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Icko Wakmann, Breitling, and the Wakmann Watch Company


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On 17 April 1981, the New York Times (in both the local and National editions) published the following obituary:


Icko Wakmann, retired president of the Relide Clock Company in Manhattan and founder of the Wakmann Watch Company, died Saturday at his home in Miami Beach.

  He was 86 years old and also lived in Manhattan.

  Mr. Wakmann, who was born in Russia, came to the United States in 1943. He retired from Relide in 1979. He was an officer in a number of Orthodox Jewish organizations.

He is survived by his wife, Glikla; three daughters, Pepa Karasick and Anita Walker, both of New York City, and Margalit Zwiebel of Tel Aviv; a brother, Munia of Moscow; 10 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.


In this topic, I shall be primarily discussing the history of the Wakmann Watch Company, founded in New York by Icko Wakmann a few years after he had moved to the United States in 1943, although I shall provide some earlier background which is also of interest. Before I embark on drafting this topic for Forum readers and members, however, I have to declare a caveat about the whole subject of Wakmann watches, caused by the lack of hard information and the brief, fragmentary, nature of relevant historical  information which has been put online and in other sources. This has been a difficult subject to research and write up, but I feel that it is important work. Wakmann watches have been rising in value and collectability in recent years and Icko Wakmann is an important figure in linking watch production in Switzerland and the United States during the post-War period of mechanical watches, particularly chronographs.

Icko Wakmann was born in 1895 in Russia, with Jewish origins, and came to Western Europe at an unknown date. In 1925, he apparently co-founded a watch company with Charles Gigandet, and thanks to listed company registrations on Mikrolisk, we can be almost certain that this firm was the Rieder & Gigandet (also Rieder-Gigandet & Cie) partnership, based in Solothurn, Switzerland, and first registered in 1926. Icko Wakmann was evidently not a named partner in this concern, which used the Rigi/Rigis brand name, but we can connect him to the company by the listing, unfortunately not dated, of the brand name, Gigandet-Wakman[n], used by Gigandet/Rieder & Gigandet at Solothurn. Interestingly, the name, Rigi, which started out as a brand name, steadily became more important to the firm and immediately after World War Two, we find the the name of the Gigandet-Rieder company listed as Rigi Watch S.A. at Solothurn, with Montres Rigi based at the other Gigandet headquarters at Tramelan.

It is not clear what role Icko Wakmann played in the watch business at Solothurn from about 1925 until the outbreak of World War Two, but may well have been in the sales and marketing area. What we do know is that he formed a watch company in Portugal during the early years of the conflict, probably representing a number of quality European watch brands and acting as a distributor for Swiss watches. Portugal was a neutral country during World War Two, under Salazar, and although Icko Wakmann was able to carry on a successful watch business there, the fact that he was Jewish on a continent where the position of Jews was always uncertain, probably influenced his decision to leave Europe and head for the USA in 1943. [I should just mention here that it has been stated that during the Holocaust, the Wakmann family devoted great efforts in assisting refugees from the Nazi horror, and it would be interesting to know more about this]. In addition to personal/family reasons for the move to the States, Icko also harboured ambitions to become an important player in the American watch market, and the first horological registration we have for Wakmann in America occurs in January 1945, and is for the Wakmann Watch Co./Icko Wakmann. This pre-dates the usual year given for the establishment of the Wakmann company by a single year, and we have a further identical registration in America for 1948 - in both registrations, the brand name of the firm is listed as “Wakmann” with the company being based in New York. We know that between the dates of these two registrations, Wakmann founded his company at Fifth Avenue 452, New York, and (in 1947) listed it on the US Stock Exchange.




