The Ultimate 4th of July Watch: Part II

Nathaniel DeNicola is back for another chapter in his quest for the most American of American watches. Can any watch unseat the MKII Key West White Dial Pepsi GMT? American-made, red-white-and-blue, waterproof, independent spirit, and born in Philadelphia are tough credentials to beat, but in 2020 what is certain?

July 4, 2020

What on Earth was that?

If the 4th of July marks the unofficial halftime of the calendar year, it's time to throw out the playbook. Kick in the locker room door, topple some chairs, and hurl the Gatorade cooler to who cares where.

Fireworks? We need a firewall.

Nonetheless, this weekend will mark a new beginning of sorts for much of America. A new beginning of what? We're not quite sure. But it will be a time when many family and friends will gather, perhaps after long separations. In semi-distanced backyard barbecues and quasi celebrations, we will gaze into an evening sky to find a bit of hope in the pyrotechnic portraits of the rockets' red glare.

So, of course, the obvious question is, what watch will you be wearing? What timepiece is up to the task of not only splashing-while-spaced in pools and lakes but also putting a bit of American independent spirit right there on your water-bound wrist?
The Ultimate 4th of July Watch, 2019: MKII Key West White Dial Pepsi GMT

In a guest blog here last year, I outlined these criteria in the "Ultimate 4th of July Watch" and crowned the MKII Key West White Dial Pepsi GMT as the "ultimate" selection. It met every criterion: American, red-white-and-blue, waterproof, with a connection to American innovative spirit. It also included one that put it over the top -- it was born in Philadelphia.

MKII Key West White Dial Pepsi GMT, worn at a family pool party on July 4, 2019 -- at the time expected to be an annual tradition
Now this, of course, is quite specific and truly every watch mentioned in last year's article (and so many others) should be considered worthy 4th of July compatriots. Looking at this topic anew at the anniversary, well to say, "what a difference a year makes" would be an oversized 46 mm distortion. Still, we might entertain this yearly review to see if any newcomers challenge MKII's crown.

Just like before, we can march through the criteria one by one. And there is a ranking: American is essential but not the end of the story; red-white-and-blue seems important but can be adapted with colorful straps, so really it's a feature; waterproof sure comes in handy, but it's more of a perk; and ultimately we're looking for a story or an ethos that embodies the spirit of this celebration and that, just maybe, makes us feel a connection with the past as we look to the future.

Since we're reflecting, let's first highlight a few of the vintage American timepieces that didn't get their due last year.

A Grand Ol' Flag

For example, did you know the Waltham Watch Company once featured a Betsy Ross line? These ran in the late 1890s, and so, of course, they were pocket watches, though you can find some size 0 examples that now fit nicely upon the wrist like this one here.

Waltham size 0 pocket watch with Betsy Ross signature circa 1890

I know, I know, maybe she didn't actually sew the first American flag. That's not really the point. Anyone who's lived in Philadelphia for very long, as I have, learns that it's not terribly important whether the original flag was crafted at the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia, or even if that house was actually her residence. Most mythology gets murky. The undeniable facts that do matter still ring loud and true as the Liberty Bell. Betsy Ross was one of the scores of women who valiantly aided the revolution's military efforts, in this case by upholstering flags, and that her name immediately recalls pride in a national symbol and esteem for equal recognition.

We see that legacy deservedly stamped on this dial and dialed-in on this stamp.

1952 commemorative stamp honoring Betsy Ross' contribution to the American flag's story
(photo credit: Smithsonian)
Blue Steel!

Now, if you turn that watch ever so slightly, you see another charming feature: as those hands, which indeed appear black, catch the light at just the right angle they show their true colors: brilliant blued-steel.

There's nothing quite like the captivating hue of vintage blued-steel

This blued-steel handset was used in many watches of the pre-1900's era and continued to be used in the trench watch conversion during World War I. So when combined with the characteristic red twelve to denote orientation (for hunter movements in open-face cases) and the standard white dial of small, converted pocket watches (can you believe they took porcelain dials into the trenches?) you find a subtle red-white-and-blue overlay on top of the already patriotic WWI trench watches. While this crafty color scheme was not specific to American watches, it suits this particular holiday quite well, especially with the right strap.

Vintage-style red-white-and-blue Nato strap nicely compliments the Waltham U.S.A. trench watch with its red 12, white porcelain dial, and blued-steel hands (photo credit: watermellonphoto)
Elgin trench watch worn on another patriotic holiday: Memorial Day 2020 at the District of Columbia War Memorial
Close inspection reveals "Made in U.S.A." signature above the seconds subdial.

Speaking of red, white, and blue -- let's now move on to the (mostly) water-ready micros.

