High end watchmaking is often associated with the label “Swiss Made”, and that’s fine considering the top and most respected brands in the industry are indeed Swiss, but it doesn’t mean we should ignore up and coming brands that craft their timepieces elsewhere.
Sure, Germany and Japan are close behind with a long tradition as well, but what about American watchmaking?
It feels like the US was left behind in this regard a long time ago – when they entered WWII and switched most of their industries to aid the war effort, but if you pay close attention, you’ll find out that there are a couple of American watch brands that are bringing the tradition back and resurrecting the American watch industry.
For sure you know the already famous Hamilton, Timex, or Bulova, but those are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to American watchmaking.
There are plenty of other American watch brands that offer high end timepieces that could easily compete with Swiss brands, but you’d have to dig a little bit deeper, as they aren’t so well known.
We’ve done just that, and below we’re offering a roundup of some of the best American watch brands that you should know about.
20. Ball Watch
Ball Watch Co.’s story is closely tied to that of the American railroads, as it all started from a very real need of precisely timing train movements.
In the early days of railroad transportation, trains would move chaotically and often times end up colling with each other at crossings due to the fact that there was no accurate system in place to track their movements in time. Everything relied on the inaccurate readings of train workers’ watches.
That’s when jeweler and watchmaker Webster Clay Ball was tasked with creating a system to ensure a standardized and precise system for timing trains moving around the country, and that led to the birth of Ball Watch Co. in 1891.
Today, they still craft incredibly accurate timepieces that are used in extreme conditions and in domains where lives are at stake, such as search and rescue operations.
19. Detroit Watch Co.
The Detroit Watch Company tries to capture the spirit of the city into their timepieces. The company is run by a couple, Patrick and Amy Ayoub, both designers with a love for timepieces, designing and assembling everything, by hand in their Detroit studio.
The only thing they source externally are the high end Swiss mechanical movements, chosen for their reliability and their outstanding complexity.
Launched in 1960 by Bulova, now part of the Citizen Group and a standalone brand since 2020, Accutron was created with the purpose of simplifying existing movements and improving their accuracy.
They’ve been the first watchmaker to ever use a tuning fork instead of a balance wheel for their watches, and the inventors of the world’s first electrostatic movement. Practically, they use the movement of the wrist to generate electricity, in a similar way in which the rotor in an automatic calibre creates mechanical energy.
17. MK II
MK II is a watch company based in Pennsylvania. It was founded by watchmaker Bill Yao, initially as a watch customization brand, making third party and custom parts for watches from other brands.
It eventually evolved into making its own vintage inspired timepieces, most of them tool watches. They have two important collections in their lineup, the Ready To Wear, which offers original designs, and the Benchcrafted series, which is a high-end and limited edition line that pays homage to divers of the 1950s and 1960s.
16. Resco Instruments
Resco Instruments was born out of a Navy Seal’s passion for watchmaking, combining the ruggedness and utility needed by special forces operators during missions, with the elegance and aesthetic needed on a night out in the city.
The watches are designed, assembled, and tested in Coronado, California, where both the Navy Seals base and Resco Instruments are located. The production is limited to no more than 1,000 pieces per year, and that’s because the founder is still an active duty Navy Seal, who runs the watch company in his spare time.
The American brand has an obvious preference for manufacturing practical dive watches, so despite their high quality and utility, they’re not for everyone.
15. J.N. Shapiro
J.N. Shapiro is a watch company founded in 2013 in Los Angeles, California, by Joshua Shapiro, a former high school teacher who spent a tremendous amount of time perfecting his skills in the art of engine turning, used in creating guilloché patterns and watch dials since the beginning of watchmaking.
Today, he creates the dials himself, spending a minimum of 150 hours on each, before calling them complete. The brand is most known for its Infinity collection, which stretches what’s thought possible on watch dials. Shapiro’s very own guilloché motif is extremely eye catching, and it’s the primary source of the brand’s success.
Timex is an old and very well known name in the watch world. The company’s story goes back to 1854, when it started under the name of Waterbury Clock Company.
The name change to Timex came only in 1941, and since then, they’ve become famous for their extremely affordable but very usable timepieces, cherished by people all over the world.
Like Timex, Bulova is one of the oldest American watchmakers, founded back in 1875 in New York. Since their inception, they’ve gone worldwide famous, captivating the world with their innovations and timepieces.
They’ve always been among the first to innovate, which is also why they’ve been able to stay ahead of many well known brands.
They also made watch prototypes to NASA’s specifications, which is how one of their watches got to the moon in 1971, during the Apollo 15 mission, worn by Dave Scott as his personal backup watch, a lesser known story of a moonwatch, remade today as the Bulova Lunar Pilot.
Though in 2003 it became part of the Swatch Group and moved its production entirely to Switzerland, Hamilton is, or was for over 100 years, an American watch company.
