Since the 1940s, when renowned US watchmakers were obliged to convert their facilities to wartime manufacturing because their businesses were already in decline, watchmaking in America has been dormant. Due to Switzerland’s success as a neutral nation during World War II, American watch brands never recovered.
Finally, in the past decade or so, the watch landscape in the United States started on a journey of rapid evolution after a period of relative dormancy. That said, American watchmaking is facing its own set of challenges; the industry is tightly regulated, and as it happens, American watchmakers are facing some of the strictest regulations regarding the manufacturing process.
In 2011, as Shinola jolted some American watch enthusiasts out of their slumber with watches made in its Detroit factory using Swiss quartz movements, things took an unexpected turn. In 2015 Shinola was penalized by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for using the slogan “Where American Is Made,” which was found to be deceptive given that the majority of the labor done in the country was assembly and not manufacturing. The FTC’s ruling strengthened a strict set of regulations governing the “Made in the USA” label. If watchmakers wanted to claim that their product was “American-made”, the timepieces had to be “all or almost all” created in the US. It is important to note that the rest of the world’s watchmaking industry is not held to quite this high of a standard. For a watch to be labeled “Swiss-made” for instance, parts costing 60% of the movement’s price must be produced domestically; the remaining 40% of the movement’s price, which includes the case, dial, and other components, can be produced abroad as long as the watch is put together and inspected locally.
Nevertheless, American watchmakers are rising to the task and producing some of the best quality future heirlooms. Our goal here at TheWatchresource, as always, is to bring you the best of the best, so let’s dig in and take a look at our favorite American brands.
Best American Watch Brands:
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Benjamin Lazrus started Benrus (BENjamin LazRUS) in 1921 in New York. At first, Benjamin Lazrus with his two brothers saved up $5,000 and started importing Swiss watch movements to create cases for them in New York City. The headquarters were – and still are – in Manhattan’s Hippodrome building, located in what is known as the jewelry district.
The following decades brought additional success, as new BENRUS timepieces became more and more popular. Their Air Chief pilot watch became known as the “Official Watch of Famous Airlines” in the ‘40s, and in the ‘60s they started producing field watches for American soldiers in Vietnam.
Benrus Sea Lord Diver
The Benrus Sea Lord Diver watch was one of the most popular Benrus watches back in the day, and deservedly so. Understated in its simplicity, the design highlights the classic features of a robust dive watch. The overall design makes this watch a versatile addition to a collection as it can easily be dressed up for more formal events, or down for more casual, sporty activities. In other words, it’s a great everyday go-to watch. The 39 mm case width makes it perfectly comfortable for all wrist sizes. The wide baton hour and minute hands pair well with the understated features of the watch, while the black dial and the faux patina for the hour markers counterbalances the ruggedness and brings a touch of elegance. The Benrus Sea Lord comes with the Soprod P024 Swiss automatic movement, providing a 38-hour power reserve.
VAER was founded in Venice, California in 2016 by Ryan Torres and Reagan Cook. Their aim was to create affordable watches that are perfect as everyday go-to timepieces due to their durability. Admittedly, the founders knew they were signing up for an uphill battle. 2016 was the height of fast fashion, a world dominated by lightning-speed trends driven by digital connectivity. Nevertheless, the idea was born and a growing sense of possibility pervaded. They knew there was still a place for well-made analog watches, and there always will be. We could not agree more!
So, in an attempt to create a legacy of lasting quality and design, VAER was born.
Vaer D5 Meridian Navy
The VAER D5 Meridian Navy is a serious dive watch with a touch of elegance: the warm-toned secondary colors on the dial make this timepiece a perfect choice as an everyday go-to watch as it is easy to dress up or down. Its reliable Miyota 9039 automatic movement provides a 40-hours power reserve. The combination of the sword style for the hour hand and the pencil style of the minute hand is an unusual solution, but they work really well together. The overall angles and ruggedness is counterbalanced with the lollipop second hand to provide the elegance that makes this watch a well-rounded timepiece.
Honorable Mention: Hamilton
Since it was founded in the U.S in 1892, Hamilton has deep roots in the United States of America. The original Hamilton factory was located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and the business spent the first 111 years of its existence there. In their own words “Hamilton watches now have the prestigious Swiss made label, but Hamilton is still American at heart, just as it was when it was first established in Pennsylvania in 1892.”.
Hamilton relocated both the headquarters and the production facilities to Biel (or Bienne), Switzerland in 2003 when the Hamilton Watch Company became a part of the Swatch Group. The move allowed Hamilton to add the ultimate quality mark “Swiss made” to each watch produced in the new location.
