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Red, White and Ticking

It is not well known that the good ol' U.S. of A. was once an important center for production of mechanical pocket and wristwatches. But two important names from that era survive, joined by a newcomer.

Webb Ball, who standardized timekeeping for the burgeoning train systems in the United States, founded the Ball Watch Company in 1891. His legacy continues in the Ball Trainmaster Cleveland Express COSC. This classically designed model pays tribute to the New York Central's high-speed route from the busiest city in the United States to the company's headquarters in the Midwest. Fifteen micro gas tubes make up its hour markers and enable unparalleled night reading capability. Powered by an automatic movement and housed in a 41-mm, stainless-steel case, it sells for $2,399 with either a crocodile strap or a stainless-steel bracelet.

For a brief period after its establishment, Hamilton, located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was one of the world's largest watch companies, and about half of all railroad employees in the United States carried or wore a Hamilton. Of the large U.S. factories, most of which were situated in the same geographical area, Hamilton is the only one to have continuously operated in some form to this day—largely thanks to the Swiss. By 1969, American-owned Hamilton was producing all its watches in Switzerland, and in the mid-1970s it was taken over by a Swiss conglomerate. Today, it is firmly in the hands of the Swatch Group.

The year 2010 marked the 40th anniversary of the digital watch—including one made by Hamilton. The brand celebrates with the digital Hamilton Pulsomatic, with a design highly reminiscent of the 1970s. Surprisingly, it is powered by an automatic quartz movement. Known as autoquartz, this type of movement generates power using the wearer's kinetic energy, but keeps precise time using the piezoelectricity of a quartz. It has a power reserve of 82 days and does not need a battery. In stainless steel, the 39mm x 49mm case is water-resistant to 50 meters and retails for $1,545.

Just 12 years in business, Kobold Watch is a relative newcomer—but the only one of these three to actually manufacture parts of its watches in the United States at this time. The Kobold Sir Ernest Shackleton Automatic pays tribute to the great polar explorer and the 100th anniversary of his legendary South Pole expedition. It's a logical commemoration as the company started life by making robust timepieces for explorers, military personnel and others who depend on timepieces for their livelihoods.

This watch, characterized by a retro-style dial, features a 44-mm, U.S.-made, hand-finished, stainless-steel case and a rare caliber with automatic winding. Like all Kobold watches featuring U.S.-made components, it is covered by a five-year guarantee. Only produced in a limited production of 25 watches per year, it can be purchased through the company's own website for $5,350.

Visit ballwatchusa.com, hamiltonwatch.com and koboldwatch.com.

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