The tradition and history of Swiss watchmaking conjures up images of snowy mountaintops and quiet workshops with watchmakers bent over rich wooden benches. What the picturesque scene doesn’t usually include is sunshine and palm trees, or a quiet, introspective ponytailed surfing enthusiast with a deep love of the outdoors and vintage machinery. Cameron Weiss, an American master watchmaker, is all of those things. His Weiss Watch Company embodies the intricacies, accuracy, and beauty of Swiss watchmaking, with an Americana styling.
Cameron and his wife, Whitney, run their shop in southern California, with the help of their two dogs, Jules and Bennett. They are warm and friendly, and their warehouse-style space, feels surprisingly homey. Everywhere you look there is history. From the vintage car parts and surfboards on the wall, to the antique watch machining equipment in the hall. There are dog beds and toys, coffee brewing, and notes on the fridge from enthusiastic customers. The shop is equal parts them and Switzerland wrapped into one space.
Its immediately obvious that Cameron has a deep appreciation and respect for the history and difficulty of watchmaking. He wants his work to honor that of the Swiss and treats each of the hundred-plus pieces that goes into a movement with care and precision. One or two microns off and the watch engine won’t work. He recognizes that he is using someone else’s invention, and that to add his stamp to the hundreds of years of watchmaking, he has to ensure that he isn’t tarnishing the tradition. Cameron is now ten years into his venture as a watchmaker but has spent his lifetime as an enthusiast.
His fascination of watches began as a small child. In one particular story, his dad had gotten a quartz watch wet and fogged the crystal. So, Cameron and his aunt took the watch apart. It fried the watch, but he cut out a picture, placed it inside, and put the whole thing back together. This is when he had the realization that watches are more than just things people have. The incident piqued his interest in the inner-workings of watches and, subsequently, their history. When he took off for college, his parents gave him watchmaker tools and books at his request. From there, he continued to look and learn. But, when he saw the Ulysse Nardin Freak – he knew he was destined for watchmaker school.
After school in Miami, Cameron spent time working for both Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin in the United States and in Switzerland. In 2013, Weiss Watch Company saw their official launch. The started off with ten Standard Issue Field Watches at a market in San Francisco. Because there are no off-the-shelf parts in the United States, Cameron had to machine and engineer the entirety of the watch. Those first ten pieces took Cameron 300 hours each to complete.
Now the Weiss shop has multiple offerings in different sizes, colors, and materials. Everything is hand finished, and the bulk of their watches are completely machined and finished in the United States. For Cameron, he hopes that one day, people may say that like Switzerland or Germany, that some of the best watches are coming from southern California.
However, it isn’t just Weiss watches that Cameron owns. His collection, which comes as no surprise, is filled with meaning and history. To start, there is a set of pocket watches. These, along with old instrument-style watches (made for diving or airplane cockpits) served as the inspiration for the Weiss Field watch. Even their logo is designed to look like a set of airplane wings from above as an homage to the instrumentation of old aircrafts. The styling of these watches is intricate, yet simple. There is an elegance to each of them and its obvious he has carried this through to his own timepieces.
A little more modern, yet still vintage and filled with provenance is his ghost bezel Rolex Submariner 5512. This watch is from before an era of computerization in diving. It is a tool watch that has seen depths many people haven’t traveled. This Submariner has a gorgeous patina but still ticks beautifully.
However, the watch that may mean the most in his collection, aside from the pieces he has built with his own hands, was his Dad’s. Unlike many watches that , this isn’t a luxury piece. It is his Dad’s Mickey Mouse watch from when he was a child. To Cameron, this is even cooler than his own childhood Mickey as his Dad’s is a mechanical movement and from the 1950’s. For him, the concept that a little kid had a mechanical movement watch that isn’t luxury, was pretty cool.
Cameron Weiss, is a one of a very few. In the U. S., you aren’t likely to meet too many watchmakers who create movements. But Cameron, would love to see more. In a way, he is paving the way to restoring prestige to American watchmaking. Makers can only hope that with artists like him, perhaps watchmaking can also become a modern tradition here in the United States.
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