Made In The USA: Weiss American Issue Field Watch Cal. 1003

A few months go, I discussed the importance of Shinola and taking “baby steps” towards American manufacturing. Today, we are going to talk about the first mass-market-oriented USA-made movement to appear in my lifetime: Weiss Cal. 1003. I’ve just taken delivery of a Weiss American Issue Field Watch, and it would be an understatement to say that I’m thrilled with it. Below, I’ll explain why this new watchmaker, and new watch movement, is so critical for American manufacturing — and why Shinola is probably still more important for American watchmaking as a whole.

As most of you know, the “movement” is the timekeeping soul of a non-digital watch. It can be electro-mechanical, like what you get in a traditional Swatch or any other “quartz watch”. It can be entirely mechanical, using a mainspring to power the motion of the hands and an “escapement” to regulate the motion of those hands. There are also a few hybrid movements, like the Seiko Kinetic (uses the action of a pendulum to charge capacitors that drive the hands) or the Seiko Spring Drive (uses an electronic mechanism to regulate spring-driven hands.)

There is a near-infinite number of luxury watchmakers out there, but there are relatively few watch movements out there. The vast majority of luxury watches are simply custom cases that surround everyday movements made by the Swatch Group and its ETA subsidiary. I’ve written about the Hublot Big Bang, which costs ten grand or more but shares its movement with a bunch of humble $500 watches.

Until recently, you had two “American” watch makers. On the low end, you have Shinola, which is mostly an assembly operation for Swiss and Chinese parts. On the high end, you have RGM, which has built close to three hundred “all-American” watches in which virtually everything is Pennsylvania-sourced. They sell for $7500 and up.

After an apprenticeship in Switzerland, Cameron Weiss opened up shop in Torrance, CA with the goal of walking a middle path between those two extremes. His Field Watches, which sell for a grand or thereabouts, have cases and crystals that are made in Los Angeles. The movements came from Switzerland. This was how he launched the company. But he had a more ambitious goal in mind.

The new Caliber 1003 from Weiss is a reverse-engineering, which is to say a copy, of the Swiss movement used in the original Weiss watches. (That’s perfectly legal; the patents have long since expired.) With the exception of the mainspring and the eighteen “jewel” bearings, everything is made in America. There are very few mainspring winders out there — Rolex and ETA are the only that come immediately to mind — but Weiss has plans to bring that to the USA as well in the near future.

It’s more expensive and difficult to produce an American Cal. 1003 than it is to buy a Swiss ETA movement. But Weiss has successfully brought the know-how back to America. Last week we talked about this in the context of bicycle manufacturing — all the know-how has gone. That’s been true for watches since shortly after Hamilton closed up USA production in 1969. But it’s coming back.

The Weiss 1003 finds a lovely home in my American Issue Field Watch. The simple aesthetic, deep-green dial, and optional Horween natural cordovan strap (a leather strap is standard equipment) makes for a superbly comfortable and tasteful timepiece. The price is reasonable enough. This is not a statement of wealth or even affluence; it doesn’t cost enough for that. Not flashy enough. It’s just a vote for American manufacturing in general and Mr. Weiss in particular.

Were Weiss nothing more than a small-batch American manufacturer, an RGM for those of us who don’t have a trust fund, it would still be admirable and worthwhile. But Weiss has bigger dreams. He wants to begin mass production of American watch movements that will be direct replacements for Swiss ETA movements. This is important for two reasons. The first is that ETA keeps threatening to cut off the supply of new movements to third-party manufacturers. Weiss could pick up a lot of that business, particularly from the small boutique makers that don’t have the expertise to invent new movements. Your next Hublot Big Bang could have an American heart, not a Swiss one.

The other reason for getting stoked about this is simple: the existence of an all-American movement could be the catalyst for an American watch revolution. Anybody with a Haas CNC machine and a few industrial contacts could start their own watch company using the Weiss movement. And they could put “MADE IN USA” on the face of the dial without incurring the wrath of the Federal Trade Commission. Hell, you don’t even need a CNC machine. You could make plastic watches with a 3-D printer. I should try doing it myself.

With a watch movement, we can have a watch industry. With a watch industry, we can have a larger precision tools industry. With a larger precision tools industry, we can build more things here. It’s an avalanche process that starts with a 29-year-old dude in Torrance and ends with an environmentally-responsible factory in your neighborhood making the things that you actually need and use on a daily basis.

