August 8, 2011
by Ariel Adams
“American made,” the term certainly doesn’t mean what it used to. “American made” was once a source of pride and indication of quality and value. Since the industrial revolution the US has time and time again affirmed itself as the prime innovator of high technology, manufacturing efficiency, and innovation. People in America always wanted stuff that was made here, and unless a good was highly specialized, we would look to foreign-made goods with skepticism. Now in 2011 much of that has changed.
The world is now different for better or for worse. Different being the key term, especially here in the US. A combination of factors including high labor costs and globalization have resulted in the US manufacturing ideal to be withered away significantly. During the 1970s and 1980s the automotive industry unfortunately damaged the reputation of US manufacturing beyond repair. The Japanese and Germans started to steal much of the show, and more recently the Chinese have swooped in to replace the majority of manufacturing when it comes to the most basic, non-perishable good. I guess the US is still good at making food. So what does “Made in America” still mean?
I think the term has even higher value today that it ever has. Especially when something is an American made high-end functional craft. These are probably among the most rare items and are highly collectible – just look at the auction market for antique American made furniture. When at a store seeing something “made in America,” it makes me stop and think, and feel grateful. Items such as that feel increasingly rare. So what of our craft and creativity? Where is the art of Americana.
It is out there, and I am no expert on where to find it. Here in Los Angeles you don’t get a whole lot of stuff that feels distinctly “starts and stripes.” Wearing this hand-engraved in America Montana Watch Company timepiece is clearly an exotic choice. This feels like a fancy cowboy watch, and it is. Montana Watch Company is a brand still new to me, though I have a lot of respect for the niche product they offer. American designed watches with US art and Swiss movements. Unlike brands like RGM, Montana isn’t trying to focus on movements, but rather the more decorative elements of watches such as the case, dial, and strap.
This model is from the 1930 collection and comes in a sterling silver case with mother-of-pearl dial. The hands and crowns are 14k gold while the strap (on this specific piece) is hand-made and decorated. The Western style decoration on the watch feels like it is poured over the art-deco era design of the case like a rich maple syrup. It is sweet with detail, and is unlike a lot of what you’d find from Europe in terms of style. A nice watch for a wealthy cattle rancher perhaps.
The remarkable parts of the watch are in the decoration. The case and dial design alone are attractive, but nothing inherently unique. The Montana Watch Company touch is all about the master engravers applied Western single-point engraving in deep relief over the sterling silver case. The brand offers a series of engraving styles, either preselected or up to the tastes of the customer. The detail and emotion in the work is very thorough. According to Montana Watch Company, their people are trained in a number of engraving techniques in order to offer the most designs possible.
At 33mm wide by 53mm tall, the case is a nice hefty size. The brand offers other cases styles as well. The watch has a sapphire crystal (could be AR coated) over the dial. On this model the dial is a very beautiful mother-of-pearl. It is really a gorgeous example of the material. On it are printed Arabic hour numerals. The dial is clearly very classic in its design, but I wish there was a bit more contrast with the hands for slightly more optimized legibility. They aren’t too bad though, and there is little bits of lume applied on the tips of the hands. Seconds are shown via a subsidiary seconds dial.
Inside the 1930 watch is a Swiss ETA 2895 automatic movement visible through an exhibition caseback window. Montana Watch Company even had the rotor custom engraved which is a lovely touch. All the decoration really grows on you if you don’t like it a lot at first. Like I said, Montana Watch Company has a range of 1930 collection watches. They mix up materials and decorative styles. It is worth checking out the variety on their website.
Attached to this model is a hand-made leather strap. I like how the artist’s signature is on the back of it. The soft leather strap has a high quality feel to it, like a nice gun holster or baseball mitt. More traditional straps as well as American Bison leather straps are also available. Price for this model is in the $16,000 range – and they can go up to about $26,000 if you choose to include a few diamonds.
Montana Watch Company puts a good look on the face of American crafts. As a watch maker I feel they add nicely to the home-grown offerings we have here in the US – and I don’t think anyone will complain about their use of Swiss movements.