A DEEP REWIND: 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 his partner, Hartwig Balke, a graduate in mechanical engineering and talented designer in an Irish Annapolis pub after sailors’ small talk. They discovered their common love for high grade mechanical watches and began sharing shop. Eventually starting TOWSON WATCH COMPANY together - one of the American-Owned & Facilitated Mechanical Watchmaking Operations that still exists today.

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.

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

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.

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.

“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

In 1999, Thomas and Balke made their first wrist chronograph for Towson Watch Company together. It was worn during the first space mission in the new millennium, the STS-99 Mission. Commissioned by a NASA astronaut and mission specialist. The series of watches were worn in outer space for several months, now on display in various horological museums across the country. The Mission Collection today continues the legacy of this storied past. These roots continue to ground TWC to the personalized approach that separates our product and brand. 

Along with the many old-school manual tools you find in George's shop you will also see a small computer controlled lathe. Watchmaking is a very traditional trade, still using many tools and techniques developed hundreds of years ago, but it is one thing to make a single watch by hand for a museum and quite another to make a line of watches that can compete in the marketplace with others made by world's most famous watch companies.

Even companies like Rolex now take advantage of the speed and repeatable accuracy provided by computer controlled machines to make some of the parts; however, the industry still relies heavily on skilled workers to tune and assemble these parts into a timepiece that keeps accurate time.

Towson Watch Company has two well equipped workshops with modern and old traditional watchmaker tools and machines, one of which is located at the company’s office in Baltimore City and the other at Hartwig Balke’s house. All Towson watchmakers are masters at what they do, and still to this day, use some tools that are over a hundred years old.

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