The Founders of Towson Watch Company

Towson Watch Company was founded at the beginning of the new millennium by Hartwig Balke & George Thomas. Two freshly retired foreign engineers who moved to America to sail the coast and further pursue their passion for horology and craftsmanship.

George Thomas met Hartwig Balke at an Irish Annapolis pub after sailors’ small talk. They discovered their common love for horology and began working on projects together. Eventually, they established Towson Watch Company together in 1998, forming one of the America's most noteworthy watch brands.

George Thomas and Hartwig Balke constitute a specialized watchmaking team. As a certified master horologist, Thomas focuses on regulating movements and assembling Towson Watches. Meanwhile, Balke, a product designer and engineer, spearheads the design process and establishes technical requirements for each timepiece. Although most Towson Watches are designed by Balke, each bears Thomas's influence and expertise.

There are few craftsmen left in the world like George Thomas capable of making a complete watch from scratch, part by part. George has made 4 tourbillon watches, three of which are in the NAWCC museum in Pennsylvania as well as a Carousel watch also in the museum. He restored the world’s smallest watch made in 1860 for the Czar of Russia and the world’s oldest known signed and dated watch from 1530.

George Thomas was born in Prague, Czech Republic in 1930 and grew up in Prague, Vienna and Zurich as a watchmaker and engineer. In 1951, he moved to San Francisco to work in the plastics and chemical industries while partaking in horological restoration as his side-gig. During this time, he invented a process of molding sawdust into rustic outdoor dishes called “Stonewood.” His machining abilities and prominent hand-work made him known as one of the most trustworthy watchmakers in America.

Thomas's classical approach to the craft utilizes tools dating back over a century. Nonetheless, in George's workshop, alongside traditional manual tools, you'll find a computer-controlled lathe. Watchmaking blends tradition with modernity, employing centuries-old techniques alongside contemporary machinery. While some parts are crafted using computer-controlled machines for speed and precision, skilled artisans are integral to fine-tuning and assembling these components into precise timepieces. Towson Watch Company operates two workshops equipped with a mix of modern and traditional tools. One workshop is located at our Timonium office, while the other is housed at Hartwig Balke's residence in Towson.

Master Watchmakers - Hartwig Balke (left) George Thomas (Middle) & Jochen Benzinger (right)

Hartwig Balke was a German-born engineer and designer. For a substantial period of his professional life, Balke worked for companies which focused on oil-rig blowout prevention and dust filtration systems. In 1989, Balke moved to the United States to open a subsidiary of a German hoist manufacturer – another company in the oil industry. Establishing the need to be near an active seaport, the move landed him in Baltimore.

With the German expertise and manufacturing relationships, he made his first wrist chronograph with Thomas in 1999-2000. It was worn in outer space during the first mission in the new millennium, the STS-99 Mission. This commissioned project launched the TWC brand and its signature Mission, Chesapeake, and Master’s Collections. Hartwig has since been mentoring our young apprentices in the TWC workshops, passing down his techniques, rare tools and high standards for the craft.

With the German expertise and manufacturing relationships, Hartwig made his first wrist chronograph with Thomas in 1999-2000. It was worn in outer space during the first mission in the new millennium, the STS-99 Mission. The series of watches were worn in outer space for several months, now on display in various horological museums across the country. This commissioned project launched Towson Watch Company's first branded line of watches, the Mission Collection, which continues on today proliferating the legacy of the brand.

In 2021, George Thomas became a mentor to the next generation of American watchmakers while Hartwig Balke has continued with us as the lead watchmaker. Hartwig aslo mentors his apprentices in the TWC workshop, passing down his techniques, rare tools and high standards for the craft.

“I started life as a watchmaker in 1948, 58 years ago. Hartwig started out as an engineer. We work together well because he essentially does the design and engineering work that I can’t do. But I’ve had a lot of experience doing restoration of antique watches for museums. These are 200 to 300 year-old timepieces. We have both ends of the technical spectrum covered, from current engineering to an understanding of watchmaking 500 years ago.”

  - George Thomas

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