A Wakmann chronograph from the early 1950s with a 35mm (excl crown) chrome plated case and steel caseback, powered by a Landeron caliber 48 hand-wind movement (pics from antiquesage.com)




A simple Wakmann late 1950s wristwatch just to remind collectors that Icko Wakmann was not solely taken up with chronographs and high-end watches, nor did he only deal with Swiss companies in Europe, as the designation, "FRANCE" on this watch evidences (pic from ebth-com-production.imgix.net):






Icko Wakmann was certainly up and running properly by 1948, in which year we have a Wakmann catalogue showing a variety of Swiss-made wristwatches on offer (See budgetwatchcollecting.blogspot.com/2016/09/wakmann-and-breitling-watches.html). In this catalogue are 15 and 17J watches including gold and rolled gold dress styles and hardier “work and sport” models in stainless steel. In addition to timepieces, we find some Breitling “Premiere” chronographs in the catalogue, and the two-register Chronomat, priced at $89.50 in stainless steel and $209.00 in 18 carat gold. In 1949, we find Wakmann and his Wakmann Watch Co. registering the brand slogan, “For the time of your life.” A 40-page catalogue from September 1949 for the Wakmann Watch Company shows that Wakmann was then wholesaling three distinct watch lines - Wakmann watches, Breitling watches, and so-called Election Grand Prix watches; each line designated in the catalogue with an appropriate brand name including the cursive Breitling mark used by the Breitling Corporation of America at this time - about which more will be said below.

It would be easy to move on at this point and just carry the Wakmann story forwards, but a break is necessary in order to examine Wakmann’s business move to the United States in the context of the relations between the US and the Swiss watch industry from the late 1920s,  partly because of what has been said and written about the relationship between Breitling and Wakmann from the late 1940s and partly to see how American policy must have affected Wakmann’s enterprise in the States.




A Wakmann alarm watch difficult to date but probably 1950s with a 34mm case and hand-wind movement (pics from Theo & Harris at stackpathsdna.com):






Already, from the mid-1920s, the Swiss watch industry was becoming increasingly dependent on the United States for markets, and in turn American companies were becoming concerned about Swiss encroachment. A tariff had been already been imposed on imported watches in 1922, but by the end of that decade, the start of the Great Depression in the States was met by a wave of American protectionism that led, in 1930, to the imposition of much higher duties on the importation of all sorts of products, including watches and watch movements, under the provisions of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff [also called Hawley-Smoot] Bill. The 1930 duty of watches, based on the number of jewels and the size of watches and movements imported into the US, hit the cheap 6J watches and the average quality watches with 15 jewels hardest - these two classes, together,  representing two thirds of Swiss watch exports to the United States.

There is not time and space here to discuss the retaliatory measures and protests against the Smoot-Hawley tariffs that came not only from Switzerland but also from other European countries, including the UK. What is important to say is that in 1930, Swiss watch exports declined by 24%, with exports to the States declining by 48%, giving further impetus to a reorganisation of the Swiss watch industry. In America itself, it was realised that protectionism was not the way to deal effectively with economic depression, and tariffs were reduced somewhat from 1934. Interestingly, from about that latter year, partly stimulated by the reductions in US duty on watches/movements effective from 1936, the decline of the Swiss watch industry was reprieved, with Swiss watch exports rising steadily from 1933 for a number of years. The devaluation of the Swiss Franc and rising wages in the US were also instrumental in a renewed attack on the US market by the Swiss, in spite of US tariffs on imported watches still equating to 33% after 1936 plus a quota system on imported finished watches and parts.

During this phase of increasing exports to the US, the Swiss aimed their watches and movements primarily at the lower market sectors, concentrating on the mass production and export of pin lever movements that were relatively inexpensive and more fashion-oriented. This assemblers in the US now had what they wanted; a supply of cheap but high quality watch movements and a market that was ripe for low-cost fashionable watches. Then, by a stroke of dreadful events providing good fortune, the improved situation of the Swiss watch industry was even further enhanced by the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, and it is during the War years that Icko Wackmann moved from Europe to the USA, probably in part hoping to take advantage of the increased penetration of Swiss watches into the domestic American market.




