Watchmaking isn’t only Swiss. With our dedicated series of articles focusing on anything but Swiss watchmaking, we’ve seen how watches and movements have long been made in other parts of the globe. The United States of America was once a great hub for watchmaking, with brands like Hamilton, Elgin or the Waltham Watch Company. And then, somewhere around the middle of the 20th century, it faded into oblivion. In the past years, we’ve seen a return of American watchmaking ranging from accessible watches (Timex or Shinola, not produced in the US) to indie watchmakers trying to bring back movement and watch production to US soil. Names such as RGM or Keaton P. Myrick have to be mentioned. And, of course, there is Josh Shapiro. For his latest creation, the Shapiro Resurgence, he has set the bar very, very high. Creating a watch that is made almost entirely on US soil, according to the demanding standards of “Made In USA” – which, surprisingly, brands like RGM can’t meet. Such a statement required us to ask a few questions first, even before looking at this new J.N. Shapiro Resurgence watch.
The Elephant in The Room: Made In USA
This “Made In USA” statement is clearly a bold one. And it must be dealt with immediately since commenters will undoubtedly grab this one to have fun with. Well, there’s nothing funny here. Remember the story of Toblerone chocolate bars losing the iconic image of the Matterhorn peak from their packaging following the corporate decision to move production from Switzerland to Slovakia? Under Swiss law, only milk-based products produced exclusively and entirely in Switzerland can use national symbols – such as the 4,478m mountain peak (with the hidden image of a heraldic bear, the symbol of Bern) in their marketing. So Toblerone, established in the Swiss Bern in 1908 and proudly called Swiss, lost one of its most recognisable packaging features. Shame, but there are rules and regulations that prohibit or allow you to declare your chocolate, or a timepiece, Swiss-made. The same rules exist in the US of A, where the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) prevents deception and unfairness in the marketplace. The FTC has a document published online that, in crystal-clear terms, explains what the Made in USA standard means.
“For a product to be called Made in USA, or claimed to be of domestic origin without qualifications or limits on the claim, the product must be “all or virtually all” made in the US. ‘All or virtually all’ means that all significant parts and processing that go into the product must be of US origin. That is, the product should contain no – or negligible – foreign content.”
This ladies and gentlemen, is far more strict than the rather lax Swiss-made rule for watches, where to be marked Swiss-made, a watch has to meet the requirement of a minimum of 60% of Swiss value. To end this part of our story, let us mention that the foreign content of the new Shapiro watch lists hairsprings (Swiss, soon to be replaced by American-made ones), mainsprings, crystals, gaskets, straps and jewels, together accounting for about 1.78% of components. Negligible, right? Also, with all due respect to Roland G. Murphy and Keaton P. Myrick, it would seem that neither of them can meet the Made-in-USA standard. This explains why neither of them put “U.S. Made” on their watches, even though they both produce exclusive movements.
Below is a series of photos taken by our US-based editor Erik Slaven when he visited Shapiro’s workshop back in 2020.
The new J.N. Shapiro Resurgence, Made in the USA
Josh N. Shapiro, who lives and works in California, has been known to the watch community for quite some time – read our interview with him here. Before launching his brand in 2018, Shapiro, a history scholar, completed the British Horological Institute’s distance learning programme and developed a keen interest in traditional engine turning, citing George Daniels’ book Watchmaking as an inspirational work.
After several years of mastering the art of guilloché using the machines he bought, Josh felt he could offer his craft to others and produced dials for the American watchmaker David Walter in 2016. Still, the desire to leave a more significant mark in American horological history excited the novice watchmaker, and the idea for the Infinity Series was born – “a watch that is simple, elegant, timeless, but contributes to the evolution of horology and engine-turning.” Five years ago, J.N. Shapiro’s eponymous brand revealed the time-only Infinity Series watches, equipped with beautiful German-made cases and movements by Uhren Werke Dresden, a niche movement maker, with multi-level, engine-turned dials featuring different guilloché motifs, including a unique and challenging proprietary pattern called the Infinity weave.
The Infinity Series was a success, with new timepieces substantially better in various aspects. Compare, for example, the first Infinity batch with the Tantalum Limited Edition introduced in 2021, with the guilloché dial in palladium and tantalum chapter ring and case – both tantalum components were made in-house. The watches, classic in appearance, had an attractive Breguet-inspired look with impressive guilloché dials. Impressive by industry standards and coming from a self-taught, part-time engine-turner and part-time schoolteacher. The collectors’ community did not take long to recognise J.N. Shapiro as a true artisan with tremendous potential on his path to becoming an accomplished independent watchmaker.
The in-house definition we frequently use is beginning to lose its significance, but it has to be highlighted for a reason in the case of J.N. Shapiro’s Resurgence. The Resurgence’s claim to be the first genuinely American watch to be made since 1969 has much to do with in-house, fully integrated watch production practised by the American watch manufacturers, which ended in 1969 when Hamilton Watch Company stopped making watches in the US.
