A remarkable watch of quite some significant historic importance, and a piece entirely crafted by hand in the purest sense of classical haute horlogerie, the new J11.13 by Swiss-trained master of complications Daniel Spitz is noteworthy not only because its creator is already known to millions in another dimension far away from watchmaking. To paraphrase another American icon, this watch represents a giant leap for watchmaking in the United States of America, as it is the first ground-up, authentically Made in the USA timepiece in generations.
Most mere mortals would be satisfied with reaching the very pinnacle of one high profile career, and live off the spoils of that success thereafter, but for Dan Spitz, three Grammy Awards nominations, thirty million album sales, and years on the road and in the studio as lead guitarist with world famous hard rock band Anthrax, all that now seems like it was just for openers.
If it sounds like a strange jump across from the noise and non-stop high octane grind of the rock n’ roll circus to the almost silent world of the watchmaker’s atelier, knowing that much of Spitz’s childhood was spent admiring his grandfather at his own work bench, repairing and servicing mechanical watches might explain why, for him, that this radical personal reinvention has been more like a natural progression.
Still, the title of Master Watchmaker is not one that is simply bestowed on a whim, and neither fame nor fortune can make a difference to that. And so for the past twenty-five years, Dan Spitz has taken the only route open to achieve that status, beginning his formal training in 1995, and gaining a scholarship to attend and graduate from the prestigious WOSTEP in Neuchatel, and then progressing through the watchmaking métiers, before establishing himself as master of mechanical complications and head of Chopard complications.
Now equipped with the hard earned skills, to complement an inherent talent, and surrounding himself with hundreds of vintage watchmaking tools in his own home based atelier, Spitz undertook the most demanding studio sessions of his career as he designed, developed and finally manufactured his, and the United States of America’s first fully homemade, hand crafted haute horlogerie wristwatch, possibly ever.
The J11.13 ‘Liberty’ (a working title) is the first mechanical masterpiece by Daniel Spitz, and it is entirely manufactured without the use of modern CNC problem-solving software, and using only those manually operated tools, in-house in North Carolina. A testament to an unwavering devotion to achieving his objective, it features unique technical innovations whose origins stem back to the very earliest days of watchmaking, and also others which are completely new, such as his Libre Excentrique escapement and full plate bridge (for comparison, think Glashütte ¾ plates and add in the rest).
Available in a choice of either polished stainless steel or Grade 5 Titanium, the J11.13 has a distinctive, assertive aesthetic and an impressive presence on the wrist. Its round case measures 40.5 mm across, with a straight, tall-sided waist, rounded bezel and a squat, fluted onion crown at the three o’clock position. A subtle theme of accentuated edges is found elsewhere on the watch too, such as the stepped underside bezel and the surround of the small seconds.
The black dial is finished with hand guilloché decoration and features polished steel detailing, with chapter ring and roman numerals, as well as a grooved circle around the centre. The time is displayed with blued steel hour and minute hands, which are broad and sword-like, before sharply turning in and tapering to long fine ends, and the seconds are displayed in a deep and generously proportioned recessed dial-within-dial at the six o’clock position.
On the underside of the watch, a sapphire caseback reveals the stunning vista of the hand finished, manual winding movement. The predominant feature is the huge titanium balance wheel with solid gold weights and in-house hand made hairspring, which pulses at a graceful 18’000 vib/h, it oscillates beneath a stand-alone mirror polished bridge, which spans across the lower part of the movement. Beneath the balance, a very unusual escape wheel with pronounced teeth is the Daniel Spitz Libre Excentrique escapement, which is yet another unique in-house development, and an evolution of the 18th Century Louis Richard escapement. Requiring no oil, it performs with minimal friction and is a beautiful refinement of what is quite literally a centuries old innovation which the watchmaker has scaled down for the confines of his wristwatch.
What’s going on here isn’t just remarkable because of its “US rock legend creates horologic masterpiece in America” headline newsworthiness; it is significant in watchmaking terms too, because he has crafted and hand finished virtually every single component of this extraordinary watch, by himself, in his own atelier, including the hairspring, which is something only a very few watchmakers have been able to do, even in Switzerland where the tools and skills exist in relative abundance.
In creating what is the first 100% American manufactured movement since the early days of the quartz invasion, the magnitude of what Daniel Spitz has accomplished in this first watch and what it actually represents is quite profound. A true labour of love and an uncompromising dedication to very old-school standards of artisanale watchmaking techniques places him among a very small number of watchmakers, who themselves are recognised as being the very finest in their field.