This 1960s Wakmann chronograph is essentially a co-branded watch, with the name, "Charles Gigandet," on the inside of the caseback. The watch has a 37mm chrome plated case with steel caseback and a Valjoux 17J hand-wind movement. The two registers are for running seconds and, on the right, a 45 minute recorder. The sweep hand registers fifth of a second increments (pics from farfo.com):







During the War years, the pressing needs of the military meant that the US watch industry was reorientated towards armaments, and this gave the (neutral) Swiss an unexpected opportunity to actually increase their dominance over the domestic US industry. The Swiss share of the US market rose from 10% in 1941 to 32% in 1945, with Swiss exports to the US increasing from 4 to 8 million watches and “modules.” Incredibly, by the end of 1945, 49% of the Swiss watch industry output was destined for the United States. However, importantly, only 2.6 million complete watches were so exported, while no less than 5.7 million ebauches were exported to the US for assembly by American companies. A relatively small additional number of watch cases and other watch parts were also sent to the US. Having virtually given up the domestic manufacture of watches for trade for military defence contracts, the American watch industry entered a crisis phase, calling for a virtual closure of domestic markets to foreign imports while the home industry had time to recover.

Ironically, by the time that Icko Wakmann founded his watch company, (usual given date, 1946), the situation had changed. The clamour among US watch manufacturers for protection from the Swiss reached fever pitch at the end of the Second World War, and in 1945, the US government reacted by negotiating a voluntary quota system restricting Swiss watches and parts imports to 1945 levels. There were no guarantees that this level would be maintained, and Congress retained the right to reopen trade negotiations if the US watch industry failed to recover. The Swiss were also required to take action against illegal smuggling including the establishment of enforceable penalties for the illegal export of watches which, with a quota system such as that agreed to with the Americans, would (and did) surely increase, with smaller Swiss companies being driven more towards illegal trade. As a final “humiliation,” and against the Swiss 1930 “Statut de l’Horlogerie,” the Swiss were also “encouraged” to provide American watch firms with the necessary parts and tools to rebuild the domestic watch industry. As for tariffs, the notion agreed at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference that a new International Trade Organisation (ITO) should be formed to organise multilateral tariff reductions did not come to fruition, mainly due to US opposition, and major tariff reductions would have to wait. I have not actually managed to locate data on exactly what financial tariffs applied to the imports of watches and movements into the USA in the years after 1945, and have to rely on statements that they were still relatively high.

Thus it was that this US/Swiss framework, reluctantly agreed to by the Swiss, regulated trade between Switzerland and the United States for the next three years. From the mid-1940s,  bitten by American unilateral actions against the Swiss watch industry, the Swiss share of the US watch market began to decline markedly. Once the recipient of almost 50% of Swiss watch exports, the United States’ share of Swiss watch exports declined to 28% (or 3.6 million units). Of those, two thirds were watch movements to be assembled into final products by US watch companies. In addition, in 1948s, the Swiss watch industry was hit by the Communist takeover in China in 1948 which essentially closed the Chinese market and with it the Hong Kong gateway for Swiss watch exports. Once the recipient of almost 50% of Swiss watch exports, the United States’ share of Swiss watch exports declined to 28% (or 3.6 million units) by the mid-1950s. Of those, two-thirds were watch movements to be assembled into final products by US watch firms.




A rare Wakmann hand-wind dual time gents wristwatch from about the mid-1960swith a 35mm stainless steel case and two 17J movements. Note the mispelling of "Watch" on the inside of the caseback (pics from i.ebayimg.com):








Given the temporary problems facing Icko Wakmann when setting up his watch company, whose raison d’etre was primarily to sell and distribute good quality imported (usually Swiss) watches in the United States, it is hardly surprising that he chose to link up with a high quality Swiss manufacture on a firm official basis, and the choice of Breitling - then little known in the US but an established maker of high quality watches, especially chronographs. For Breitling, the choice of Wakmann as a distribution partner was sensible as it gave them access to a network already being established by an experienced watch distributor already on the ground, so to speak. Ironically, the days of protectionism were numbered by the later 1940s, and American government attitudes were shifting rapidly towards free trade. The period of GATT (the general Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) had begun.

