American-made watches are sort of a conceptual grail to many of us state-side collectors. Once upon a time the US was a major player in the watch industry…something we all know. Hamilton, Bulova, Gruen and Elgin, to name a few, were all serious contenders who were capable of manufacturing everything from movements to cases right here in the US. They also used Swiss parts and manufacturing, but each brand had a solid core in America, spread out from Brooklyn, NY to Columbus, Ohio.
But it was lost, and to many forgotten. Now, with the revitalization of American manufacturing, and the growing popularity of analog watches, brands are coming back, slowly reshaping the industry. Famously, there is RGM in Lancaster, PA, who are the only true watch manufacture (make their own movements, including a tourbillon) on US soil. Then you have Kobold, who make their own tough-as-nails cases and modify movements, also in PA. You then have a few brands that make over seas and assemble here, such as MKII, Martenero and Shinola (I’m sure there are more).
Weiss Watch Company, who we have spoken about a few times before, and had a fun get together with just last week, are one of the newest of the American-made watch brands, but rapidly becoming one of the most talked about. Founded by Cameron Weiss, a WOSTEP trained watchmaker, Weiss Watch Co goes a bit further than most US brands are currently able, manufacturing cases, dials, gaskets and even grinding their own sapphire crystals in their home town of Los Angeles, California. Cameron also personally assembles each of the ETA Unitas 6497-1 hand wound movements, and each watch.
Now, that’s an impressive feat as is, especially for a young brand with a small staff and limited resources. But part of what makes the Weiss watch so compelling, and perhaps so popular, is that they are surprisingly affordable. I know this is going to be a point of contention and that people will comment fervently disagreeing with me, but at $950, for a watch that is predominantly American-made, American assembled, with a Swiss-made movement, that price is good, low even. It’s $1,000 less than the entry level Kobold, and a few thousand less than an entry level RGM. Finishing, movements, WR, etc, aside, the numbers speak for themselves.
With all that said, I’m excited to have the opportunity now to review the Weiss Watch Company Standard Issue Field, thanks to our friends at Modern Anthology who lent us the watch to review. As the name indicates, it’s a Field watch with a vintage military aesthetic, but a fairly modern size thanks to the large hand wound movement inside. It’s simple and understated, but stylish and masculine. Let’s take a closer look.
Weiss Watch Co Standard Issue Field Review
Movement: Unitas 6497-1
Lume: Yes on hands
Water Res.: 100m
Dimensions: 42 x 49.5 mm
Thickness: 12.8 mm
Lug Width: 20 mm
Warranty: 2 years
Field watches are known for their simple case style, and the Weiss stays true to that with its American-made version. The 316L steel measures 42 x 49.5 x 12.8mm to the top of the very domed sapphire crystal. From above, it has classic lines with broad, angular lugs that come to a 20mm gap. This is smaller than I expected, but the proportions work out very nicely. The bezel is polished while the tops of the lugs have radial brushing, for a nice moment of contrast.
From the side, the case still maintains classic lines, but with a curious detail at the lugs. The underside of the lugs are cutaway to allow for a flange from the case back for attachment. Though it’s a mechanical detail, I happen to like that it adds a bit of texture. The slab-sided central case is brushed horizontally, sandwiched between the polished bezel and the edge of the display case back. Flipping it over, the back is dominated by the Unitas 6497-1 movement, which is visible through a sapphire crystal. They really maximized the viewable area, leaving little more than a thin rim which has the watch’s number on it.
Off of three is a large 7 x 4.5mm crown, with coin edging. It’s easy to grasp and feels good between the fingers when winding the watch. On the outside surface is Weiss’ logo, which is a sort of cartoony set of hands that is used in place of the “I” in Weiss. I happen to like it on its own as it is on the crown. It’s a nice detail that is a pleasant change from the generic first letter of the brand concept.
Overall, the case is aesthetically on point, with enough details to not be generic. The thick lugs are particularly nice and the contrasts of finishes works well. It’s also well proportioned, which especially comes through on the wrist. That said, there is room for improvement in the finishing. The edges are a bit soft and the flat areas have a subtle wave to them, suggesting they are not perfectly flat.
