American Watchmaking’s Red-Hot Season



When I first wrote about hints of a renaissance in American watchmaking, in a March 2012 article for the New York Times, Shinola wasn’t a thing—at least not yet. The Detroit-based watchmaker made its formal debut at Baselworld in the spring of 2013.

In the six years since, the landscape of the American watchmaking sector has drastically shifted. While it’s still nothing like the glory days of the pre–World War II era, when domestic manufacturers such as Elgin, Hamilton, and Waltham set the gold standard for industrialized watch production, a handful of contemporary makers are actively designing, marketing, and sometimes even making wristwatches in America.

For starters, Shinola is now producing mechanical watches assembled on American soil! The brand’s Shinola Monster collection of special-edition automatic dive watches was unveiled last month, a follow-up to a limited run of its first automatic watch, the Lake Erie Monster, in 2017.

Below you’ll find an update on the rapidly evolving American watchmaking scene.

Shinola

As mentioned, Shinola’s new automatic dive watches—a trio of timepieces inspired by the Great Lakes: the Lake Huron Shinola Monster, the Lake Superior Shinola Monster, and the Lake Michigan Shinola Monster—mark the brand’s first full-fledged effort in mechanical watchmaking. While the Sellita SW200-1 automatic movement that powers each timepiece is manufactured in Switzerland, the parts are assembled in Detroit. Not counting specialist makers such as RGM Watch Co. (or Weiss, noted below, for that matter), that’s a big deal.

The design of the sporty pieces is meant to evoke the classic sailing ships that plied the waters of the lakes. In addition, each of the three models takes its cues from a specific feature of the lake it honors. The orange dial, black bezel, and black rubber strap of the Lake Huron model call to mind the fiery sunsets of northern Michigan; the Lake Superior model’s indices glow green against the black dial, black bezel, and steel bracelet, like the Northern Lights; and the midnight-blue dial, bezel, and rubber strap of the Lake Michigan model channel the rich blue of the frigid lake.

Shinola Lake Superior Monster watch
Lake Superior Shinola Monster in 43 mm steel case on steel bracelet; $1,450; Shinola
Shinola Lake Michigan Monster watch
Lake Michigan Shinola Monster in 43 mm steel case on blue rubber strap; $1,250; Shinola
Shinola Lake Huron Monster watch
Lake Huron Shinola Monster in 43 mm steel case on black rubber strap; $1,250; Shinola

But wait—there’s more. The brand just introduced a limited-edition watch, the Moon Bean, that pays tribute to the late Alan Bean, an astronaut-cum-artist who spent his twilight years painting scenes of the moon, whose surface he walked as a member of the 1969 Apollo 12 mission, the sixth manned flight in the United States Apollo program and the second to land on the Moon.

“Every detail of this limited-edition timepiece was designed under the watchful eye of Alan Bean, whose lesson remains the driving force behind the concept of Shinola,” Shinola founder Tom Kartsotis writes on Shinola’s blog, The Journal. “American greatness personified, this watch not only honors his legend, but the mission Alan left behind for his friends at Shinola: to create world-class products and meaningful jobs in a country he dearly loved.”

And last but not least, Shinola just unveiled a Mickey Mouse Classics collection, a capsule of limited-edition and special-edition Runwell timepieces, leather goods, audio equipment, wall clocks, and journals honoring Mickey Mouse on his 90th birthday, and available for purchase on Nov. 18.

Between its new automatic watches, the Alan Bean tribute, and the Disney tie-in, Shinola has pretty much cornered the market on watches steeped in American iconography. Are there any legends left?!

Tockr

JCK covered Tockr in this year’s March/April issue, when the Austin, Texas–based brand was making its debut. Best known for its C-47 watch—inspired by the Douglas C-47 aircraft that founder Austin Ivey’s grandfather, a World War II pilot, flew—the brand just announced a partnership with the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) to create a series of timepieces—the Tockr D-Day C-47 watch, available for purchase online as of Nov. 1—featuring material salvaged from a historic C-47 plane that lead the D-Day invasion, known as That’s All, Brother.

C-47 Thats All Brother by Scott Slocum
That’s All, Brother, the historic C-47 plane that lead the D-Day invasion (photo by Scott Slocum)

The CAF, which acquired the vintage plane, began restoring it to flight-ready condition, but soon realized that damaged portions of the aluminum exterior had to be removed and replaced. The organization approached Tockr about using the salvaged material in a line of timepieces.

“I can’t think of a better way to honor my grandfather and brave WWII veterans like him than by creating a special watch in their honor, using material from the C-47 aircraft that lead the D-Day invasion,” Ivey said in a statement. “Though working with this salvaged material presented challenges, we made every effort to preserve and protect the unique character of the aircraft material used in each dial for posterity.”

The made-in-Switzerland automatic watch comes in a 42 mm case with three dial styles. The colors range from dark to light military hues of brown and green, but vary in terms of wear and tear. The “Clean Cut” category looks virtually untouched; “Stamped” pieces are marked by medium weathering; and the “Hard Worn” variation “is heavily weathered, crackled, and chipped with large areas of exposed aluminum,” according to Tockr.

Come June 6, 2019—the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings and the Normandy invasion—That’s All, Brother will retrace the journey it took from the United States to England to the shores of Normandy, France. With any luck, a handful of Tockr D-Day C-47 watches will be on board.

Tockr Clean Dial D-Day watch
D-Day C-47 watch featuring a Clean Cut dial; $1,990; Tockr

Weiss

Another American watch brand that takes its design cues from the world of aviation, Southern California–based Weiss Watch Co. reimagined its American Issue Field Watch earlier this fall for a collaboration with men’s footwear and accessories manufacturer Allen Edmonds, whose Artisans of Freedom initiative features a new collection of made-in-America products. (JCK first wrote about Weiss in 2014.)

The black-plated mechanical movement, manufactured and assembled by Weiss in Los Angeles, is housed in a black DLC-coated 316L stainless steel case, while the dial displays the Artisans of Freedom marker at 6 o’clock.

Limited to just 100 pieces, the watch comes on a black Horween leather strap with a coordinating black DLC buckle. (The special leather pouch it’s packaged in includes an additional brown strap-changing tool.)

Like I said, American watchmaking isn’t quite back to its pre-WWII glory days—and if we’re going to be honest with ourselves, that’ll never happen—but don’t let that diminish what a handful of makers are doing for an industry once considered dead and gone. It’s more than enough to keep the nostalgia at bay.

Weiss limited-edition timepiece
American Issue Field Watch; $2,195; Weiss Watch Co.

Top: D-Day C-47 watch featuring a Stamped dial; $1,990; Tockr

JCK Magazine Editor