Origins Rooted in Outer Space

An astronaut’s bespoke request for an American-made timepiece led to the official launch of the TWC brand in 1998.

It was Commander Thiele of NASA’s STS-99 space mission who saw the potential in what an American firm could offer in regard to making bespoke watches with purpose. He specifically wanted a tool watch with distinct professionalism that would accompany him on his journey through outer space. The guidelines called for a combination of “Swiss accuracy and German craftsmanship.” Hartwig Balke and George Thomas were two of the only watchmakers in America at the time capable of producing such quality. 

Mission STS-99 Chronograph on Commander Thiele's wrist in spacecraft.

Nonetheless, the request wasn’t born out of patriotism, it was vested in a true desire to work with the watchmaker and play a role in the making process. This was something that Commander Thiele believed an American firm could uniquely provide him with - an instrument made just for him and his mission. Commander Thiele recognized our founder’s ability to make a personal yet regulated instrument and selected them as the makers of his space watch, establishing a foundation for a new era of horological achievements in America that would continue to this day.

TWC onboard Endeavour Space Shuttle

In the years prior to Commander Thiele’s request, Hartwig and George perfected their craft in a shared workshop standardizing a handmade approach to watchmaking. The workshop was what you would imagine finding in an alpine village - a wonder of organization, precision and miniaturization amongst the array of vintage lathes, miniscule tools and screws. Every instrument used in the TWC workshop is operated by the watchmaker’s hand.

TWC in-house modification prior to COSC certification.

At the time of the commander’s request, the TWC collections hadn’t yet come to fruition, but the two watchmakers were becoming known for their personalized approach to the craft. They catered to bespoke requests from local clientele, working almost exclusively with precious materials and grand-complications. Taking the finest components from around the world and translating them into one-of-a-kind masterpieces. Today, the Master’s Collection tells the story of these origins. The collection hosts watches born purely out of the desire of Towson’s watchmakers to make them. Frosted silver dials, skeletonized movements, and hand-guilloche that illuminate the most intrinsic values of our appreciation for high-horology. 

Each astronaut’s crew name and the mission designator, “SRTM-99” was engraved onto the border of the caseback. Like the front, the revealed movement was protected by acrylic crystal. 

As more people began to recognize the unique work our founding watchmakers were engaging in, notable enthusiasts and professionals alike found a larger merit to what was happening - mechanical watchmaking here in the United States, pushing innovation forward and breaking status-quo in its respective arena. It was a scene of craft artisans quietly turning their expertise into bespoke watches for local clientele. The commander had a raw desire for a custom-tailored horological experience. It was intriguing that independent firms could make the watches they want to make, choose how to make them, and avoid the limitations of mass-branding.

TWC Mission STS-99 in Hodinkee's Official Space Watch Database

The STS-99 was the first space mission of the new millennium. The Endeavor shuttle spent months mapping the earth’s surface from the south of Greenland to the northern edge of the Antarctic. Despite the digital instruments aboard the spacecraft, the astronauts wanted an accurate and reliable mechanical timepiece. The timepieces that TWC built for the mission were certified chronometers, serving as faithful companions to the commander and his fellow mates in outer space. This made Towson’s Mission STS-99 Chronograph the first mechanical watch of the 2000’s worn in outer space, and even the last worn on a solo NASA spacecraft mission.

Triple chronograph display of engine-turned sub-dials on a black base plate. A minute counter at 12 o’clock, sweep-second at 9 o’clock and an hour-counter at 6 o’clock allow uncluttered functional use. Included was a black tachymeter and date-window at 3 o’clock. The central minute, hour and chronograph hands were painted in white, aligning with the white accents and numerals on the dial.

The commander specifically wanted a tool watch that could accompany him on his journey to outer space.

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Hartwig always said, “a fine watch is a man’s signature.” This certainly struck a chord with Commander Thiele who recognized both the utility and meaning of a timepiece built just for him and his needs. It wasn’t a need for an American watch, it was a need for his own watch. Time and accuracy were at the core of the commander’s request, but there was a symbolic value of a fine timepiece that was vested in an intrinsic need for distinction and purpose. The watch told the story of the professional. If it wasn’t designed precisely in accordance with the commander’s wishes, then the commissioned project would have been obsolete. There was no room for telling the story of the brand. Thankfully, our founders had no desire to in any case. The Mission Chronograph, along with all Towson watches, are made for its wearer’s mission.

In the 1980’s, the mechanical wristwatch began to experience a renaissance. Consumers once again appreciated the art, craftsmanship and high style of mechanical wristwatches. They began to turn away from the mass-produced quartz timekeepers and look towards the Swiss luxury brands. Nonetheless, by the time the new millennium approached, luxury mechanical watches were scaled in a similar fashion as the once disruptive quartz industry had been. With the typical “space watches” at the time so highly-marketed and in the hands of the mainstream, Commander Thiele wanted a timepiece that would demonstrate his distinction and purpose while serving as a reliable instrument in space. He believed an independent firm in America could make this happen due to the standardization and formalities of the firms across the pond.

Hartwig, a German native and career automobile engineer was responsible for the timepieces' durability and craftsmanship while George Thomas would guarantee Swiss accuracy, having restored some of the world’s most famous chronometers in the 1990’s. The specialized approach between our two founders leaks down into every aspect of a TWC watch. It has established a strict practice of using the best artisans in their respective field to make raw components found in a watch. This utilitarian and specialized approach even leaked into the design language of their first chronograph built for Commander Thiele, the Mission STS-99, and the array of M250 chronograph series that would follow.

In total, eight STS-99 Chronometers were made in this first series of TWC watches, with two currently on display at the National Watch and Clock Museum in Columbia, serving as tokens of American innovation in watchmaking. The founder’s successful fulfillment of Commander Thiele’s direct request solidified the TWC brand. Watchmakers with a standardized and personalized approach to the craft, offering themselves directly to the customer. A brand built on making these watches available to all collectors, enthusiasts and professionals. Watches that tell the story of its wearer.

Evolution of the Mission Collection (1998 - 2022)

The array of series that would follow aimed to make this personalized approach to the craft of watchmaking available to all collectors, enthusiasts and professionals. The Mission M250 would be the first standardized TWC Collection reference model to become commercially available for purchase in select retailers around the East Coast. With the Mission Moon, our watchmakers evolved the Mission M250 with utilitarian and aesthetic intentions, designing a triple calendar moonphase chronograph made for enthusiasts seeking maximum utility and professionalism from a mechanical tool watch. 

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