Building a Watch Company - What is the definition of American Made? (Trigger Warning!)

Building a Watch Company - What is the definition of American Made? (Trigger Warning!)


What do you think it means for a product to be “Made in USA”?

You might spot this label on a variety of different kinds of products, including instruments, vehicles, appliances, and clothing items. For companies to use the label, they must abide by the Federal Trade Commission’s technical guidelines. 

Here at Vortic Watch Company, we create American-made watches, so we care greatly about complying with the FTC’s definition. That is why the co-founder of our company, R.T. Custer, shared an edifying video all about the FTC’s standards and what it means to be “American-made.” 

If you’d like to watch the full video, you can check it out here, and you can also learn more about Vortic Watch Company and our watch-building process from the Custer & Wolfe: Building a Watch Company YouTube series

vortic watches flag logo

The Definition of American-Made

There are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be American-made. 

As you may know, Vortic Watch Company prides itself on being the only American-made watch brand, but in order to understand why we feel strongly about that designation, it’s necessary to know what qualifies as “American-made.” 

The Federal Trade Commission offers a definition of what qualifies a product to be labeled “Made in USA.” 

“This is literally the federal government telling us what to do. [The Federal Trade Commission] says to have your product say ‘Made in USA,’ you have to make, and I quote, ‘All or virtually all critical components in America.’” - R.T. Custer 

If a company sells a product featuring the “Made in USA” label, but the product's critical components were not built in the United States, the company will likely face harsh repercussions from the Federal Trade Commission. 

“The Federal Trade Commission legitimately sues companies over misleading consumers and putting ‘Made in USA’ on a product when most of the product is actually not made here.” - R.T. Custer

The “Made in USA” classification serves as a valuable marketing tool for businesses, so if a company falsely claims that their product is American-made, they put themselves at risk of being sued. 

From the beginning of Vortic Watch Company, R.T. Custer and Tyler Wolfe made it their mission to deliver entirely American-made watches to the American public, but along the way, people have incorrectly asserted that there are other completely American-made watch companies. 

This is actually not the case because many companies claiming to sell American-made products merely have imported parts assembled in the United States. They order watch components from other parts of the world, such as Switzerland or China, and then they falsely claim that it’s made in the USA.

“[When we first started], people were worked up about [us saying we’re the only  American-made watch company]. They're like, ‘Okay, well, first of all, what about this company and this company? … What about Shinola?’ … Companies like Shinola have gotten in huge trouble [with] the Federal Trade Commission for stamping ‘Made in USA’ on product[s] that [are] actually just assembled here. And that's why we say ‘America wasn't assembled. It was built.’” - R.T. Custer 

america wasn't assembled - it was built logo

The Vortic Watch Company’s slogan revolves around the fact that our watches are entirely made in the United States and not just assembled. 

“Made in USA” Product Standards

Although, at first glance, the Federal Trade Commission’s qualifications for what is technically American-made may seem straightforward, the definition is somewhat vague when you unpack it. 

“'Made in America' is really confusing. ‘All or virtually all.’ What does ‘virtually all’ mean? Is it 90%? 95%? Is it 99%? I don't know. ‘Critical components.’ What makes a component critical?” - R.T. Custer

Defining what qualifies as a critical component within a product can be difficult, especially when a product is made from many intricate components. 

vortic watch components

A car might be correctly considered “Made in USA” if its engine, wheels, chassis, and body are all made in America. It likely has imported parts like electrical equipment, but it’s reasonable to consider some of those electronic components non-critical. 

Categorizing a watch component as non-critical is difficult because most of the pieces are vital for the watch to function.

“What are the critical components of a watch? [It’s] probably easier to say, ‘What are the not critical components of a watch?’ So, to be a wristwatch, you have to be on the wrist and tell time. Do you have to be waterproof to be a wristwatch? … The gaskets, the little O-rings, on the wristwatch are not made in America. We do not consider gaskets … [to be] a critical component.” - R.T. Custer

Vortic watches are American-made, but the O-rings that make our watches water resistant are not constructed in the United States. Our watches would still function without these O-rings, so we feel comfortable stating that our watches are “Made in USA.” 

