Jan 8, 2018251 views

American and "American" Watches

Someone asked me "Let's get so-and-so an American watch. Any advice?"
There is no easy answer to this question, especially if you don't want to go into the whole story of the watch industry, debate over manufacturing location, material origins, and trade law.
The real question I'm being asked, is what watch is convincingly "American" enough?
Is this the case where Shinola is the answer? Or is a mil-spec watch? Or is it a legacy brand like Timex, Hamilton?
Are American watches...
  • US based brands 
  • US founded brands
  • Brands once associated with the US
  • Assembled in the US partially or completely
  • Marketed only in the US
  • Marketed as American-inspired
  • Watches having an "American identity" or strong association with the US
  • Watches that are exceedingly popular in the US
  • Watches that are exceedingly difficult to find outside the US
Here are a few brands that strike me as "American" in one way or another:
RGM, Weiss, Detroit Watch, Luminox, Timex, Shinola/Fossil/Filson, Marathon

RGM is a true American watchmaker, although they are not cheap.
FWIW, the National Watch & Clock Museum in Columbia, PA is just a few miles’ drive from the RGM factory. It’s a great place to get a sense of our watchmaking history. Unless you find that depressing.
I've had the privilege of working with Roland and the team at RGM on a project that received pretty high acclaim. He's a gentleman in the truest sense and the craftsmanship from his shop is superb. I've also had an especially weird vintage piece rebuilt by him, and the results were equally great.
Am American watch is one that is made in America... the more of the watch truly made in USA, the more of an American watch it is... ideally, if every single part is machined and assembled in USA, that would be the quintessential “American” watch for me.
To that, I would NOT consider a watch made entirely in China, yet marketed in USA, or made by an American owned company, an American watch in any way.
Just my opinion of course... and I’ve got a lot of ’em!
I am really liking Martenero's offerings. The Ascent is my favorite.
Totally forgot about these guys. Very attractive design.
Thanks for all the replies. A few brands I hadn't heard of.
H70455533 Hamilton Field Khaki Auto 38mm
I was able to save the watch idea and change the criteria. Vaguely American inspired design at best and a heck of a solid watch at worst.
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I've had mine for over 20 years, and they are solid watches, and $500 is about what I payed back in the day too. Money well spent
I have the same watch but in the 42mm. Solid watch and a good choice. It was as American as it gets at one time, and gets my nod because it was from Lancaster, PA. In addition, and something I did not know until just now while researching the brand history, is that Hamilton, while still an American company, acquired Buren, a Swiss watch company, and then shifted manufacturing operations to Switzerland. For a few years they were an American company manufacturing watches in Switzerland, whereas now they are a Swiss watch company leveraging their American heritage.
I think Bulova is worthy of being mentioned. Citizen only acquired them 10 years ago, and they still maintain business offices in NYC (Empire State Building as a matter of fact).
Marathon is Canadian.
Movado (the Movado Group of brands) is based in the USA.
That being said, there are only a small handful of actual watches produced in the USA, pretty much as smaller artisan manufacturing.
No one makes an “American Watch” that I would spend any amount on based off that merit alone sadly. If I were to look for something though, I’d probably seek out A vintage piece (Bulova, Hamilton, Elgin), and newer would include some of those brands for the attachment they have to American watch making history.
Thanks for the thought. I couldn't agree more. The story of the railroad, time zones, and Hamilton (of Lancaster) kinda propelled me into mechanical watches in the first place.
I think ultimately in this case, the answer to the initial question will be "look for a different gift."
The thing I like about Weiss is that they are less deceptive and obfuscating about what they are. They tell you which movements are Swiss and which are their own clones, and if you pay attention to all the interviews and blog posts and podcasts, you pretty much know where everything was made down to the screws.
The watches themselves are a bit plain though.
Shinola is more of a bunch of bulls--- artists, starting with their shoe polish brand name. At least when the Chinese and Koreans repurpose a brand, they use it for the thing the brand was initially famous for.
Thanks for the reply! Weiss makes a simple, but fairly attractive field watch.
I agree for the most part, especially with regards to re-purposing brand/name.