Returning to the history of Wakmann, much of the online source material (and collector’s interest) centres around the link between the Wakmann concern and Breitling, and it is therefore necessary to deal with this aspect of the Wakmann story at this juncture. Unfortunately, however, the available online references to the Wakmann-Breitling connection (and indeed, Wakmann in general) are brief to the extent of being perfunctory, and as a body of references, never manage to get to the bottom of exactly what the connection was between the two companies and how long it lasted. Having trawled through the online entries for Wakmann, I turned to the 2nd revised edition of Benno Richter’s important work on Breitling (Breitling: The History of a Great Brand of Watches 1884 to the Present; pub. by Schiffer, 1995 and 2000) only to be disappointed once again. Wakmann is only given one paragraph, which reads:


  In the forties, Breitling conquered the American market. Here, in collaboration with Wakmann, the Breitling Watch Corporation of America was founded, appearing on the stock market in 1947. The stock capital amounted to $100,000, a thoroughly respectable sum. The Breitling Watch Corporation was a collaboration of Breitling with an American manufacturer, the Wakmann Watch Company Inc., which continued to distribute Breitling watches in the USA into the seventies. One still finds many watches that bear the name of Wakmann (or Wakmann/Breitling) on the dial and the case, or are signed by Breitling on the balance mount. These, then, are watches produced by Breitling, which were exported to America, the largest market.


For the sake of evidence, we know that the Breitling Watch Corporation of America (BWCA) did exist, with Icko Wakmann as its president - a stock certificate issued to Willy L. Breitling for the company is illustrated in Richter’s book, dated 2 July 1947 and signed by the secretary/treasurer and also by the president of the corporation, Icko Wakmann. Having ascertained the basic existence of the BWCA, more research revealed some interesting details. According to the Justia trademarks website which provides information on US registered trademarks, the BWCA filed a cursive Breitling word (name) mark (apparently first used in 1946) on 31 December 1947 and it was then registered on 13 June 1950. The trademark ownership history thus originated with the Breitling Watch Corporation of America as the original registrant. Subsequent changes of trademark ownership were made, probably reflecting different partnership titles at Breitling, with Breitling Montres S.A. being the 12th “New Owner” since registration, at some stage, and Breitling U.S.A. Inc. being the 14th and current owner of the trademark. Breitling have continued to renew their registration of the American trademark consistently with the latest renewal being in 2010. The Breitling Watch Corporation of America would have been responsible for the importation and distribution of Breitling watches in the USA, and these were then sold through Wakmann’s distribution wholesale network. The usual date given for the end of the BCWA is the early 1970s and it would appear that it was purchased or swallowed up by Breitling - reflected in the change of US trademark ownership to Breitling Montres S.A.




A Wakmann Superautomatic sports watch from the early 1970s with a heavy steel 36mm case, 17J automatic movement, bi-directional rotating bezel, and screw-down crown with 20 ATMOS water resistance (pics from clockfixer.com):






It has been put forward that Icko Wakmann imported not only complete Breitling watches but also those that required final assembly; Wakmann Watch Company would then finish the watches and sell them, possibly branding them Breitling/Wakmann and attempting to evade duty payable on Swiss watches by claiming that these were American made. This whole subject of co-branding by Wakmann - and not merely with Breitling products - is problematic and one must remember that Icko Wakmann was running his own show - the Wakmann Watch Company - as well as being involved with the BWCA. In other words, he was free to engage with other companies seeking a share in the US watch market - making choices, ordering, importing and distributing/selling their products as well.

Co-branding between Breitling and an American distributor had already occurred when Breitling and Wakmann came together in the BWCA. Just prior to the formation of the BWCA, a watch importer named Edward Trauner based in New York who had used the brand name “Clebar” since 1925, was responsible for some co-branded Breitling/Clebar watches. Trauner was probably not acting as an official distributor for Breitling in the USA, and his main tie up was with LIP -  later, in 1955, he became involved with Zodiac, becoming official US distributor for Zodiac watches. Also of note is the existence of some two-register Lavina chronographs from the late 1940s that have the Wakmann name on the caseback and movement but not on the dial; once again, these would have been distributed by the Wakmann Watch Company. More importantly, Icko Wakmann had already a long-established relationship with Charles Gigandet and the Gigandet watch Company of Tramelan in Switzerland, and Gigandet also exported watches and probably part-finished watches ordered by Wakmann - examples are known that are Gigandet/Wakmann co-branded on the dial. Wakmann was apparently involved in the importation, assembly, branding and selling of watches from a number of European companies, mainly from Swiss concerns but also from France, where Yema was the main supplier. More will be said on this below.

