Should Your Next Watch Have a Tantalum Case?

JN Shapiro is pushing the boundaries of traditional watchmaking to stunning effect.

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You don't hear about tantalum watches everyday. If you follow the space closely, you hear about titanium, ceramic, carbon, even meteorite and watches with cases made entirely of sapphire crystal — to the point that these materials seem less and less "exotic." But Los Angeles-based American watchmaker JN Shapiro has combined his incredibly crafted and guilloché-dialed watches with tantalum cases for the kind of watch you'd typically only expect coming from Switzerland's independent watchmakers.

What even is tantalum? It's a "white metal" that might not even be easily distinguishable in pictures or at first glance from familiar stainless steel. When you see different metals in person, however, subtle hues and qualities can become apparent — Mr. Shapiro describes tantalum as "dark grey with hints of blue."

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JN Shapiro Infinity Tantalum with ruthenium guilloche dial and gold numerals.
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It's not just about the looks, though, as different materials' properties present their own unique challenges to watchmakers, and tantalum happens to be difficult to work with. This is why more watch companies aren't using it and why it's got a certain mystique. According to Shapiro, he's the first watchmaker outside of Switzerland to use tantalum for watch cases.

The new watches are in Shapiro's existing Infinity collection, which features his own guilloché-engraved pattern which he executes himself using a traditional, hand-operated lathe, a technique only found in today's high-end watches. The dials, which are available in three executions, use materials like ruthenium and palladium (a precious metal currently more expensive than gold) with enamel-filled numerals, while the 40mm cases and chapter rings are made from tantalum. All of these are produced in-house, and inside is a German-made, manually wound UWD Caliber 33.1 movement that Shapiro has decorated himself.

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With palladium guilloche dial.
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Stepping back a moment from exotic techniques and materials, these are just gorgeous and highly refined products rooted in watchmaking tradition. All that goes into them, however, means that they're not cheap to procure: Only 26 examples in total are being made at a price of $33,000 each across three dial executions. Even if you can't get one of these models, it's worth keeping an eye on Shapiro and his work — and maybe even tantalum as the next exotic material your collection needs.

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