"Made in America" is a label that is much rarer to find on products now than it was 100 years ago, and that is especially true when it comes to watches. Once a bustling industry in the U.S.A., watchmaking largely migrated away from its traditional American hubs in the early 20th Century to countries like Switzerland and Japan, which still import oodles of watches to the States every year. However, American watchmaking has been seeing a slow, somewhat quiet renaissance over the past couple decades as a new generation of trailblazing entrepreneurs, from all across the U.S., strive to bring the horological trade back to these shores. Each of them takes a slightly different approach; some, like RGM, make nearly the entirety of their watch, including the movement, in the U.S., while others, like Shinola, import the majority of components but assemble the watches in an American factory, providing dozens or hundreds of local jobs. Here we take a look at 13 of the most notable American watch brands, spotlight their leading models, and briefly examine how "Made in America" each one really is.
Founder: Roland G. Murphy
Headquarters: Mount Joy, PA
Notable Models: Pennsylvania Series 801, Pennsylvania Tourbillon, 801-A “Aircraft”
“RGM” are the initials of Roland G. Murphy, the trained watchmaker and former Hamilton Watch Company technical manager who founded his own watch brand in Lancaster County, PA, one of America’s ancestral watchmaking centers, in 1992. In 2008, after years of painstaking labor, Murphy made the first high-grade mechanical movement made in the U.S.A. in over 40 years, Caliber 801, whose components are all made by local suppliers, and followed it up in 2010 with an even more lofty achievement in domestic movement-making, the Pennsylvania Tourbillon. The tonneau-shaped, moon-phase caliber 20 followed in 2016, equipped with the now-rare "motor barrel" friction-reducing system, an American invention found in 19th-century railroad watches. Murphy and his small staff of watchmakers also use rare, antique rose engines to execute the guilloché decoration on RGM dials and movements.
Founder: Michael Kobold
Headquarters: Pittsburgh, PA
Notable Models: Soarway Diver, Polar Explorer, Spirit of America
Michael Kobold started his eponymous brand as a 19-year-old college student in 1988, and built his class project into a going concern with the input and encouragement of his mentor, Chronoswiss founder Gerd-Rüdiger Lang. Kobold Watch Co., originally based in Pittsburgh, was the first watch brand to sell its timepieces exclusively online, and counted a number of VIPs among its early fans, including the late "Sopranos" actor James Gandolfini, “24” star Kiefer Sutherland (who wore a Kobold in his role as Jack Bauer), and polar explorer Ranulph Fiennes, who wore one to the top of Everest. Today, Kobold uses some American-made parts as well as others sourced from Switzerland and Germany, and assembles watches both in the U.S.A. and at a workshop in Nepal in the Himalayas, which opened in 2012 as the culmination of an initiative to train the native Sherpa population in watchmaking.
Founder: Cameron Weiss
Headquarters: Nashville, TN
Notable Models: Standard Issue Field Watch, Standard Issue Dive Watch
Cameron Weiss, an entrepreneurial WOSTEP-trained watchmaker who had worked for Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin, launched Weiss Watch Company in 2013. The initial 10 pieces of his first watch, the original Standard Issue Field Watch, were hand-finished and assembled in a makeshift workshop, in a walk-in closet at his home. Originally based in Los Angeles, the company now makes watches in Nashville, Tennessee. Each watch is individually assembled by a Swiss-trained watchmaker, with its case, crown, and buckle all machined in-house from a single block of stainless steel. Weiss initially used Swiss movements in his watches but as of 2016, his timepieces contain the in-house-developed Caliber 1003, which is 95 percent American-made.
Founder: Tom Kartsotis
Headquarters: Detroit, MI
Notable Models: Canfield, Detrola, Runwell collections, “Monster” dive watches
With a mission to bring back high-quality manufacturing to the U.S., Fossil Watch Company founder Tom Kartsotis set up Shinola in downtown Detroit through his Texas-based private equity group, naming the company after the defunct shoe-polish brand that gave rise to the quaint phrase, “You don’t know shit from Shinola,” to evoke a sense of Americana. Shinola started operations in 2011, launching the brand’s flagship Runwell model and expanding the portfolio ever since. While Shinola watches use imported parts from all over the world, including Europe, China, and Thailand, they are all assembled at the Shinola factory in Detroit, a former automotive research laboratory from the city’s heyday as a car manufacturing hub. The success of its watches (originally all with quartz movements, now including some with mechanical automatic calibers from Ronda) sparked the expansion of Shinola into a “lifestyle brand,” also producing bicycles, leather goods, jewelry and eyewear.
