Buying US-made products gives a sense of pride and nostalgia for most Americans. I’ve experienced this even when buying an antique that I know was created here in the United States. The Made in USA, LLC is in fact a trademarked brand whose standards businesses aspire to meet.
But what does “Made in USA®” specifically mean? According to FTC accreditation standards the business must be operational in the United States for at least the most recent 12 months and the product or service must be “all or virtually all” made in the United States.
This all or virtually all standard is a challenge for the modern-day watchmaker. Since the exodus of US watchmaking to Switzerland beginning in the 1950s, mechanical watchmakers are hard-pressed to find the machinery and talent necessary to make a proper watch let alone mass-produce enough to be competitive with other major brands. On the quartz side, battery-powered movements are inexpensively produced in Asia, so it’s economically sound to import these movements.
Recently, the FTC challenged Shinola’s “Where American is Made” slogan, finding that “100% of the cost of materials they used to make certain watches is attributable to imported materials.” Although its watches and other products are assembled in Detroit, the materials are not. To reflect this finding, Shinola changed its website to “Shinola watches are built in Detroit with Swiss and imported parts.”
Other watch companies have a different approach to their products. Colorado-based Vortic Watch Co. refabricates its watches by using original American pocket watch movements and refitting them into 3-D printed wristwatch cases. RGM Watch Co. in Pennsylvania makes the American-made 801 movement but also sells watches with modified ETA movements.
To further complicate matters, many former US companies retain their name but are foreign owned and manufactured, including Bulova, Hamilton, and Waltham. Countless other smaller US watchmakers make watches in various degrees of US-made parts and labor, but consumers who value a US-made watch should thoroughly research their prospective purchase.
Carl Sagan, American astrophysicist, author, and PBS star, famously said, “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the Universe.” Because we are all stardust, I think “Made by the Universe” would be the best claim for any manufacturer to make.