Considering ourselves avid fans of watches of all styles and pedigrees, we here at Bespoke Unit wanted to show some love to American watch companies. The watch brands presented here can easily be called underdogs, yet we believe they deserve your attention.
Indeed, the USA has a rich horological history, which merits exploring. Therefore, this guide will serve to inform you of America’s watchmaking history as well as the top 10 best watch brands still in production today!
We’ll be exploring and showcasing the USA’s watchmaking prowess via the following topics:
Use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to read it all!
Best Made In USA Watch Companies
- Vortic Watches
- Shinola Watches
- Weiss Watches
- Kobold Watches
- Oak & Oscar
If you just want to discover our featured top 10 best watch brands, feel free to use the links above to jump around. Alternatively, scroll down to read our guide in its entirety!
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American Watchmaking & Company History
The luxury watch industry has long been dominated by Manufactures based in Europe, mainly Switzerland and less so Germany. And with good reason! Some of the greatest innovations of the watch world, such as the chronograph or the tourbillon, were contrived in France and later perfected in Swiss territory.
Yet the landscape at the end of the 19th century was much different. Industrialization had transformed the United States into a manufacturing powerhouse, and when the same methods & guidelines were applied to watchmaking, the industry was changed forever.
Aaron Dennison, David Davis, and Edward Howard would go on to found the Waltham Watch Company in Waltham, Massachusetts and make this their business plan. Interestingly, their inspiration was borne of what they observed when they toured the Springfield Armory.
Each component of the watch was to be manufactured by an individual machine, as this would accomplish two goals:
- Mechanization of the process
- Interchangeability of components
American Vs. European Watchmaking
European watchmakers were sourcing hand-crafted pieces from all over and fitting them together under one roof. The folks at Waltham, on the other hand, began machining every piece in-house and en masse.
Before the end of the century, Swiss manufacturers were already implementing similar machines in their own factories. American watch companies would enjoy decades of success, even though the once-lagging Swiss manufacturers were making up ground.
World War I saw a transition to wristwatches that American manufacturers were not so quick to adapt to. The Great Depression dealt the next jab. World War II would bring the final blow, as many factories were forced to pivot their production to aid in the war effort.
Through the tough times of the 20th century, there was only one US watch company who would survive. The Waterbury Clock Company, later renamed the United States Time Corporation (AKA Timex), endured mostly due to the cheap nature of their product.
As such, the explosive popularity of inexpensive quartz watches would wreak havoc on the industry, putting many luxury watchmakers out of business in the 70s and 80s.
Top 10 American Watch Brands
In the present-day, the luxury watchmakers that survived the crisis are experiencing an explosion in popularity. A common thread in their marketing campaigns is often heritage and centuries-old tradition, of which there is plenty when speaking of American watchmaking.
It is this fact, coupled with an ever-increasing demand for made-in-USA goods, that we believe presents fertile ground for the following American watch brands to thrive in.
1. Vortic Watch Co.
Of all the American watch brands we bring you today, Vortic Watches are probably as close as you will get to a watch truly “made in the USA”.
They begin with vintage American-made pocketwatch movements. These are fully restored by US watchmakers while still maintaining the original dial, hands, and movement. The cases are titanium, 3D printed in New Jersey, and later assembled in their Fort Collins, CO headquarters. Additional components, such as the crown, strap, case inserts, and casebacks, are all also manufactured throughout the US.
Vortic like to highlight the fact that each of their watches are unique, a claim often seen in the watch space, yet I do believe it to be genuine. This claim gains even more credibility when you play around in their Watch Builder. With this web-based tool you can fully customize your watch, individually selecting the vintage movement (Elgin, Waltham, or Illinois), titanium case, crown metal, and strap. They also have pre-configured (and ready to ship) models in their online shop.
P.S. Paul Anthony actually owns one of these! Check out his picture-packed review of the Vortic American Artisan Series
As suggested by the name, Autodromo watches possess a clear influence from cars, particularly those in the so-called “golden age of motoring”.
All of their pieces are designed in-house, with vintage cues and minimalist themes being evident throughtout their diverse model line. Their watches have become so intertwined with the automative community that, in 2018, Ford commissioned them to design a wristwatch to sell along with their Ford GT Supercar.
Although admittedly a greater watch enthusiast than a gearhead, we have been keeping an eye on Autodromo for quite some time. Their Group B series, which draws aesthetic inspiration from the Group B rally cars of the mid 1980s, have always piqued our interest.