Founders: R.T. Custer, Tyler Wolfe
Headquarters: Fort Collins, CO
Notable Models: Lancaster, Springfield, Boston, Chicago
A trio of Penn State students envisioned the concept for Vortic in 2013, using the burgeoning technology of 3D printing to craft modern steel watch cases to house antique American-made pocket watch movements from the likes of Elgin, Waltham, and Hamilton that had been discarded from their original gold and silver cases over the years when those cases were scrapped for their precious metal. Now based in Fort Collins, Colorado, Vortic now offers more traditional CNC-machined cases as well as 3D-printed ones, classical dials that still sport the appropriate vintage logo of whatever model is being re-created, and vintage calibers from the late 19th and early 20th century. Vortic wristwatches now comprise three families, the original American Artisan series along with the Military and Railroad Editions, all notable for their 12 o’clock crowns, a remnant of the original pocket-watch design, and their use of American suppliers, even for details like the sapphire crystals and leather straps.
Founder: Scott Devon
Headquarters: Los Angeles, CA
Notable Models: Tread 1, Tread 2
Watches made in America are rare; even rarer is the watch made in the U.S.A. that cops one of the luxury watch industry’s most coveted accolades, a finalist nomination at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie Genève (GPHG), as Scott Devon’s Devon Tread1 did in 2010. Devon, an industrial designer by trade, invented a patented movement technology that employs a set of “time belts” driven by tiny microstep motors to display the hours and minutes digitally. The technology, which uses a microprocessor-equipped movement rather than a traditional quartz or mechanical one, is derived from the aviation industry in which Devon once plied his trade (the movement runs up to two weeks on a full charge from the recharging device included with each watch). The Tread 1 (pictured) was followed by the Tread 2, which added a tonneau-shaped case and a chronograph function. Devon Tread watches are all produced at the company’s workshop in Pasadena, and, according to Devon, use American-made parts for about 80 percent of the watch.
OAK & OSCAR
Founder: Chase Fancher
Headquarters: Chicago, IL
Notable Models: Humboldt GMT, Olmsted 38, Ashland
Chicago-based Oak & Oscar hit the scene in 2015 with the launch of the Burnham, a time-and-date model named for American Beaux-Arts architect Daniel Burnham, designer of many iconic Windy City skyscrapers. (Subsequent models have taken their names from other architects, like the Olmsted, pictured, and have included a two-register chronograph and a GMT.) The company’s own name comes from its team members’ love of good bourbon (“oak”) and the name of founder Chase Fancher’s dog, Oscar; dogs, particularly rescue dogs, play a large role in the brand’s mission statement, which includes donating a portion of sales to Chicago-area rescue dog charities. Oak & Oscar watches are hand-assembled, tested, and regulated in Chicago, with Swiss-made movements, and mounted on U.S.-made Horween leather straps.
Founder: Chris Wiegand
Headquarters: Mentor, OH
Notable Models: Combat B series, M series, RPM Series, Solar
Lüm-Tec was launched by Mentor, Ohio-based Wiegand Custom Watch Company LLC, which does OEM/ODM production for private-label watches and counts some major watch brands among its thousands of customers worldwide. Lum-Tec is the company’s showcase brand, taking the first part of its name, as you’d expect, from the incredibly bright luminous material used on its dials, derived from a technology the company calls MVD (Maximum Darkness Visibility), which combines a layer of white titanium dioxide, six additional layers of custom-developed, highly reactive Super-LumiNova, and a final layer of clear glass coat. Lum-Tec watches use Swiss and Japanese calibers and have a distinctly military flavor in their rugged, no-nonsense aesthetic. They are offered on a variety of straps and bracelets, including a lume-coated NATO strap that glows as brightly in the dark as the watch's dial.