In the meantime, it would be nice for Shinola to take note of how Mr. Weiss is doing this. If one man in an office complex can do it, then surely Shinola can. And they are already doing the volume they need to justify the spend on the movement.

That’s the dream, anyway. I’m voting for the dream with my wallet. I now have watches from 2 out of the three “American” companies. If you want me to get an RGM, then… I don’t know. Write to Road&Track and tell them to hire me more often. Tell them it’s about time.

42 Replies to “Made In The USA: Weiss American Issue Field Watch Cal. 1003”

      • AvatarRonnie Schreiber

        The filament, however, is from China, from eSun. I do have a couple of different carbon fiber reinforced ABS filaments from US suppliers.

        For the Harmonicaster project I’ve tried hard to source as much as I can from U.S. vendors.

        I have a couple of large, complicated parts that need a reinforced ABS to print without delamination or warping. I’d print in carbon/abs but I’m not about to do a Henry Ford with any color they want as long as it’s black, and the carbon filaments are 2 to 4 times the cost of even domestic ABS+. I tried a couple of U.S. suppliers of ABS+ and eSun and found eSun (which makes many times the amount the U.S. extruders do) to print better for my application.

        If you want to test out the eSun filaments, if there’s a Micro Center store in your town, their house brand, Inland, has filaments made by eSun. Other than the spools they put it on, it appears to be the same stuff.

        • AvatarJosh Howard

          We used the Inland stuff here at work and actually found most of it to be garbage (mostly due to plastic quality and age of inventory). However, we’ve got 2 XYZ daVinci setups and they’d be about perfect for this. While I have great CAD programs, I actually prefer tinkering in TinkerCAD. If I’m able to get any measurements, I’ll shoot them your way as well. Or… hand them over in person.

          That said, I’m tempted to just design my own watch and casing to throw this stuff in. Then, give it away after I have one. Design is fluid. With all the new ideas out, it’s easy to get ripped off.

          • AvatarRonnie Schreiber

            “It’s easy to get ripped off.”

            I’ve filed an application for a patent but I think the Harmonicaster trademark will be more valuable in the long run. I’ve toyed with the idea of making it open source but I’ll likely keep it proprietary but have very liberal licensing for a minimal fee ($5-$10/unit).

  1. AvatarBrendan

    I really like these but the small seconds at 9 is a deal killer for me. Much prefer it at 6. Having at at 9 just makes the dial look unbalanced. Then again I feel this way about every Unitas based watch.

  2. AvatarBill

    I will not buy from the Swatch group due to parts/service issues you discussed. I just had my 30 year old Speedmaster repaired using an independent watchmaker. He has a stash of parts so we could keep it OEM and original. At half the cost of the Total Service Omega demands. Hands, dial, crown were not replaced; Omega takes it upon themselves to replace anything they want, losing originality and value.

    Full marks for bringing the exquisite machine skills needed back to the US. Look at the amazing Elgin and Hamilton factories to see what has left. They were mostly gone by the 60’s so Seiko didn’t do them in. My watch box is full, but it could work out for a retirement gift next year.

  3. AvatarSimon

    Thank you for the short and definitive explanation for the difference between the Seiko Kinetic and Spring drives. I didn’t really get it before.

    All the best to Mr. Weiss. I like the idea of an affordable watch with an american made movement. Who knows, I may even be able to justify one (to myself) one of these days.

  4. Avatartresmonos

    This is sick. You have a hell of a watch.

    I think Elgin’s SC plant in the renamed town, Elgin, SC was the last US watch plant to close up. Bulova made their last movement (10CRACD 30j) in 1966 in the US. Their last US made movement is one my wrist. Hamilton was long gone as a casing for a swiss movement by the mid fifties. Elgin folded in ’64 I think, and their last 3-4 years they were recasing swiss movements in SC because America thought swiss cheese was sexy or some sh1t. I used to know all this worthless sh1t. Weiss is making all that history insignificant as he’s bringing back and honest to god mechanical movement to the states. It’s no fancy pre 1930’s ‘labor is cheap as dog sh1t’ Waltham pocket watch that contains more craftsmanship and beauty than an RGM that I have sitting on my mantle, but it’s economically feasible.

    When my house is done making me broke, and I get my USA made Confluence kayak from SC, and my USA framed road bike, Weiss’ watch will be my next luxury purchase.

    I spent $2k on Phylrich bathroom faucets and shower hardware because it was forged and machined in the god damned USA. I should be able to afford another every day item such as this.