Watch Components and “Made in USA” from Imported Parts

When we investigate the components of every other watch company in the United States, it doesn’t take long to uncover the fact that their critical components are made elsewhere. Watches are made up of many necessary parts, including the various critical components encompassing the watch’s movement. 

“The movement of a watch, the gears and springs that tell time, that's very critical. There [are] a lot of critical components inside of there. … Two critical components of a movement … are the jewels and the springs. The jewels are those artificial rubies that balance the gears. … Jewels and springs, and I hate to break this to you, are not made in the USA.” - R.T. Custer

jewels and springs in a vortic watch

Contemporary movement jewels and springs are not mass produced in the United States, but back in the first half of the 20th century, the Great American Watch Companies constructed these components. Because we use these original components to construct our wearable pocket watches, Vortic Watch Company is compliant with the FTC’s standards and qualifies as American-made. 

“We're using hundred-year-old components that were made here. … Other companies that are trying to make watches in the US, they'd have to make … the springs and the jewels in the US, and it's literally not a thing.” - RT Custer 

No US-based company produces the springs and jewels used in modern wristwatches, and these components are clearly necessary for watches to function, meaning they likely fit the FTC’s designation of “critical components.” 

Because other domestic watch companies use newer components rather than the pocket watch components manufactured by watch companies in the 20th century, their watches do not fit the FTC’s “Made in USA” product standards. 

“Made in USA” Moving Forward

Although the Vortic Watch Company currently complies with the Federal Trade Commission’s "Made in USA" product standards, we’re branching out into new product ventures, and we’ll likely run into problems with the FTC’s definition. 

Technically, people can produce springs and jewels for watches, but there’s no current method of mass production in the United States:

“There are some people in the states that can hand-make a spring. You can probably hand-make a handful of jewels. … Technically you can, … but there is a massive difference between making one and making 1000 [or] making 10,000. … We can't make [just] one [spring]. We have to make thousands [and eventually] tens of thousands.” - R.T. Custer

Unfortunately, there is no way for us to mass produce the necessary components to label our upcoming modern wristwatches “Made in USA,” and there are no US-based companies that we can turn to:

“The technology doesn't exist. It's just not here. The machines aren't here. They're in Switzerland, they're in Germany, they're in China, they're in Japan. That's where most of those components are made.” - R.T. Custer 

As we move forward with our new watches, we’re concerned that we may run into issues with the FTC. We’re going to do our best moving forward with the new watches, and we’ll have complete transparency about where the parts are made, but ultimately, we care about delivering our customers quality US-made products. We can’t construct certain components out of thin air, so we hope to continue this conversation regarding what exactly qualifies as “Made in USA.” 

“‘All’ our ‘virtually all’ critical components is very confusing, very subjective, and it's gonna be an ongoing topic for us. … We're gonna do the best we can to make as much as we can here. … We want to control the quality, and we want to deliver the best value to you as the consumer, and that to me is the definition … of ‘Made in USA.’ That's what it used to stand for a hundred years ago. When these antique pocket watch companies were making these products. ‘Made in USA’ was synonymous with quality.” - R.T. Custer

Staying compliant with the FTC’s qualifications for “Made in USA” as they stand currently may be challenging for us moving forward, but we’re dedicated to continuing to deliver expertly-crafted American watches. 

American flag in vortic shop

Vortic Watch Company: Delivering High-Quality American-Made Products

If you’re ready to learn more about Vortic Watch Company and our new products, visit our website to subscribe to our weekly newsletter. You can also learn about what it takes to build an American watch company by watching our YouTube show, Custer & Wolfe: Building a Watch Company

Additionally, check out our lines of American-made watches, including our American Artisan Series, Military Edition, and Railroad Edition. We also offer customer-convert wristwatch service for those wanting to bring new life into their antique pocket watches. 

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