A favorite parlor game among watch enthusiasts, collectors, and, yes, writers is to ask ourselves, “Who’s Next?” The nature of the watch industry and the media landscape that tracks it is such that a brand or watchmaker can come out of nowhere, develop a deep well of enthusiasm, and become a smash hit, seemingly overnight. Of course, in almost every case it’s not an overnight success story, and actually the product of years of work, trial and error, and enduring the slings and arrows that everyone experiences in this industry eventually. But still, we’re at a point where there seems to be a plethora of exciting new talent creeping into the independent watch scene, and if we’ve really reached peak Steel Sports Watch, it stands to reason that someone like Josh Shapiro could step in and get some of the truly widespread attention his devoted customers have known he’s been worthy of for quite some time.
Shapiro is a relative newcomer to watchmaking, taking up the task of learning the art of engine-turning, the dial craft he’s become famous for, in 2013. In that short span of time, he’s built his brand, J.N. Shapiro, on a reputation for old world craftsmanship as seen in the multi-level guilloche dials found on his Infinity Series of watches. The latest addition to the Infinity Series is a trio of watches in tantalum, an uncommon material in watchmaking, to say the least.
Tantalum is a metal with a blue-gray tone that is completely distinct aesthetically from gold, platinum, titanium, and certainly ceramics. The most common use of the metal, in powder form, is in the production of capacitors and resistance in the realm of electronics, but it’s also used frequently in medical equipment. It’s notably difficult to machine, which makes it rare in watchmaking and jewelry, but J.N. Shapiro has made cases (and tantalum dial components) for the new watches in the Infinity Series in-house, which is quite a flex for such a young watch brand. According to Shapiro, this is the first time tantalum has been used in a watch case outside Switzerland.
While the case is certainly impressive and genuinely rare, the star of any J.N. Shapiro watch is the dial, almost by default. There are simply only a handful of watchmaking artisans applying guilloche patterns in the traditional manner, and Shapiro, with his use of multiple patterns of increasing complexity, is doing it at an extremely high level. Three dial variants will be made: one in untreated palladium with tantalum chapter rings and blue enamel ink used throughout, another in black ruthenium with a tantalum hour ring and rose gold accents, and a navy blue with the same tantalum chapter and hands in polished steel.
The macro shots that you see here reveal guilloche applied with a showstopping precision. Shapiro’s trademark “infinity weave” pattern (seen in the small seconds scale at 6:00) is his own invention, and he’s the only artisan in the world to do it. These watches also feature the more traditional and widely used basket weave, barley corn, and ratchet patterns, and seeing them together has a visual power that is extremely appealing, and also tells a unique story about the history of the art of engine turning, a technique that Shapiro seems committed to advancing through his own work. While there’s a great deal of traditional craft here, there’s also some genuine experimentation. Applying guilloche to an untreated palladium dial, for example, represents what Shapiro believes to be a completely new undertaking.
That tantalum case used for each of the new watches in the Infinity Series measures 39mm in diameter, and houses the UWD Caliber 33.1, a hand wound movement produced by Uhren Dresden Werke, a high-end German movement specialist that has made calibers used by Sinn, Lang & Heyne, and others. A total of 26 pieces will be made, with prices starting at $33,000. J.N. Shapiro