Early American & Colonial Watches

Why Watches? Artistry, Workmanship & 18th Century High Tech!

Early watches are works of art and were the highest-tech product that one could buy in colonial America.

There is a rich history of watchmaking in America during the 18th century that is vastly more interesting and complex than one can find in most publications and websites. Unfortunately, relatively few early American examples survive and scholarly research has only recently gotten started. The purpose of this site is to facilitate discussion and research.

- Featured Watches -

"A Slave Owner's Watch"

Gold Plantation Watch from Colonial Charleston

Robert Leslie's Nautical Watch

His Watch & Clock Patents Were the First in America

The vast majority of watches sold in America were imported from Europe; however, especially toward the end of the 18th century when watches became more affordable to the growing middle class, more American makers with English (and Swiss) supplier connections were able to retail their own line of watches with their name engraved on the watch. A few American makers made or finished their own watches. Philadelphia makers Henry Voight and Robert Leslie, Norwich maker Thomas Harland, Providence maker John Cairns, and Massachusetts makers Wheelock & Morse and Luther Goddard (view a Goddard example in the NAWCC Museum) are all part of the story of watchmaking in early America. Incredibly, that story actually begins with the arrival of the first watchmakers from England over 300 years ago and the discovery of America's oldest watch.

Who made the first American watch? This is a question that is impossible to answer and unfortunately many publications that touch upon this subject are woefully outdated and misleading. Watchmakers working in England, including some of the most famous, utilized component parts and unfinished movements (ébauches) made by others. If we use a similar definition, small-scale watchmaking began in America by the last quarter of the 18th century and likely many decades earlier. See AMERICAN INNOVATION for rare examples of early American watchmaking, and a compilation of insightful advertisements from 18th century makers.

I am keenly interested in Colonial and Federal Period American watches and watch papers and have published quite a few Articles on this subject. Please help by sharing information.

Why not join the NAWCC, the largest organization for clock & watch collectors & scholars in the world

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