    That green face is really becoming. I was first miffed by it, but in that light it looks rich and gorgeous.

    You put your money where your mouth is and I love it. This is fantastic.

    • AvatarJoshua Johnson

      My god, Phylrich makes some incredible products. I better not show my fiance, as I would likely be just as broke after she finished browsing their website!

  5. AvatarJon Lambert

    It is certainly a passionate effort but I would have to agree about the seconds at 9. I too would prefer a seconds at 6 option. However it is difficult to ignore the design is a homage to traditional “mil-watches”, so I suspect they moved it to the 9 position as a way to distinguish the watch a bit.

    For the price I would also expect to see more movement decoration. For what amounts to a version of the 6497 manual wind movement (at $2k), a nicely decorated main plate would go a long way to convincing me to drop my hard earned dollar on this American made piece. Rarely anyone but me would see the decorations, or even know they are there, much like the LS3 in my SS Sedan. Every once in a while though I meet the rare car guy that knows what it is, and we strike up a conversation about the car. It would be the same with the Weiss. However when one takes off the Wiess and hands it to their new watch friend to admire they will be greeted with a very plain movement.

    The days of the need for a basic tool mechanical watch are long gone. Replaced with cheap disposable quartz watches. Mechanical watches are now much like sports cars (or sports sedans). To be truly special they need to invoke an emotional response. While this watch is nice, it is missing that component.

    So Weiss if you are reading this I implore you to put a V8 under the hood of that bad boy. Because the watch is American and it deserves nothing less.

  6. Avatarrich

    Amazing for a 29 year old guy to reverse engineer and start manufacturing his own movements right here in the USA. Somebody to keep an eye on! And a beautiful watch too!

  7. AvatarShocktastic

    I struggle to find competent service on the NW left coast for my ETA 2824 powered sorta-faux military watch (Marathon SAR from 2006 for $300). I have been burned twice by highly recommended so-called watchmakers for one of the world’s most common mechanical movements. The Weiss project has been on my radar but is there any servicing possible other than Weiss if he goes belly up? Kudos to Jack for bringing skilled manufacturing back to the USA. PS- suggestions for competent battery for an original Citizen ProMaster dive watch much appreciated.

  8. AvatarDave L

    I wish him all the best and I get and encourage buying American, but there’s a ton of competition at that price point. Stowa makes something similar for about half the price.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      The Stowa small seconds watch would be $1600 once you got it here, I think. You could do an Oris field watch for $600 if you really wanted an affordable Swiss equivalent…

      • AvatarDave L

        It would be great if RGM moved away from the Unitas movement and began to purchase the Weiss 1003 decorating to their liking. I’ll be watching Weiss more closely. Love the buy USA writing (people always ask about my Waterman bag).

  9. AvatarPanzer

    You know what America (and the rest of the west outside Germany) needs to get back that precision tools industry and therefore all the good quality working class jobs?

    An education system like Germany’s where the high schools are streamed so the kids who can’t hack it academically are instead given the opportunity to do high quality apprenticeships so they can get well paid and highly skilled manufacturing jobs. The smart kids get fast tracked to uni.
    This works in a number of ways. The not so academic kids get good jobs and German industry is constantly supported by new talent, the academic kids are properly prepped for uni and so the universities don’t have to dilute themselves to cater to the womens studies and basket weaver undergrads.
    The universities end up pumping out high quality professionals and the apprenticeships pump out skilled labour.

    Everybody wins.

    But we can’t have that system in the english speaking world can we? Because then we would have to accept that not everyone is equal (the same) and that upset all the Julia’s 😡

    • Avatardumas

      The challenge with becoming the next Germany is that you need a bunch of smaller nations around you to drain all the industrial jobs from, a currency that spans those nations and is weaker than it would be if it was just your currency, and another United States that is powered by FANG and FIRE to sell all those industrial products to (along with all those smaller countries in your supernational organization who had all their manufacturing industry drained to you).

      Having said all that, the old British apprenticeship system worked fairly well- at least up until everyone went mad and fought a land war on the Continent instead of just blockading it like usual.

        • Avatardumas

          Just going by the history of the real WW1, the Blockade of Germany was successfully prosecuted even with aircraft present in our timeline. The capability of aircraft at the time wasn’t sufficient to break the blockade via transport of goods, or direct attacks on the blockading ships. Even the use of aircraft as scouts doesn’t seem to have materially weakened the blockade, with a drop of over 50% vs pre-war imports of various things into Germany.

