Having teeth that allow for fast, large bites of prey is vital to a shark’s life and survival. Fred B. Amos of Bernhardt Watch Company knows a little about survival in the depths of a crowded watch market – and he might know a little about shark’s teeth.
The Bernhardt Sea Shark, the company’s best seller, features a signature “Shark Tooth” design wherein the shape of the hour markers give the dial of the watch the appearance of a shark’s mouth agape. Is it opening? Closing? Either way, if I were the three or the nine – I’d want a bigger boat.
Bernhardt Watch Company came into existence in 2005 and today boasts five models that perform well in the marketplace. There is a distinct appeal to owning a Bernhardt that a simple Google search can reveal.
But to better understand that appeal, it’s important to know a little about company founder Fred Amos and his stomping grounds – High Point, North Carolina.
The city earned its name in the 1850s because it was the highest point on the Charlotte-to-Goldsboro railway where it intersected the Great Western Plank Road. This fortuitous location made High Point a natural center for manufacturing. Accessibility to raw materials allowed it to build its foundation on the strength of textile mills – and furniture. Still known as “The Furniture Capital of the World”, High Point showcases the best the industry has to offer at the International Home Furnishings Market.
Why does this have anything to do with Bernhardt watches? Because this is the world Amos grew up in, carved out a career in, and in which he still lives. All the elements that make his company and its watches satisfying to own can be traced back to Amos’ experiences in and around the manufacturing facilities of High Point.
“When I was a kid there were over 40 hosiery mills operating in High Point,” Amos shared recently. “Now, I think there is one.”
“My family ran a mill and I remember when they decided to close it, they kept the doors open until every employee had a job. At the end, it was just me and my cousin filling orders. I remember I thought we’d get a big bonus at the end – and we got nothing,” Amos said with a laugh.
What the then 22-year-old Amos “got” in 1970 was a lesson in doing right by others, in fairness, and in how to conduct business like a gentleman. The thought of a company doing today what Melrose Hosiery did 40-plus years ago is foreign.
But those same principles of honest work, quality construction, and great service go into every Bernhardt watch Amos makes. And he’s made quite a few since the company began.
Then, Amos was employed as a salesman for a Canadian company selling supplies to the furniture industry. After working hard to build a strong sales force, Amos was asked to leave. What seemed like bad luck at the time has become great fortune for watch lovers across the globe.
“My wife and I were at a basketball game at HPU,” Amos said, referring to High Point University. “She asked me why didn’t I make a watch for the university. So, I made one and took it to them and they liked it.”
Fifteen years buying, refurbishing, and selling Rolexes and other luxury watches had given Amos the necessary knowledge and skills to know his way around a watch. But that first contract piece – the Binnacle – changed his role from watch lover to watch maker.
It’s a family affair, too, with Amos’ wife and son filling various roles in the company. In addition to his immediate family, Amos employs third-generation watchmaker Frank Lazimi. Lazimi spent years working in Europe in every facet of watch making and it’s his technical skill that makes Bernhardt watches superior timepieces of great value.
Today, Amos has a long list of satisfied contract clients to prove it. High Point University, Wake Forest University, N.C. State University and countless sheriff’s offices, police departments, and highway patrol offices across the country have purchased Bernhardts for their employees. The contract watch – that today is the Bernhardt Field Diver – makes up about 75 percent of the company’s business that, on average, produces about 3500 watches a year.
The other 25 percent of the company’s work comes from private-line sales. Enthusiasts revere Bernhardt watches for their classic designs, great workhorse reputations, and above all else, the level of attentiveness Amos provides his customers.
“Customer service is the number one reason, followed by value,” Amos said, when asked what he thought set Bernhardt apart from its competitors. “I’m old school. You take care of problems first and ask questions later. If you’re honest with people, take care of them, everything else will take care of itself.”
That commitment to service is what brings people back to Bernhardt when they search for bang-for-the-buck watches. If you call the company, you speak to Amos himself. Email with questions or a problem, Amos responds. In fact, Amos so strongly believes in the product he produces and the service he offers that he provides those who browse his website links to his “rivals” – other companies producing similar watches at similar price points.
To most, the thought of inviting a potential customer to shop elsewhere is ludicrous. To Amos, it’s the right thing to do:
We understand that you, our potential customer, has many choices. The Bernhardt Watch Company firmly believes that no one else can offer our level of quality, affordability and service. With all due respect to our competitors, we encourage our customers to compare The Bernhardt Watch Company’s lineup to our rivals’. – bernhardtwatch.com
The current Bernhardt lineup consists of the following watches: the Sea Shark, the Binnacle Anchor, the Officer’s Watch, the Field Diver, and the Ladies Diver. Within this range there is a little something for everyone – all for extremely affordable prices.
Originally, other Bernhardt models were offered with ETAs, but as the movements became harder to come by and more expensive, Amos moved to the Miyota 8215 for the Sea Shark and Binnacle Anchor models. For one, he is a fan of the Miyota movement, but most importantly he desires to keep his watches affordable.
Two quartz options are available with Swiss-made RONDA quartz movements – the Field Diver and the Ladies Diver. Again, the Bernhardt line has something for every taste and ranging from $149-$439, something nearly every budget can handle.
