"The Time Bum's" Loren Sciurba provides his take on Towson Watch Co's Cockpit Moon C1.
I first encountered The Towson Watch Company (TWC) several years ago when I noticed it on my father-in-law’s wrist. He is a bit of a watch guy himself, so he was happy to tell me all about his Skipjack GMT and how master watchmakers made it right there in the Baltimore, Maryland suburb of Towson where he lived. It seemed like a company worth investigating, so I promptly put it on my list of blog ideas, and there it stayed as other watches made their way across my desk.
This past July, I was re-introduced to the brand at the Watches, Whiskey and Wine show in Maryland. There, I browsed their collection and had a lively conversation about the future of American watchmaking with a young man named Taylor Classen, who I soon discovered was one of the company’s new owners. We arranged a meeting with him and TWC President Spenser Shattuck at their Baltimore showroom, and I left with a clearer sense of where TWC was going and a Cockpit Moon Chronograph press loaner for review.
I promise I’ll get to the review shortly, but first, I need to share a few words about the company because it is a bit different from the usual microbrand origin story I’m used to hearing. For starters, I’d hesitate to call TWC a microbrand, but that is neither here nor there. Let’s just take it from the top.
Towson Watch Company – The Past
The story starts over 20 years ago when two retired watchmakers, George Thomas and Hartwig Balke, happened to meet in an Annapolis pub. In 2000, they established a workshop in Towson, founded their eponymous watch company, and started making one-off pieces. One such commission was built for a NASA astronaut who took it on the Space Shuttle Endeavor. The watch became the foundation for TWC’s popular Mission Collection. Eventually, they developed several distinct TWC lines sold directly online and through a handful of jewelry stores.
Through the years, Thomas and Balke maintained absolute control over their products. What they didn’t do themselves was contracted to respected European manufacturers and master artisans on both sides of the Atlantic before the two performed final finishing and assembly. As you might imagine, this was neither quick nor cheap. All TWC watches were low-volume or custom-made products ranging in price from about $2000 to well over $10,000. In 2009, TWC repaired Abraham Lincoln’s pocket watch for the Smithsonian Institution. It’s fair to say they are trusted and well-respected.
By 2016, the men, already once retired, were ready to move TWC into a new phase to ensure its legacy. They sold a 25% stake with an option for more to Sagamore Ventures, the Maryland-focused investment company owned by Under Armour founder and Executive Chairman Kevin Plank. In 2018, TWC joined other Sagamore operations with a new showroom in Baltimore, and that is where the story takes an unexpected twist.
In late 2020, Plank sold TWC to Shattuck, a family friend and watch enthusiast entering his senior year at Johns Hopkins University. Earlier this year, Spencer brought in Classen as a minority partner. At the time, Classen was a successful luxury watch dealer who had also recently graduated — from high school. Yes, that’s right. To say TWC’s new leadership is youthful would be a gross understatement. Meanwhile, Balke is in his 80s, Thomas is 91, and they are still making all of TWC’s watches. It sounds like an excellent premise for a sitcom, but can this work in real life? To get a better idea, I went to Baltimore along with my comrade Mike Razak and spoke with Shattuck and Classen at length.
I’ll get back to that soon, but I believe I promised you a watch review.
While at the showroom, Mike and I explored the entire TWC collection and chose our review pieces. I selected the $3,850 Cockpit Moon because it represents the design ethos most prevalent across the TWC lines. Also, because it is nicely sized for my wrist, has a salmon dial in a year when salmon is hot, and is just so damned pretty. Mike chose the equally cool but radically different Martin M-130 pilot’s watch. You can read his piece on WatchClicker.
The Cockpit Moon is part of TWC’s Mission Collection. It is not the exact model that went into space. That honor belongs to the Mission Moon, with which it shares its movement and dial design, but not its case. As with other moon phase models in the Mission Collection. Its heart is an ETA 7751 chronograph decorated and regulated in-house (non-moons use the 7750). This is a fascinating choice for an aerospace-inspired watch. While pilots and astronauts have long favored chronographs (at least according to watch company marketing), the 7751’s date arrangement, with its 11 and 1 o’clock month and day windows and 4th hand date indicator, seems more than a touch fussy for the task. And a moon phase? It is the least useful of all complications on earth and yet, the most attractive.
The Cockpit Moon is one of the smaller pieces in TWC’s line, measuring 38mm wide and 45.5mm long with 18mm between the lugs. All of the complications conspire to make it 13.7mm thick from its sapphire crystal to the sapphire case back, but while stout, it feels in no way overly thick or top-heavy. Straight lugs with rounded corners dip just enough to allow the strap to wrap comfortably. It is a perfect fit on my 6.75″ wrist and easy to slide under a buttoned shirt cuff, which I suspect its owners will often do, given its dressy appearance. TWC markets the watch as unisex, and with its compact size and sporting nature, I agree. These proportions should sit comfortably on most women’s wrists.
