I’m Enamored with Inexpensive American Watches

Over the past two decades or so, I’ve really found a  love for wristwatches. It all started when being exposed to watch collecting through an old architect buddy who had a small but formidable watch collection that included a Panerai and a Breitling. These are two brands that will probably never be in my own watch collection, mostly due to the sheer cost of these instruments and my limited disposable income for such things. I do have a few watches that I like very much though. They are…

All three of these watches were gifts. The Ole Mathiesen was a gift from my architect buddy and the Junkers and Citizen watches were gifts from my wife.  If you’ve never heard of Ole Mathiesen timepieces, you can read about the company here. I have a few other pieces, mostly Victorinox Swiss Army watches and two smartwatches from Apple and Pebble; but the three listed are my favorites. The Nighthawk was my daily watch for a very long time, but my interests have started to wander, design-wise. I hardly ever wear the Mathiesen or the Junkers because I find them to be a bit too formal and I’m more of a jeans and tee shirt kind of guy. The Junkers isn’t that formal, but with a highly domed hesalite crystal, I don’t want to scratch it up by wearing it daily.

Lately, I’ve started to pay attention to American watches. I write American watches and not American made watches mostly because I can’t be certain the watches I’m interested in are actually made in the US and not just assembled here or assembled in other countries. Most of them, maybe all of them, are minimally designed watches with cheap Japanese movements, like Miyota or something similar.  The six companies that I’m most interested in have watches with $600 or less price tags. They are…

There are more American companies selling watches, but I’ve found these to be the most affordable during my internet travels. Of the six, the watches from Breda are the easiest on the wallet, many of them currently under $50 and their normal retail price is $70! I like the designs of all of the watches by these companies, though I find the Shinola branding a bit overwhelming and detracts from the aesthetic of many of their timepieces. The MVMT watches are the next most affordable, sitting at $100-150. The Breda and MVMT share similar utilitarian design traits, though the Breda watches are not as resistant to water—no showering with them or submersion. The MVMT watches are water resistant up to 5 atmospheres (ATM) or 50 meters (165 feet). Remember that ATM is a pressure measurement and not depth. For example, the pressure from the water coming from the shower hitting the seals of the watch is far greater than 3 ATM. Because of the design similarities and both companies selling watches under $150, I categorize them them in the same bucket.

All of the remaining companies listed have watches at the same relative price point, though the designs vary. The price point for the other four hover between $495-1925. Some of the Montenero watches sit below the $500 price tag and, of the four, I find their designs to be the most modern and design-y. The Shinola watches have a more unique design that is somewhat retro; but with an Argonite quartz movement (battery), I would find it difficult to spend $600-1000 for a non-Swiss movement watch. The Argonite movement is assembled in USA with parts manufactured in Switzerland, but it is NOT a Swiss movement. The other problem I have with Shinola is that a great number of their watches have heads larger than 40MM. In my opinion, anything larger than 42MM is a bit too trendy for me. I would probably stick to one of their watches with a 38MM case size.

The Hager collection is very interesting in that it has seemingly well-made dive watches with automatic movements that look a bit like knock-off Rolex Submariners. The price of their watches is also very attractive at $600-700.  So if you’re interested in the classic Rolex dive watch design and don’t want to spend Rolex dollars, this might be the watch for you. It is certainly more interesting than Victorinox Rolex Submariner knock-offs, like their $500 Maverick line. Though the Victorinox watches do have Swiss movements, where the Hager watches do not.

The last watch company listed, MKII, has watches that run from $595 (non-Swiss movement) to $1925 (Swiss movement). I like their less expensive Hawkinge line that seems to be a simple field watch. The problem with paying almost $600 for a simple field watch is that you can purchase a Hamilton Khaki Field watch with Swiss movement for under $400—though the Hamilton watches are owned by the Swatch Group. Swatch owns Tissot, Hamilton, Omega, et cetera. So if I were looking for a field watch, I’d probably buy a Hawkinge from a Pennsylvania company instead of buying a Hamilton-Swatch. The MKII people have also had limited runs of their Hawkinge line with straps from Worn and Wound and Crown and Buckle.

To sum it all up, there are a decent number of interesting watches available from American companies. The problem with most of them—Breda and MVMT excluded—is that the consumer is having to pay a premium for non-Swiss movement watches because of limited manufacturing runs. The same or a lesser amount of money can be spent on similar watch designs with Swiss movement, manufactured by large faceless corporations. You, the consumer and watch aficionado, must decide if spending extra money for a watch while buying (almost) American is important to you. I recently ordered a watch from Breda and will update this post once I get it.