One can look at each of the models and see similarities with other, more famous, more costly watches – but no model could be called a direct homage to anything. Amos does most of the designing and seems to honor tradition without losing the identity of Bernhardt in the process.
Normally, as a writer, I would never inject my opinions into a piece. I present the facts and let the reader come to his own conclusion. This is especially true with watches. Taste, after all, is subjective and what each of us looks for in a watch (or watches!) is completely different.
In the case of Bernhardt watches, however, I feel justified in sharing my impressions, as I own three – two Sea Sharks and a Binnacle Anchor. It is my personal goal to own every watch in the lineup sooner rather than later.
For one, I’m a North Carolina native and live about 15 minutes from Fred Amos and his operation. Buying local is important to me. The watches have significance beyond their intrinsic value as solid instruments of measurement. I feel great pride from sporting something close to my own roots. I could buy many of Amos’ watches for what I paid for a couple of pieces in my modest collection, but I’m not sure I would get more enjoyment out of wearing anything more than my Bernhardts.
Second, Fred makes a helluva watch.
The Sea Shark is his top seller – famously designed by his then-12-year-old son.
It took him a year to convince me of the design,” Amos admits. “And now it’s my best seller.”
The watch features the solid Miyota 8215 movement encased in stainless steel. Of course, the dial has that shark tooth effect – which is just cool.
I own a Sea Shark with a green dial and one with a silver dial. Both, to this point, have been spot-on as timekeepers and are incredibly wearable as is my Binnacle Anchor. For me, 42mm is the perfect size – noticeable but not an intruder on the wrist. Like any good diver, the Sea Shark looks at home on a NATO strap, but it’s a shame to take it off what many consider to be the watch’s most impressive feature – its bracelet.
Solid, screw in links make the bracelet feel substantial and mean it’s incredibly easy to size – even with large hands that find such tasks cumbersome (I can’t be the only one).
So, for $239 dollars Bernhardt offers a wonderfully executed diver with a sapphire crystal, screw-down crown, solid bracelet, 200m water resistance, two-year warranty and a level of service many consider to be unmatched. Don’t believe me? Do a simple Google search and you’ll fall upon an endless string of compliments about Amos’ watches. And, in a great many, secondary to the incredible watch folks receive when ordering, they focus on the customer service and personal contact with Fred Amos himself.
In fact, I decided to purchase the second Sea Shark and the Binnacle Anchor prior to a recent vacation. Leaving on a Sunday morning, I emailed Amos in a fit of desperation, hoping against hope I could somehow receive my watches prior to leaving for the coast. In minutes he’d responded and agreed to meet me (being local is a plus, I admit) and deliver the watches himself.
This is what other companies might find difficult to replicate – a willingness to see to the customer in ways that just don’t exist much anymore. It’s this thinking that makes Bernhardt Watches coveted by folks all over the globe. It’s an increasingly smaller world what with the many advances in technology each of us enjoys. But, as the world shrinks, something seems to have been lost in the shuffle – we’re closer together but far less personal. Fred Amos is doing his part to amend that in the buying experience of his watches.
“I know I can do more and not get hurt,” Amos commented in regards to growing Bernhardt Watch Company. “Now I can sell everything I make and could sell a whole lot more. But, right now I still have contact with my customers – and I don’t want to have one unhappy customer.”
To read reviews, I’m not sure he does.
Bernhardt and The Future
Though Amos chooses not to advertise in any way as a means of keeping prices lower, a bit of good fortune recently fell into his lap.
Looper, a movie starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, will premiere this September and a Bernhardt Officer’s Watch will make its big screen debut.
Actor Noah Segan will wear the watch as he portrays the character Kid Blue. As Amos dealt with Hollywood for the first time, he was required to do something that seems counterintuitive to his watch making brain.
“I had to make the watches not work!” Amos said. “Because the movie has to do with time, the production people had to be able to set the watch exactly when they showed it on screen. So, for the first time, I had to send off two watches that didn’t work.”
I’m sure many people in the watch world would attest to that being a singular experience. Those same people are also clamoring for Amos to reintroduce certain pieces from past collections.
Though several models Bernhardt produced over the years may be gone for good, others may be resurrected. The much-beloved Corsair is a watch that may be revitalized – Amos was sporting the yellow version of that watch the day I met him.
Last time I wore one of these a man bought it right off my wrist,” Amos said. “But, I don’t know if I could sell this one. Well, maybe…”
Had I had the cash, Fred might have returned home watchless.
But, beyond re-releasing some of the Bernhardt classics, Amos has plans for two new watches at some point. Neither is beyond its infancy in terms of design, but Amos spoke with conviction about producing both.
“I want to make an alarm watch,” Amos said. “Probably use a Russian movement. And I want to make a dress watch.”
After a beat, he added:
“And no date. A dress watch shouldn’t have a date and I won’t put one on it. I don’t want to put a second hand on a dress watch, but I probably will.”
Conviction in design, traditional looks, solid build quality, and a personal element missing from many other companies – these things existed 40 years ago in High Point, NC as it bustled with mills and factories cranking out high-quality textiles and furniture for the world at large.
Those things still exist in High Point at the Bernhardt Watch Company. Fred B. Amos makes sure of it.
by JJ McDowell