Part 4 in a series of blog posts by guest editor Mr. Ewy, in which he shares with us some of his favorite things.
I used to work at Nautica – there, I said it. One of my roles was to run the inspiration and product creation process for licensed goods, including tailored clothing, hosiery, eyewear and many more. Perhaps my favorite category, though, was watches / timepieces (more on this distinction later). We were constantly looking for inspiration from militaria and nautical sources. During research, I came across what would turn into one of my favorite American heritage brands, Chelsea Clock. The company has been around under a variety of names since 1884, making it the oldest continuously existing timepiece manufacturer in the United States.
You can read the wikipedia to get all of the details, but there were a couple great moments in the history of Chelsea Clock that made it the connoisseur’s icon that it is today. The company’s roots started as the E. Howard Clock Company in 1842. Joseph Eastman, an early employee, adopted the non-pendulum movement from a watch to a clock, allowing it to work in any position, unlike most pendulum clocks of the time. This was a major advancement in clocks and set upthe company’s future with the military. E. Howard Clock Company went out of business and was purchased by a group of businessmen and operated under the name Boston Clock Company of Maine. It was then purchased in 1897 by Charles Pearson and given the name Chelsea Clock.
In 1900, the company patented a fully encased clock movement, with chime and striking mechanism, another major advancement, called the Ship’s Bell. In 1903, the company started producing clocks for automobiles, including Studebaker, Rolls Royce and Packard. The United States Navy also started purchasing clocks which began a long history with the military. Good move for Chelsea Clock, it kept the company alive during the Great Depression and off-set declining consumer demand for timepieces post World War II.
Chelsea Clock Co. has made many beautiful clocks. A recently re-released clock with Polo Ralph Lauren is one such example. For me though, Chelsea Clock makes military clocks, specifically for nautical use.
My favorite is the 6” Mechanical Clock they made for the US Navy. We had one at Nautica, which I almost liberated when I left the company. I am not the only person who loves this model. Look at almost every watch from Bell & Ross, Panerai, Luminox and many others, and I bet they cribbed inspiration from the black face with white numbers, san-serif font, and the shape of the hands. Take a look and I bet you will agree. You know who else loves Chelsea Clock? The Japanese. Whenever I am in Tokyo perusing Americana and vintage stores, the clock on the wall invariably is Chelsea Clock.
So, what is the difference between a clock/watch/timepiece? Generally speaking, a timepiece has a fully mechanical mechanism, meaning, you have to wind it, no battery. They can also be self-winding (the movement of your wrist winds the watch), but put a battery or quartz movement in and voila, you have a watch. The vintage Chelsea Clock pieces that are so coveted (just check the auction prices on eBay for confirmation) are the mechanical timepieces. Sure, it is a pain to wind them, but like full grain leather shoes, bespoke suits, or fine spirits, part of the price of admission is taking care of them.
What if you don’t have the time or money for a mechanical clock? Ah, good news. Chelsea Clock has released the Patriot Deck Collection, which keeps the classic styling and look with modern day functionality. The pricing is also more realistic and will allow you to buy a bottle of the good stuff with the leftover scratch.
Full disclosure: Chelsea Clock sent me one. Other full disclosure: I only give honest reviews (ask anyone who has every worked with me). First the good. These clocks look amazing! Their battery movement means you can screw it onto your wall without worrying about having to constantly open it and wind it to keep it operational. The clocks give you that authentic look you want to keep your man cave repping that authentic vibe. The honest. This is not a mechanical clock. For those that care about this, Chelsea Clock has a vintage section on their website of restored clocks for purchase. You will pay more here than on eBay, but they come fully guaranteed to work, unlike some of the sketchy purchases I have made over the years. To further the honesty, in order to keep prices down, some of the materials have been downgraded like using plastic on the clock front instead of glass. But for less than a third the price of the refurbished models, you get the look without the hit to the wallet. In my opinion, Chelsea Clock should also make a fully mechanical reproduction clock, but maybe that is to come.
What about the other American watches and timepieces? I love Shinola. “Built in Detroit” is a great story,. Hamilton Watch? Authentic American history, especially with the military, but they are now part of the Swiss Swatch Group. John Varvatos favorite Ernst Benz is another American watch of merit. I would wear one. But for me, if you want an authentic American timepiece, the discussion begins and ends with Chelsea Clock.
Ben Ewy is a gentleman of fortune and bon vivant living and working in Ann Arbor, MI. Follow more of his exploits on Instagram @benewy