Founder: Wesley Kwok, Cullen Chen
Headquarters: Irvine, CA
Notable Models: Retrospect III, Sector series, Avalon II
The brand name Nodus comes from the Latin word signifying the intersection of pathways, and signifies the microbrand’s mission of merging the two worlds of vintage and modern design. The first watch launched by the SoCal-based brand was the Trieste in 2017, a robust, retro-designed divers’ watch, which was discontinued after its initial run but continues to inspire successor models, like the Retrospect dive watch pictured and the skin-diver-styled Sector Dive. Nodus watches are designed and assembled at the company’s HQ in Los Angeles, from imported materials, including Seiko automatic movements from Japan. The bracelets feature the proprietary, button-operated NodeX module that allows for easy adjustment in five positions.
Founder: Andrew Waldan
Headquarters: New York, NY
Notable Models: Heritage Sportline, Heritage Professional
Originally founded in 1979 by Oscar Waldan, a Polish watchmaker who learned his craft while imprisoned during World War II at Buchenwald concentration camp, New York-based Waldan Watch Company is enjoying a renaissance under the guidance of Oscar’s grandson, Andrew Waldan, who revived the dormant brand during the challenging year of 2020. Its first releases came from the classically designed Heritage Professional and Heritage Sport collections, which feature a mixture of domestic and imported parts, including high-grade stainless steel cases and non-reflective-treated sapphire crystals (rare at this price point), and are powered by “Ameriquartz” movements produced at Fine Timepiece Solutions (FTS) in Fountain Hills, Arizona. Waldan Watches are assembled and tested entirely in the U.S.
Founders: Ryan Torres, Reagan Cook
Headquarters: Venice, CA
Notable Models: C5 Tactical Field, D4 Atlantic, G7 Meridian GMT
Vaer founders Ryan Torres and Reagan Cook pooled their collective life savings to start their own watch brand because “we couldn’t afford the watches we liked and didn’t like the ones we could afford.” Based in Venice, California, Vaer released its first watches, assembled overseas, in 2017, and began manufacturing in the U.S. just one year later. Designed and built with outdoor and sporting activities in mind, and adhering to the founders’ vision of “simple, well-built analog watches” for everyday wear, Vaer’s collection comprises two major pillars, one made up of dive watches like the D5 Tropic USA Automatic, pictured, and the other of military-influenced field watches, like the S5 Calendar Field, a homage to the World War II-era military-issue A-11 watch. Vaer watches offer several movement options, including Japanese quartz, Japanese solar-powered quartz, and, in the GMT model, a Swiss automatic Sellita SW330-2.
Founder: Joshua Shapiro
Headquarters: Los Angeles, CA
Notable Models: Infinity Series
Founder and namesake Joshua Shapiro became obsessed with the historical horological art of engine-turning in 2013 after reading a book on watchmaking by the late, legendary George Daniels, inventor of Omega’s co-axial escapement. Today, his eponymous California-based indie watch brand is braving new aesthetic frontiers with its Infinity series of watches, whose multi-level dials are graced with a delicately engine-turned guilloché motif. Called “infinity weave,” the eye-catching pattern features tiny squares within squares for a basket-weave look that appears to continue “to infinity.” Shapiro makes the elegant, open-tipped hands and other dial details in-house, and uses German-made mechanical movements inside the 39mm cases, some of which are made of tantalum, a precious metal rarely used in watchmaking.
Founder: Rob E. Smith
Headquarters: Coronado, CA
Notable Models: Gen1 Patriot, Hooper, BlackFrog, RTAC GMT Mission Timer
An active-duty NAVY Seal when he’s not running a watch company, Rob Smith realized his longtime dream of starting a watch company in 2009, basing it in the Navy town of Coronado, California, where each timepiece is still designed, assembled, and tested. Beginning with its first model, the Gent Patriot, Resco has focused on making watches that combine aesthetic beauty with rugged utility — watches that can be worn “downrange” as well as “downtown,” in the words of the founder, who also promises that none of his watches will ever sport subdials or bezels that don’t serve a practical purpose. Because of Smith’s “day job,” Resco’s annual production is limited to 600-1,000 watches per year and will likely never go beyond 3,000. Despite this limitation, the collection is diverse, albeit mostly geared toward military dive watch designs, with standouts like the Black Frog model pictured, with its black PVD-finished case holding a Swiss quartz movement from ETA.