back to top

Made In Los Angeles: Inside The J.N. Shapiro Watches Workshop

Made In Los Angeles: Inside The J.N. Shapiro Watches Workshop Featured Articles

I first met Josh Shapiro about three years ago here in Los Angeles where we both live, and just recently I visited him again to see how his brand and workshop have grown.

Last year, we covered the J.N Shapiro Infinity, a watch that was the tangible manifestation of Shapiro’s seven-year journey that began when he first picked up Watchmaking, by George Daniels. Within the 465-page tome, it was the sections on engine-turning (AKA guilloché) that led him to where he is today. Ironically, Shapiro initially enjoyed skeletonizing movements before focusing his attention and talent away from the heart of the watch and more toward the face.

Made In Los Angeles: Inside The J.N. Shapiro Watches Workshop Featured Articles

There are two big pieces of machinery at the heart of the J.N. Shapiro workshop. The first is a Neuweiler Engelsberger Straight line machine that was made in West Germany right after the end of World War II. This is the machine that Shapiro uses to create his basketweave and his signature Infinity weave. (Shapiro is also currently restoring another line machine that dates back to the 1890’s.)

Made In Los Angeles: Inside The J.N. Shapiro Watches Workshop Featured Articles

Second is the Rose engine machine that was made by G. Plant & Sons and dates back to about 1930. This machine utilizes large rosettes made of Bell-grade bronze to create dial patterns. I gave this machine a go on my own brass dial-plate, and the Zen-like patience and attention to detail required to produce even a so-so “practice” piece was substantial. I can only imagine the hours of practice it takes to be able to create the immaculate and ultimately beautiful results that Shapiro is capable of.

Made In Los Angeles: Inside The J.N. Shapiro Watches Workshop Featured Articles

Recently, Shapiro has been producing more Infinity watches for his clients, both local and international. Shapiro was also sought out by Oster Jewelers, who requested a special Infinity watch model done in a 42mm rose gold case with a matching rose gold chapter ring. Shapiro traditionally made his watch in rose gold but with a silver chapter ring, though his body of work is constantly evolving.

Advertisement

Of note, Shapiro decided to downsize the cases for his Infinity watch and it’s now in a 40mm-wide case. He now also produces the Infinity in steel, white gold, and platinum.

Made In Los Angeles: Inside The J.N. Shapiro Watches Workshop Featured Articles

The J.N. Shapiro Infinity watch has made the rounds of watch enthusiast media in the past year or so, but I was quite curious about the steps that came before and led up to his first “commercial” piece. Shapiro was happy to show me his first professional level watch, which was a conversion of a Hamilton 921 Pocketwatch. The “Infinity pattern DNA” on the dial is clear, but I’m also quite a fan of the 18k gold applied numerals and indices on this first watch.

Made In Los Angeles: Inside The J.N. Shapiro Watches Workshop Featured Articles

Above, you can see the process of Shapiro whitening and applying gold chapter and 18k sub-dial rings on a dial he was commissioned to do for a client. (Part of the dial is blurred for the client’s privacy.) Watching the process is a coming-together of both chemistry and watchmaking skill. What’s funny is that the above dial ultimately didn’t meet Shapiro’s standards, and everything but the 18k chapter rings was scrapped.

Made In Los Angeles: Inside The J.N. Shapiro Watches Workshop Featured Articles

All of this happens in a workshop behind Shapiro’s LA home. The workshop has progressed and evolved much like Shapiro’s skills or one of his dials at a pace that is solely determined by the deliberate intention of making his vision a reality. It’s a distinctly American vision that hinges on the belief that the combination of passion and grit is far more potent than over-relying on provincialism and over-emphasizing provenance.

Made In Los Angeles: Inside The J.N. Shapiro Watches Workshop Featured Articles

One of these additions to the workshop is a Haas CNC Machine that Shapiro uses for very specific purposes like prototyping movements, creating support fixtures for other machines used in the workshop, and creating some very small parts that also require a high tolerance. Obviously, Shapiro makes a point to emphasize how tight the parameters are when he decides to use the CNC machine since the manual hand-crafting he does with dials is the cornerstone of the J.N. Shapiro identity.

Made In Los Angeles: Inside The J.N. Shapiro Watches Workshop Featured Articles   Made In Los Angeles: Inside The J.N. Shapiro Watches Workshop Featured Articles

Still, it’s a big financial investment and a clear sign of the commitment to the long-term vision Shapiro has when it comes to the growth of his brand. Of course, “growth” is relative, and J.N. Shapiro is very much going to be an artisanal, small-batch production brand. Last year, Shapiro sold about a dozen watches and that number is set to more than double this year.