Hamilton Khaki Navy Scuba Auto
Luxury meets sport in this Hamilton Khaki Navy Scuba watch. Designed to be equally functional during a vacation near the beach or during deep sea exploring. The ceramic bezel protects it from corrosive elements such as sand and saltwater. With a larger 43mm case, increased water resistance to 30 bar (300m), this high performance watch is ready for all your adventures on, in or under the water.
In Rochester, New York, in 1877, the Shinola shoe polish company was established and it went out of business in 1960. Tom Kartsotis re-founded the Detroit-based Shinola in 2011 through his investment firm, Bedrock. Kartsotis, who had previously founded the Fossil Group, aimed to establish an American company that produced high-end watches to compete with Swiss watchmakers on a more affordable scale. After a colleague responded to Kartsotis’ stated goals for the firm with the phrase “You don’t know shit from Shinola,” (a phrase from the World War I era), the joke sparked an important debate about revitalizing the Shinola name, and Bedrock decided to purchase the Shinola brand.
Technically, every Shinola watch is made in the United States. However, a large number of the components used in Shinola watches are produced in Thailand, China, and Europe. Companies headquartered in Switzerland own the factories that produce certain components. Aside from a few specialized businesses like RGM in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, no American watchmaker has made watches on a large scale since the late 1960s. The slogan “Where American is Made” used by Shinola was dropped when the Federal Trade Commission asked for modifications to certain marketing and labeling techniques. Detroit’s status as a major global manufacturing base has been widely marketed by Shinola.
Shinola The Runwell Chrono 41 mm
Shinola released a limited-edition watch with the name “the Runwell” in March 2013, a timepiece that perfectly encapsulated Shinola’s dedication to traditional design, high-quality craftsmanship, and American production.
The 41 mm Runwell Chrono brings us a classic looking watch with a modern twist: the signature Arabic numerals and 2 sub-dials. The stainless steel case, blue dial and brown leather strap combination adds visual appeal and the result is a reliable, comfortable, and stylish timepiece that can be your new best friend for almost all occasions.
The founder and designer of Brew Watches, Jonathan Ferrer, has a refreshing view of everyday things in life: “a coffee break is less about the consumption of coffee and more about savoring – savoring that very moment in time.” His goal is to incorporate this statement into Brew Watches.
The Brew watch collection was created to commemorate and record our “memorable coffee experiences”. Industrial espresso machines, which have a unique combination of warm contrasting colors and a range of brushing effects, served as his inspiration. Every component used to make Brew watches is highlighted by the mix of colors and textures. They convey their own industrial essence with distinctive vented aesthetics found on the sides, caseback, and crown, much like an espresso machine.
The goal is to have a stronger sense of connection to the daily routine they value. In addition to letting you relate to a special timepiece on a personal level and remembering the importance of time.
Brew Retrograph Cobalt
Martenero set out to create a contemporary watch brand in a field that has been established for millennia. Martenero is a modern brand that produces original,and well-made watches.
The brand was launched in early 2014, and they have been experimenting with different textures and finishes. Bright, popping colors are usually a part of the Martenero designs. However, the timepieces aren’t about looks only – they’re functional and practical for everyday use.
The brand is based in New York where they find inspiration to create their truly unique everyday watches.
We simply love Martenero’s take on a modern dive watch: the recognizable unidirectional bezel found on most diver watches is combined with clean, minimalistic, elegant elements. A real gem, this watch will fit most wrists given its comfortable case size. An outstanding, unique choice.
Monta is a young American company located in St. Louis, Missouri. Their watches are mainly stainless steel sport watches with limited availability, but their collection is always expanding, so we think Monta is a very exciting brand for everyone to keep an eye on!
The finest components are used to create Monta timepieces, which are then assembled by skilled watchmakers in Switzerland to guarantee that each component functions properly. The entire process is done by hand.
To start with one of our favorite features, we wanted to highlight the self-winding, mechanical, bidirectional MONTA Caliber M-22 movement that powers the Oceanking. It is produced, assembled, and tested in Switzerland. The movement’s power reserve is 42 hours, which makes it perfect for an everyday watch. Additionally, the 40 mm case size is perfect and comfortable for all wrist sizes. An absolute must-have in our books!
Since the company’s mission is to “embrace adventure,” these primarily American-made timepieces are engineered to withstand the elements. Michael Kobold put his timepieces to test when he climbed Mount Everest in 2009. It now produces watches and watch straps in its own US workshops, and in 2012 it also partnered with a factory in Germany and created an atelier in Kathmandu, Nepal. Each Kobold is individually constructed in their U.S., German, and Nepali studios. Kobold watches are produced, assembled, and tested internally after being conceived, prototyped, and manufactured. Additionally, a 10-year guarantee is offered by the brand.
