WatchTime Wednesday: Watches from the USA – Watch Legends and Premieres

ic_query_builder_black_24px | ic_dehaze_black_24px By WatchTime | 6 minute read

Today we start with a new series of articles: Watchtime Wednesday. We do this together with our colleagues from watchtime.net, the German website that is related to two German (print) magazines, called Uhrenmagazin and Chronos. We kick off with an article about the United States of America and watches. 

Today the watch industry is mainly located in Switzerland, Germany and Japan (and of course in the Netherlands). However it isn’t that long ago, that also the United States of America played a major role in the watch industry. The USA once had an interesting watch industry, and we’ll tell you eight things about America and watches that you didn’t know before. At least, that’s what Watchtime tells their German readers. At Monochrome Watches we just know that people who read our online magazine, will be familiar with some of these facts.

The One-Dollar Watch

This watch was called “Yankee” and was produced from 1896 by Timex predecessor, Waterbury Clock Co., for Robert H. Ingersoll, as part of a collection of one-dollar products. It had a pin-lever movement, as the one developed by the Swiss watchmaker Georges-Frédéric Roskopf in the 1860s.

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Timex Group Headquarters in Middlebury, Connecticut

The other items in the one-dollar collection were a typewriter, a camera and a sewing machine. These very affordable watches were advertised with “The clock that made the Dollar famous”. It has been a huge success: after four years, Ingersoll had already sold six million pieces. One of its most prominent owners was Mark Twain, who bought at least two “Yankees”.

The American Longines

In 1872, the Swiss immigrant Albert Wittnauer (1856-1908) arrived in in New York to work for his brother in law, J. Eugene Robert, the importer of Longines watches for the US. Wittnauer heard that some American retailers were craving for a new watch collection, cheaper than Longines, but similar to the Longines watches. Wittnauer decided to start his own watch brand for the US market. He bought a factory in Geneva, where his watches were assembled with a Swiss movement inside. Until 1936, the Wittnauer family owned the company. After that it was Longines-Wittnauer. Wittnauer had, alongside his own products, always sold Longines watches. Today, Wittnauer is part of the Bulova Corp. which bought it in 2001. The owner of Bulova is the Citizen Watch Co.

The first American watch company

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Aaron Dennison

Born in Maine in 1812, watchmaker Aaron Dennison founded together with Edward Howard the first American Watch Company. Based in Waltham, Massachusetts, the company became known under the name of Waltham Watch Co. (after a few other names).
Dennison established a system that allowed mass production of interchangeable parts. This was based on Eli Whitney’s production process, developed for the industry of guns. This manufacturing process, also used by other watch companies, benefited the America watch industry. They were able to offer high quality watches at relatively cheap prices during and after the American Civil War. The mechanized mass production of identical parts became known as the “American system of manufacturing”.

Dennison itself is now known as the father of the American watchmaking industry – mainly because he founded the first company and also because of its production system, which became the standard of watch production in the United States. In 1876 Philadelphia’s World’s Fair, Waltham exposed these new production methods, which led to shocked reactions of the Swiss visitors. The Swiss Manufactures realized that they also had to develop such industrial modes of production, to avoid the American competition.

Waltham no longer exists as an American manufacture. The name is now owned by Waltham International SA, a Swiss company that build quartz watches, mainly for the Japanese market. The American company Waltham Aircraft Clock Co. produces watches for aircraft.

The “Spirit of America”

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Kobold “Spirit of America” watch

In 2008, Kobold Watch Co. launched in Pittsburgh the “Spirit of America” watch, that celebrated the tenth anniversary of the brand. At the time it was the first serial produced American watch in 39 years. From the words Michael Kobold, owner of the company, 87% of the parts of the “Spirit of America” are made in the US – and even 100% for the case. The movement is based on an old German calibre called Förster 197. The 2008 version of the “Spirit of America” had a forerunner: the 2006 limited edition of the “Spirit of America”, that was launched to support victims of the September 11 attacks.

The “Curvex”

The “Curvex” was introduced in 1935 by the American firm Gruen and became one of the most famous watches ever made. Its case was ergonomically curved to the wrist’s shape. The main difference with other curved watches came from its specific movement. It was built in two levels, to perfectly fit the shape of the case. These curved watches were larger and more accurate than the ‘normal’ flat watches. The Gruen Company had its headquarters in Cincinnati, where the watches were assembled. The Manufacture movements were made in Biel, Switzerland, in a factory owned by Gruen. For a time, Gruen was also shareholder in Aegler SA, Rolex movements’ supplier.

The luxury watchmaker from Pennsylvania

The watchmaker Roland G. Murphy (1961), trained at the WOSTEP in Switzerland, presented his first watch in 1993. His own watch brand RGM produces a wide range of mechanical watches – from the simple automatic to highly complicated timepieces, like for instance tourbillons (see some RGM tourbillons here).

One of the RGM hallmarks are the guilloché dials, hand-made on an antique machine. In addition, Murphy also restores old clocks. His company is based in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

The first TV-Spot about watches ever

On July 1, 1941 Bulova was the very first brand to advertise on TV, just before a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies. For 20 seconds, the TV-spot showed a dial with “Bulova Watch Time” written on it, in the middle of map of the USA. Bulova paid $ 9,19 USD for this commercial. Another premiere about advertising also goes to Bulova: In 1926 the brand was the first to advertise on an American radio station: “At the tone, it’s 8 pm, B-U-L-O-V-A, Bulova watch time.”

The first battery watch

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The Hamilton Pulsar, first electronic digital watch

On January 3, 1957, the Hamilton wrist watch that was presented in New York during a press conference, was the first battery-powered watch in the world: the “Hamilton Electric”. Hamilton won the race against Elgin, who also developed an electric watch, but failed to introduce it as fast as Hamilton did. Hamilton’s first electric watch, a gold model, was available for USD 175. In 1972, Hamilton introduced the first electronic digital watch: the “Pulsar”. The company had already announced this new model two years earlier, but they faced issues as the LED display consumed too much energy. The Pulsar finally came on the market with all the improvements needed and it has been an enormous success.

The original article was published in German on watchtime.net and is republished here with permission.

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