The Best American Watches in 2019

I recently posted about why I want Merci’s LMM-01 field watch so bad, but there was a small detail about that watch that’s stuck with me: French President Emmanuel Macron wears one. Like President Obama, Macron seems to find joy (and easy political points) in wearing a watch from his home country. But as I thought about it, it’s an idea I’m drawn to as well. Sure, we’re all citizens of the world, but we’re also proud of where we’re from.

“American made,” especially in the context of watches, can be a hard term to pin down; it’s part marketing ploy, part statement of origin. And it’s not without controversy. In 2016, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ruled that Shinola’s “Where America Is Made” slogan was misleading, as was the “built in Detroit” designation on its watches. To legally bear a “made in the USA” label, “all or virtually all” of a product must have been made in America. While assembled in Detroit, Shinola’s watches used Swiss movements from Ronda (Shinola is partially owned by Ronda). Like makers of other goods, the watch industry was put on notice: to be made in the USA, the product would have to satisfy the stringent “all or virtually all” standard.

I’m also inclined to mentioned that Movado Group, a historically Swiss brand, now has its headquarters in New Jersey. So while the manufacturing of its watches takes place primarily in Switzerland, there are surely some suits in the U.S. branding the crap out of those Museum and MVMT (which Movado recently purchased) watches.

In this article, I’ll try to define to what extent each brand’s watches are made in America, where the brand is transparent.


The “True Americans”

shoutout New Girl, a decent comedy that will be quickly forgotten

Let’s start with the brands that have at least one timepiece that they make fully in the United States. These are the true red, white and blue “made in the USA” brands. Most of them also have watches in their collection that are not 100% made in the USA — they use ETA, Miyota, or other ebauche movements (French for “we source the movement from a third party and assemble and finish it ourselves”) — but the made in the USA timepieces highlight their offerings.

Weiss Watch Company

The Weiss Standard Issue Field Watch | Weiss Watch Company

The Weiss Standard Issue Field Watch | Weiss Watch Company

Any story of modern American watch making has to introduce Cameron Weiss, founder and head watchmaker at Weiss Watch Company. We’ve mentioned Weiss Watch Company as a favorite microbrand before, as well as Weiss’ podcast, “Watch and Listen,” as a favorite podcast. There’s also this fun Buzzfeed video where some clowns go to Weiss’ shop and learn about how he makes his watches.

weiss caliber 1003 movement

Weiss founded Weiss Watch Company in 2013 after graduating from watchmaking school in Switzerland and becoming a certified watchmaker. Before founding his own company, he spent about a year each at Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin, helping them manufacture their high-end timepieces.

Weiss currently makes three watches:

  • 42mm American Issue Field Watch with Cal. 1003

  • 38mm Standard Issue Field Watch with Cal. 1005

  • 38mm Automatic Issue Field Watch with Cal. 2001

The Caliber 1003 is a legitimate American-made movement, and probably the most affordable serially produced one: Weiss machines, assembles, and finishes nearly every piece of the movement in his studio. The Caliber 1005 is comprised of Swiss parts that Weiss assembles and finishes in his LA studio (it’s an ETA 7001 base). The automatic Cal. 2001 uses a Swiss movement (an Eterna 39 base) which Weiss modifies and finishes. So all three have legitimate claims to the American-made mantel, but the Cal. 1003 is Weiss’ baby, completely made by him in the States.

Manufacturing: Manufactured and assembled in US (Cal. 1003) | Finished and assembled in U.S. (Cal. 1005, Cal. 2100)

Location: Los Angeles, CA

For more visit Weiss Watch Company

RGM Watches

RGM Model 107

RGM Model 107

 
RGM’s Pennsylvania Tourbillon

RGM’s Pennsylvania Tourbillon

RGM Watch Company, founded by watchmaker Roland G Murphy in 1992, is the true progenitor of modern American watchmaking. Like Weiss, he graduated from the Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educational Program (WOSTEP). He worked for Hamilton in Lancaster, PA, before starting his own shop in the same town. RGM’s collection is a blend of modern-meets-tradition: you’ll see tourbillons and enamel dials next to military inspired three-handers or chronographs. The movements inside RGM’s watches range from modified ETA calibers to completely in-house, complicated movements. For example, the Model 107, RGM’s oldest active model, features a modified ETA 2892-A2 automatic movement. Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Tourbillon is an in-house, manual wind tourbillon, the first serially produced tourbillon in the United States.

Manufacturing: Varies. Many watches feature one of RGM’s 4 fully in-house and American-made movements. Some feature modified Swiss movements (e.g. Model 107, Model 250, Model 400, Model 455 Chronograph). All watches are finished and assembled in the U.S.

