Why the First Genuinely American-Made Watch in Decades Is a Big Deal

Some watches claim to be made in the USA, but JN Shapiro forces you to ask: "to what extent?"

J.N. Shapiro

Forgive us for a little skepticism regarding "American-made" watches. We've heard it all before. But this time just might be different.

Many have tried and some have even claimed success in producing a watch that qualifies as such. But when you dig deeper, what does "American-made" even mean? Was every single component made in the USA? According to California-based watchmaker JN Shapiro, that hasn't been done in a mechanical watch since 1969 — until now. Here's what you need to know about a major step in modern American watchmaking and the new JN Shapiro Resurgence watch behind it.

Is JN Shapiro's Resurgence Watch Fully American Made?

Where something is made seems like a simple question. But then you remember the global economy, and when you're talking about products like mechanical watches with over a hundred highly specialized components — well, it gets complicated. Even watches with the highly marketable Swiss-made label have to meet very specific definitions and criteria, and spoiler alert: they don't have to be 100% Swiss.

JN Shapiro is best known for guilloche work made with traditional rose engine lathes.
Atom Moore

There are certainly watches that claim to be American made. But JN Shapiro forces you to ask: to what extent? A young brand, Shapiro (founded by former school principal Joshua Shapiro) has steadily increased the number of in-house-produced components with each release. The brand was already notable for its own cases, hands and dials made using traditional techniques like hand-operated rose-engine lathes offering stunning guilloche patterns. What makes the Resurgence a big deal is that of the 180 components comprising its case, dial — and movement — 148 were made under one roof in California. More yet, are American in origin.

OK, hairsprings, mainsprings, jewels, crystals, gaskets and straps are sourced — but even many of the biggest companies go to specialists for those needs, and Shapiro says that they're working on making hairsprings and jewels in-house this year. That's uncommon in the industry, and the brand compares itself to celebrated British watchmaker Roger W Smith. who also produces everything in-house using traditional techniques. This is called the "Daniels Method," after Smith's mentor, George Daniels, whom Shapiro studies.

The movement in the JN Shapiro Resurgence beats at a very retro 2.5Hz.
Atom Moore

Shapiro and his small team use the likes of engine turning, as watchmakers such as Breguet did in centuries past (and continue to today), combined with modern technology like CNC machines. In other words, yes, JN Shapiro is producing American-made watches that should meet the most stringent definition of the term. It's good enough for us, anyway, and should satisfy even the FTC.

Why An American-Made Watch Matters

Today, the major watchmaking countries are Switzerland, Germany, Japan and China. But that distinction once, in centuries past, also variously belonged to France, England and the United States, and there are now efforts in each of those countries to revitalize their watch industry. You'll find microbrands and even some bigger players that dream of and work toward increasingly producing domestic watches to varying degrees. There have been a number of problematic claims and issues around related marketing language over the years.

Watches completely made under a single roof are rare worldwide, not just in the US.
Atom Moore

It was perhaps Shinola that most effectively unlocked the marketing value of "made-in-USA" watches. It ultimately had to change a slogan, but the Detroit-based company was one of the earliest companies to capitalize on what is now a full-blown movement (which perhaps even influenced similar movements in other countries). After the Hamilton Watch Company fully moved its production to Switzerland from the United States in 1969, an American watch industry essentially ceased to exist — until recently.

Watch companies and consumers are equally excited about the prospect. We've heard countless companies tout their American provenance and express an intent to produce watches stateside, but very few have managed to go beyond assembly or partial production. They've all found it's far easier said than done, but some are making notable efforts.

JN Shapiro appears to challenge watchmakers like RGM (Pennsylvania) and Weiss (California), which also claim to offer in-house, American made movements to some degree or another. Vortic Watches certainly qualify, as they repurpose movements and dials from American pocket watches made a century ago and more. In the end, "American-made" might be best understood as a matter of degrees rather than an absolute quality. JN Shapiro isn't the only American watch you can get, but it just might be the most American.

Each JN Shapiro Resurgence watch has a 38mm case and is produced to order, with a number of options from case material to the design and finishing of movement plates. With prices ranging from $70,000 to $85,000, the brand also says that it's the most expensive time-only watch ever manufactured in the US. We'll take their word for it.

J.N. Shapiro

JN Shapiro Resurgence


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