With a spate of new luxury watch companies, is LA becoming Basel-on-the-Pacific?
Located far from the world’s center of watchmaking in Switzerland, Los Angeles is becoming a surprising haven for creators of luxury timepieces. More than a dozen watch brands have set up shop in LA. They include affordably stylish company MVMT (which has sold more than 1.5 million watches since its founding in 2013); Rolex customizer laCalifornienne; eyeglass maker Collins Brand, which has branched into timepieces; and military-spec MTM Special Ops (worn by Dwayne Johnson onscreen earlier this year in Rampage.) “Anything can be made here in Los Angeles. It’s an engineer-oriented city, especially because of the aerospace industry that’s been here forever,” says Joshua Shapiro of locally based J.N. Shapiro Watches. Many of these makers are having parts custom made in engineering shops across LA while also sourcing materials from Europe, part of a push to bring back American-made watches. “The industry is starting all over again from scratch,” says Shapiro, whose watch brand is one of five in Los Angeles that lead the pack when it comes to luxury.
ICON founder, Jonathan Ward
This past summer, ICON, the Chatsworth-based car company that restores and modifies vintage Toyota Land Cruisers and Ford Broncos, debuted its first watch, The ICON Duesey. This clean, elegant timepiece with an onyx dial features a jump-hour complication, a Swiss-made automatic movement and a 42 mm titanium case (engraved on the back with the phrases “Crafted in Switzerland” and “Designed in California.”) “It’s a dream I just had to see realized,” says ICON founder Jonathan Ward, who took his inspiration for the Duesey from the tachymeter on a 1930s Duesenberg SJ automobile. Ward sees a “renaissance of craftsmanship in LA right now. There are so many people saying ‘hell no’ to this commoditized, big-box, focus-group-corrupted world.” The watch is available in a limited edition of 50. $11,500, icon4x4.com
Michael Strahan, Robert Downey Jr. and Shark Tank’s Daymond John are fans of Devon’s superlatively innovative watches, which display time in an unusual fashion via a patented system of interwoven nylon belts, eschewing traditional gears. While founder Scott Devon is based in Michigan, the battery-powered watches are crafted in Hesperia, Calif. “They are made by a boutique aerospace engineering firm that does work for NASA. We’re more like Tesla than anything in Switzerland,” says Devon, whose newest project is creating a deck clock that levitates. The only downside to wearing a Devon? Getting through airport security can be problematic. “They think it’s a detonator. At least the hometown airport guys know me by now and say, ‘Just let him through!’” says Devon. Devon Tread 1 watch in gold, $35,000, Westime and westime.com
Devon Tread 1 in gold, $35,000
Weiss Watch Co.’s rugged, easily readable timepieces are some of the finest field watches on the market. Based in Torrance, Calif., the company—which counts such fans as Bradley Cooper (who wears one in the upcoming movie The Mule)—achieved a lofty goal since its founding in 2013, having made its own in-house movement, the Caliber 1003, two years ago. “Los Angeles has really been the perfect place to start a watch company. We’re right here in the middle of some really advanced manufacturing. It’s been a big help,” says owner Cameron Weiss, who early on worked with an outside machine shop (that also works with aeronautics companies) to create the brand’s cases. The brand’s 42 mm manually wound, handfinished Executive Issue Field Watch takes 60 hours to produce and comes in 18K yellow gold primarily mined in California. $8,950, Barneys New York, Beverly Hills and weisswatchcompany.com
Joshua Shapiro starts his day as a watchmaker and finishes it as a high school principal. The self-taught founder of J.N. Shapiro Watches makes his recently launched Infinity Series pieces on a vintage handoperated rose-engine machine. It can take him a week just to complete the guilloche engraving on the seconds sub-dial, a pattern he created that he calls the Infinity Weave. “It’s basically a basket weave, and within each square it’s an even tinier basket weave. There are very few people on the planet doing guilloche engraving. It’s just insanely difficult to do,” says Shapiro, who uses a German-made movement for his 42 mm manually wound timepieces. Rose, yellow or white gold, $26,000, jnshapirowatches.com
The self-taught founder of J.N. Shapiro Watches doing a little “Breguet self-frosting”
Sun Valley-based Singer Vehicle Design, known for its restored and reimagined vintage Porsches, launched its own watch in 2017, a collaboration with Swiss-based watch designer Marco Borraccino and watchmaker Jean-Marc Wiederrecht. Inspired by classic watches of the late 1960s, the 43 mm Track1 features a chronograph display that’s never before been seen on a watch—the hands that total the hours, minutes and seconds are mounted at the center of the dial (in contrast to traditional chronographs which relegate them to separate subdials.) “It gives you the chance to read the chrono information at a glance,” says Borraccino. Track1 Geneva Edition watch in gold, $72,000, singerreimagined.com