A.M. Cook Wristwatch: Building American Watchmaking from the Ground Up

Share this story:

The face of American watchmaking is not a large company. It is small groups of men and women building watches in machine shops, garages and basements across the United States. The face looks something like Matthew and Andy Cook, the two-man operation behind A.M. Cook Wristwatch.

The story of A.M. Cook Wristwatch is similar to many modern American watchmaking companies. It’s a story of struggle, achievement and, finally, of success. The Cook brothers have been making their World War I trench-style watches–cleverly dubbed the 1am–for about six months now. By mid-December, they had shipped out their 19th unit. While it may not sound like a huge milestone to many, it’s a significant achievement for two brothers who had been developing their watch for more than four years before shipping out their first one.

am-cook-5
A breakdown of the 1am watch. Shown here are raw blanks of steel and titanium, a bronze bezel and a patinated sterling silver dial.

Watches had been a long-time interest of the Cook brothers. But the idea of starting their own company didn’t start until Matt became a trained tool and die maker and Andy became a WOSTEP-trained watchmaker. Matt says he was looking at a picture of a Bell & Ross that his brother had sent him. He looked at the case and realized he could probably make something similar. From that idea sprung four years of research, design and prototyping for their own watch.

Advertisement

The Cook brothers scrimped and saved to buy watchmaking machines and equipment. Matt quit his job and opened a machine shop in Madison, Wisconsin. Andy continued his watchmaking work in Phoenix and took on additional duties for the newly formed A.M. Cook Wristwatch.

Matt machines the cases and dials in his shop. The watch cases are available in metals including stainless steel, bronze and titanium. The brass dials can be painted any color.

am-cook-4
A set of rough machined bezels. They’re done two at a time to ensure tight tolerances.

Being able to make original colored dials and to use unique materials for their watches is a byproduct of the Cook’s commitment to small-batch production. The brothers make their watches as orders come in. Conversations are had about what the customer wants the watch to look like. A personal connection is formed between themselves and the customers placing the orders. That’s because the guys on the phone taking orders will also be the same guys building the watches. Even the spartan website is intentional. Though Matt readily admits it needs some polishing, he would much rather interested parties reach out directly and start a conversation.

am-cook-7
All A.M. Cook dials are painted in-house.

“What we can’t do is make 2,000 watches in a month,” Matt admits. “But what we can do is make one watch at a time for people who are expressly interested in the work we’re doing.”

Advertisement

Once the parts are created, they’re sent to Andy. He modifies the ETA 2824 movements, assembles the parts, finishes the watch and ships it out to the customer. Each watch is assigned a number based on when it was ordered and completed. A.M. Cook Wristwatch plans to only make 100 watches in this style. After they’re gone, Matt says they plan to retool and develop a new watch case for their next batch.

A dial printing plate, otherwise known as a cliché, being inked.
Perlage being applied to the interior of the case back. Andy, a trained watchmaker, insists on this detail most won’t ever get to see.

A.M. Cook Wristwatch joins the ranks of a handful of upstart American watch companies, like VERO Watches (which we wrote about here), that focus on designing, machining, painting and assembling their own pieces. Matt proudly acknowledges that he and his brother are among a crop of American watchmakers that are trying to produce small-batch watches largely in this country.

The crystals are sourced from GS in New York. The hands (sourced from Estima) and the movements are Swiss.
Additional engraving is available. A small message is free of charge. A custom design will cost a bit more.

Matt admits he was shocked to find out how difficult it was to get information on making dials, with so many companies interested in keeping their processes away from their competition. “The theme seems to be that Americans have to do everything ourselves because there’s no American watchmaking infrastructure in place,” Matt says. “It’s kind of cool to be a part of a group of a few companies that develop their own processes organically since there’s no precedent for what we’re doing.”

As a result, many American watch companies come up with interesting solutions for problems they run into. For example, Matt and Andy didn’t know how best to attach the dials to the movements. So they decided to use screws to attach the dials to movement casing. It solved the problem and gave their watches a unique look.

am-cook-2
Final sizing of the of the bezel and case back together.

Matt says he closely follows the work being done by other American watch companies. Though it’s not about competition, he explains. It’s more about learning how others solve problems. “It’s been a fun experience watching how other people solve the problems we all have,” Matt says. “It’s a small group of people right now. I’d like to see it grow.” Matt hopes American watchmakers will be able to come together for a future event of some sort to talk about design, production and everything watches.

As far as labels go, Matt has a broad definition of who is an American watchmaker. The term can include people who use overseas parts and assemble in the United States, people who make all watch components in America and everyone in between. “It’s better if everyone is welcome and we can all come together.”


The price for a custom-made A.M. Cook 1am watch begins at $1,899.

Advertisement
Images from this post:
Christian discovered his love for watches around the same time he discovered he could make a living as a writer. An award-winning journalist, Christian has covered everything from presidential campaigns to princess tea parties. Now, he's combining his passion for vintage watches with his passion for writing. Christian lives and works out of central Pennsylvania.
CRAwriter
Categories:
  • Svetoslav Popov

    It’s minimal to a point of resembling a food can.

  • Adi Lungu

    i like the design, but i think the watch is about $1k overpriced…

  • Sam Soul

    I like the bronze case on it especially if the watch is no diver or pilot watch. But the price, well…

  • Svetoslav Popov

    So minimal design that it looks like a food can.

  • BJ314

    Really impressed by the effort, but to be honest, this is an incredibly ugly watch. The thickness, dial, hands, even the choice of crown. Any of these thing would go well on something else, but together it’s a terrible Hodge-podge. And at that price, dear God, who, why and will they regret it?

  • goju1

    Great looking watches and looks like great quality workmanship. I’d buy one and the price seems fair for the effort – especially considering all the (so called) Swiss watches that cost 3 or 4 times as much and use the ETA 2824. Well done A&M – the world needs more people like you!

  • JoJo

    I live in Madison and walk by your building every day on my way to work. I’m glad to finally see what you guys have been up to. Give me a tour of the shop, and I’ll bring a sixxer of something nice.

Article / News & Releases

VERO Watches Brings Transparency and Makes Strides Toward American Watchmaking

By
Truth and transparency are the guiding principles behind the aptly-named …
Article / News & Releases

Join w&w at American Field Brooklyn

By
We’re very excited to announce that we will be selling …