuating a “white savior” narrative. However, despite all of this, it is still going strong and even launched its first mechanical watch in 2017.
Looks like Oscar Wilde was right that it was better to talk about it than not.
Watch to own: The original Runwell but with an automatic movement
Created by friends RT Custer and Tyler Wolfe while still at Pennsylvania State University, Vortic combines 3D printing technology with antique American pocket watch movements to create stylish timepieces. really interesting vintage.
Old Elgin dials, discontinued hands and redundant calibers find new life in printed titanium cases. You can buy a ready-made watch, have fun making your own, or even get a pocket watch you already own converted to an original Vortic. This brand is also as American as it gets as everything is made in the USA at the brand’s home in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Watch to own: The Chicago. It has an original Elgin dial, so you own a real slice of American watch history
Launched in 2014, this New York-based watch company has made a name for itself with its eye-catching designs and very affordable prices. Created by John Tarantino, who left a career in real estate to become a watch designer, it uses Japanese Miyota movements and components from China, but final assembly and testing is all done in New York City.
The brand took off thanks to SeedInvest, the crowdfunding platform that allows people to become investors in startups, by owning real shares. The aesthetic is minimal with design twists that make the styles stand out, while the colors of the dial can be chosen by the customer to add a touch of individuality. It’s definitely something different in a world of retro re-releases and often interchangeable designs.
Watch to own: the ultimate model to wear every day – the Kerrison
Timex was born out of the Waterbury Clock Company, founded in Connecticut in 1857, when after World War II Norwegian owner Thomas Olsen, who bought the company in 1941, decided to develop a simple and inexpensive watch movement. . Called the Model 21, it had no finish, no jewelry, and was not particularly precise. It was meant to be replaced, not repaired and thanks to its sale in drugstores, tobacconists and discounters it has seen incredible success.
Since then, Timex has grown into a huge conglomerate with operations in Europe, America and Asia. Manufacturing may have moved to the Far East and Switzerland, but all products are based on technology developed in the United States, as well as Germany. He has a reputation for making avant-garde timepieces at reasonable prices. But nowadays, they are also precise too …
Watch to own: The retro-inspired Marlin
If you love car-themed watches, this Brooklyn-based brand is for you. Frustrated that there is nothing more automotive-inspired than expensive chronographs or fancy carbon fiber designs, product designer and car nut Bradley Price decided to create his own watch based on gauges from the 1960s and 1970s. The result is something subtly focused on the car rather than total gasoline.
Due to its attention to detail, only one model is launched each year and in limited numbers. They are powered by quartz, which helps keep the prices at a very respectable level under £ 1000 (unless you go for the Monoposto, which is just finished, and automatic).
Watch to own: The very jazzy Ford GT Endurance Chronograph 67 Heritage