Is a ‘Made in America’ watch really what consumers want?
If globalism killed the chance of a “made in America” watch, is that a bad thing?
The Christmas season is enjoyable for many reasons, and the opportunity to feed my wrist-watch collecting addiction is just one of many. With this opportunity comes the chance to share the gift of something I love amongst friends and family, with each watch purchased with the intent of it matching the style and personality of the receiver. However, what watch do you select for someone who is a vocal “Made in America” acolyte?
As someone who considers themselves a watch connoisseur — the answer is you don’t.
With that said, there isn’t much of an argument anyway since the watch industry had been essentially outsourced to the Chinese and other various industrialized parts of Asia due to the “quartz crisis” (as the watchworld called the period of time that cheaper, yet more accurate, quartz movement watches caused the financial extinction of many mechanical watch brands who couldn’t compete) which all but forced watch manufacturers eastward in order to stay alive in the rapidly changing market by 1980. The Timex Group USA, inc., a brand with a long and cherished history of being the quintessential, all-American watch company, has been manufacturing and assembling their watches in China since the 1970’s. Invicta, the affordable favorite of many casually wrist watch wearers, pride themselves on their Swiss heritage going back all the way to 1837, but today a rather large number of their current inventory of watches don’t officially meet the criteria of being a “Swiss made” watch. In fact, many “Swiss” watches don’t meet the “Swiss made” criteria which is by far the gold standard in the watch world and even by casual watch consumers.
if it’s really a label that matters or is capable of being achieved in today’s globalized market where at the end of the day, consumers will still make the ultimate decision.
With this knowledge in hand, it should appear that the pursuit of the “Made in America” watch has already hit a dead end. However, this is where the journey takes a rather strange turn, especially if you’ve already started searching for “American watches” on Google. In the past decade, many American based microbrands have stepped up to the challenge. This is a good thing, right?
No — In fact with a deeper dive you’ll see that even those “American” originated watches you find still don’t even meet the muster of being considered “Made in America.” According to Zach Kazan at the popular online watch website wornandwound.com, “China is also a go-to resource for smaller enthusiast-focused brands in the United States, who have employed Chinese manufacturing and supply over the last several years, with great success.”
The Detroit based Shinola (more commonly known for their bikes than their watches) was one of the biggest perpetrators of attempting to ride the wave of enthusiasm over products made in the United States. In 2016, GQ’s Jake Woolf reported that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) didn’t take kindly to Shinola claiming that their new line of watches were “Built in Detroit.” According to Woolf “The FTC said that Shinola did not meet the standard to add this mark to its products, citing the fact that Shinola’s watches aren’t manufactured in Detroit. They are assembled here in the states…but from parts made overseas…” Now Shinola had to spin the gimmick in order to save some face, and now state that their watches are “Built in Detroit of Swiss imported parts,” which Woolf accurately pointed out “doesn’t roll off the tongue quite nicely.”
While Shinola might be assembled in Detroit, there really isn’t anything remotely American about the watches themselves, except maybe the fact they were put together by American hands or how now the dials for their watches read “Shinola Detroit”, which is basically like starting a Chinese fortune cookie brand, having every part of the cookie process being done overseas, and them selling them as “American Fortune Cookies” because at least the owner is American, so that counts, right?
There was one watch recently which met the challenge of the “Made in America”, the Timex American Documents watch, which was made with the purpose of meeting the FTC’s “Made in America” standard exactly. The challenge was met and Timex can be proud of that, but for the more wordly watch consumers, what are you really getting when Timex, or any other company, tries to sell you a “Made in America” watch? Not really anything special other than the story behind the product.
The materials used to make Timex’s American Documents watch are the exact same or at least very similar to the materials used in Timex’s cheaper watches you’d find on the shelf of any clothing store. The big difference is the cheaper Timex watches most consumers are most likely to buy were made with outsourced parts by outsourced labor. The story behind the American Documents watch is cool, and by all the reviews I’ve seen, its a quality watch- but is it worth the much larger price tag? For Shinola, maybe they’d been treated better by watch snobs and consumers alike if they were upfront about how their watches were made instead of the sneaky advertising plot. Shinola did create new jobs for Detroit, that is certainly something to be proud of.
Whether it’s the world of cars, televisions, or brooms for that matter, American consumers have to really ask what they are really getting when they go searching for “Made in America” products; if it’s really a label that matters or is capable of being achieved in today’s globalized market where at the end of the day, consumers will still make the ultimate decision.