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Where are the Watches Made?

"Where are the Watches Made?"

This is an often asked question and I want to address it directly.

Watch Collectors & Hobbyist that are really into watches and regular Microbrand watch consumers already know the answer by noting the price of our watches. We Microbrand owners sometimes take this information for granted, and it is up to us to explain the state of the watch economy as best as we can. Because “Where was it made” is a valid question.

There are no mechanical watches wholly made in the United States that are under several thousand dollars. A few Independent watch brands in the US that produce much of their watch in the USA, but not all the watch components come from the USA. Keep in mind the prices for these watches are $1,000 or more per piece, and these brands are not producing them quickly enough nor have facilities large enough to make watches for other small microbrands like Cincinnati Watch Company. They most likely would not want to either. If you are seeking a wholly made, or mostly made in the USA mechanical watch, RGM out of Pennsylvania or Weiss in Los Angeles are two examples. I highly recommend the products that they produce:

We cannot emphasize enough how special these brands are in what they are doing, they are the exception, not the rule. Both brands make most of the parts in the US, but they are still using imported swiss components for the movements. I don’t know for a fact if they are making the sapphire crystals themselves, but I suspect it's unlikely. If you happen to be an employee of either of these brands, please reach out to me and I will correct this blog post. I hope to be the owner myself of a watch from either of these brands one day, however the least expensive watch between the two of them is $1,150.00… Which is a fair value given the amount of time they are putting into each piece.

There are no mechanical watches wholly made in the United States that are under several thousand dollars.

So where are the components in Cincinnati Watch Company watches made?

The movements we use in our watches are either made in Japan or Switzerland. Currently these two countries dominate movement production and make the most reliable movements available. There are no companies mass producing mechanical movements in the United States. This could change in the future but as of right now they simply do not exist.

Sapphire Crystals and Watch Cases

The cases and sapphire crystals in our watches are made in Hong Kong. The vast majority of watches worn today are made either in Hong Kong or mainland China. (With the watch movements coming from somewhere else) This has been true for quite some time. After WWII the competency to produce large quantities of watch cases and parts moved slowly overseas. Switzerland stayed neutral in the War and sold timing instruments to both sides, they improved competency while American watch makers retooled for the war effort and moved away from consumer watch/pocket watch sales while they made precision dials, meters, and instruments. It was after WW2 that while American GI's came home, with the American economy one of the only literally standing economies in the World there was money to spend on nice watches. While American watchmakers retooled back to making watches Swiss companies moved in and "took" the luxury American watch market. American watch companies like Gruen, Hamilton, Ball, Elgin, Waltham, did not have watches to meet the demand as the transition back to watch making took months to years once the War was officially over. Many watch makers never recovered from having to take the non-watchmaking contracts of WW2.

This was not always the case, during the railroad era the US dominated pocket watch production. Using assembly line production and parts standardization we where the first in the world to create the $1 pocket watch. Pocket watches once considered the best in the world made in Great Britain sold for $40 or more (A man’s yearly Salary), and only the wealthy owned them.

American ingenuity brought timepieces to the masses

American ingenuity brought timepieces to the masses, we were the “Chinese” so to speak in the world pocket watch market. The Swiss copied OUR techniques to start producing more watches.(with the help of, as a matter of fact, young Gruen who when he and his Father started the Gruen Watch Company they went to their German and Swiss watchmakers for them to make the movement they designed, in trade, young Gruen stayed for 1 year teaching American manufacturing methods).

Standardized Parts, Assembly Line Production, Replacement Parts & Servicing

Where watch making was still one watch maker making all of the parts of one watch, America invented standardized parts, replacement parts, and production lines. Now, a watchmaker could move the watch down the line and create a watch infinitely faster than the one horologist making the entire watch. Servicing watches became possible since each part in each watch was the same, those parts could be replaced. The trade guilds of Great Britain resisted the move to assembly line production and as a result they slowly faltered.

This brings us to today. The Chinese have perfected the ability to make relatively high-quality watch components that the average consumer can afford, while few others can. Of course, some factories are doing better work than others, and we are using a partner that is committed to quality in the same way we are.

If a company would like “Swiss Made” on the dial, only 60% of the value of the components must be made in Switzerland

The Swiss use China for the lower priced watches they make, even they have a hard time making wholly produced Swiss watches under $1,000. If a company would like “Swiss Made” on the dial, only 60% of the value of the components must be made in Switzerland. Higher priced watches such as Rolex, Tudor, IWC etc. are wholly made in Switzerland, but of course we are talking about watches that are so far outside of the typical consumers price range that most can not afford a 30 second dream of one watch. You can read more about it here:

I personally design and service our watches in Cincinnati, and I inject myself into the technical design process so I know the watches are constructed in a high-quality manner and to exact specifications. I go further than most microbrands by personally inspecting, testing and adjusting the movements myself to make sure each movement is as accurate as our high quality movements can be.

You will be happy with the quality fit and finish of the precision watch you receive from us. The Cincinnati Watch Company is integrated and inspired by our American history and Institutions. Our watches represent the manufacturers of America, The Great individuals, groups and institutions that make our communities strong and vibrant. Every watch we produce a portion of the sale gets donated to an important Cincinnati institution.

The Union Terminal Watch dress watch. In honor of the art deco Cincinnati Union Terminal, home of the Cincinnati Museum Center and the Cincinnati Railroad Club.

The P-40M Mechanical. Our pilot watch inspired by the Award Winning Restoration of the P-40M by the Tri-State Warbird Museum.

When you come across a small microbrand offering a watch, know that they are not willfully trying to “edge out” American workers. Or choosing the “cheap” way of doing things. The options for small watch companies, and even large ones residing in the US are few. I hope that one day mass produced watches move back to the United States, in the meantime, affordable watches are produced, and produced well overseas.

Thank You!

Rick Bell

Cincinnati Watch Company

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