Kobold The Spirit of America
The Spirit of America is Kobold’s response to the trend of exporting American manufacturing jobs. They started a mission of creating the first serially manufactured American watch utilizing as many U.S.-made parts as they could.
The founder, Cameron Weiss had a fascination with timepieces at a very young age. He attempted to fix his first wrist watch at the age of 5, and later he requested his parents for some unconventional gifts for his high school graduation: watchmaking equipment and books. They complied gladly, enthusiastically embracing his artistic vision. Cameron enrolled at the University of Southern California’s business program with the intention of realizing his dream of starting a watch company. After leaving USC, he enrolled in a watchmaker apprenticeship program. He learned the craft of repair and how to fabricate watch components by hand on lathes throughout this full-time, two-year course of study. He then pursued additional certifications with Swiss and American watchmakers Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin.
He worked on honing his technique for ten years before starting Weiss Watch Company with his wife Whitney in 2013. Over 300 hours were spent manually assembling and finishing the first 10 watches in his dining room.
Weiss Watch Company is still a family-owned business today. Handcrafted from conception to completion, each watch combines traditional methods with cutting-edge technology. We also have American watchmakers who have received Swiss training and certification on staff, assuring the quality of every stage of our procedure.
Weiss 42 mm Standard Issue Field Watch
The Weiss 42 mm Standard Issue Field Watch has been redesigned with modern needs and way of life in mind and has timeless contemporary details like sapphires, hand-painted naval brass, and strong canvas straps. The timepiece comes with a mechanical movement and they are hand-finished and assembled. These watches are made to order, so receiving them might take a little longer but we think it’s worth the wait.
The world of Autodromo is the brainchild of its creator, industrial designer Bradley Price, who set out to create one-of-a-kind watches that capture the essence of driving. The timepieces are aesthetically inspired by a bygone era of automobiles when driving required elegance, confidence, and possibly a hint of peril.
The design aesthetic of Autodromo combines a modern, minimalist feel with antique, mid-century appeal. The end results fit in both the past and the present as well. Everything Autodromo does is created in-house by a small, dedicated staff with the intention of providing a unique, unforgettable experience.
Autodromo Vallelunga Automatic
The Vallelunga is named after the well-known racetrack outside of Rome. The design was influenced by racing tachometers from the late 1960s and returns to the Autodromo aesthetic’s initial minimalist spirit. The size is a very comfortable 40 mm case width and the automatic Miyota 8315 movement ensures your watch will be a worthy companion on all future road trips.
Detroit Watch Company
Detroit is the place where the watches made by the Detroit Watch Company are created, from start to finish. Their mission is to provide high-quality Swiss mechanical movements paired with timeless design from their Michigan studio. Each timepiece is hand-assembled and regulated there.
The Detroit Watch Company collections employ Swiss Eta and Sellita automatic movements.
The 1701 Pontchartrain Exhibition Classic Big Crown
This watch is a true homage to Detroit’s history: Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit was founded by French officer, Antoine Laumet de la Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac in 1701 as the first permanent French settlement and a new hub of fur trade and military power – sent by France’s King Louis XIV.
Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit, named in honor of Louis Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain, Louis XIV’s minister of sea and colonies, was constructed alongside the Detroit River to defend the French fur trade from the British.
In 1992, Roland G. Murphy, an American watchmaker, started RGM Watch Company. It all began when he was a senior in high school and spent half a day constructing cabinets for a clock manufacturer. His passion for watches gradually increased, and in the early 1980s he enrolled at Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s Bowman Technical School. He continued his education in Switzerland in 1986 after being accepted into the Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educational Program (WOSTEP). Following WOSTEP, SMH engaged him to work in product development for the Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based Hamilton Watch Co. He received a promotion to Technical Manager after a few years, and he held that position until he started RGM in 1992.
RGM Model 150
The RGM Model 150 brings back elements from the classic pilot watches. The dial is easy to read after a quick glance and beautifully pairs with the large sub-second and bigger crown to truly represent the pilot watches from the first half of the 20th century.
By repairing old, vintage watches with American-made straps, cases, spacers, and crystals, Vortic adds a clever twist to the history of American watchmaking. The creators made the decision to concentrate on giving worn items a new life after being inspired by the millions of American-made timepieces that were formerly produced on US soil and passed down to newer generations.
Vortic is also in the business of purchasing unwanted or no longer needed heirlooms. So, whether you want to sell an heirloom or are wanting to buy a completely unique and locally crafted timepiece, Vortic will be at your service.