It’s not easy to accomplish the look of the integrated bracelet without looking like a Genta copycat, but Autodromo has managed it rather successfully.
Their titanium & steel cases possess sharp angles, a protruding sapphire crystal, and muted-tone dials with bright indices and hands. A bold combo indeed that achieves an exceptional look.
3. Devon Watches
For those craving to stand out from the crowd while still supporting American watchmaking initiatives, look no further than Devon Watches.
The Pasadena, CA based company has managed to penetrate the often snobbish watch industry with a shot out of left field. Their electro-mechanical pieces are like no watch that has ever been seen before, and according to their founder Scott Devon, this was always the objective.
The Devon Tread line of watches, with its innovative Time Belt System, embodies ingenuity and is a clear deviation from traditional watchmaking. While battery-powered and rechargeable, their timepieces contain mechanical elements that cycle a series of belts to display the current time front and center, yet still in an analog fashion. As if their initial concept wasn’t daring enough, Devon has also previously introduced a Star Wars version of their Tread 1 line. This insane combination of new age horology with fantasy is certainly something to behold, but not easily wear, with its 61mm case diameter.
Based out of Brooklyn, NY, Martenero has been steadily garnering attention (and wrists) in the micro-brand space.
Their mantra, “Tradition Refreshed”, looks to incorporate the modern aesthetic into the age-old watchmaking tradition. Most importantly, they aim to do this at an accessible price point, an objective often discarded by fledgling watch companies.
With all of their current models sitting comfortably under the $700 mark, many of them even under $500, we would argue that they’ve been prosperous in their endeavour.
In the early days, Martenero offered a BYO (build-your-own) experience on their site for their introductory Ace and Founder models. The consumer had the option to select the dial, hands, and strap combinations to their liking.
With more recent models, while you can still pick from various dial options, the customization options have been pared back. And rightly so! It is my belief that while the wearer should have some say in how their timepiece looks, it is Martenero’s vision that establishes the identity of the brand. And by looking at their recent Edgemere Reserve models, this vision is truly sharp.
5. Shinola Watches
Like some of the other brands mentioned here, watches are not the only products that Shinola brings to the table. Along with his & her’s watch model lines, Shinola also offers bags, jewelry, and bicycles.
But to understand the essence of Shinola, one must glance past their virtual storefront and into their story. Looking back to 2012, within the walls of an abandoned building in rock-bottom Detroit, Tom Kartsotis saw opportunity. It would be in that building where the massive state-of-the-art Shinola watchmaking facility would be built.
Sticking with the “Made In Detroit” motif, it only made sense to staff the facility with locals as well. To achieve this, Shinola partnered with Ronda AG to offer advanced training to their local teams in the art of movement and case assembly.
This does indeed entail that their watches are not 100% made in the USA; the number of American watch brands that can claim this can probably be counted on one hand. But it does exhibit a commitment to quality, and if it’s anything like their pledge to rebuilding a community, Shinola will continue releasing robust and trendy timepieces for decades to come.
6. Weiss Watch Company
The Weiss Watch Company, founded 2013 in Los Angeles by Cameron Weiss, is another one of the few American watch companies who have proclaimed “100% made in the USA” watches their mission.
While they are not there yet, it’s safe to say that they’re getting close. With each model release, they have been successful in increasing the amount of domestically-sourced products that go into each of their wristwatches.
The problem encountered by Weiss Watch Co. and other American watch brands with similar objectives, is the lack of US-based suppliers for many of the specific components that go into watches and watch movements.
The demand for these components had wittled to nothing over the last century, and the suppliers went with it. The few remaining players were left looking overseas for cheaper solutions.
Luckily, tides have recently started to shift, and home-grown is becoming more desirable. This newly created niche opens a void to be filled, and paves the way for future newcomers to build entire US-made watch companies on.
7. RGM Watch Company
Roland G. Murphy is an American watchmaker through and through. Clasically trained in Switzerland, he founded RGM in 1992 with a wide breadth of watchmaking and watch restoration experience.
Since inception, Murphy has applied his skills and knowledge to re-plant the seeds of grassroots American watchmaking. The first US-made serial production tourbillon is attributed to RGM.
They are also recognized as the first American watch company to design and manufacture their own movemements since Hamilton Watch Co. closed its doors in 1969.
RGM maintains production models with a base price just north of $2000, while also offering a more bespoke experience for their higher-end pieces like the infamous Pennsylvania Tourbillon.
