Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Towson Watch Company: An American Breed
Born in the USA, Born in the USA! Writing about Towson Watch Company makes me want to wave the American flag. In fact, red, white and blue grace the dial of every Towson watch. American watches, you say? Is it possible the Americans can make a quality timepiece? In fact, they can.
Established in Maryland in 2000, Towson Watch Company designs and manufactures their watches here on U.S. soil. Partners George Thomas and Hartwig Balke run the business, joining forces after meeting in an Irish pub and bonding over their love of sailing. In addition to sailing, they found they both had a passion for high-end mechanical timepieces and decided to form a brand.
Thomas and Balke aren’t dilettantes with a fancy for horology. They have top-notch credentials. Thomas, a master watchmaker, has been repairing complicated watches for 40 years and even built tourbillon watches that are on display at the National Watch and Clock Museum (linke). Balke, an engineer, built his first chronograph in 1999, but it wasn’t just any chronograph, this one went to space, worn by a NASA astronaut on the STS-99 Mission.
In their design and mechanics, Thomas and Balke take their inspiration from masters old and new like Breguet, Arnold, George Daniels and Ludwig Oeschlin. Thomas and Balke incorporated their love of sailing and the waterways into the company by naming their watches after them. Models include the Choptank, Skipjack and Potomac. Towson Watch Company even has a watch in the shape of a winch called the Pride II.
Though Thomas and Balke are quite capable of building their own components they instead choose high-grade movements from ETA or Soprod built to their specifications. Additionally, some movements are enhanced with upgrades of the balance and regulating mechanism.
“The clear message is, momentarily, without Swiss watchmaking there is no American watchmaking,” explains Balke. “While we can make the plates and bridges in the U.S., wheels, jewels, pallets and balances are still Swiss made, as are the mainspring and barrels. Can we make the wheels and the barrels in the U.S.? The answer is yes! Is it economical to do that? The answer at the moment is no!”
And yet, Towson Watch Company does make watches from scratch on occasion. When they do, all components including the plate, bridges, wheels and barrel are crafted at Towson. The only part not made in their workshop is the balance wheel.
To enhance the design of their watches, Towson often sends them out for a beauty treatment with master engraver Jochen Benzinger in Germany, with whom they’ve had collaboration for over 10 years. Benzinger also had a hand on the space watch flown on the STS-99 mission, as he modified the rotor to relocate its center of gravity.
Though the Swiss remain the leaders in quality watch production, there is a port in America at the Towson Watch Company.