Made In Los Angeles: Inside The J.N. Shapiro Watches Workshop Featured Articles Made In Los Angeles: Inside The J.N. Shapiro Watches Workshop Featured Articles

While that may not seem like a lot, you have to keep in mind that this is a small operation. Shapiro has done well enough to hire Artur Akmaev (found on Instagram here), who is himself a prodigious talent in engraving and enameling. Helping these two out are a couple of apprentices, young students with a passion for learning watchmaking who hail from the school in Los Angeles where Shapiro is Vice-Principal. (Yes, he has a full-time job on top of this.) Oh, there’s also a tortoise named Tank who patrols the workshop.

Made In Los Angeles: Inside The J.N. Shapiro Watches Workshop Featured Articles

Made In Los Angeles: Inside The J.N. Shapiro Watches Workshop Featured Articles

What’s the plan for the future beyond ramping up production? Well, Shapiro hopes to bring the movements and cases totally in-house, steps I know he is already in the process of prototyping. This goes back to the addition of sophisticated machinery like the Haas CNC machine, as well as the proficiency in using them. Again, this small group of individuals is doing all of this on their own in a small Los Angeles workshop thousands of miles away from Switzerland.

It’s no surprise that I’m an admirer of Shapiro’s work, and I was honored to spend a day in his workshop observing (and participating in) his process. I’m excited for the future of J.N. Shapiro and hope to share the brand’s development as time goes on. You can find J.N Shapiro on Instagram here and can learn more at jnshapirowatches.com.

Watch Brands

Explore

Comments

Disqus Debug thread_id: 7621125595

  • Swiss_Cheese

    Pretty clear R.W. Smith/G Daniels influence, not that that’s a bad thing considering at $28k it’s a fraction of the price of a Series 1 or Millennium – good luck finding one in the first place. Do “California” and “Engine Turned” really need their own special plaque on the dial? Both would have been a lot better off on the back or at least half the size.

    Also Bilal, we need more information on the tortoise ‘Tank’, 11 words isn’t enough. Does he have a last name? Is he on the payroll? If so, how much is he paid? Is there a Mrs. Tank? Tank Jr? There are so many questions that arise through just one photo.

    • Joshua Shapiro

      Excellent questions about Tank. He is on the payroll, but only accepts vegetable payments. His wife “Daisy” prefers to stay out of the spotlight. There is no Tank Jr, but like many in LA they have two dogs that keep them quite busy. “California /Engineturned” is my little swipe against the ” Swiss Guilloche Main.” Yes, I am big Daniels/Smith fan but this aesthetic is much older than them, even Breguet was influenced in this design by Lepine before him. I spoke about this at length at HSNY.

  • ???

    I’m lucky to check his first Infinity in the metal and I can definitely say those tiny weave patterns are insane.

  • Josh is a cool guy and a total straight shooter (we coordinated with movement sourcing a couple of years ago and he made a dial for me). He may work dozens of hours on a dial and then if it doesn’t meet his standards, he will discard it and start all over again. Note the movement in the one of the photos is a German UWD. These have a smaller diameter than the Unitas 6497 sized movements he started with – this may be the reason he is now able to offer watches with smaller cases. I totally recommend anything he produces – the guy has an obsession with quality (but do realize that hand made items are inherently imperfect – this applies to George Daniels watches too).

    • Lurch

      Machined items are inherently imperfect as well.

  • SuperStrapper

    The watches are really to my taste, but I can certainly appreciate the work that goes into them.
    Apologies if this is basically what I said last time. Slow start this morning…

  • Jared

    that inifinity dial must take real skill to do by hand

    really annoying that these brands that do their own thing in US can’t use “Made in USA” on their pieces because of archaic requirements that require for the movement to be 100% made in US. Even Weiss got in trouble with FCC for their movement because the movement didn’t have 100% of components made in USA

  • Lincolnshire Poacher

    That Breguet > Daniels > Smith design style is beautiful, and works so well with gold watches.

    I look forward to seeing any new designs he brings out.

    • Leonarr

      Kinda reminds me of Voutilainen too

  • spice

    Not my style either but impressive work. Hope it all works out for Josh.

  • NaJo

    A job well done. Good work starts low and slow but pays off always, keep your passion going mate. Cheers!

  • egznyc

    Beautiful. While it is impressive that he does this as a second job, I do hope he is able to quit his “day job” at some point to focus on his passion projects.

  • Drop files here or
    Accepted file types: jpg, png.