Interestingly, going back to Breitling and the BWCA, the text in Richter (1995 & 2000) immediately following the paragraph quoted above discusses  Breitling’s advertising in America. In 1956, Breitling adverts in “Life International” magazine all had a yellow background, which stood out and engendered a flood of enquiries, especially for the “cardboard Watch,” a “dry model” of the Chronomat, made to acquaint one with the operation of the watch. In addition, 20th Century Fox featured closeups of the Navitimer watch in various evocative films. From 1957 until 1986, George Caspari was responsible for all Breitling’s advertising decisions. From this, it does seem that Breitling was engaged in its own North American advertising alongside the partnership with Wakmann - the latter obviously not much involved with direct advertising and marketing for Breitling.




A Gigandet/Wakmann co-branded triple date chronograph from about 1960 of a type known as the Dato-Compax. This example has a 38mm stainless steel case and is powered by a Valjoux 72c hand-wind movement - the same caliber as in the Rolex Dato-Compax.(pics from matthewbaininc.com)







Having discussed the BWCA and taken an initial look at the co-branding question, we can move on to acquiring a timeline overview of the Wakmann Watch Company Inc. Using Mikrolisk, we find a number of listings for the Wakmann Watch Company. The first two references are for Wakmann Watch Co./Icko Wakmann, and occur  in 1945 and in April 1948, both with the brand name being “Wakmann.” The company is listed as being in New York, USA, and the product status of the firm is given as “Kleinuhren.” The term, kleinuhren, is somewhat vague, meaning “small watches,” and presumably relates mainly to wristwatches. An almost identical listing to the above two occurs in March 1949, but the brand name for this registration is, “For the time of your life.”

On 21 June 1953, Wakmann Watch Co./Icko Wakmann registered the brand name, Resisto-Spring, and we then have no more Mikrolisk entries until 1960 when finally the company is given as being involved with wristwatches, with a new brand name being listed - Kembro. The company name now also includes the incorporation suffix, Inc.. Two registrations for the Wakmann company occur in 1961, both giving somewhat technical-sounding brand names, Dynameter and Supermeter, and both references exclude any reference to watches. It may be that these new brand names were used by Wakmann for aircraft or other professional  instruments and clocks. The final Mikrolisk entry is dated 5 January 1972 and restates the brand name, “Wakmann.”

Over its lifetime, the Wakmann Watch Company sold all sorts of watches, including the more general fashion-led products that were the bread and butter line of business. However, he clearly had a preference for high quality watches, and became known for chronographs and professional timepieces, especially for pilots, including aircraft clocks - one indication of this being a Wakmann catalogue for “Watches. Chronographs. Stop Watches” dating to about August 1973 . He sold to commercial airlines, the military and the US government as well as to the radio/tv industry. Icko Wakmann was never a manufacturer of watches or components but he would have been involved in choosing the designs and specifications of watches that he imported and sold, perhaps even assembling components or at least finishing nearly complete watches to his (and hopefully his customers’) satisfaction. I shall take a further look at this part of Wakmann’s enterprise later as part of a conclusion to this topic.

The Wakmann Watch Company continued in operation until after 1970, as evidenced by the 1972 registration given in Mikrolisk and mentioned above, as well as the survival of catalogues for 1973. Exactly what happened to the company and when is not entirely clear, and we know that Icko Wakmann himself continued in the horological industry in the States, at some time becoming involved in the Relide watch company. Icko Wakmann retired from the presidency of Relide in 1979, and died in 1981, by which time the Wakmann Watch Company had run its course, probably as a result of the quartz crisis. Icko Wakmann’s role at Relide as president did not necessarily mean that he had abandoned the Wakmann Watch Company, although the lack of quartz watches branded Wakmann indicates that the Wakmann Watch Company did not enter the 1980s. The end of Wakmann Watch Company is also subject to some confusion surrounding exactly what was eventually taken over by Breitling - the BWCA or the Wakmann Watch Company Inc., or both. I have not (yet) come across any direct evidence that Wakmann Watch Company Inc., was bought by Breitling but we do have evidence, given above, that Breitling did eventually acquire full ownership of the BWCA. Taking all the available evidence into consideration, I believe that the Wakmann Watch Company was wound up in the mid-late 1970s, and it is not clear just how active Icko Wakmann himself was by this period as an officer of the Wakmann Watch Company Inc..




