While the most famous global centres of watchmaking are found in Europe and certain areas of Asia, the United States of America isn’t without its own prestigious horological names. Off the top of the head, Timex and Hamilton are incredibly well-known watch making institutions, but they’re not alone. America’s iconic individualist, go-getting mindset has led to a high proportion of microbrands being founded there. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best American watch brands around, of all shapes and sizes.
It might sound like hyperbole, but in many ways Timex did for watchmaking what Ford did for automobiles, fast and affordable manufacturing that meant products could be sold for accessible prices by ordinary people. Although to suggest that Timex were inspired by car manufactures is technically an anachronism. The timeline shows that automobile production lines were actually inspired by the new, rapid production techniques that were being developed by Timex, not the other way around. It’s the quintessential story of American manufacturing in the early 20th century.
What that means for modern Timex is a huge catalogue of affordable wristwatches with a vast variety of materials, styles and movements sourced from across the globe. They’re also well known for collaborating with other classic American companies and businesses like Disney and the Peanuts cartoon. However, one of their most recent collaborations is a little less wholesome and a lot more badass, working alongside the UFC.
Hamilton is probably the most popular American watchmaker among dedicated watch collectors at the moment. However, the fact that Hamilton is, or rather was, American is often forgotten because in 2003 it became part of the Swatch Group and moved its production to Switzerland. This fact creates a grey area where calling them an American brand isn’t 100% accurate any more, but considering that 111 of their 131-year heritage was spent in America, I think they qualify to be included here.
Their most popular watch collection is the Khaki Field, a relatively accessible – at sub £1,000 – collection of reliable field watches with retro military and aviation aesthetics. For example, the Khaki Field Titanium Auto has a 42mm case in rugged titanium with large, lumed hour markers with a slight retro sector dial design. It also houses the H-10 movement which has a fantastic 80-hour power reserve.
Ball Watch Co.
The history of Ball watches is intrinsically linked to another historic American institution, the railways. Back in the day, being able to accurately time train movements was a difficult conundrum. A lack of standardised accuracy and reliability across the timepieces used by train workers led to disasters where trains would collide at crossings because someone’s watch had stopped for a few minutes. Following exactly such a disaster Mr Ball was commissioned to create a system that would ensure railway workers’ watches were accurate and reliable, which he succeeded at.
Today, Ball Watch Co. still pride themselves on incredible accuracy and creating timepieces for extreme conditions where lives could be in peril. For example, the Rescue Chronograph is designed for search and rescue teams where a few seconds could make all the difference. Aesthetically, Ball watches tend to be large with an industrial vibe given by their use of gas tubes rather than traditional lume.
For those unfamiliar with one of the finest American horological exports, RGM was founded in 1992 by Roland G. Murphy. Roland was a product developer and technical manager at Hamilton for several years prior to starting his eponymous brand. While they specialise in custom built and bespoke watches, they also keep horological traditions alive with a range of vintage and military inspired watches.
One such watch is the Model 600-B Chronograph, inspired by the golden era of pilot’s watches, the 60s and 70s. That means a 42mm diameter stainless steel case, historically pilot’s watches were larger than alternative styles because they require a larger area for the display to enhance legibility, which the 600-B adheres to. Additional vintage features include the oversize knurled crown, designed to be easy to operate while wearing aviation gloves.
There are a million watches that claim to have significant links to motorsport but many of them lack the passion and attention to detail of an Autodromo watch. Autodromo take the heritage of driving as seriously as they take their commitment to producing quality timepieces. Take the Prototipo Chronograph Vic Elford 969 edition for example. Not only was it produced in collaboration with one of the foremost drivers of the 1960s, Vic Elford, who saw Porsche to many victories, but the dial of the watch reflects the paint job of one of his most iconic cars.
In addition to producing automobile inspired watches, Autodromo have expanded into other areas of driving apparel such as driving gloves, using their experience working with fabrics and leather to also create a range of watch straps.
Established in 1875, Bulova is one of the oldest American watchmakers around with close to 150 years of heritage under their belt. In that time, they’ve gone from a single store in New York to becoming a mainstay on the global stage of watchmaking, repeatedly captivating collectors with models like the Devil Diver and Parking Meter. They’re also behind the Accutron, a high-end wristwatch so well regarded that a secondary brand was created dedicated to its production.
Bulova have also been quick to embrace new technology and participate in landmark innovations throughout history. They were one of the earliest adopters of radio and TV advertising in America and also supplied equipment to the Apollo moon missions. And of course, their energy is also spent in developing wristwatch innovations too with designs such as the world’s first curved chronograph movement.
The Accutron by Bulova, launched in 1960, was a landmark watch in its day. At its core, it aimed to simplify movements while improving their specifications, which it achieved by reducing the number of moving components to 12 while increasing the accuracy to within 2 seconds per day. They were also celebrated for their use of tuning fork technology.
Modern Accutron became a standalone brand in 2020, launched as part of the Citizen group. They have continued to explore what’s possible with movement technology by developing the world’s first electrostatic calibre. Essentially using the natural movement of the wrist to generate an electric charge in a similar fashion to a rotor in an automatic calibre. Their flagship watch is the Spaceview.
