Although it is not the case today, there were actually times in history when American watches were considered superior in comparison to the Swiss ones. The rise of the American watchmaking industry began in 1850 with the foundation of American Horologe Company (later Waltham) in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The company possessed exceptional machines and advanced mass-production techniques that allowed them to produces watches that were much more precise, reliable and affordable than their European counterparts. Soon after, more companies like Hamilton, Elgin and Bulova adopted these techniques. There were more than 120 American watch companies between 1809 and 1968.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Swiss watch industry began to catch up with the American. In the following decades, the Swiss perfected machine made complicated wrist watches such as, automatic winding watches, chronographs and day-date watches that were in demand at the time. The Americans had never really made these type of watches, only simpler ones. The inability to make the transition from simple watches to complicated, along with the rise of Japanese watchmaking and quartz crisis of the 1970’s, all contributed to the decline of once powerful American watch industry. The last watch entirely made in America was the Hamilton’s 992B pocket watch in 1969. Not long after, many companies closed or moved their operations to other countries.
Today there are not many companies that can say they make 100% American watches. In fact, there aren’t any at all! One of the reasons for this lies in the strict “Made in USA” requirements regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). While, for example, the “Swiss Made” requires 60% of the watch to be made in Switzerland, the “Made in USA” states that every component, including the movement, must be manufactured in the US. This is extremely hard to achieve, as companies like Shinola, Devon, Jorg Gray, Bulova and many others tend to import movement parts, or even entire calibers from Switzerland. One of the ways the manufacturers try to “bypass” this rule is to apply labels like “Built in USA” or “Assembled in USA” or “Manufactured in USA”. The problem is, however, that they can sometimes be misleading and untrue. Last year we saw the FTC taking action against the Detroit based brand Shinola. The agency ordered Shinola to change their slogan “Where American is Made”. The brand now states that their watches are “Built in Detroit with Swiss and imported parts”.
However, there are some companies that are close to making the first 100% “Made in USA” timepiece. One of them is the RGM Watch Company. Founded in 1992, this Pennsylvania based watch brand produced the first in-house American-made movement since Hamilton stopped making the 992-B in 1969 – the RGM Caliber 801 in 2007. Soon after the company released two more calibers – the Pennsylvania Tourbillon (the brand’s flagship movement) and the Caliber 20 (created in honor of the brand’s 20th anniversary). With 90% of their components made in the US, RGM watches are the closest to the “Made in USA” label. In 2017, the company is celebrating its 25th anniversary and has announced ” new and special things throughout the year”. So who knows, maybe we’ll finally see the genuine “Made in USA” timepiece .