Location: Lancaster, PA

For more, visit RGM Watches

Keaton Myrick

keaton myrick watches

Like Cameron Weiss and Roland G. Murphy, Keaton Myrick is a Swiss-trained (WOSTEP) watchmaker who now does thing independent. Working out of Portland, OR, Myrick is making serious, one-of-a-kind, made-to-order timepieces. He’s doing everything on his own: movement (and parts), dials, hands, all the way down to the screws. If you can’t afford his pieces, follow his Instagram at least. He’s always posting informational videos about his process. Also, props for the OG Instagram handle (@horological).

Manufacturing: U.S. (movement, assembly, finishing)

Location: Portland, OR

For more, visit Keaton Myrick

Vortic Watch Company

vortic watch company springfield

Allright, Vortic is a bit of an odd experiment from a team based out of Fort Collins, CO. They have a few ways of doing it, but the basic concept is this: take antique, American-made pocket watches and turn them into wristwatches. You can even give them your own heirloom pocket watch and they’ll convert it for you. The result is a classic-looking timepiece like the Springfield, above, or your own, custom-built piece. Since they’re made from old pocket watches, that means these things are all huge, but hey, that never stopped anyone from wearing a Panerai, did it?

Manufacturing location: U.S. (using antique American-made movements; re-assembled in the U.S. into wristwatches)

Location: Fort Collins, CO

For more, visit Vortic Watches

 

The “traditional” microbrand model

Below are a collection of brands following what I’ll call the “traditional” microbrand model. This involves leveraging global production to source the mechanical movements — usually ETA movements supplied by Swatch Group or Miyota movements from Citizen — and dropping these in cases (often internationally sourced as well), while the “microbrand” itself handles some combination of dial design, marketing, and selling direct-to-consumer through an ecommerce site. The model has been uniquely enabled by globalization, which enables anyone to connect to suppliers around the world, and by by social media, which allows these brands to connect directly to consumers, not having to worry about distribution channels (the pesky authorized dealer model).

Martenero

martenero kerrison

“Tradition refereshed” is Martenero’s tagline, and it really encapsulates everything I love about the brand. Up to 7 models now, Martenero’s entire collection offers a pop of modernity to classic design cues. Their most recent effort is the Kerrison (above), which is probably the most versatile of the bunch so far. While all of their watches are technically on the dressier side, they don’t feel or look that way because of the playful colors Martenero incorporates into every model. Their dial and hand color combinations are really one of a kind.

Manufacturing location: movements from Japan (Miyota); other parts from China (case, dial); assembled in the U.S.

Location: Brooklyn, NY

For more, visit Martenero

Kobold

The Kobold Seal

The Kobold Seal

Kobold was founded out of an entrepreneurship class at Carnegie Mellon in 1998. The brand was quick to sell watches online during the dotcom boom, and focused on making tool watches for use by pilots, divers, and law enforcement. Kobold was one of the first American watch brands to rejuvinate the American watch industry.

Back in 2006, Kobold was the first company to produced a serially-assembled U.S. watch in a generation. They did this with the manually-wound Spirit of America, which still features the brand’s collection, though they now use an automatic movement.

The Seal (above) is the Kobold Watch that every talks about. It’s a rugged dive watch powered by an ETA 2892 (the date version). But what Kobold’s really proud of on this watch is the U.S.-made stainless steel case, something the brand has been doing since 2008. And apparently, none other than James Gandolfini helped on the design of this one.

Location: Near Pittsburgh, PA

For more, visit Kobold Watch

Oak & Oscar

oak and oscar humboldt
Oak & Oscar’s unique sandwich dials

Oak & Oscar’s unique sandwich dials

Chicago-based Oak & Oscar launched in 2015, and since then has released three limited-edition watches: a three-hander (with date window), a GMT, and a chronograph. As of April 2019 you can still get the Jackson Chronograph off Oak & Oscar’s site. But in November 2018, Oak & Oscar launched its first non-limited watch, the Humboldt. All of Oak & Oscar’s watches have featured a Swiss movement, and the Humboldt is no exception; it’s got an ETA 2982-A2 inside. Oak & Oscar designs everything in house, and has created some amazing, unique dials, in addition to the brand’s own steel bracelet (which you can get on the Humboldt). The brand also has straps that use leather from Chicago’s own legendary tannery, Horween Leather (you’ll also see Horween straps offered by brands like Nomos, Crown & Buckle, Hodinkee and others. It’s basically the gold standard for leather straps).

Manufacting location: Movement from Switzerland; other parts from Asia; assembled and finished in the U.S.

Location: Chicago, IL

For more, visit Oak & Oscar

Shinola

Screen Shot 2019-04-13 at 9.06.19 AM.png

Ah, Shinola. I mentioned its “Where America Is Made” issues at the top. “Detroit’s misguided white knight,” as a Four Pins/Complex commentator once so eloquently put it (shout out Four Pins).

