Since Switzerland is home to many of the world’s most prestigious watch brands, the term “Swiss Made” is commonly associated with high-end watches. However, you shouldn’t write off newer companies just because they manufacture their watches abroad. Germany and Japan have a longer watchmaking tradition, but what about the United States?
You may know several American watch brands like Hamilton, Timex, and Bulova. You’d have to dig harder to find them, but many additional high-end American watch companies can easily compete with Swiss names. We researched for you, and here are some of the most notable brands of American watches.
Ball Watch Co.’s history can be traced back to the requirement for precise timing of train movements on American railways. There was no reliable way to track the location of trains in the early days of rail travel, leading to trains moving randomly and frequently colliding at crossings.
When it came time to find a reliable method of timing trains traveling across the country, jeweler and watchmaker Webster Clay Ball was called upon to devise a solution. Ball Watch Co. was established as a direct result of this in 1891. Watches made by this company are still utilized today in life-or-death situations like search and rescue operations.
Detroit Watch Co.
The Detroit Watch Company creates watches that reflect the city’s character. Patrick and Amy Ayoub, both designers passionate about watches, operate the show out of their Detroit studio, where they also create everything from scratch. High-end Swiss mechanical movements are the only thing they buy from outside suppliers because of their impeccable quality and remarkable complexity.
MK II is a watch manufacturer located in the Keystone State. Watchmaker Bill Yao initially launched the company as a watch customizing firm, producing aftermarket and bespoke components for other manufacturers’ watches.
Over time, the company shifted its focus to producing its line of watches, primarily tool watches with a vintage aesthetic. Benchcrafted is a high-end, limited-edition label that pays homage to divers of the 1950s and 1960s, while the Ready to Wear collection features original designs.
The Los Angeles-based watch brand J.N. Shapiro was founded in 2013 by Joshua Shapiro, a former high school teacher who devoted a great deal of time to mastering the technique of engine turning, which has been used to make guilloché patterns and watch dials since the inception of the industry.
He makes the dials from scratch, spending at least 150 hours on each. The Infinity series is the most well-known offering from the company, and it challenges conventional wisdom when it comes to watching faces. The unique guilloché pattern only used by Shapiro is a huge part of the company’s success.
Hamilton is, or was for over a century, an American watch manufacturer; nevertheless, it became part of the Swatch Group in 2003 and relocated all of its manufacturing to Switzerland. Their most well-known line, Khaki Field, was inspired by soldiers’ field watches in World Wars I and II. Hamilton is a highly regarded company, and for a good reason: its affordable military and aviation-themed watches are desirable by many.
Devon Works, founded by industrial designer Scott Devon, is one of the top emerging luxury watchmakers in the world. The company was shortlisted for the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie Genève (GPHG), regarded as the industry’s highest honor. The company’s wares extend beyond watches. They create miniature works of art that may be worn on the wrist. They’ve set themselves apart from the competition by including some of the most cutting-edge watches in the world in their collections, using microprocessor movements rather than the more common quartz or mechanical ones.
The brand’s name, Nodus (Latin for “intersection of pathways”), alludes to the company’s intention to create a line of watches that transcends the conventional wisdom of traditional watchmakers. They use Japanese-made Seiko automatic movements in all of their Los Angeles-made watches, but all of their designs are created in-house.
Brew Watch Co.
At first glance, Brew Watch Co. could be mistaken for a humorous enterprise. This watchmaker got their inspiration for their designs from the world of espresso machines and the coffee scene. Known for its unique and eye-catching watches, the firm was started in 2015 on Kickstarter by a former Movado intern named Jonathan Ferrer.
The Ohio-based Wiegand Custom Watch Company, which also goes by the name Lüm-Tec, makes original equipment manufacturer (OEM) watch parts for various watch brands worldwide. With an in-house lume called MDV (Maximum Darkness Visibility) MAXLÜM that can glow for up to 24 hours, Lüm-Tec watches lean heavily toward tactical and military aesthetics. These watches are tough and functional, have no frills, and are powered by Swiss and Japanese internal mechanisms.
Weiss Watch Company
Weiss’s excellent field watches result from meticulous handiwork, high-quality materials, and time-honored watchmaking techniques. The company started in Los Angeles in 2013 but later relocated to Nashville. Each watch is put together by hand by a craftsman who Swiss watchmakers have trained.
Weiss watches traditionally used Swiss-made movements, but in 2016 they started making its movement, the Caliber 1003, which is nearly entirely produced in the United States.
RGM Watch Co.
RGM is one of the finest American watchmakers around and one of the few American watch brands that craft their in-house mechanical movements, taking American watchmaking to a whole new level.
The company was launched in 1992 in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, by Roland G. Murphy, his initials giving the company’s name. Roland was the first watchmaker to make a premium mechanical movement in the United States in more than 40 years.
The movement, Caliber 801, was followed by the Pennsylvania Tourbillon, another notable achievement that RGM got under its belt.
