Update: We’ve added further clarification on this story since it’s publication.
The resurgence of American manufacturing has hit the style industry hard, but it has been slow to bleed into the watch industry (Shinola’s dubious claims aside). America’s watch industry was once thriving, with companies like Hamilton, Elgin and Waltham churning out movements en masse. Yet in the later half of the 20th century, as mechanical watch sales began to decline, so too did the industry. It’s been decades since watch movements have been produced in large numbers in the USA.
Cameron Weiss, founder and head watchmaker of Weiss Watches, has taken his revival of American watchmaking seriously, building watches with cases, dials and other parts made in the US — but the big barrier to a full-on American-made watch is the movement. On July 4th, Weiss will be unveiling and opening up orders on its new American Issue Field Watch, which the company says is an updated take on its Standard Issue Field Watch that will replace the great-but-not-American ETA 6497 ticking inside with Weiss’s own CAL1003: a hand-wound, 17-jewel movement the brand says is manufactured in-house. According to a company spokesperson, the watch’s movement will “come in well below competitors, making it really within the reach of those wanting to invest in the new benchmark for American watchmaking.”
If true, this will be no small feat. While Switzerland and Asia are capable of churning out mechanical movements at scale and at low price points, America has not had the same kind of manufacturing support since the decline of the industry nearly 60 years ago, and revitalizing that would be an expensive and complex task. “Designing, engineering, and manufacturing our own mechanical movement has been extremely difficult to achieve,” says Weiss. “We really needed a perfect storm of knowledge, skill, investment, and marketplace demand in order to reach this milestone…the investment is very high and initial returns are low.”
This has been done through a “proprietary process for in-house design, engineering, and manufacturing that will scale up,” according to Weiss’s spokesperson. Not only would this mean Weiss could build its own watches with its own American in-house movements at a reasonable price, but it would also allow the company to launch its own parts supplier division that would provide design and manufacturing services to American (and European) companies wanting to produce their own watches using Weiss’s movement and technology. So far, Weiss hasn’t released any other details, including price; come the 4th of July, we’ll know more.
Further Clarification: Our original report is based on information given to us by Weiss Watch Company, who shared with Gear Patrol that they were launching a new watch “featuring their first US-made mechanical movement” and “has development [sic] a proprietary process for in-house design, engineering, and manufacturing that will scale up.” Based on outreach from our readers, it appears the movement is possibly a modified version of the ETA Unitas 6497 already used in Weiss’s mechanical watches. We will continue to update this story as we learn more, but below is further explanation of the movement being used.
The movement is similar to the 6497 design. However, according to Weiss, it is built almost entirely from components machined in-house with the exception of the hairspring and jewels (Weiss says it plans to manufacture these eventually). The US-made and in-house aspects are technically true, in that the CAL1003 is built in the US from US-made parts but is not, in the traditional sense, fully “in-house.” The company says the achievement will allow Weiss to build movements and components in the US and supply them to manufacturers who currently rely on ETA movements and parts that will soon become unavailable.