A colourful Wakmann Regate chronograph from the 1970s with a multi-functional inner bezel designed in part for competitive sailing, steel case and a Lemania 1341 automatic movement. The last pic shows Clint Eastwood wearing this model in the 1995 movie, The Bridges of Madison County (pics from








Like so many famous watch company brand names from the past, the Wakmann brand has been the subject of at least one revival, probably with no direct relationship to Icko Wakmann and the Wakmann Watch Company. There are apparently Wakmann branded watches out there from about the 1990s, probably Chinese-made, and there is also a current online presence from a company titled, “Wakmann Watch (International) Company Limited - Hong Kong” that (in 2014 at least) was/is producing Wakmann branded watches, mainly for the domestic Chinese market.

Now that we have provided an overview history of the Wakmann Watch Company, we are need to discuss further the question of what activities the Wakmann Watch Company was engaged in, and look hard at the claim that Wakmann and his company avoided, or at least tried to avoid, American tariffs.

Among all the various authorities who have briefly discussed Wakmann, there is a common consensus that emerges with regard to certain basic tenets. It is held as fact that Icko Wakmann not only imported complete watches and distributed them as a US wholesaler but also acted as an assembler or “emboiteur.” In other words he would import nearly complete watches, perhaps sometimes just their movements, mainly from Switzerland, and then undertake the final assembly, casing and testing before selling them under the Wakmann (or a co-branded) name, [and perhaps even at times a Wakmann “own brand]” Wakmann may have executed this finishing work under the auspices of his own company but he probably - at least sometimes - subcontracted this work out to American assembly companies.

It is usually concluded that Wakmann engaged in the assembly and rebranding of watches in order to avoid paying the high US tariffs still being levied on imported watches, claiming that his watches were American-made. Among the contemporary listings for Wakmann, there are none that specifically indicate involvement in either manufacture or assembly, nor is the company listed as selling imported components in the USA. Nevertheless, it is the case that the Wakmann company did take go into some detail when specifying components. As an aside, we do have a mention and a photograph of the Swiss Wakmann headquarters building in Solothurn, Switzerland, but no dates are given for this HQ, and I have not found any Swiss-based post-War Wakmann Watch Company ( Inc.) enterprise listed.

In connection with any assembling activity by the Wakmann company in the USA as a means of avoiding import duties, there are two aspects which need to be separated. Firstly, there is the question of avoiding duty by incorporating sufficient domestic content into his watches that they could be marketed and sold as domestic products of the USA. And secondly, when selling his watches and clocks to the US Federal Government, including the military, Wakmann would have needed to take account of the Buy American Act of 1933. Under this Act, The US federal Government had to “prefer” or ensure that purchases were of US-made products, and the Buy American Act, which was in force through the life of the Wakmann watch concern, “Domestic End Products” had to be 100% manufactured in the USA with at least 50% US content.




An early to mid 1970s Wakmann dive chronograph of a type nicknamed by some as "Big Boy" because of its size, and produced in different versions by other Swiss companies from the late 1960s. The watch has a 40mm stainless steel case (chromed examples are known) with rotating bezel, screw-down steel caseback, domed crystal and 20 ATM water resistance. In this example, the movement is a Valjoux caliber 7733 (pics from production-fratellowatches.netdna-ssl.com):








