Everyone knows the watchmaking capital of the world now is Switzerland, and there’s really no arguing around it. However, many didn’t know that prior to World War II, that accolade belonged to the United States, until they lost the industry due to a manufacturing shift for the war. The Swiss — being neutral in that war — took over the baton and developed into the titans they are today.
That is, until a new wave of brave, perfection-obsessed American watchmakers have decided to shake up the scene again with an all-American blend of style and mastery. To legally label a watch “American-made” is a tricky situation. Recently, the Federal Trade Commission ruled that just like makers of cars and leather goods, it had to be “all or virtually all” produced in the US. As the industry tries to catch up with its European counterparts, few can come even close to attaining the “Made in the USA” title. Nonetheless, many American purist watchmakers are still constantly striving to make as many components back on home soil, though the movements are still largely sourced from Switzerland due to practicality and budget constraints.
Despite all that, there’s a distinct romance in American watch brands that you won’t find in Swiss-made ones — from the industrial, vintage-inspired aesthetics right down to the no-nonsense functionality. The pursuit of creating a “100 percent American-made watch” is still a part of their ethos, and many are flourishing. Some are gradually expanding the number of US-made parts for movements, while others still fervently innovate components to create a genuine experience for the users.
In light of this dedication, we’ve sussed out six of the best American watch brands you should know about now. Expect an eclectic mix — we’ve got one that’s essentially a belt-driven machine, and another that’s put Detroit on the world map again.
Quite an unlikely place, but Kansas City is where Michael Wilson created Niall four years ago with the aims of making luxury watches laced with a good dose of American pride. 70.9 percent of components used in his watches are sourced in the United States, and the remaining 29.1 percent — all the movement components — are still imported from Switzerland. Released in 2016, the GMT line is the first with a complication other than a date, with a 24-hour GMT function at the watch’s 6 o’clock. The said movement is an Eterna Caliber 3914A that was assembled and altered in Niall’s Kansas City location. It features innovative ceramic ball bearings that allow for smoother rotor rotation during automatic winding.
Based in Portland, Keaton Myrick is an independent watchmaker who specialises in custom hand-made watches. This means that he makes his own hands, screws, dials, and even bridges. Perhaps the most recognisable piece from his portfolio is the 1 in 30, a reference to the number that will be made in the series. The refined calibre 29.30 (based on the Unitas 6497) powers the watch, with most components of the movement made by Myrick himself. Some of the elements in the movement are inspired by Saxon watchmaking — the kind exemplified by established watchmakers like A. Lange & Söhne. Various elements of the 1 in 30 can be customised, so it’s no surprise prices start from S$29,000.
Devon’s watches are curious contraptions because they look like nothing else in the market. Following the success of Tread 1, the Los Angeles-based company continued using time belts with hours displayed on the horizontal belt, and minutes on the vertical belt to showcase the time in the Tread 2. The result is a chunky steampunk-esque aesthetic that takes a bit of getting used to. It also features a seconds display function and a chronograph feature that can be actuated through a crown lever and push button. The mad scientist behind these creations, Scott Devon, designs and manufactures all his watches in the USA, earning them the “American-made” badge.
Roland G. Murphy, founder of eponymous company RGM Watch Company, might not have oodles of cash or a big name in the billion-dollar industry, but he’s armed with a burning passion to bring the rich watchmaking heritage back to good ol’ USA. His American ingenuity shines through his creations — even if it took him almost a decade. Against all odds, he self-designed and manufactured the RGM Calibre 801, which is supposedly the first high-grade mechanical movement made in America in 40 years. He then outdid himself with the RGM Pennsylvania Tourbillon MM 2 watch, which save for parts like the balance spring, are mostly made there.
If there’s a company that’s put Detroit back on the map for anything, it’s Shinola. In 2013, the brand took over an old, restored building and turned it into a factory of a seemingly random assortment of products, including watches. It’s easy to render them as low-quality, run-of-the-mill timepieces as such, but Shinola has proven everyone wrong with its on-trend and remarkably high quality pieces. Its latest addition is also their first-ever automatic watch, the Shinola Lake Erie Monster. The dive watch features all the works such as a 30ATM depth rating and Super-LumiNova indices for legibility. The Michigan firm builds all its watches in America, and though it uses Swiss and Asian-made parts, is still responsible for creating more than 500 jobs in its country.
Hager watches mean serious business, and we know that because its owner, Pierre Brown, used to be a marine, CIA agent and police officer. Established to fulfil his quest of making affordable and better quality watches after his own watch broke on a diplomatic trip to Baghdad, Brown developed pieces such as the Hager Commando, which could withstand military combat and intense weather effortlessly. He’s since expanded to other complications and styles with the Hager GMT Traveler (GMT complication), Fliegeruhr (aviation watch), and Aquamariner (dive watch). While the watches use Japanese-made Miyota movements, the rest of the watches are American-made and assembled.