The case is brightly polished all around with coin edging on the crown, button collars, and the center ring of the stepped bezel. TWC sources it from Germany’s Ickler and finishes it in the Towson workshop, where the day selection button is drilled and fitted. Around the back, you can get a look at that TWC-decorated movement with its engraved rotor and blued screws.
It’s a lovely case, but the dial outshines it. Just take a moment to savor that hand guilloched center, the polished dart hour markers, heat-blued hands, and the bright rings encircling the subdials. If you are not smitten by the copper color, you will be happy to see the same dial offered in white, and if you are willing to forego the moon phase and blued hands, in black as well. A tri-color shield logo at 3 o’clock balances the 12, 9, and 6 o’clock registers. Sharp eyes will see the brand’s initials in there.
All 11 models in the Mission Collection share a variant of this dial design, as does their Choptank series, albeit in square form. It is a traditional chronograph design, bordering on old-fashioned, and of course, very, very Towson. You won’t mistake the Cockpit Moon for a tool watch, and that’s fine because it isn’t. Water resistance is just 50m, and there isn’t a speck of lume to be found. I’d call it more of an everyday dress watch. You can wear it to all but the most formal of affairs and it will attract all the right kinds of attention.
This model C1 arrived on a dark green strap made of ostrich leather, a lovely choice both in terms of quality and its somewhat uncommon color. I found it an excellent complement to the copper dial and far more interesting than the black or navy leather one might typically expect. Not that there is anything wrong with either of those. It’s just that we’ve all seen those pairings before. The green was a refreshing change.
The Cockpit Moon is not your father’s space travel watch, but it could have been your great-great grandfather’s if he were to have attempted the journey by zeppelin. And there is the beauty of it. You don’t go to TWC to buy something that looks like an Omega Speedmaster or a Fortis Cosmonaut. A TWC should have old-world charm, sumptuous detail, and more than a dash of romantic elegance. That is precisely what the Mission Collection delivers.
Towson Watch Company – The Future
So let’s get back to the two new fellows at the helm. Before I meant Shattuck and Classen at the showroom, I prepared myself for the worst, braced for one of two excruciating eventualities. The first was for them to be wild-eyed buffoons who would tell me how they would make TWC bigger than Seiko and better than Rolex. How they would start by launching the 20 new models they scribbled in a coke-fueled all-nighter. Maybe they would even claim to be “disrupting the industry.” My second fear was that they would be cold, soulless reptiles who could not wait to jettison the old guys, ignore the brand’s roots, and start slapping the TWC logo on ostensibly “Swiss Made” (60% Swiss “value,” right?) catalog watches. Either one would spell disaster — the horological equivalent of the mobsters in Goodfellas running the Bamboo Lounge into the ground before torching it for insurance money.
Much to my relief, I discovered I was speaking to two clear-headed young men who seem to genuinely value the business they now possess and have solid ideas on how to move it forward. Shattuck and Classen are, first and foremost, watch enthusiasts. They are passionate and knowledgeable about the industry. They speak of Thomas and Balke with awe and respect, recognizing both their skill and the remarkable independent brand they have established. This is promising for many reasons, not the least of which is that, without these men, the two new ones would be the proud owners of a name, limited inventory, and a workshop stocked with 100 years of watchmaking equipment that they have no idea how to use.
Understanding that the founders cannot make watches forever and also that the future of TWC must be in America, they are actively recruiting the next generation of watchmakers from schools like the Lititz Watch Technicum in Pennsylvania. They also appreciate the relationships Thomas and Balke have built with their suppliers and craftsmen over the years, and it is with great pride that Shattuck describes their watches as being built by “a team of artists.”
Change has been incremental thus far and is likely to continue on that path in the future. The new owners have revisited the company’s retail arrangements, and the watches are now available exclusively online, although they have not ruled out brick-and-mortar sales. Marketing is being modernized as well with an increased social media presence and the addition of brand ambassadors like Marylander and race car driver Cameron Das, the winner of the Euroformula Open Championship.
In response to customer demand, TWC now offers black dial Mission chronographs with the option of white-painted hands. This may seem as shocking as an unmarried lady casually showing a flash of bare ankle. Still, it is a departure from the TWC design idiom and an important signal that the brand is ready to evolve. Current TWC lines are selling well, but of course, new models are in the works. Shattuck and Classen are working with Thomas and Balke on prototypes, ensuring that the essential TWC DNA is passed on.
FULL ARTICLE : https://www.thetimebum.com/2021/12/towson-watch-company-cockpit-moon-c1.html