Joshua Shapiro grew up in a family of trained machinists and started working with his bare hands at a very young age. Even so, he pursued a traditional education route and eventually became an educator (read: school principal), but that all eventually changed when he became interested and picked up watchmaking along the way. Today, Joshua is famously known as a self-taught guillocheur who conceived an engine-turned motif of his own in 2013. In 2016, Joshua started to create engine-turned watch dials and became an apprentice to master clock and watchmaker David Walter. Fast forward to 2018, he proceeded to launch his own eponymous brand - J.N. Shapiro. His debut collection was the Infinity Series, named after the “Infinity Weave”, a proprietary guilloche pattern that he invented, which also serves as the foundation of the piece offered here today.
Enter the J.N. Shapiro Infinity Tantalum Limited Edition, Joshua Shapiro’s latest creation - an exceptionally rare and special variant of the previous generation Infinity Series with tantalum incorporated into its construction. For context, tantalum is a special type of material we don’t see very often in the realm of watchmaking. It is essentially a grey-bluish metal with a slightly darker tone than steel, platinum, or white gold, and it is more prominent in medical and dental applications. It is corrosion-resistant, but also extremely arduous to machine, which is why we rarely see them being used in classic watchmaking. So far, there are only a few known examples of timepieces with tantalum incorporated into its construction, for example, the F.P. Journe Chronomètre Bleu, Omega Tri-Meter Seamaster, and a few Audemars Piguet Royal Oaks.
Compared to its older Infinity sibling which measures 40mm, the Infinity Tantalum comes in at 39mm x 9.75mm. Its tantalum case features a selection of polished and brushed surfaces that contrast very nicely with the tantalum’s grey-bluish color tones. This allows the watch to take on a unique aesthetic and personality. It also gives the timepiece a very nice heft, which contributes to a pleasant tactile feel. According to Shapiro, this is actually the first time a case in tantalum is made entirely outside of Switzerland, and its usage is not solely confined to the case. If you take a closer look at the dial, you will also find that tantalum has been incorporated onto the chapter ring which bears Arabic numerals that are filled with lacquer, as well as the track outside the small-seconds sub-dial.
The base of the dial is manufactured from solid palladium, and hosts, what I think, is the main highlight of this piece – J.N. Shapiro’s intricate engine-turned guilloche in three different forms. The periphery of the dial features a barleycorn motif whilst the minute track ring just above the numerals features a ratchet pattern and the basketweave in the middle section. Joshua had also created his very own pattern he calls the “Infinity weave” pattern as seen within the small-seconds counter at 6 o ‘clock, which he claims is a “basketweave inside of a basketweave” and was inspired after reading George Daniels’ book “Watchmaking”. As far as finishing is concerned, the guilloche on the Infinity Tantalum is exceedingly impressive and definitely on par with some of the best the watch industry could offer.
In addition to the above, the Infinity Tantalum also uses uniquely shaped hour, minute, and sub-seconds hands. The hour and minute hands both have Breguet-style skeletonized tips, and the seconds hand has an infinity symbol as its counterweight. A very appropriate choice, if you ask me.
Turn the watch over on its exhibition case back and you will find that the Infinity Tantalum is powered by a well-known movement produced in Germany – the manually-wound, UWD Cal. 33.1, a now-discontinued caliber produced by Uhren-Werke-Dresden, a sister company of Lang & Heyne. It should also be mentioned that all Shapiro timepieces that exist today will be the only ones that will ever house this movement. That aside, the UWD Cal. 33.1 is finely decorated with a contrasting combination of brushed and polished bevels, a hand-chamfered gold bridge medallion that denotes the serial number has also been added here to enhance visual appeal.
J.N. Shapiro is definitely an independent brand on the rise and it’s no surprise that many collectors and connoisseurs alike are starting to flock toward this upcoming American watchmaker. Overall, the J.N. Shapiro Infinity Tantalum is an exceptional work of art and I cannot emphasize how rare it is to see one in the metal, let alone a tantalum example. It is as rare as it gets- not solely because it is a 26-piece limited edition (with a rough estimate of approximately 8 – 9 pieces made in this specific configuration), but due to the fact that many collectors who bought Shapiros are not selling, with only 2 pieces of any Shapiro example appearing on the market before this.