Artisanal Mechanical Watchmaking

Our response to a commonly misunderstood critique.

From our German master watchmakers to our customers worldwide, the TWC community proudly embraces the brand’s American heritage. Then again, there isn’t another American-owned company making mechanical watches that can claim a two-decade-long history or say they have built watches for NASA astronauts. Sure, there was Bulova who made timepieces for astronauts back in 1969, but they haven’t been American-owned since 2008. To say the TWC brand is distinguished in this sense is an understatement. It’s truly one of America’s only independent watchmakers that still exists today. 

Towson watch worn by NASA astronauts in outer space on an STS-99 mission

Our approach to the craft hasn’t changed since the brand’s founding, and just the fact that TWC has its own growing team of in-house watchmakers is something that the Chesapeake region and the American watchmaking industry as a whole can be very proud of. It’s an accomplishment that has not only persisted for decades, but a thriving operation that continues to foster further in-house innovation and production here at TWC and fellow local firms in the space. 

Custom Towson watch made for Barack Obama using a silver dollar

To celebrate this American heritage, we do our best to perform as many parts of the watchmaking process in-house as possible, but we do believe in seeking expertise from elsewhere in order to achieve our premium standard for quality, accuracy and craftsmanship. Unfortunately, independent brands here in the United States and elsewhere often receive an impactful but misunderstood critique in this regard. It can basically be summed up into the following judgment…

“so you don’t make your own movements”

Watchmakers commonly respond to this critique with, “they are modified and decorated in-house” or “we are just using a base-caliber.” These responses tend to be overlooked and draw even more criticism because they are used so often - sometimes as a genuine statement with backed reasoning but unfortunately other times as an excuse for cutting corners. Brands will even go to the extent of “making their own movement” by reproducing an existing design in a different location or factory. This “branding scheme” of course leads to less regulated and specialized production, thus jeopardizing overall quality, accuracy and reliability. The fact of the matter is, there can be a very good rationale and justification for why a watchmaker isn’t using their own movement. Here at TWC, we like to approach this critique with the following response:

“Yes, we use Swiss ETA base-calibers... but is ETA doing this for us?”

handmade skeleton watch in America

With the Half-Skelly, we have taken the Potomac’s Unitas 6498 movement and converted it into a piece of horological art that will blow away any enthusiast, collector, or horologist. Every single component within the base-caliber has been taken apart, skeletonized, engraved, plated, and re-structured to accommodate the unique transparent dial design. The final product is something that shares just about zero aesthetic resemblance to its original base-caliber but retains the same accuracy-grade and reliability. 

A closer look at Towson's exhibition skeleton

Using the Unitas 6498 for the Half-Skelly allowed us to make the best possible watch our creative team prototyped. Ultimately, the Swiss are still the best movement makers in the world, so incorporating a proven Swiss movement into our timepiece allows us to reach a standard of detail, quality, reliability, accuracy and distinctiveness that is exclusively characteristic of TWC. No corner is cut. Each element has been made using the best of the best. 

Half-Skelly manual-wound timepiece

“When we say we buy an ETA movement, sure we do, but they are upgraded to our standards. If we decide to make a watch with an up and down indicator or some other feature, we have the capability to add that feature; We make the feature ourselves on a prototype and then have the special parts and pieces made by others for scaled production. We have the capability to design and make movement features that are not standard, and we exert this capability for every TWC timepiece and its base-caliber.” 

- George Thomas (TWC Co-Founder)

This process of taking a high-grade base-caliber movement and completely remaking it is a perfect example for why the in-house movement critique can be misleading. The movement found in any TWC watch came-to-be due to in-house work, from start-to-finish. The design team chose the base-caliber during the prototyping stage, mapped out the necessary modifications and the watchmakers executed these modifications. This process occurs for each and every TWC timepiece, which strictly feature the best calibers in the world for a reason - from the Valjoux series (7750 and 7751), Unitas (classic 6498 with screwed balance) and ETA (2892 and 2893 series). All having been specifically picked for further fine tuning and fitting. Though not every TWC watch shares the same level of modified detailing as the Half-Skelly’s 6498 base-caliber, every movement has been deliberately chosen for its reliability and further modified specifically for its case and dial display.

Co-Founder George Thomas once noted...

“Does Chrysler make tires? No. Do most of these watch companies, even the ones that claim to create their own patented designed movements, actually make a complete movement? They might say these are our bridges, there are our gears. But do they make jewels? Do they make balanced springs? Do they make sapphire crystals? No.”

While TWC does not manufacture its own movements, we augment them more than some of the most prominently known Swiss brands do. Not to mention that we design, prototype and complete every other element of the watch in-house. The bottom line is that TWC is a great rarity - an American fine watchmaker that shares the same approach used by the most exclusive Swiss brands, but takes it even one step further. Here in the USA, we don’t have the close proximity to proprietary component-makers as our fellow players in Europe do, so our prototyping stage is fully an in-house project. We aren’t commissioning the brand next-door for a certain dial design or going to a competitor’s factory across the street to use their CNC machine. We are forced to carry all of these prototyping capabilities in-house. This is how TWC is carving out an important niche in a very misunderstood market. This purest approach to the craft of fine watchmaking is what makes our presence in America all the more noteworthy. 

Hartwig Balke using Towson's in-house CNC machine

Ultimately, what makes the TWC brand so unique is its watchmakers. These watchmakers, including the newer members of the team, both apprentices and now full-time employees are capable of building their own movements. In fact, we made a minute-repeater the other day using scrap components in the workshop. George Thomas even made his own tourbillon… Yes, these horological achievements by master watchmakers happened right here in America…However, we make 100 units of each reference model available for purchase on this website, and we have to perfectly construct each one to guarantee seasonal accuracy and everlasting reliability. This requires using the best of the best within each niche of the watchmaking process so corners don’t have to be cut to fulfill orders. 

Sketches for the limited edition Towson driver
Prototype case drawing for the "Towson Driver" (Master's Collection - Circa 2010)
Prototype drawing - movement detailing for the "Towson Driver" (Master's Collection - Circa 2010)
Prototype for the Towson Driver
In-House Prototype Case for "Towson Driver" (Master's Collection - Circa 2010)
Towson Driver - Limited Collection
Completed "Towson Driver" Made in Collaboration with Jochen Benzinger (dial), Ickler (case) and Unitas (movement)

As far as movements go, we are focused on making the best base-caliber movements in the world even better through modification and decoration. So instead of resorting to a “branding-scheme” and “making our own movement” by simply replicating another one that already exists, we will continue to do what we do and bring together the best components in the world of watchmaking to make the best watch possible for its price, and give you true intrinsic horological value. 

But don’t be fooled, when the time comes and we can actually build an in-house movement that’s different from the rest, you best know TWC will be right on that. 

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