Nowadays, Shinola offers a few automatics watches, all powered by the Swiss-made Sellita SW200-1. Likewise, its quartz watches are powered by Swiss-made Ronda movements.

I guess we can give Shinola credit for being a great marketing company: they were ahead of the whole “made in America” renaissance, even if it was built on an artificial narrative co-opting the history of a shoe polish company (yea, Shinola used to make shoe polish). But hey, what do you expect from the guy who brought you Fossil?

Let’s take the photo above (from Shinola’s new Vinton collection) as an example of their marketing: it still says “Detroit” on the dial, but the caseback says “Swiss and Imported Parts,” as well as “Built in Detroit.” So I have no idea where this watch is from. I certainly now where they want you to think it’s from. And to their credit, I think the watches are assembled in Detroit, but I don’t even know what “assembling” a quartz-powered watch means. I imagine someone’s tightening a couple screws.

Look, I don’t begrudge any brand for using Swiss parts or movements. But what’s frustrating is the lack of transparency. The other brands featured here are up front, in their branding and on their website, about where they’re getting parts, movements, etc. Shinola has not been. And even after the FTC dinged them in 2016, they’re still trying to pull the wool over customers eyes (see previous paragraph).

Manufacturing location: Movements from Switzerland; other parts from Asia; assembled in the U.S.

Location: Detroit, MI (owned by Bedrock Brands, located in Plano, TX)

Mercer Watch Co.

Mercer Watch Co., or  Bremont homage ?

Mercer Watch Co., or Bremont homage?


Based out of Princeton, NJ, and named after a general in the Continental Army, Mercer Watch Company is another super small brand putting ebauche movements into its own designs. They source the movements from both Swiss and Japanese manufacturers, depending on the model. They’re making pretty cheap watches too, typically in the $300-$500 range, which is always a laudable effort.

Manufacturing: Movements from Switzerland and Japan; assembled in the U.S.

Location: Princeton, NJ

Autodromo

autodromo group b

"Instruments for motoring" is the tagline of New York City-based Autodromo. The brand was launched in 2011 by a a vintage car fanatic, for vintage car fanatics. Its collection ranges from distinctive quartz chronographs to more simple automatic pieces.

Right now, their Group B is getting all the attention, and rightfully so. It comes with an integrated (but removable) stainless steel bracelet. It’s powered by a Miyota 9015 movement (Martenero uses this movement in some of its watches), housed in a 39mm titanium case. It’s an homage to the “Group B” era of motorsport, which was defined by technological experimentation and space-age materials.


Manufacturing: Movement from Japan

Location: Brooklyn, NY

For more visit Autodromo

Minuteman & Lum-Tec

Minuteman Watches assembles their timepieces in Arizona, and donates a portion of every sale to the military/veterans charity "Homes for Troops.” Right now, the brand is taking pre-orders for a simple A11-inspired military watch and a three-register chronograph.

Minuteman is a division of CGA Watches, which also distributes another brand, Lum-Tec. Like Minuteman, Lum-Tec assembles quartz and automatic movements, sourced from overseas, by hand. Lum-Tec is headquartered and assembles its watches in Mentor, Ohio. Like Minuteman, there’s a clear military inspiration in its watches, and a supporting veterans runs through the ethos of the company.

Location: Springfield, IL (Minuteman; Mentor, OH (Lum-Tec)

For more visit CGA Watch Company


Brew

Brew Retrograph

A bit of an odd one, but what the heck. Brew Watches was launched by Johnathan Ferrer, on Kickstarter in 2015. In 2018, Ferrer launched the Brew Retrograph line, a rectangular watch that the founder himself assembles in Brooklyn. As he puts it, “the Brew watch collection is design to celebrate and capture our enjoyable coffee experiences.” Interesting inspiration for a watch, but okay. The Brew Retrograph even has extra hashmarks up to 35 seconds so that you can perfectly time your espresso shot (the perfect millennial tool watch really).

Ferrer uses a Seiko VK64 hybrid meca-quartz in the Brew line, so it’s not mechanical like most of the others featured here, but at $350, it’s an affordable little toy.

Manufacturing location: Movement from Japan; assembled in U.S.

Location: Brooklyn, NY

For more, visit Brew Watch Co.


The brands featured above are not exhaustive of every American watch company (and there are new brands popping up everyday). We left off brands like Kobold, Niall, Throne, Smith & Bradley and Nick Harris Watches. Perhaps an American-Made Watches, Part II is in order?

We also didn’t include some brands that seem to source and assemble their watches entirely overseas (tbh Autodromo might be in this category but I love the Group B so included it anyway).