“Hamilton, Waltham and Elgin had vertically integrated factories where they made everything for their watches under one roof, using automatic methods. This was unique in the watch world as the Swiss system then and now involves multiple suppliers to complete one watch. The virtues of this American system include high-quality control, versatility, and consistent uptime without supplier delays,” explains Josh Shapiro. With this in mind, already in the early days of the Infinity Series, he dreamed of creating “a watch from scratch and everything in it“. Resurgence to a great degree is this watch, with 148 out of 180 components made in Shapiro’s Inglewood, CA workshop by a team of eight watchmakers, Josh included.
The Resurgence promises extensive customisation options, starting with the case in rose or white gold, tantalum or steel, which comes in a 38mm diameter as standard. However, other sizes are available upon request. The case’s midsection is engraved with a barleycorn pattern all around, and the detachable lugs are fixed by screws from the side so there’s no disruption of the guilloché. However, this also allows for yet another customisable feature, meaning the material of the case and lugs can be different. The mid-case decoration was typical of the fine pocket watches, very rarely used nowadays. The fluted crown, engraved with an infinity symbol in the Infinity Series, now appears flat as though asking to be embellished.
The dial of the J.N. Shapiro Resurgence, with its many variations, matched to the case materials and customer requests, is initially offered in frosted silver-white or dark grey zirconium with rose gold dial elements in a rose gold case, in frosted silver with white gold elements in an 18k palladium white gold case, or navy with white gold accents in a tantalum case. Other options are a steel case with blued numerals and a frosted silver dial or a dark zirconium case and dial with purple accents. All dial variations feature a multi-layered design, with engine-turned sectors aligned to the micron. This alignment is challenging, given tolerances on the 100-year-old engine-turning machines and modern CNCs. “There are people who have produced multiple pieces of guilloché, but no one has created perfectly aligned, layered guilloché like this before. This is completely new in the watchmaking world,” claims the Californian. Another bold statement…
On the dial, Shapiro used three patterns: the barleycorn for the outer ring, the Infinity basketweave for the four central sectors, and the miniaturised moiré pattern on the sub-dial. The applied numerals are machined individually and polished, and the new three-dimensional spade design is introduced on the hour and minute hands with subtle changes to the small seconds hand, which now has a tip that looks more like a sand clock than an infinity sign. The numerals can be Roman, Hindu-Arabic or Hebrew, another added value for discerning customers, and the fonts were created for J.N. Shapiro exclusively.
While there was nothing wrong with UWD 33.1 Uhren Werke Dresden calibres found in Mr Shapiro’s other watches, the quest to become an all-American watch envisioned a proprietary US-made movement. Shapiro began working on his movement prototype in 2019, first playing with the idea of using components from an old Hamilton watch in addition to what could be produced in his Inglewood workshop. This approach was abandoned to design the movement from scratch and to manufacture it almost entirely in-house. We do not know the details apart from what we see and are told. The Resurgence movement is free-sprung (no regulator, constant spring length). It beats at 18,000vph, so it is a low-beat calibre, much like the Grand Seiko chronometer-grade calibre 3180 (COSC certified), the MB&F Legacy Machine LM1, or the A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Perpetual Tourbillon, so frequency-wise, it is in good company. It has a hacking seconds complication, which allows the stopping of the seconds hand when the crown is pulled to set the watch more accurately.
However, it is the presentation and the decoration of the Shapiro Resurgence calibre that will make your jaw drop. First of all, you have three different bridge layouts to choose from. The bridges may be decorated in styles ranging from traditional Côtes de Geneve-like stripes to a more American damaskeening, which is a technique of decorating the plates or bridges of the watch movement with intricate engine-applied patterns that was adopted by the US pocket watchmakers in the late 1800s and reached its peak in the early 1900s. J.N. Shapiro brings back this elaborate, intricate damaskeening practice, offering an exceptional level of watch movement embellishment. Shapiro explains that his crew has “gone all out on the anglage (chamfering), especially emphasising internal angles. The wheels in the movement are 14k gold, which is special, and the spokes are rounded, not flat, which is very difficult to do“. Still, they did it.
The new J.N. Shapiro Resurgence will come at a much higher price than the latest Infinity Series Tantalum Limited Edition, priced at USD 33,000. The stainless steel watch with blued numerals and frosted silver dial will set you back USD 70,000, and the standard rose gold variant is priced at USD 85,000. A 33% non-refundable deposit is required, with the total amount to be paid before delivery; first orders are expected to reach clients at the end of 2023.
The J.N. Shapiro Resurgence is a very emotional creation and not necessarily to Americans but to all those recognising the human, technical and financial challenges that Josh Shapiro and his watchmakers overcame in the process. I think that whoever gets to own the Resurgence will undoubtedly spend a significant number of hours looking at the new possession and quietly referring to this timepiece as “my precious”, for it will consume and become part of that person. Shapiro has already left a mark in the history of American horology; let us see if he conquers the world.
Photos of the Shapiro Resurgence by Atom Moore. For more information or to place an order, please visit www.jnshapirowatches.com.