It might sound like an exaggeration, but in many ways, Timex did for watches what Ford did for cars. They made manufacturing fast and cheap so that people could buy goods at affordable prices. It’s a stretch to say that car makers influenced Timex.
For people today, Timex is a vast catalog of cheap wristwatches made from all over the world and made of many different materials, styles, and gears. They are also known for working with other well-known American businesses and companies, like Disney and the Peanuts cartoon.
At the moment, serious watch owners probably like Hamilton, the most out of all the American watchmakers. But people often forget that Hamilton is, or at least used to be, an American company because it joined the Swatch Group in 2003 and moved its production to Switzerland.
This brand was started in 1875 by Joseph Bulova, who came from Bohemia, part of the Austro-Hungarian state in Europe. The most famous thing about this brand is its tuning-fork technology. Max Hetzel came up with the idea. He thought that a tuning fork with a resonance frequency of a few hundred hertz would keep time better than both mechanical and electric clocks at the time because it would not be affected by changes in temperature and would have a clear tone.
At the end of the 1960s, this new technology, the Accutron, was shown to the public for the first time. It became an essential part of the US space program. The watches are put together in Switzerland or Asia. The movements are Swiss, Japanese, or from Hong Kong. Even though Citizen bought Bulova in 2008, the company still has its headquarters in New York City, where it all started.
Since selling watches in 2014, this New York-based business has become known for its eye-catching designs and affordable prices. John Tarantino, who used to work in real estate but decided to become a watch designer instead, started this company named Martenero. It uses Japanese Miyota movements and parts made in China, but the final assembly and testing are done in New York.
The brand got a boost from Seed Invest, a tool for crowdfunding that lets people invest in startups and own actual equity shares. The style is simple, but there are changes in the design that make the classes stand out. The customer can choose the color of the dial to make it more unique. That is certainly something different in a world full of retro reissues and designs that are often the same.
Accutron was introduced in 1960 by Bulova, which is now part of the Citizen Group and has been a separate name since 2020. It was made to make existing movements easier to use and more accurate.
They were the first watchmakers to use a tuning fork instead of a balance wheel and made the first electrostatic motor. In practice, they use the wrist’s movement to produce electricity, just like a wheel in an automatic watch makes mechanical energy.
Resco Instruments was started by a Navy Seal who loved making watches. He wanted to create looks that were tough and useful for Special Forces operators on missions and stylish and elegant for a night out in the city.
The Navy Seals base and Resco Instruments are both in Coronado, California. That is where the watches are developed, put together, and tested. Only about 1,000 watches are made yearly because the company’s founder is still in the Navy Seals and runs the business in his free time.
The Kobold Watch Co
Adventurers worldwide love the watches made by Kobold Watch Co. Some of their models have already been tried more than 20 times on the top of Mount Everest and in far-flung places worldwide.
Michael Kobold, who was 19 then, began Kobold in 1998. Their watches are intense, challenging, long-lasting, and have a classy, American look. They are lovely and one-of-a-kind, and their prices are also very high.
Shinola is a watch company based in Detroit. It was started by the same person who began the Fossil Watch Company, Tom Kartsotis. The company started making watches in 2011. They use parts from all over the world and put them together by hand at their plant in Detroit.
Even though they started with cheap quartz-powered watches, they have since moved on to automatic movements, clocks, and GMT watches, and watch experts worldwide have given them high marks.
Vortic is a modern unicorn in the world of watches because it combines new 3D printing technology with old American watch designs. There are already a lot of fans of their ideas worldwide, and they are available in three collections: the American Artisan, the Railroad Editions, and the Military Line.
Vortic watches have the crown at 12 o’clock as a nod to old pocket watches. That is an important feature. Aside from that, the company also fixes up old gears and parts for pocket watches made in the US, which they then use in the eyes they make.
A million watches say they have something to do with racing, but many need the passion for detail of an Autodromo watch. Autodromo is just as serious about the history of driving as they are about making high-quality watches. Not only was it made with the help of Vic Elford, who was one of the best drivers of the 1960s and led Porsche to many wins, but the watch’s dial is painted like one of his most famous cars.
Autodromo not only makes watches inspired by cars, but they have also started making driving gloves and have used their experience working with fabrics and leather to create a variety of watch straps.
Oak & Oscar
One of the most successful American microbrands is Oak & Oscar, and you can tell they are a microbrand because they are named after the founder’s dog. Ok, that’s not what makes them a microbrand, but it is true about the company’s name.
Oak & Oscar makes a line of stylish tool watches, like the Humboldt GMT, a modern take on classic watches like the Rolex Explorer. The Humboldt GMT is great for everyday use or traveling around the world. It has a 24-hour scale on the bezel and a style that is easy to read. Their other types, like the Olmstead, are also made to be worn every day, with sizes that are easy to put on.
American watch brands are doing vital work to bring back the watchmaker industry in the US and keep its rich history alive.
While some of these are household names, don’t overlook the amazing work done by the newer generation of watchmakers. It’s possible that you’ll stumble into some excellent watches that won’t be expensive.