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The Resurgence of Watchmaking in the U.S.

The American watch brands to know now, and how Jacob & Co.’s Jacob Arabo got his New York-based brand off the ground.

The Railroad Edition by Vortic Watch Company. Photos courtesy of brands

A little more than a century ago, America was the center of the watchmaking industry. Even the Swiss, who are the world leaders now, came to these shores to study how the Americans were making watches. Companies like Hamilton, Elgin, Springfield (later Illinois Watch Company) and more revolutionized how watches were manufactured, making it possible to create high-quality, low-cost timepieces, and they were succeeding brilliantly.

Fast forward many decades, and now the Swiss (with the occasional German or Japanese brand in the mix) dominate the high-end timepiece market. There has, however, lately been a resurgence of American companies trying to do as much as they can here in America.

Here are a few of the brands you should know:

RGM Watches

Roland Murphy, the founder of RGM, which is based in Mount Joy, Pa., is committed to doing things in the traditionally American mechanical way. A perfect example of this is the new PS-801-Skeleton, pictured here.

Price: Stainless $21,400; 18K Rose Gold $34,200.

Contact: Roland Murphy, sales@rgmwatches.com, 717.653.9799, rgmwatches.com 

Montana Watch Company

Based in Livingston, Mont., this watch company mixes Western designs with traditional watchmaking, to great effect. Take a look at the Highline Aviator Classic Engraved, which comes in a hand-engraved 48mm Argentium sterling silver case.

Price: $12,350

Contact: Dani DiPentino, dani@montanawatch.com, 406.222.8899, montanawatch.com 

Shinola

Established in Detroit, Shinola brought industrial watchmaking on a large scale to the Motor City. Finally, Shinola has introduced automatic movements into several ranges, including the new Runwell Automatic.

Price: $1,095 to $1,295

Contact: customerservice@shinola.com, shinola.com

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TOCKR Watches

Founded in Austin, Texas, by Austin Ivey to honor his aviator grandfather, TOCKR specializes in pilot’s watches. Featured here is the bronze D-Day watch, dedicated to 98-year-old veteran Alfred Pepper, using salvaged metal from the famous “That’s All… Brother” C-47 plane for the dial. A portion of the proceeds go to refurbishing this piece of military aviation history.

Price: $2,700

Contact: Austin Ivey, austin@tockr.com, 713.824.7515, tockr.com

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Vortic Watch Company

 

Specializing in refurbishing antique pocket watch movements and putting them in modern cases, Vortic (based in Fort Collins, Colo.) introduced a special Watch Builder on its website to allow customers to configure a timepiece unique to them.

Price: $2,995 to $4,995

Contact: R.T. Custer, info@vorticwatches.com 855.285.7884, vorticwatches.com

Weiss Watch Company

Cameron Weiss is a classically trained watchmaker in the Swiss system who is determined to do as much as possible in the U.S. The Gauge series from Los Angeles-based Weiss was Inspired by Weiss’ cross-country trip in his 1971 Land Rover. Powered by the 1003 hand-wound movement, the Gauge features classic details found on the gauges in the Land Rover.

Price: $2,500, limited to 50 pieces.

Contact: Whitney Weiss, sales@weisswatchcompany.com, weisswatchcompany.com

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Q&A: Jacob Arabo, Founder and Chairman of Jacob & Co.

Jacob Arabo, who immigrated to the U.S. from Uzbekistan with his parents when he was 14, is the embodiment of the American Dream. Arabo interned with a watchmaker when he was 16, and he always had the dream of making his own watches one day, but jewelry is where he made his name.

Worth met with Arabo in his New York headquarters for this exclusive interview to discover his rags to diamonds story.

Q: What was your experience when you first tried to work with the Swiss?

A: They brushed me off. It was very difficult to build a relationship with any of them as they were not interested and the prices were exorbitantly expensive, almost as a punishment for being American.

So, you created your watch another way?

I had to do things a different way, so I designed the Five Time Zone watch, using quartz movements at first. It was phenomenally successful, and really put Jacob & Co. on the map for watches.

Why did you decide to go back?

I still wanted to do something in the high watchmaking world, and Switzerland was and still is the place to do it. So, I went back and there were a number of smaller watchmakers looking to do spectacular things. I was fortunate to get involved with several who could make my vision come true.

The Jacob and Co. Fleurs de Jardin in Pink

And how is it going now?

Now that I have established a reputation for doing cutting-edge high horology, I have companies approaching me all the time. I am working with several trusted partners, and I am having the time of my life.

How important is it that Jacob & Co. is an American/Swiss company?

I think being an American company, first and foremost, is very important, because it is distinctive and unique in the watch industry. Here at Jacob & Co., we are willing to take chances, to incur risk, to do something different, which I think is very American. Where the Swiss watchmaking industry is quick to say, “No, it is impossible,” we insist, “Yes, we can do it.”

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What do you think Americans can bring to the watch industry?

To Americans, anything is possible. This is something really fresh in the stodgy, traditional Swiss watchmaking world. And right now, the worldwide watch industry needs new ideas and new ways of doing things. I am willing to take chances.

The Jacob and Co. Astronomia Casino

What do you think Jacob & Co. does that is uniquely American?

I have a willingness to push the limits, to do things no one has ever done. And this is the American spirit. We do many bold things, but thanks to the Swiss side of the company, all of our timepieces are all based on traditional watchmaking principles and techniques. It’s a great marriage that works really well.

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