When someone says field watch, you probably immediately imagine a certain dial layout, and the Weiss Field is probably very close to that. It’s a riff on a classic military design with a clean, legible design and no frills. The Standard Issue model comes in black or white, while the Special issues comes in “latte” and a “carbon”, all made in America out of naval brass. The surface of the black dial is matte, on which white indexes are printed.
The primary index consists of medium sized numerals for the hours in a crisp, sans-serif typeface. The hours stay oriented vertically. On the outer edge is a minute index with a small numerals every 5 minutes, rotating with the hour, and lines per minute. Breaking up the dense index are also small triangles every 5 minutes which extend to the very edge of the dial. Oddly, there are markers dividing up the minutes into five-sub-minutes as though there was a central seconds hand. Perhaps this is something on some field watches I have not seen, but it’s a bit odd to my eyes. Aesthetically it works, just doesn’t quite make sense.
At 9 is the small seconds sub-dial. It consists of a ladder index with numerals at intervals of ten. It’s also simple and clean, adding mass to the left side of the dial, but not so much as to make it feel unbalanced. Though I am generally a fan of symmetry, I do like the lopsided-ness of the 9 o’clock seconds. Typically, I have come across watches with the Unitas 6498-1, which has small seconds at 6, which is classic and always works. I could see the 9 o’clock not working in every context, but here, especially since field watches are more purpose than aesthetics driven, it clicks, adding personality.
The hour and minute hands are black steel Roman swords with lume filling. This is the only lume on the dial, and it’s decently bright. I typically associate Roman Swords with pilot and aviator style watches, so to me they are a touch out of place, perhaps a bit too modern, though they are very legible. The sub-seconds hand is a white stick and is more fitting with the field concept.
Inside is a Swiss-made ETA Unitas 6497-1, relabeled as the Caliber 1001 on their site. It’s a big, fun to look at, hand wound movement with 17-jewels, a 46hr power and a frequency of 18,000 bph. Unfortunately, it does not hack, though that only relates to the field concept rather than actual use. The Unitas is a classic, robust movement we’ve seen many times before, and is always enjoyable. It’s not the fanciest movement, but when you flip the watch over and are presented with those big Cote De Geneve stripes and blued screws, it’s very easy to appreciate its beauty.
Straps and Wearability
The Standard Issue Field watch comes mounted on a tapering 20mm American-made Cordura (nylon) strap in drab olive. It’s a great looking strap that compliments the watch well, clearly building off of the military styling. It’s well constructed too, with the material cleanly folded under for a nice edge, and a soft leather backing. They sell the same strap in their store in blue and black for $60, and have leather straps for $100.
The Standard Field wears very well, much smaller than expected. In fact, it’s probably the smallest wearing 42mm watch I’ve ever worn, feeling more like a 40mm. This is all do to proportions. The thick lugs look shorter than they are, the 20mm strap makes it feel less massive, and the crystal accounts for a few mm in thickness, so it feels like a thin watch. It’s a great size for this style of watch. Field watches are typically smaller, but the simple, clean design comes across well, perhaps a bit bolder than otherwise.
Field watches are sort of do it all watches when it comes to styling. They work with just about anything given their neutral looks. With the slightly larger size, the Weiss is a bit more rugged than your typical, but I still think on a leather strap it would look sharp in an office space. Generally though, it’s a casual look that goes great with jeans, untucked shirts, boots or sneakers, etc.
When it comes down to it, manufacturing and nit picky details aside, where the Weiss Watch Company Standard Field succeeds most is in how nice it is to wear. It fits well and looks good on your wrist. I like the design of the case overall, it’s very well proportioned, the crystal is huge and gorgeous and the mix of finishing works. The dial is classic, understated and easy to read at a glance. Whether it was made here or somewhere else, if it wasn’t a nice watch to have on your wrist, it wouldn’t matter.
The American-made aspect of it adds to the story and speaks to a brand that is trying to do something different, something difficult. It’s a challenge to start a watch brand period, but to do so while creating the manufacturing infrastructure for your watch, is a massive undertaking. Not even those guys with a billion dollars in their savings account are making cases in the US yet… So, as far as brand-promise goes, Weiss Watch Company’s is pretty high.