Red, White, and Blue Micromachines

Blue dials get most of the 4th of July wristwear love, but a red dial done right can easily steal the show. And immediately, one watch comes to mind – the newly launched Martenero Bayshore in the red and white colorway with just a touch of blue. It's still on pre-order, so we don't know it on the wrist, but already we can see a watch that practically explodes off the page and is clearly destined to be paired with fireworks.

Plus, it's waterproof, American-made, and from an entrepreneurial microbrand. Might we have a winner already? To be sure, there's much to love in this Brooklyn-based Yankee Doodle Dandy. Keep in mind, however, that in the resurgent American watch industry, nearly every brand presented here will broadly classify as a microbrand with that requisite entrepreneurial resilience. Since divers rule the day, almost all will be waterproof.

Martenero Bayshore due to arrive Fall 2020. With any luck, we'll be rocking this at poolside parties in Summer 2021 (photo credit: Martenero Watch Company)

But still, it's the 4th of July! Let's find a few more patriotic patterns.  

If you're active on the pre-order market, you may have nabbed the Traska Summiteer, which among its many variants included a rich blue dial with red second hand option. 

The blue dial / red second hand isn't the Traska Summiteer variant you see on most Instagram posts, but maybe it should be (photo credit: WatchCarts)

Those quick with the trigger may have also landed the Minuteman A-11 in "Old Glory Blue." Of note, this brand pays particular tribute to American military service -- not only in the brand name that recalls rapid-responses at Lexington and Concord but also in its use of US-made Ameriquartz movements with American assembly, which contributes a sizable share of proceeds to military veteran's foundations. One could easily stop their search here and have a noble selection.
You can practically hear "Battle Hymn of the Republic," echoing off this Minuteman Old Glory Blue.
This has to be one of the best logos in the microbrand universe (photo credit: Minuteman Watches)
But there is yet more to explore -- and this last year saw more microbrand complications.

If chronos are your style, the Indiana-born Haven Chilton boldly pronounces American midwestern Hoosier pride with a red and blue sub-register set against that clean white dial that also comes equipped with a pulsimeter to record that patriotic adrenaline surge.

As a practicing doctor, I don't really need a watch with a pulsimeter -- but I would absolutely find reasons to use this beauty.
To track every time zone from sea to shining sea, you could turn your attention to Monta's GMT lineup, the Atlas and Skyquest, which features a pair of vibrant "Monta blue" dials complemented by white hour markers and a red GMT hand. Among the microbrands, it would be hard to find a finer representative of American watchmaking to showcase to the world.

St. Louis-based Monta gives American watchmaking plenty of cause for pride. The Skyquest delivers triple time zone tracking on par with elite brands (photo credit: Monta Watches)
American Spirit. Foreign Lands.

It's worth recognizing other widely known legacies of American horology, even if the physical locales have moved overseas. These long-established, non-microbrands like Timex and Hamilton still exhibit a strong sense of their American D.N.A. and have 4th of July offerings for every patriot.

Timex, arguably the brand most responsible for the democratization of watches overall, has just released (July 2) a star-spangled Peanuts-themed watch -- and there's that Betsy Ross flag again!

Snoopy doing his best Betsy Ross impersonation (photo credit: Timex Watches)
Hamilton, the most instantly identifiable lineage to American watchmaking (the company slogan remains "American Spirit. Swiss Precision") has couched that status in modern memory with an abundance of close-ups from Hollywood cinema. In a recent Independence Day-themed movie, helpfully titled Independence Day: Resurgence, Hamilton added four cameos to their already lengthy filmography.
Hamilton Thin-O-Matic watch worn by Bill Pullman -- one of four Hamilton watches in Independence Day: Resurgence (photo credit: Forbes)
Which brings up a curious concept.

Past Visions of the Future

The premise of both Independence Day movies is, well, ok -- that aliens are invading Earth and humans need to unite to defeat them. Pure science fiction gold. But there is an unmistakable subtext -- that "Independence Day" needn't apply only to the past. Independence Day can look to the future.

And when science fiction writers look to quandaries about our future capacity for self-reliance, they tend to converge upon a similar answer. Whether the imminent threat presents as a fleet of space invaders (Independence Day, Arrival) or sustainability on a scorched Earth (Interstellar -- which boasts its own iconic Hamilton watch pairings) the new guards for our future security, seem clear: scientific discovery, global sharing of information, and an acute acceptance of mutually-assured fates.

Maybe it's the COVID confinement talking, but that starts to sound good right now.

And sure it's just science fiction. Effective solutions are always easier when you get to write the ending. But still, it does make you wonder. What if these past visions of the future are on to something? What if our future, broader independence, relied on new discovery with a global perspective propelled by jointly-bound endeavors? In real life, who would rise to the challenge? What human agency would once again assume, among the powers of the Earth, a new station derived from the laws of nature?

