By Aaron Recksiek, CW21
Recently, we have highlighted many brands that have started to bring watch manufacturing, an industry that sat dormant for several decades, back to the United States. In the current industry, a new watch brand could take many paths to get to its goal—including “the road less traveled.” That is precisely the path that two brothers, Andrew and Matthew Cook of A.M. Cook Wristwatch, took.
Andrew Cook has spent most of the last 15 years as a bench watchmaker. He attended the WOSTEP program at North Seattle Community College in 2001 just after graduating from high school. After graduating from watchmaking school, he followed his cousin, who was also a watchmaker, to Shenzhen, China, where he worked as a technical consultant at the ISA movement factory, despite not speaking any Chinese. After spending some time there, Andrew realized that he missed the traditional watchmaking environment of repairing watches at the bench. He moved back home to Phoenix, Arizona, and took a job with a prominent independent jeweler. The store carried about 30 high-end brands, which provided him a variety of learning opportunities. Unfortunately, many of the brands did not offer much after-sales service support, which led Andrew to seek out what seemed to be a more stable job within a service-center environment. After stints at Breitling in Connecticut and Rolex in San Francisco, he again found himself at an independent jeweler in South Carolina, and then at The Watchmaker's Shop in Asheville, North Carolina, alongside three other watchmakers. Eventually, Andrew found his way back home to Phoenix, where he began to lay the groundwork to help launch the company that had been in the works behind the scenes for five years.
While Andrew was experiencing the many different facets of the watchmaking industry, his brother, Matthew, was busy developing a refined system for reliably machining watch cases and dials in his machine shop in Madison, Wisconsin. Matthew had gotten a degree in English from the University of Arizona, but was unable to find stable work in that field. He decided to pursue a trade, as his younger brother, and enrolled in Madison Area Technical College, where he graduated with a two-year certificate in tool and die making. At his first job out of school, Matthew was able to stay late in the machine shop and work on personal projects that let him learn and experience the equipment on a more refined level than his day-to-day workload allowed. This evolved into chats with his brother about the possibility of making cases and dials to produce their own line of watches.
Working most of the time as a watchmaker in a retail setting, Andrew began to become frustrated with many of the high-end watches that would come back within the initial warranty period with minor issues that should have been corrected during the manufacturer's quality-control check. One of the core founding beliefs of A.M. Cook Wristwatch is “the attention to detail before the sale and the quality of service after the sale.” Everything is meticulously scrutinized by both Andrew and Matthew. They want each customer to have a personal relationship with the brand that they’ll maintain over the lifetime of the watches, especially when it comes to after-sales service.
The brothers found it challenging to develop the process for machining the dials as well as the in-house painting and pad printing machines that they use to produce any color and material variation that the client requests. The plan is to make everything as customized as the owner wants, including case material (or multiple case materials), dial material, dial color, and printing. Matthew’s own watch consists of a titanium bezel with bronze inlay and a patina sterling dial with multiple-color printed numerals. After five years of development and many months of testing and quality control, they are finally ready to finish the first batch of watches and deliver them to their owners.
The case design is inspired by the dawn of wristwatches, when soldiers in World War I would fasten their pocket watches to their wrists using wire and a leather strap. The cases and dials are manufactured entirely on a CNC mill by Matthew at their own machine shop in Madison, Wisconsin. He then runs the dials through the in-house painting and printing operations. The materials are then transferred to Phoenix where Andrew manufactures the removable lugs, slightly modifies and installs the Swiss movement and hands, and then tests all the watches to meet the quality standard. The movements they are using for now are standard ETA 2824-2 movements that they calibrate to run as close to chronometer specifications as possible. (It takes time to adjust these movements more finely, but it can be done.)
The straps are made from Horween American bison leather by local collaborator Stone Creek Straps in Mesa, Arizona. The brothers are very transparent about where everything is sourced and manufactured. Andrew states, “We're very proud to machine the parts we do here in Madison and that we've tried to machine as many as possible in-house. We're also very proud to use components we get from Switzerland, namely the movements and hands. We don't see why the first fact would be incompatible with the second.”
The first model will be limited to 100 pieces, with each watch being individually numbered. The brothers also plan to develop special limited-edition models of 5 or 10 watches with some local shops. The first batch ready for sale will consist of 2 titanium, 3 bronze, and 10 stainless steel cases with availability slated for November. The price for each watch will range from $1,800-$2,300, depending on the materials used for the case and dial, as well as the painting and printing of the dial. The process can be followed on Instagram: @amcookwristwatch. You can contact Andrew and Matthew Cook through their website: www.amcookwristwatch.com/.