I have always been fascinated by people capable of reinventing themselves. Talent can morph into the most unexpected directions. If you are into music, you are probably familiar with Anthrax, one of the most successful groups of the heavy metal scene. The man who has been their lead guitarist for years, Dan Spitz, has decided to undergo a reconversion and… He’s now a watchmaker! Making the transition from high-voltage rock to indie watchmaking neither happens overnight nor by chance.
Spitz originally left Anthrax to become a watchmaker in the 1990s, joining the Bulova school of watchmaking in New York (a 4-year degree) and then the prestigious Wostep in Neuchatel, Switzerland. But he actually started taking apart movements when he was eight years old in his grandfather’s watch and jewellery store. He likes to describe himself as a third-generation watchmaker… Spitz is also someone who pushes the limits in everything he undertakes. For what is our main concern, it translated into high-end watchmaking and complications.
After working on restorations and later at Chopard (he was the sole head of complications and instructor for all of Chopard North and South America), he is now creating his first movement, the Calibre J11.13. A calibre conceived, designed, and produced serially, entirely in the USA. Dan Spitz has spent the past three years on the project. He designed the watch in CAD/CAM, programming his own CNC machines for all the parts in order to be able to produce his watch in North Carolina, without relying on specialist suppliers in Switzerland or Germany.
This American movement project is rather special since it doesn’t rely on a straightforward Swiss lever escapement. Instead, it is a completely new calibre regulated by a free escapement inspired by a 19th-century drawing by Louis Richard (échappement Richard libre excentrique à ressort et irrenversable, circa 1860). The modernized version of this escapement is available as an open-source model (a first in the watchmaking industry) to be used by young watchmakers for free as part of a project with other watchmakers Cyril Brivet-Naudot and Luc Monnet. Four years were necessary just to get the escapement working (to join, please head to www.spemt.com).
The escapement is a lost-beat direct-impulse escapement. The balance wheel is fitted with an oversized eccentric thrusting roller with an oil-free impulse jewel and a crescent shape passing cut-away. An off-set pallet fork, with two locking pallets, controls the motion of the escape wheel. This fork is fit on a lever with a counterweight coupled with a gold safety spring. As the spring engages in the cut-away, it drives the lever causing the escape-wheel to unlock and lock on the fork’s pallets.
The oversized balance wheel itself is truly eye-catching. Fashioned out of titanium, this free-sprung balance is fitted with four eccentric timing gold weights. It tops off the movement, held under a large rounded transversal bridge and beats at 18,000 vibrations per hour. Just like the escapement (and the rest of the movement), it will involve extensive handwork. The hairspring curves will be shaped by hand.
Dan Spitz also mentions that the movement isn’t based on any existing architecture or ébauche. The gear train is off-set to create space for a large barrel. This creates a counterpoint to the slow-beat oversized balance and altogether it makes for a pleasing symmetrical architecture.
He is now manufacturing multiple parts in order to hand-finish them and complete the movement. His target is to have the calibre beating in six months from now – meaning fall 2020 – and to deliver the first watches in 12 months from now. The first model, a 40.5mm three-hander, is planned to be made in a series of 30 pieces, which would take at least a couple of years to produce given the amount of handwork going into it. Dan Spitz’s plan is to get the orders to a level where he needs to employ an additional two US watchmakers, buy the additional benches, expand his space and train them up to his standards in order to produce the 10-15 watches a year he’d love to get to. The reason to hire young, traditionally trained watchmakers is to help push forward American Watchmaking by giving them the ability to use his machines to make their own watches and ultimately to obtain the knowledge to set up as independents in the USA.
We are really looking forward to seeing Dan Spitz’s watches come to life. We’ll be sure to follow and keep you posted on the next steps of this great endeavour… so stay tuned.
For more information, please visit danspitz.com.
Photo credit @lynnette_laphotography