Without access to the financial records of the Wakmann Watch Company, answering questions about duties paid, assembly work executed or subcontracted, and branding agreements with other watch companies, we are left with speculation and educated guesswork when assessing Icko Wakmann’s decisions and actions with regard to tariffs in place in the USA. The authors of introductory pieces about Wakmann assert that assembly in the States for the purposes of avoiding import duties was undertaken by Icko Wakmann immediately post-War to avoid the protective US measures in place at that time, and then they leave it at that, forgetting that Icko and his watch company was trading long after that time and facing all the complexities and changing circumstances of trade and industry. Indeed, the complexity of this question is evidenced by the country of origin marks seen on Wakmann watches over the lifetime of the Wakmann Watch Company; the majority of the watches are given a Swiss made designation, and France also pops up quite frequently. Then there are watches with no country of origin mark on the dial or caseback, and whether these were officially classed as being US made is not clear. Unfortunately, I do not have a record of US import duties on imported watches after about 1950, nor a guide to US regulations on marking goods destined for both foreign and domestic markets over the Wakmann period; and to incorporate all that information here would make this topic more complex and lengthy than it is already.

It seems to me that Wakmann would not have been able to avoid import duties on completed dutiable watches he imported into the US, whether or not they were branded Wakmann, or co-branded, or branded for an original foreign manufacturer. The use of components actually manufactured in the States and incorporated into his watches on assembly might have saved Wakmann money, depending on how cheap American-made components, including cases, were in comparison to imported components that were subject to tariffs. He probably offset the additional duty on quality Swiss components/watches more efficiently than with the lower duty cheaper watches because he could hike the price relatively higher with the higher quality, high-jewel-count, watches. Just how Swiss watches compared with American products in terms of public perception will no doubt have been a variable over the period of the Wakmann company, thus adding another layer of complexity to this issue.

When it comes to Wakmann and the Buy American Act - requiring the Wakmann Watch Company to use 50% of American components in watches and clocks sold to the Federal Government, then we do have an episode of controversy or disagreement, from a single, most interesting, document from the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) dated 23 September 1969. This involved a dispute between Wakmann Watch Company Inc and Waltham Precision Instruments whereby Waltham maintained that Wakmann’s bid for an order tendered by Frankford Arsenal  in Philadelphia for aircraft clocks broke the Buy American Act. The disagreement ultimately hinged on the jewel bearings used in the clocks, which Wakmann was able to source in the USA so finally tipping the balance in Wakmann’s favour and enabling their clocks to be claimed as a “domestic source end product.”

It is difficult, especially from a UK perspective, to ascertain the importance of Icko Wakmann and the Wakmann Watch Company in terms of their market position and influence in the USA. I would tend to err on the side of caution when assessing the extent of the link between Wakmann, Breitling and the BWCA because we do not know which party had the upper hand prior to the Breitling takeover of that corporation. When it comes to chronographs and professional watches, Wakmann has become a name to reckon with in the eyes of the watch collecting world, and Wakmann chronographs - mixed though they are in terms of ebauche and original manufacturer/assemblers - are sought after and have attained a market position not far below more famous and desirable, mainly Swiss, brands. We are not talking about the top of the tree where true luxury resides but the lower branches, where production might be on a fairly large scale but quality and reputation is sustained. at this concluding point, I must issue a warning to collectors. If you are looking for a vintage Breitling watch then do not be fooled into buying a so-called Breitling Wakmann (or Wakmann-Breitling) as a means of obtaining a Breitling on the cheap -stick with a properly branded and verified Breitling watch. In choosing pictures for this topic, I have come across a number of Wakmann watches given a dubious Breitling designation, and one where the watch was called a "Breitling Gigandet Wakmann." 


Note: It has come to my attention that Wakmann watches are now within the fakers’ sights so be careful when making a potential purchase.

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  • 1 year later...

very interesting post!.. I'm not a watch collector but I find a watch in my father's house (it seems original was of my grandfather).. and the story you tell fit it in some way.. It's a "Breitling" chronograph but have some "Wakmann" components inside.. I don't know how attach some images (It's in a poor condition).. 


if you can contact to give me some advice, it would be a pleasure and I will be grateful of yours knowledge about it.. my idea is to restored the watch and keep it as a family memories.. 

wait for your answer.. thanks. 

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