Advances in affordable manufacturing techniques like computer-assisted design have utterly changed the horological landscape over the last 30 years. Today, even well-made timepieces can be mass-produced at breakneck speed, even by novice watchmakers, and are more affordable than ever.
That’s not the way Joshua Shapiro crafts timepieces. Growing up in a family of trained machinists, Shapiro began working with his hands at a young age. Even so, he pursued a traditional education in history (“I was the weird one who went to college,” he says), eventually becoming a school principal. Several years into that career, Shapiro decided he wanted to return to working with his hands, so he took up watchmaking. Now, he creates timepieces using a method that harkens back to the very beginnings of horology, while still administering a school.
After crafting his first watch dial for a client, in 2011, Shapiro became fascinated by the art of dial making, which in turn led him to purchase an engine-turning machine a few years later.
Engine turning is difficult, time-consuming work, in which metal or ceramic is engraved using a lathe to create a repeating geometric pattern. After perfecting the traditional geometric patterns found on engine-turned dials, Shapiro began work on a special pattern of his own — something he dubbed the “Infinity Weave.” The decoration includes basketweave patterns within larger basketweaves to mesmerizing effect; the pattern seems to continue forever.
Each of Shapiro’s enamel dials are comprised of nine different parts (not including screws) and takes take upwards of 150 hours to complete. The technique links Shapiro in a line of watchmakers going back to Abraham Louis Breguet, in the early 19th century, and continuing today with English watchmaker Roger Smith, a Shapiro idol.
“I wanted to pursue something that was extremely difficult to master, took extreme sustained attention to detail and that was an expression of all my passions: hand-craftsmanship, history and machining,” Shapiro says. “You can always improve it, always get better.”
A version of this article originally appeared in Gear Patrol Magazine with the headline “In Good Hands: J.N. Shapiro Watches.” Subscribe today