In honor of July 4th, we’re taking a look at some great American watch brands who know a thing or two about independence.
Let’s be honest: The US is lacking when it comes to horological infrastructure. This makes it pretty difficult for American brands to offer much more than private label watches assembled in the States using Asian or Swiss components.
Of course, this wasn’t always the case. In the 19th century, the US actually played a major role in the industry by exporting mass production technologies to Europe. Swiss and German watchmakers quickly adopted the “American production model,” and names like Elgin and Waltham are still known in niche collector circles today. Despite this former pioneering role, very little remains of the 19th-century American watch industry today. There are various reasons, including a historical focus on less fashionable pocket watches, lingering effects of the Great Depression, and a focus on wartime production during WWII. While Switzerland experienced a renaissance in the watch industry around the time of the Swatch Group’s founding, no parallel movement happened in America.
As mechanical watches began to grow in popularity once more, American enthusiasts and watchmakers were disappointed by the complete lack of independent local production. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the number of individuals dedicated to revitalizing the American watch industry is steadily on the rise. In honor of Independence Day, we invite you to learn more about four independent watchmakers who are making their mark in the American watch scene today.
We can trace the renaissance of American watchmaking back to Roland G. Murphy, who founded his own watch brand in 1992. Murphy’s passion for watches began as a part-time job and eventually led him from Pennsylvania to Switzerland. There, he completed the renowned WOSTEP program and secured a position at Swatch predecessor SMH. He later returned to Pennsylvania to work at Hamilton Watch Co. before launching a brand under his initials in 1992.
RGM watches come in a wide range of technical specs, including refined ETA movements, historic Hamilton movements, and true in-house calibers. Their cases are made in the USA, and their dials are hand-guillochéd in-house at RGM.
Few can compete with Roland G. Murphy when it comes to in-house calibers. Watch enthusiasts love their manual movements as well as their Pennsylvania tourbillions, which feature Wolf’s Tooth winding wheels. The Caliber 20, a barrel-shaped moment, is likewise exceptional. The unique construction of the motor barrel is a nod to historic American railway clocks.
In terms of style, most of the collection is inspired by historical American watches, especially military watches. Thanks to the guillochéd dials and classic lines, many of the more elegant models are reminiscent of creations made by master watchmakers in times past, such as those on display at the Academy of Independent Creators in Watchmaking (AHCI). In contrast, RGM’s more sporty GMT and diving models offer unique contemporary aesthetics.
J.N. Shapiro: From School Principal to Watch Guillocheur
Joshua Shapiro is another source of hand-guillochéd dials made in the USA. His journey into the world of watchmaking began with a remote course at the British Horological Institute and skeletonizing Unitas movements in his free time. His interest eventually shifted to the art of guilloché engraving, and he decided to invest in guilloché machinery instead of traveling to England for his final exams.
If you want to learn more about Shapiro, we highly recommend checking out his talk at the Horological Society of New York on YouTube. You’ll learn a lot not only about guilloché engraving but also about Shapiro’s background and motivation. This self-taught stalwart of American watchmaking is determined to revitalize the industry – and he does it all alongside his full-time job as a school principal.
Shapiro has mastered the craft of guilloché and even developed his own patterns, and since 2018, he also has his own collection of watches. Of course, these feature the most complex and challenging guilloché patterns imaginable. He outfits his timepieces with high-quality German calibers from Uhren-Werke-Dresden. These come from the small Tempus Arte Group associated with the manufacturer Lang & Heyne. They are top-quality and aesthetically pleasing movements that have unfortunately found their way into far too few timepieces to date.
Choosing such an excellent yet obscure movement for his watches is very “on brand” for Shapiro. He often speaks about industry underdogs in his interviews. When it comes to guilloché, most people probably think of Breguet, and George Daniels is everyone’s go-to name when it comes to independent watchmaking. But Shapiro likes to bring attention to the oft-forgotten names behind these greats; Jean-Antoine Lépine, for instance, Breguet’s supposed teacher, or Derek Pratt, a brilliant friend and contemporary of Daniels. Paying tribute to these forgotten personalities and their expertise says a lot about Shapiro’s values as a watchmaker.
When it comes to independence, Shapiro is working to create cases and movements comprised of exclusively American components. What he can’t manufacture himself, he hopes to source from historical American watches rather than importing from abroad.
Keaton Myrick: Small Series and Top-Quality Craft
Keaton Myrick is another graduate of the prestigious WOSTEP program. Unlike Murphy, however, he didn’t have to travel all the way to Switzerland for his qualification. It is now possible to complete the training through partner institutions in the United States. Myrick attended one such program at the Lititz Watch Technicum, founded by Rolex in Pennsylvania. This school now teaches a course developed by Rolex that rivals the WOSTEP program. Still, both have the same ultimate goal: to produce highly qualified American watchmakers who can meet demands for servicing and repairing fine timepieces in the USA.
Anyone who knows anything about Keaton Myrick knows he hasn’t settled for doing simple repairs and routine maintenance. After completing his training, Myrick spent six years devoted to restoring old watches. Over time, he has gradually built up the workshop and expertise necessary to produce his own creations.
You can instantly recognize Keaton Myrick’s work as that of an independent watchmaker. His interest in historical timepieces is also very evident in his work. Myrick doesn’t shy away from combining elements from different eras and regions; for example, he’s paired three-quarter plates from Glashütte, Germany with design elements inspired by Swiss observation watches together in a single timepiece. Any search for “Le Locle,” “Le Brassus,” or “Glashütte I/SA” on his dials would be in vain – these watches are made in Oregon, USA, as is the “1 in 30” model, a line limited to 30 pieces currently still in production.
The series is powered by Myrick’s caliber 29.30, a VERY heavily modified Unitas 6497. The modified movement barely resembles the base caliber and even lacks the original’s gear train bridge. It boasts a specially manufactured filigree stopwork and beautifully refined components. If you have any doubts about how serious this independent watchmaker takes his craft, check out the note on his website about the lathe he uses to finish his crown wheels – talk about attention to detail!
Weiss Watch Company: American Creations at Fair Prices
Cameron Weiss is yet another WOSTEP alumnus. He is a graduate of the Nicolas G. Hayek School of Watchmaking in Miami. After stints at Audemars Piguet in Switzerland and New York and Vacheron Constantin in Beverly Hills, he founded his own brand in 2013. Timepieces from the Weiss Watch Company are largely powered by the proven Unitas caliber 6497. Considering their prices are in the low four-figure range, you can’t expect an extensively modified or refined movement. Still, you do get a watch with a lot of added value that isn’t just assembled in the US but even boasts locally crafted dials.
The current collection includes versions of the debut model, the 38 or 42-mm Standard Issue Field, as well as an automatic 38-mm model. The latter is powered by the seldom-seen Caliber 39 from Eterna.
Weiss’s current flagship model is the American Issue Field Watch, which still sells below the $3,000 mark. The name refers to the new in-house caliber 1003, which is made in the USA and based on Unitas architecture. It may be this young brand’s first step toward more independence.