      • AvatarPanzer

        And that was my point – a system vaguely similar to the British apprenticeship system where the young are given the means to be skilled labourers is the foundation of any successful society.
        Britain itself would be just like Germany now, but the British left destroyed that possibility in the 80’s through its love affair with an irresponsible Socialism that destroyed Britains’ industry. Look up ‘Coal Miners strike UK 1980’s’ for further details.

        By the way, the European Union has made Germany WEAKER rather than stronger. The Euro was created by the French at the dawn of the 90’s during German reunification because at the time most Europeans had their savings denominated in Deutschmarks and the fear was that a reunified Germany would be a juggernaut in complete control of the European economy by dint of its powerful currency. So not only did the Euro disenfranchise the Germans but it also means they have to pour their hard earned taxes into bailing out the Greeks whose state is so incompetent it can’t even tax its own citizens.
        Lastly, the Germans didn’t ‘absorb’ anyone’s industrial jobs. Germany has been an industrial power for the last 160 years, long before the Euro or the EU was even a twinkle in De Gaulle’s eye – the real issue is that Spaniards and Greeks can’t have an industry if they think 35 hour weeks and 2 hour long siestas every midday are legit 😉

        • Avatardumas

          I suspect we will have to agree to disagree, because Germany profits immensely from the Euro- it keeps their industrial products much cheaper than they’d be if denominated in DM. The costs associated with bailing out countries like Greece are trivial in comparison, and they still dominate the continent.

          As for Spain and Greece, the larger issue is we’ve seen a flow of jobs and industry away from other productive nations like the Netherlands and to Germany thanks to various EU policies, but also due to the relative bargain that the Euro represents versus a modern DM.

    • AvatarHarry

      If you want the actual latest and greatest in precision tools the US has got you covered, our defense and aerospace industry runs on them, sometimes the build them in-house at enormous cost do to procurement requirements.

      What kills us is when what is needed to the job is what was latest and greatest 15 years ago in terms of precision, with some updated control interfaces.

      That stuff is cheap from overseas suppliers.

  10. AvatarDaniel J

    I just can’t get into watches . I have a Victorinox my Mother gave me over 20 years ago as a teenager. It needs a battery and a new Crystal. I’d be all for buying an American made watch for a few hundred bucks. I mean, the only watches that seriously interests me is either some of the Garmin activity watches or possibly the Samsung S3. But battery life is still way too poor.

    I’m just seriously too practical to spend significant coin on a watch, regardless of the make. Its good however that someone has found a market here in the U.S. to make and sell those watches.

    Now, if we were talking about an American Made gentleman’s folder pocket knife, I’d be all hot and lathered up! Luckily, we still have a few American knife manufactures, even if parts come from China/Taiwan.

  11. AvatarComfortablyNumb

    If I’m Shinola, I’ve already booked a plane ticket and made a dinner reservation for Mr. Weiss and myself somewhere in L.A. They’ll have a waiting list hundreds of people long to plop down four grand for the first run of Shinola-Weiss watches.

  12. Avatarjosh

    i’d like to bring your attention to another quality american watchmaker:

    like shinola, they are designed and assembled here from foreign parts.

    i don’t have one myself but i send them my german limes when it needs fixing and they do excellent work.

  13. Avatarrwb

    Unrelated to watches, but: I bought two books as gifts recently, both from the same imprint, Ecco. One made in China, the other the USA, the latter priced $5 higher.

    The difference in hand is much more significant: One is just a usable hardcopy of some information while the other is a really nicely printed item, down to the details.

  14. AvatarNick Hacko

    Hi Jack – a quick ‘hello’ from Sydney, Australia. Thank you for taking time to write about Weiss and US attemps to get back into horology.
    Last year we’ve decided to get into in-house watch manufacturing as well. Happy to report that while I type this, our first CNC lathe has been installed (and the bar feeder as well!) and we are expecting delivery of a mill. The gear hobbing is the next machine on our ‘to buy’ list. We are already designing our own components and making screws and stems 🙂 . Our first major investment was in a dedicated workshop followed by quality metrology tools. Heaps of fun, and most importantly, we are learning a lot! Happy to correspond with any other small watchmakers around the world. Nick Hacko [rebelde projecto]

  15. AvatarDingo

    Niall watches are 70% made from materials sourced from the USA. The watches are assembled in Kansas City and many of the parts are sourced locally in KC. He’s working on making a movement next. I have one of their Panda GMT’s I really like a lot with an Eterna movement

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