Made in America: the Federal Trade Commission Requires More Truth in Advertising from Watch Manufacturers
By Donna Hardy
We’ve seen many new American watch-manufacturing brands appear on the market lately. They’ve used a variety of ways to describe that their products are, to some extent, American made. Some claim to be “Made in the USA,” “US Made,” “Built in Detroit,” or “Made in Philadelphia.” While it is advantageous for a company to claim that its products are made in the USA, it may not always be completely accurate to do so. While the “made in America” issue is complicated, it is easy to understand that not every watch consumer is aware of what goes into making a mechanical watch. They may not realize that the part that makes the watch a functional timepiece, the movement, may have been made in Switzerland—or, at least, some components of it.
The arbiter of whether or not a product can be called “American made”—or any variation on that theme—is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Late in 2015, the FTC made a ruling on a couple of these American watch manufacturers, Niall Luxury in Kansas City, Missouri, and Weiss Watch Company, Inc., in Los Angeles, California. In closing letters to both Weiss and Niall, the FTC stated that some of Weiss’s and Niall’s marketing materials may have overstated the extent to which their watches are made in the US. Although Weiss and Niall source many parts in the United States, the FTC contended that “the key parts used to make the watches’ movements are imported from Switzerland…. The imported parts constitute the key parts of the movement, and are essential to the watches’ function.”
Both Niall and Weiss have since made some changes to their marketing. Weiss updated the company logo to remove the phrase “US MADE.” They also added qualifying statements to marketing materials to explain that their watches contain a combination of US-made and Swiss-made parts. They’ve also updated their websites and social media. Niall updated claims on their dials and bezels to clarify that the watches contain Swiss parts. They also updated websites and social media, and are adopting new compliance measures, including legal review of future marketing materials and a coordinated media plan.
Some American watch manufacturers, such as Arcane, Vortic, and DoughBoy, source all of their materials for their watches in the US and use American-made movements from antique Waltham, Hamilton, or Elgin watches. Nicholas Manousos, technical editor of HODINKEE, has been closely following this story and reporting on it. I asked him if he thought any of these watch companies would face a problem with the FTC, and he said, “According to the FTC’s guidance, as long as a watch has had ‘all or virtually all’ of its parts made in the USA, then it could be advertised as Made in the USA. ‘All or virtually all’ means every essential part of the watch. In my interpretation of the FTC’s guidance, using old American movements in new watches would be perfectly fine, as long as those old movements were truly made in the USA.”
It remains to be seen how many other American watch companies the FTC will scrutinize. According to an article in the Detroit Free Press, Detroit’s Shinola has said that it will not discontinue its use of the tag line, “Built in Detroit.”
Sources: www.ftc.gov HODINKEE The Detroit Free Press
Donna Hardy is Managing Editor of Horological Times.