These Beautiful Watches Are Unlike Anything You’ve Seen Before

Joshua Shapiro brings an ancient watch-decorating technique into the 21st century with his beautiful engine-turned dials.

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.

Shapiro WatchesGear PatrolSlide 5

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

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