Let facts be submitted to a candid world.

A Force of Nature

As famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has pointed out, "NASA is a force of nature like none other." Now it would be impossible to adequately summarize NASA's global impact and contribution to human self-reliance in this humble essay on watches. So I'll cut straight to the highlights.

When NASA led the global efforts to land a man on the moon, it accomplished much more than physical placement.

As Tyson also points out, "we went to the moon, and we discovered Earth." It is no coincidence that the run of environmental protections in the early 1970s (Earth Day, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, the founding of the E.P.A.) all flowed from a new global perspective produced by the Earthrise photo taken by the Apollo 8 mission in 1968 and placed on the cover of Time magazine in 1969.

When NASA invented a litany of new technologies for use in outer space, it eventually came back down to Earth with an amplified convenience or service. No, not referring to fallen satellites. This applies to cell phone cameras, L.E.D. lights, C.T. scanners, and yes, Air Jordans. It also includes computer software technology, water purification, and highway safety. And speaking of satellites, you can throw in satellite T.V. and G.P.S., among numerous others.

Oh yeah, and it anointed the "Speedy."

"We went to the moon, and we discovered Earth." - Neil deGrasse Tyson (photo credit: swisswatchexpo)
Consider that for a moment. As we approach re-entry with watches. Would the Omega Speedmaster be the Omega Speedmaster without NASA's signature moment?

It's not a stretch to say that between environmental conservation, advanced computer technology, and worldwide satellite communication -- essential tools for global self-reliance -- our emergence as a spacefaring society has been the keystone to, shall we say, interdependent survival. As these spacefaring endeavors go, NASA has paced the global field.

And, recall, it's American.

Born in the U.S.A.

To be sure, NASA relies on crucial international collaborations. Nearly every modern industry, large or small, in some way takes advantage of globalization -- from microbrand production to satellite launches. And it's important to point out the numerous foreign-born scientists who came to the United States specifically to work for NASA, and who quite literally elevated its mission.

Still, at its most fundamental level, the "national" in National Aeronautics and Space Administration refers to its independent agency within the United States government. Even the harshest cynic of "government work" tends to give a thumbs up to NASA. Now in 2020, it continues to inspire hope for a brighter tomorrow and compels an upward gaze as we search for meaning in the stars.

So is there a watch that captures this essence? That puts that American story of innovation, discovery, and even a hint of "futuristic independence" right there for your evening wrist check reassurance?

The Ultimate 4th of July Watch for 2020

Greetings, from Trappist-1.

We conclude this countdown with the Xeric Trappist-1 NASA Edition Apollo 11 Cerakote Model. No, Elon Musk didn't name it -- but still a mouthful.

NASA astronaut inspired design features like the crisp white on white dial and bezel, and a puffy space suit style strap (photo credit: Xeric Watches)

At first glance, this could be seen as just another Apollo 50th anniversary moon landing watch. There were several. Most, like this, Anicorn,  were launched somewhere around July 2019 in honor of that monumental achievement. 

The ANICORN NASA anniversary collaboration (photo credit: ANICORN Watches)

Timex offered some delightful Snoopy versions (with an important backstory about NASA's "Snoopy" award that goes beyond a playful cartoon).

The sublime joy of Snoopy in Space (photo credit: Timex)
But it's the attention to detail and finely-tuned tributes to NASA that give the Xeric Trappist-1 its stellar status. Sure, logos and color schemes make sense. Xeric reached another orbit, leveraging every design element to engineer this watch with a sense of exploration and discovery worthy of that NASA signature.

The grill modeled after the Cupola outlook window on the International Space Station gives a sense of looking out into space (photo credit: Xeric Watches).
(photo credit: Xeric Watches)
This California-based brand blazons innovative American roots incorporates honorific NASA design references, features constellation lume for post-fireworks celestial navigation, and tritium tubes that illuminate even a moonless night, and of its many variants comes in Apollo V inspired red, white, and blue. No, it's not waterproof. As we've listed, there are plenty of daytime options. But when the day is done, who else switches to their night watch?

Xeric lume for evening wrist checks, plus long-lasting tritium tube hour and minute hands for deep space exploration (photo credit: Xeric Watches)
So there you have it: the ultimate, after hours, 4th of July watch. An American watch that honors the history of U.S. innovation and exploration that combines accents of red and blue with crisp NASA-astronaut white, that provides a guiding light for post-finale stargazing -- and that shines its brightest in the night's darkest hour.

Happy 4th of July, everyone. May the second half bring us new hope on the horizon. ⬩

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