ver half a century ago, the closure of the Hamilton Watch Company factory in Pennsylvania extinguished the once-shining light of the all-American manufacturing. Today, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, J.N. Shapiro, the independent watchmaker based in California, has proudly reignited the flame with the Resurgence, marking the rebirth of ’U.S. Made’ mechanical wristwatches for the first time since 1969.
What sets Josh Shapiro’s eponymous brand apart is its artisanship, standing far removed from mass-scale industrial production. Embracing the upper echelons of horology, Shapiro proposes mastery and exclusivity. Fully crafted in-house within a 7,300-square-foot workshop, equipped with millions of dollars’ worth of machinery, each timepiece is brought to life by a devoted team of six specialist watchmakers.
Priced at US$ 85,000 in gold, US$ 80,000 in tantalum, and US$ 70,000 in steel or zirconium, the Resurgence establishes itself in the top tier of artisanal time-only watches. Its bespoke value proposition boasts customisable engine-turning patterns on the dial, an array of colour configurations and decorating styles, all factoring in the intricacies of stateside production.
- Joshua Shapiro, founder and CEO of the eponymous brand J.N. Shapiro Watches, is also an educator with a Bachelor’s and Master’s in U.S History.
With the exception of jewels and springs, every component is meticulously fabricated and finished in the workshop. Moreover, the Resurgence offers three movement versions to choose from. Each piece takes an average of more than 300 watchmaker-hours, a testament to the artistry and precision invested in every detail.
Over the years, Shapiro has refined his watch styles, eliciting comparisons to Breguet at times. Yet a deeper influence can be traced further back to master horologist Jean-Antoine Lépine. Evidently, the allure of the Resurgence has made considerable strides for American watches, as Shapiro shares, “We’ve already received over 50 orders, and we can produce about 30 units a year.”
This ascendance to horological excellence is all the more impressive considering Shapiro made his debut with the Infinity series in 2018, and fully transitioned to watchmaking only in 2021 from a decade-long career in education. A self-taught guillocheur, his finesse in crafting astounding engine-turned dials was showcased in his first watch, which featured the Infinity Weave — an ingenious micro-basket weave pattern he invented.
- The Resurgence is an exquisite, completely in-house, California-made watch.
The catalyst for this passion came in 2014 when Shapiro read Watchmaking, by the late British grandmaster George Daniels, and he began professional engine-turning in 2015. “I was immediately overwhelmed by everything that’s inside of [the book],” he says, reflecting on his time as a high school principal. “Given my job and family commitments, there was no plausible way to create a watch from scratch like [Daniels] did and make a business out of it.”
However, where there is a will, there is a way. By 2016, the full-time educator was able to perceive the financial viability and set about pursuing his dream methodically. “I realised that if I focused on watch faces first, then really mastered watch styles, it would help me grow the team. And that’s what we did. From there, we started doing case making and then the movements. It was always a step-by-step process I planned to build up,” he elaborates.
Over four years of meticulous orchestration have culminated in the Resurgence, a watch executed entirely under Shapiro’s command. “That was the big goal: to do everything ourselves,” he asserts, emphasising the rarity of brands that achieve absolute in-house production. “For many in the Swiss system – which is to use lots of suppliers and bring it all together – ‘in-house’ means proprietary rather than truly manufactured-in. There are only a few brands in the world that manufacture everything in their workshop. Roger Smith, Kari Voutilainen, and only a short list of others really achieve this. That’s what I wanted to do because I was inspired by it.”
Beyond making exceptional timepieces, Shapiro had a grander mission in mind – to revive the forgotten horological heritage of America and compete with the Swiss elite. Not too long ago, the United States was a watchmaking powerhouse, eclipsing the British and the Swiss. The American system of manufacturing gave rise to world-leading industrial watch production, mass adoption of wristwatches, advancements in precision, and reliability of mechanical movements, tested on the battlefields of two World Wars. It was an inspiring era symbolised by companies like Hamilton, Waltham, Elgin, and Illinois.
- The Resurgence offers a choice of three free-sprung, hand-engraved, sumptuously decorated movements with hacking seconds, housed in a 38mm case available in five metal options.
However, post-World War II, American watchmaking was brought to its knees, and a powerful Swiss watch industry conglomerate, referred to as “the cartel” by Shapiro, strategically engineered its downfall. Historical records presented by Shapiro in his lecture at the Horological Society of New York this year revealed that U.S. manufacturers shifted focus to military production during the war, creating a void filled by Switzerland’s export of millions of watches.
After the war, the Swiss refused to sell vital watchmaking machinery to the U.S., crippling an industry already hampered by worn-out wartime equipment. This led to a rapid decline and by the end of the 1960s, American manufacturers had either closed down or fallen into foreign ownership. In this context, the Resurgence carries remarkable historical significance in the absence of a local watchmaking ecosystem.
- Resurgence features a multi-layered metal dial in customisable colours and intricate engine-turned patterns, including barleycorn, miniaturised moiré, and Shapiro’s signature Infinity weave.
Shapiro is suitably pleased to be the first in six decades to revive the ’U.S. Made’ label, an achievement made even harder in his own territory with the stringent standard enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Unlike the Swiss-made label, which requires a minimum of 60% of manufacturing costs be incurred domestically, the U.S. label demands that ’all or virtually all’ production takes place on American soil. If the FTC guidelines were applied to the Swiss system, a vast majority of Swiss-made watches would not qualify for the label.
“Others have gotten close, but the FTC guidelines are very strict,” Shapiro explains, referring to contemporaries such as Keaton Myrick and RGM, who craft a significant proportion in-house. This highlights the Resurgence as a true symbol of American watchmaking excellence. While Shapiro acknowledges that his decision to fly the U.S. flag may have cost him more international sales – citing half of his global clientele are independent watch collectors outside of the U.S. – he remains resolute, “I wanted to do it once, and it was very important to do it for this watch.”
On the upside, the Resurgence is attracting first-time independent watch buyers, who typically progress from brands like Rolex to Patek, and then to F.P. Journe, before exploring other independent watchmakers. This shift validates Shapiro’s vision for the brand: “I hope we turn a new leaf, getting more American collectors to regard me as their Journe.” He adds, “When they’re ready for something beyond Rolex and Patek, they don’t need to go to Journe first, they start paying close attention to what we offer.”
Shapiro’s team evidently take immense pride in their work. Each movement is signed with “ARTGS”, an acronym derived from the last name of each of the five watchmakers working on the Resurgence. And with that personal touch, Shapiro has rekindled the art of watchmaking in America. No matter where the ’heart’ belongs, watchmaking of this calibre should be celebrated.