Their most famous collection is the Khaki Field, which draws inspiration from field watches of old, worn by soldiers during the the two world wars. Their military and aviation inspired watches are also relatively accessible, which makes Hamilton one of the most cherished watchmakers in the world.
11. Devon Works
Founded by an industrial designer, Scott Devon, Devon Works, is one of the best up and coming luxury watchmakers on the globe, one which managed to get a finalist nomination at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie Genève (GPHG), the watch world’s most coveted accolades.
The brand doesn’t just do watches. What they do is engineering masterpieces worn on the wrist. Their collections include some of the most innovative timepieces the world has ever seen, using a microprocessor movement instead of the traditional quartz or mechanical, setting themselves apart from the rest of the industry.
Autodromo is one of those brands that take the racing heritage seriously, and combine it with high end watchmaking, pouring all the care and attention to detail into their driving inspired timepieces.
It’s a young watchmaker, born in 2011, but one that got a good start producing extremely well made racing themed timepieces. Their watches have a wonderful blend of the that old racing spirit and novel and original ideas, and they’re often more affordable than most European based equivalents.
Nodus is latin for intersection of pathways, and refers to the brand’s purpose of combining the vintage and the modern together in a collection of watches that goes beyond what most watchmakers have used us with.
Their watches are all designed and crafted at their facility in Los Angeles, but equip them with Seiko automatic movements coming from Japan.
8. Kobold Watch Co.
Kobold Watch Co. is a watchmaker praised by adventurers all over the world. Some of their models have already been tested in various adventures to far corners of the globe, including the peak of Mount Everest – more than 20 times.
Kobold was founded in 1998 by Michael Kobold, 19 year old at the time. Their watches are robust, rugged, durable, and have that American classiness to them. They’re extremely beautiful and unique, and their prices rise to a very high level as well.
7. Brew Watch Co.
Brew Watch Co. might sound like a joke at first, but it’s not. It’s a watchmaker that takes design cues from the world of espresso machines and the coffee culture.
The company was founded in 2015 on Kickstarter by a former Movado intern, Jonathan Ferrer, and made a name for itself with their collection of very interesting and original looking timepieces.
6. Shinola Watches
Shinola is a watch company based in Detroit, founded by Tom Kartsotis, who’s also behind the Fossil Watch Company. The brand started operating in 2011, building watches with parts imported from all over the world, with the final assembly done by hand at their factory in Detroit.
Though they started with affordable quartz powered watches, they’ve moved into automatic movements, chronographs and GMT watches, and they’ve gotten some praise from watch connoisseurs from around the world.
5. Vortic Watches
Vortic is sort of a modern unicorn of the watch world, blending novel 3D printing technology with vintage American watch designs. Their concepts have already found plenty of fans around the world, and they’re offered in three collections, the American Artisan, the Railroad Editions, and Military series.
An important trait of Vortic watches is the crown placed at the 12 o’clock position, as a homage to pocket watches of old.
Besides that, the company is involved in restoring vintage US made pocket watch movements and parts that they further use in the watches they create.
Lüm-Tec is a showcase microbrand of the Wiegand Custom Watch Company, an Ohio based company that produces OEM watch parts for countless watch brands all over the globe.
Lüm-Tec watches lean into the tactical and military designs, and the brand’s name comes from the in-house lume used on the watches, the MDV (Maximum Darkness Visibility) MAXLÜM, that can glow for up to 24 hours.
These timepieces are rugged and very practical, without any useless features, and inside they’re equipped with Swiss and Japanese movements.
3. Oak & Oscar
Oak & Oscar is another very young American watch company, being launched only in 2015. But age isn’t necessarily a good metric for success, since Oak & Oscar has garnered immense popularity in the few years that passed since its inception, becoming one of the most well known American watch brands.
It’s based in Chicago and manufactures entry level luxury timepieces, with prices ranging in between $1K to $2K, and powered by Swiss movements.
2. Weiss Watch Company
Combining hand crafting with premium materials and old watchmaking methods, Weiss creates exceptional field watches. The company was born in 2013 in Los Angeles, but then it moved its headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee. Each of their timepieces is manually assembled by a skilled artisan trained by Swiss watchmakers.
Initially, the movements used in Weiss watches were Swiss, but in 2016, the company began producing their own movement, Caliber 1003, which is almost entirely made in the USA.
1. RGM Watch Co.
RGM is one of the finest American watchmakers around, and one of the few American watch brands that craft their own 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 name of the company. 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.
Though operating in the shadow of the Swiss watchmaking industry, American watch brands deserve a lot more attention and recognition, as they’re striving to bring back to life the industry on their home ground, keeping the American tradition of watchmaking alive.
Some of these brands are old and well known, but the young watchmakers are doing a phenomenal job as well, so take a look through their collections. You might be pleasantly surprised to find some very good timepieces, at affordable prices too.