Historical Horology: America’s Watch-Making Past And Future
Being an American, and a (safe to say) “watch guy”, I can’t help but to take notice of writings that I come across that discuss the history of watchmaking in America, or the upswell of new American brands that we’re seeing these days. Once upon a time, America was on top of the watchmaking heap – could they get there again?As I’m guessing most of our readers are familiar, the American watch industry grew directly out of the the need for accurate timekeeping by the railroad industry. There were many other circumstances, and larger events (like the World Wars) certainly helped to shape the industry. That said, the beginnings were with the railroads.
Today, the railroads still exist. Sure, they may not move as many people as they once did, but in terms of moving freight, they’re the undisputed champions. What about watches? Sure, you might find some of the “old” brands like Hamilton and Ingersoll on the market, but those just names, owned by non-US firms.That isn’t to say that American watchmakers have faded off in to the sunset. There are plenty of smaller brands that we’ve featured on these pages (such as RGM, Kobold, and Shinola). These are brands that have become popular in their own way, turning out great timepieces that compete on their own merits, making their country of origin just icing on the cake.
With those companies, small is the operating word. Sure, they’re big in comparison to the newer startups we see going for funding on sites like Kickstarter, but the American watch industry is a pale shade of it’s former self, and is minuscule in comparison to the “big brands” coming out of Europe and Asia. Can the U.S. recapture it’s former glory?
Folks like Roland Murphy, Michael Kobold, and Cameron Weiss certainly think so, and they seem to be leading the vanguard of this movement, working to try and create as much as possible here in the States. Movements are the big sticking point, but we can get there eventually – we just need to start smaller (say, with dials, as Weiss suggests), and build from there.
The developments are starting small, but as America looks to bring manufacturing “back home” in other industries, why not the watches as well? Trained watchmakers may be another stumbling block at first, but that’s certainly something else that could be overcome. I, for one, will be doing what I can to keep an eye on these developments, and watching where things are headed.
Giving credit where credit is due, the information in this article (and prompting me to think about the topic some as well) came from this excellent essay over at Gear Patrol. Check it out for some more in-depth aspects of the topic, as well as a mini-interview of sorts they had with Cameron Weiss on the subject.