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By Chris | June 26 2014
Watch companies are often a telescope into history. The roots of various companies, their influential clients of the time, and their timekeeping accomplishments that helped guide explorers, warriors, titans of industry, Kings and Queens provide a glimpse into life and commerce of centuries past.
Most of these stories are from Europe. However, as an Italian American who grew up in a watch and jewelry industry family in Queens, New York, Antonio Dibenedetto’s dreams were not just to one day own a watch company, but to find one with roots in the United States.
Three years ago he discovered Waltham Watch Company. During its glory years which ran from 1850 to the early 1960s, the Massachusetts firm produced over 40 million watches, clocks and speedometers. Henry Ford came to study the company when he was trying to learn about assembly line production for the Model T, and he long kept a Waltham grandfather clock in his office. The companies clocks and watches were used by the likes of Charles Lindberg on his flight from New York to Paris as well as the first explorations to the North and South Poles. Train conductors in over 50 countries used Waltham pocket watches to keep time and its clocks were in various military fighter planes as well, including by the U.S. military during World War II.
During the economic boom in Japan of the 1980s, the company was bought by a Japanese collector with plans to turn it into a luxury brand. He cut all sales outside of Japan (although manufacturing continued in Switzerland, where it had moved from Massachusetts mid-last century.). In 2011 Dibenedetto acquired Waltham.
While the original factory in the Bay State is now loft apartments, there is a watch museum, and after three years of hard work, Dibenedetto from his Milan base (close to his Lugano headquarters) is ready to bring the brand back to its glory.
With a modest goal of producing about 2,000 watches over the first year or so, the energetic New Yorker says he already has top end retailer Cellini onboard with plans to have about eight retail locations in the first year and 16 in the U.S. after two years before expanding to international markets. First watches will be delivered in September.
Former Patek Philippe and Akris communications executive Katie Reed and WPP advertising executive Enrico Morandi are leading the charge, and Dibeneditto says there will be more product announcements to come.
The launch returns the brand to its origins with Aeronaval Collection, featuring two aero-naval watch models that boast “innovative design and technological functions, icons of a new concept of contemporary luxury for men. The new Waltham SOLO TEMPO and GMT are the modern expressions of fearless past endeavors, carried out by men who with a Waltham made world history through some of the greatest and most heroic achievements of the past 160 years.”
The wristwatches feature multi layered Titanium G5 cases with ceramic bezels, and other features that are representative of Waltham style, such as the dodecagonal case, a second counter at 12 o’clock in the XA and the GMT with a central date indicator and rapid time zone selector. Genuine volcanized rubber watchstraps give better fit and endurance; sophisticated deployante clasps are in Titanium G2. The watches are 47 mm at the base but titanium gives the pieces both a high-tech feel and light touch. Side pushers on the GMT control hour settings forwards and backwards making it easy for elite travelers who are changing time zones. It’s 12-sided case is designed to give the watch a powerful look and remind of a clock. The owner describes his creation as “strong but elegant.” He says the shape will become “iconic.”
Prices range from $5,500 and $8,000
“Waltham has never been inspired by history; Waltham is a part of history. This is why the new Waltham researched models designed for civilian and military aviation since the early 1900s to create a collection characterized by its bold and dramatic angular design, elegance, and uncompromising innovation” according to press materials.
Dibenedetto notes the U.S. in the 19th and 20th centuries was a manufacturing powerhouse, so he sees Waltham as a salute to American ingenuity. Just ahead of July 4th, it’s probably as good a time for a launch party.