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Inside J.N. Shapiro: Witnessing the Resurgence of American Watchmaking, Part 2

Today, we look at what the future has in store for this pioneering American brand and its fans.

By Henri Lee

In Part 1 of my visit to the J.N. Shapiro workshop in Southern California, we met the team responsible for crafting the brand’s extraordinary timepieces and began to understand what’s driving collectors’ love for the brand.

Today, let’s take a look at how this young American watch brand has successfully challenged the Swiss-dominated watch world, and what steps the brand plans to take to continue its success.

Production Plan, Customization, and Business Model

The total Infinity Series production run, which is now complete, was about 100 pieces. Josh and his team are focusing on ramping up Resurgence production to 30-40 watches annually. That might not seem like a lot, but each Infinity watch took 100-200 hours, while each Resurgence model can exceed 400 hours to build.

Why do these watches take so long to construct? Because only 30% of Shapiro’s clients choose from available stock models. That means around 65% of his clients request some small degree of customization and personalization (like fonts and color schemes), with 5% opting for major modifications (like my friend Thomas from Part 1, who asked that the small seconds sub-dial be removed from his Infinity).

For custom orders, clients work directly with Josh to finalize changes and design tweaks, a main draw for indie brand enthusiasts (the brand is even developing a new feature for its website to streamline the personalization process).

Josh noted that each Kari Voutilainen watch is a bespoke creation, contrasting with F.P.Journe’s approach of offering various model lines for clients to choose from. Presently, Josh’s model resembles Kari’s approach more closely.

Looking ahead, he remains open to exploring different strategies to cater to customer preferences and bolster the business, which is good because as Shapiro’s expertise in watchmaking continues to grow, particularly in tantalum case construction and full movement development, the brand has been fielding an increasing number of inquiries to manufacture components for other brands.

Consequently, this aspect of the business is expected to expand further. However, owing to the high labor costs in the US, these projects will likely be positioned at the high end of the market.

The Approach to Services

Josh and his team perform all servicing in-house rather than outsourcing them. Luckily, with five years of experience working extensively with the UWD movement for the Infinity Series, the team’s familiarity rivals that of Lang & Heyne, who supplied the movement.

Josh emphasized his customer-centric approach, stating that he prioritizes service over warranties. Regardless of warranty status, if a mechanical failure occurs or an issue arises, he is committed to resolving it promptly. In some cases, Josh provides complimentary service as a gesture of appreciation for their patronage, even when the customers are the cause of the damage.

Future Roadmap

Our conversation then shifted to the exciting topic of future product plans. I inquired about the next complication and expressed particular interest in the possibility of an entry-level model.

Josh revealed that the next complication in the pipeline would be a chronograph, which he considers more challenging than a tourbillon. “We’ll probably start prototyping pretty soon,” Josh confidently told me.

Fun Fact: A chronograph-equipped wristwatch has never been manufactured in the United States (although Hamilton produced a pocketwatch with one during World War II).

Regarding an entry-level model, Josh explained that before this could happen, several factors need consideration, including whether production remains in the US. Still, as the brand’s capabilities expand, the likelihood of introducing such a model increases as well.

A Highly Talented Team

While in the workshop, I also had the privilege to meet the master hand engraver Artur Akmaev (a.k.a. @arturakmaev_watches), whom I’ve long admired for his craftsmanship. In addition to Josh and Artur, there are three watchmakers, two machinists, and an intern heavily involved in engineering tasks.

Of course, when he started the business, Josh initially handled all tasks. However, as the company expanded, he hired more personnel, and everyone began learning and contributing across various areas. Josh personally instructed the entire team in guilloche work.

Josh also sent the three watchmakers to France for training under master watchmaker Luc Monnet. “An absolutely incredible watchmaker. They learned so much from him,” Josh commented. Remarkably, one of the watchmakers, Michael, designed one of the Resurgence movement bridge layouts.

Despite his busy schedule overseeing the business, Josh still enjoys performing engine turning himself and tries to do it whenever possible.

Passionate Collectors

For the Infinity Series, the US and non-US client split was about half and half. Yet, interestingly, of the 60+ Resurgence pre-orders so far, 70% are US-based, indicating the US-made aspect resonates strongly with American collectors, given the historical significance.

However, the superb craftsmanship of a chronometer with exceptional guilloche and finishing should be enough to win over international collectors, too. So, to expand the brand’s overseas reach, Josh tapped Mark Cho from The Armoury in Hong Kong and Pietro Tomajer from The Limited Edition in England to add new sales points.

Moreover, of the Resurgence pre-orders, around 40 came from new clients (i.e., people without an Infinity Series piece), meaning 20+ were previous Shapiro owners. Intrigued by their unwavering loyalty to the brand, I reached out to some of these die-hard fans to uncover the reasons behind their strong devotion.

Some were captivated by Josh’s exceptional guilloche work and continual refinement, while others were enamored with the classic and elegant aesthetic. Yet, there were those who were moved by Josh’s daring venture to revitalize American watchmaking. And in both groups, I found collectors who enjoyed taking advantage of the chance to collaborate with Josh, appreciating his patience and creativity throughout the process.

A collector friend, @watchguywatchguy, offered his take: “For me, foremost is that I like the aesthetics and how Josh’s watches wear on my wrist. That aside, though, I collect J.N. Shapiro because of the meticulous attention to detail and knowing that what I’m getting isn’t something anyone can recreate by hand.

The “American Voutilainen”

Throughout our conversations, Josh mentioned Kari Voutilainen a few times – he is apparently a role model and an inspiration to Josh.

J.N.Shapiro wants to achieve the pinnacle of watchmaking through hard work and innovation, and blessed, as they are, with the backing and encouragement of numerous watch enthusiasts and collectors worldwide, I have no doubt that they will ultimately realize their goal.

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