The Value Proposition The Waldan Heritage Collection
By Jon Bues
One of the first names I remember hearing when I started covering watches in 2005 was that of Oscar Waldan, who passed away in 2018. The owner and operator of the New York-based Waldan International brand, which he founded in 1979, Oscar had an amazing life story and a prolific career in watches, a good deal of it overlapping with the Quartz Crisis. In fact, his fortunes in watches were forged by that crisis in an unexpected way: He saw value in mechanical watches at a time when many others didn’t.
Now Oscar’s only son, Andrew, who succeeded him as head of the family business, is paying tribute to his father with a new collection of Waldan watches called Heritage. It honors designs created by Oscar Waldan and presents them to a new generation in a line of affordable quartz watches ($299) featuring movements assembled in the United States. It marks an extension to the company’s standard product portfolio of mechanical watches, which, according to the Waldan web site, are priced from $8,000 to $18,000.
Oscar Waldan’s introduction to the watch business came under circumstances that were about as difficult as anyone could possibly imagine. Born in Poland in 1923, he came under the tutelage of a watchmaker named Manek, with whom he served an apprenticeship. But this was hardly your typical master-apprentice relationship. That’s because it occurred during the Second World War, while both men were imprisoned in the Buchenwald concentration camp. From Manek, Walden learned a trade that enabled him to fix watches for the guards, providing a valuable service that quite possibly saved his life. After the war, watchmaking provided an entrée into a career that spanned decades and saw Waldan work for a handful of firms, including Tissot, before launching his own line.
In addition to making a line of watches bearing the Waldan name, Oscar supplied private-label timepieces to a handful of high-end retailers that included no less than Tiffany & Co. Ever one to swim against the tide, Oscar bet on the mechanical chronograph at a time when others considered quartz to be king, buying up a cache of Zenith El Primero movements, technical manuals, and factory-sealed parts when few others wanted them. The movements proved very useful over the years, with Waldan drawing on them to power some of his own watch designs. The supply of parts and manuals will allow the company to continue servicing its El Primero-based watches for at least the next 50 years, Andrew says.
With Waldan International, Oscar drew on reliable supplied movements, including the El Primeros he’d secured years earlier, and cased them up in heavy gold and platinum for what amounted to a reasonable value proposition, even in 1990s dollars. “In the ’90s, and even into the very, very early 2000s, a Waldan with an El Primero in a yellow-gold case would probably run you around $5,000,” Andrew told me. “In platinum, it might be $8,000.”
Andrew grew up in New York surrounded by his father’s business. “When other kids went to summer camp, I went to the office,” he said. “People remember my crib being right in the watchmaking room.” He studied French from a young age and is fluent, and recalls translating correspondence and documents from Switzerland, as well as shadowing his father in the business. Andrew Waldan’s new Heritage line offers quite a different kind of value proposition. The idea to branch out into a more affordable watch collection arose from conversations he had with friends his age. “My college friends would see the watches I posted on Instagram, and they knew I’d grown up in the business. As we were finishing college and finding jobs, I’d hear from them asking for watch advice.”
They were looking for watches that looked good but wouldn’t cost a ton of money. With Waldan Heritage, Andrew aims to offer a viable solution, honoring his dad’s classic designs while reinforcing Waldan International’s American roots in a way that Oscar himself would not have been able to predict.
The watches use the new Ameriquartz range of metal, jeweled quartz calibers from Arizona-based Fine Timepiece Solutions. The movements are “made in the U.S.A. from domestic and imported components,” the company says. FTS stresses the “from domestic and imported components” qualifier as, they say, it allows them to maintain their made-in-U.S.A. claim despite having components from outside the United States. FTS says that while many movement components come from other countries, the electric circuit board, one of the most important components, among others, comes from the United States. Fine Timepiece Solutions produces a range of quartz calibers of varying levels of complexity, including a world timer. The Heritage range uses a fairly straightforward quartz movement with subsidiary seconds, the cal. 70200.
Drawing on components from America and abroad, Waldan’s Heritage wristwatches are assembled, cased up, and tested at Fine Timepiece Solutions’ Fountain Hills, Arizona, factory, where they undergo a range of quality control procedures with the goal of making a durable, reparable quartz watch.
One area where the Waldan Heritage line appears to excel is in their dials, which feature crisp, applied numerals or markers and sober, classical details that call to mind the watches that Oscar Waldan used to make. In addition to being clean, the no-date format also makes for a balanced and symmetrical design.
Within Heritage, there are two lines, the Professional and the Sportline. The main difference between them is the use of leaf-shaped hands and applied numerals in the Professional and lume-tipped baton hands and markers on the Sportline, which also has a patterned dial. One thing I noticed about the Professional models is that, while the dials have Super-LumiNova near the numerals to mark the hours, the leaf hands are themselves not luminous. I do wonder if it might have been better to eschew the lume plots and lean more into the Professional’s dress watch identity.
While Oscar Waldan prided himself on making heavy gold watches with mechanical movements, the Heritage line is steel and, of course, quartz. But when I wore one of the new Heritage models, I found that I appreciated the details of the dial and case. The handmade Italian leather straps feel like real quality, something worth pointing out, considering that the all-in purchase price for Waldan Heritage watches is $299. Waldan hasn’t abandoned mechanical watches, it should be added. The Heritage line is just something new.
The Waldan Heritage Collection. 40mm x 8.6mm stepped stainless steel cases with anti-reflective sapphire crystal, water resistant to 50 meters. Ameriquartz cal. 70200 movements with sub-seconds and five-year manufacturer’s warranty. Dials in stark white, off-white, onyx black, and racing green in the Professional line, and silvered white and jet black in the Sportline. Handmade Italian leather straps. Price: $299.
For more information, visit Waldan.