Oak & Oscar
Oak & Oscar is one of the premier American microbrands and you can tell they’re a microbrand because the brand is named after the founder’s dog, Oscar. Ok, that’s not actually what makes them a microbrand but it is a true fact about the name of the company (incidentally, you can check out our definition of a microbrand here).
Oak & Oscar produce a line of attractive tool watches such as the Humboldt GMT, which provides a twist on famous historical references such as the Rolex Explorer. A high contrast design that’s easy to read with a bezel mounted 24-hour scale makes the Humboldt GMT perfect for daily wear or adventuring across the globe. Their other models, like the Olmstead, double down on that daily beater identity with easy to wear sizing.
Hesili is an American microbrand that aims to capture the romantic vision of vintage New York in their watches. The dream came about in 2018 when a Brooklyn-based collector decided to embark on the journey of creating their ideal timepiece, achieving that goal in the summer of 2021. Their inaugural collection is the Original Series One.
It’s a charmingly retro piece, with a railway track minute scale and distinctive typography that evokes the golden era of New York. It has a 40mm stainless steel case and a gorgeous dial in a variety of colours, offset with rhodium plated accents. Inside, it houses the Swiss STP 1-11 automatic movement with 44-hour power reserve.
Brew Watch Co.
Brew Watch Co. are one of the most characterful microbrands in the world, let alone America, thanks to their unique watchmaking niche. They are the coffee watch company, creating timepieces designed to time the perfect brew. Also helpful for making sure you don’t go overboard on the coffee breaks at work.
The Brew Method Chronograph has a spiral scale around the dial lets you time various brewing methods, from espresso to cold brew, neatly set on a fabulous yellow dial. If you thought there were limits to where Brew Watches can take their glorious concept, think again. The watch itself has a 40mm case in stainless steel in a shape that’s a hybrid between rectangular and cushion.
Lüm-tec is a family run microbrand operating in the US, producing small numbers of a wide range of watches. That’s because the founder of the brand also operates a custom watch service working directly with collectors to create their dream timepiece and Lüm-tec serves as a showcase for their capabilities. Their highlights and best work displaying an array of unique designs and watchmaking skills.
For the most part the watches focus on a tactical design with a strong tool watch focus with multiple dive and pilots’ watches available too. Naturally, with a name like Lüm-tec, there is a liberal use of premium Swiss SuperLuminova, providing excellent readability in low light conditions.
Fossil, perhaps unsurprisingly, is part of the Fossil Group, a USA based collective of fashion and watch brands that includes other notable names such as Zodiac (although Zodiac remains Swiss). The Fossil watch brand is dedicated to vintage American styles fused with modern fashion trends. In practical terms that means they produce accessible watches in numerous styles and designs, powered largely by quartz movements with the occasional automatic.
Fossil are at their best when embracing vintage styles like the Heritage Automatic Brown Eco, which has a 43mm stainless steel case with a beige dial and oversize hour markers. It follows in the traditional design of pilots’ watches, large and legible, perfect for reading at a glance during aerial manoeuvres.
Rpaige Watch Co.
RPaige Watch is based in Honolulu in Hawaii, which just goes to show that some offices are just better than others. It’s the brand of Richard Paige, a fourth generation watchmaker who has been a major part of the watch community for years, founding the popular website WatchZone. RPaige specialise in creating new watches that use vintage movements. It’s a great way to honour the significant technological developments of bygone years.
Due to the limited availability of high quality vintage movements, most RPaige watches are produced in extremely low numbers. However, they’ve leaned into the exclusivity by creating a custom watch service, allowing you to choose the case, dial, movement and strap for a totally unique watch.
Nodus were founded in 2017 in Los Angeles, however their focus is on utilitarian watches rather than ones with any Hollywood style glamour. They make use of California’s status as a global hub to create international supply lines, using materials and technology from across the world to make their watches, which are then assembled in their LA workshop.
One of their most recent designs is the Sector Pilot Phantom, a dark blue interpretation of their pilot’s watch with a sector dial. Interestingly, they’ve foregone the traditional retro slant of sector dials in favour of a modern, layered aesthetic with contrasting finishes and textures.
Weiss bring traditional watchmaking skills to the USA by assembling every watch by hand. Each timepiece takes over 60-hours to produce by skilled artisans, overseen by a master watchmaker trained in Switzerland. Due to the length of time it takes to craft each piece, Weiss only produce a relatively low number of watches and waiting lists can become extended, making it important to put orders in early if you want one.
Their signature aesthetic is retro-militaristic field designs, although they apply a similar style to their dive watches as well. The 38mm Field has a super high contrast dial in white, black, blue or beige, creating a super legible display with a classy minute track and Arabic numerals.
Dumoreau is a California-based microbrand created as a creative outlet for award winning architect and product designer Carlo Aiello. It’s a passion project in every sense and that really shows in the classic aesthetic of their watches. While Dumoreau is American, they work closely with brands across Europe such as Roventa-Henex and Matteo Torre to ensure quality production across their watches and straps.
Their latest timepiece is the DM02, which features a 39mm round case in stainless steel that contains a dial with a concentric circle pattern design. It’s inspired by the natural flow of life and is evocative of Japanese zen gardens. It’s powered by the Sellita SW210-1 automatic movement with 42-hour power reserve.