Produced completely in Lancaster, PA, this made-to-order tourbillon leaves little to be desired when compared to similar complications manufactured in Switzerland. It’s made with the same time-honored materials too, like German silver and black polished steel.
8. Brew Watch Company
The Brew Watch Company comes out of NYC with some inspiration that I (and probably most of the US) hold dear to their hearts – a bold cup of Joe.
Despite the fact that they got their start on Kickstarter, Brew watches have now become established in the micro-brand community of watches made in the USA. The company’s founder & designer, Jonathan Ferrer, touts inspiration from industrial espresso machines. One look at their chronographs and you’ll see it too.
The cases have a rounded square profile and are presented in steel. The dials are characterized by symmetrical chronograph subregisters, also with rounded square contours, and minimalist hour & minute indices.
The detail-oriented will also notice individual graduations for the first 35 seconds of chrono runtime – ensuring precise timekeeping for ideal extraction of an espresso shot.
9. Kobold Watches
Kobold is another brand making strides towards the rebirth of watchmaking in the United States.
Its founder, Michael Kobold, learned the craft from master watchmakers in Germany. Yet Kobold’s objective was always geared towards the resurrection of American watchmaking, and the brand’s evolution clearly highlights this intent.
In 2004, they authenticated their mission with significant R&D investments. Only 2 years later, they would release their first model to be assembled in Pittsburgh, PA with European components. Fast forward 8 years, and Merry Oaks farm is inaugurated as the first watch case manufacturing facility in the US for over 50 years.
Michael Kobold’s own summit of Mt.Everest, along with a series of cameos in feature films, helped garner even more attention for Kobold watches. The Kobold Phantom featured in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and 2012 saw the release of a model possessing a dial made of rock from Everest’s summit. The spirit of exploration has now become synonymous with the brand, as have their line of rugged and eye-catching sports watches.
10. Oak & Oscar
The Chicago-based Oak & Oscar watches came to be when founder Chase Fancher found himself in a bit of a rut in his life. Unsatisfied with his current employment, Fancher set out to pursue his passion for watches and product design.
While he admits that his goal is not specifically to produce “Made In America” timepieces, Fancher rectifies his objective to manufacture high-quality, desirable watches with American heritage. Well, the proof is in the pudding.
Oak & Oscar’s first two models, the Burnham and the Sandford, both sold out. The Jackson Chronograph, one of their current offerings, has also been wildly successful.
It boasts a dark grey or blue dial with contrasting subdials and splashes of signal orange throughout. The steel case, housing a robust Swiss-made Eterna movement, extends the muted color theme.
BONUS – Hamilton Watch Company & A Promising Perspective
We’d be doing a disservice to the history of American watchmaking if we failed to mention the Hamilton Watch Company.
Even though the original US-based manufacture went out of business in the late 1960s, the Hamilton brand was rebirthed in Switzerland at the beginning of the 21st century.
While the contemporary collection of timepieces now boast the Swiss Made pedigree, their heritage of American watches still reigns as the inspiration for their designs.
Hamilton got its start in the late 1800s in Lancaster, PA, producing pocketwatches renowned for their quality and accuracy.
This notoriety would earn them the pockets of railroad personnel, aviators, and the men of the US Armed Forces. When wristwatches gained popularity, Hamilton followed suit.
In the 1930s, Hamilton watches would first make an appearance in films, forever forging the relationship between the brand and cinema that persists to this day.
Hamilton would enjoy many decades of success, particularly with iconic models like the asymmetric Ventura and the Pulsar, the latter being considered the world’s first digital electronic watch.
But luxury wristwatches would fall out of favor, particularly with the introduction of cheap quartz watches. Very few brands, even those in Switzerland, would survive the dreadful quartz crisis.
Looking Ahead for Hamilton
Today, Hamilton still enjoys their flourishing association with Hollywood, appearing on the wrists of lead characters in the blockbusters ‘Interstellar’ and ‘The Martian’. They’ve also expanded into extreme sports by becoming the Official Timekeeper of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship.
Only time will tell if the brand will ever make a return to the US. Judging by how much watch brands revel in (and market) their heritage, it seems plausible. Growing tendencies in the industry also seem to point in this direction. And if trends indeed begin as tendencies, we may see this happen sooner rather than later.
Do you agree with the watches on our list? Any personal favorites we may have missed here? Let us know in the comments below!
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"Bespoke Unit perfectly summarizes 200 years of American watchmaking history. I'm looking forward to seeing what the featured brands bring to the table in the upcoming years."Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★