J.N. Shapiro Infinity Tantalum: Fractals, Infinity, And Mastery Of Technique
Infinity is an incomprehensible number for the human brain because it is limitless, and the human brain doesn’t do well without limits. The concept of infinity is bigger than anything you can imagine, and even if you can start to imagine it true infinity is (infinitely) bigger.
But what many may not know (and what mathematicians will eagerly tell you if the subject comes up) is that some infinities are bigger than other infinities. Yes, you read that right: there are different infinities, and they are not equal. Intuitively this makes no sense. If something goes on forever and never ends, how could something else possibly include more within its boundaries? But that is the rub: all infinities have boundaries because they are definable, which means something must lie outside of that definition.
If you were to count the natural numbers from 1 to 2 and then 3 and so on up to infinity, that list of numbers would include all whole numbers, but not all real numbers. To make a set of infinity that is ten times as large, all you would need to do is count from 1 to 1.1 and then 1.2 and so on, and now you see that an infinite list of whole numbers is, by definition, smaller than numbers that include additional significant figures, with each decimal place growing the size of infinity by a factor of ten.
With just nine digits after the decimal point, the size of infinity is a million times larger.
Yet now I must admit that what makes this even more complicated is that all infinities have recently been proven to be equal, at least all the infinities that are not uncountably infinite. But that is an entirely other can of worms, so let’s keep it simple.
The idea of the limitless is a topic usually relegated to astronomy, math, and physics, so it is a bit surprising to come across it within the field of horology, a subject intimately associated with very small, finite bits of time. But it does pop up every now and then, and a fun example can be seen in the new J.N. Shapiro Infinity Tantalum, an ultra-classic watch invoking infinity, fractals, and the legendary George Daniels.
J.N. Shapiro Infinity Tantalum Limited Edition
For those who may not be familiar, J.N. Shapiro is the eponymous brand of Josh Shapiro, an educator turned watchmaker who specializes in guilloche and was inspired by the late George Daniels. After reading the modern bible of watchmaking, Watchmaking by George Daniels, Shapiro spent three years diving into the process of guilloche, slowly gaining expertise and equipment. He eventually released his first collection, the Infinity Series, and the Infinity Tantalum is the latest addition to this very popular line.
The Infinity Tantalum is a classic three-hand watch with a small seconds dial designed in the spirit of George Daniels, Breguet, and other greats. The dial is completely hand-guilloche, with an untreated palladium dial and tantalum chapter rings.
The hour and minute hands are a unique shape with barrel-polished shafts and skeletonized tips, plus the small second hand has an (appropriate) infinity symbol as the counterweight. The case is a simple shape to keep the watch as classic as possible, which also helps production as it is crafted in solid tantalum.
The movement is a beautiful, sourced caliber from Uhren-Werke-Dresden, a German movement producer based in Radeberg, just outside of Dresden. The caliber, dubbed the J.N. Shapiro UWD, is the Uhren-Werke-Dresden UWD 33.1 with an additional gold number plaque specific to it.
In lieu of an in-house movement (which is said to be currently in the works), this is an awesome inclusion for the Infinity series and avoids using the more widely seen calibers from other producers. Overall the entire presentation of the Infinity Tantalum is to such a high degree that it is clear J.N. Shapiro is likely to become a name to remember for small-run, classically styled watches.
J.N. Shapiro Infinity Tantalum: technique above all
The core of the J.N. Shapiro brand is the high-quality hand-guilloche on every watch, including the brand-new Infinity basket weave design invented by Shapiro himself. It begins with the classic basket weave, a difficult and time-consuming pattern requiring an extremely high level of patience. The basket weave is essentially thousands of tiny cuts only fractions of a millimeter long, and each one needs to be made to the exact length otherwise it damages the perpendicular pattern at each end.
Most barleycorn or zigzag patterns can take long, uninterrupted cuts, but not a basket weave. Each cut is very short and precise, making it a show of the guillocheur’s skill. Once Shapiro perfected the basket weave, he wanted to try something more difficult to set himself apart, so he decided to make a basket weave within a basket weave. This meant taking one of the weave’s typical three-line squares and making an entire four-square set in one. Thus, each engraved line is only one quarter of the size of the regular line, which was already tiny to begin with.
The aesthetic is akin to fractals, which are known for having self-similar patterns at different scales. In other words, if you zoom in you will see the same pattern combining to make the larger pattern.
This is why the new basket weave within a basket weave is dubbed the Infinity weave: it touches upon the infinite pattern concepts found in fractals for an entirely new pattern. The skill required for the Infinity weave is of the highest caliber, and that sort of defines what J.N. Shapiro is all about.
The design of the dial with multiple guilloche patterns combined beautifully in a classic layout showcases the skill of Shapiro first and foremost. The watch in its entirety is awesome, but the focus is the technique employed to create the dial.
Which is why using tantalum fits right in: it is very difficult to work with due to its unique characteristics. Tantalum has been described as similar to copper with the hardness of titanium, meaning that it likes to stick to tools and itself, but requires very hard cutting tools with extremely sharp cutting surfaces.
The in-house-made chapter rings of the Infinity Tantalum are crafted in solid tantalum, as is the outsourced case. And highlighting engraving and guilloche on tantalum demonstrates a commitment to process and technique. There are a lot of materials that are more traditional and much easier to use, so choosing to make something from a notoriously difficult-to-machine-and-finish metal is essentially a flex of Shapiro’s prowess with guilloche and ability to employ extreme patience.
J.N. Shapiro Infinity Tantalum: aesthetics
Smartly, the part of the dial with most of the guilloche is palladium, a much more forgiving material belonging to the platinum family. But the choice to use tantalum anywhere aside from the case is seemingly unique to the Infinity Tantalum. This goes a long way for collectors, as does the choice of the movement. The German-made caliber is not widely used and adds significant horological value to a watch focused on aesthetics. But that doesn’t mean that the UWD caliber skimps on style.
The partially skeletonized movement has excellent finishing and clear German “DNA” with flourishes kept to a minimum. Its bridge designs feel bold thanks to sharp angles, strong linear brushing, and nice details that distinctly set it apart from a standard ETA movement as well as the growing popularity of Schwarz Etienne and the revered Vaucher movements. The UWD caliber has flair while staying restrained enough to let the dial be the star of the show.
I especially respect the styling of the dial, very traditional and directly inspired by other industry greats. Some may claim this shows a lack of creativity, but as someone who makes things for a living, I can appreciate that it is an exercise in matching the quality of the best. Once you demonstrate you can at least match the most respected watchmakers of the modern era, then you can use that as a base to expand and create. The Infinity weave and custom hand shapes are the beginning of that. The next steps are expanding the offerings and introducing new styles, designs, and complications.
This is exactly what J.N. Shapiro is working on, and with the Infinity Tantalum the boutique brand showcases that not only can it craft incredibly complex and very clean guilloche, it can work with difficult materials and do it cohesively.
I look forward to seeing the future of this brand and hope, for purely selfish reasons, that Shapiro branches into more avant-garde styling mixed with the traditional guilloche to create something truly his own and even more awesomazing.
Being careful not to damage that gorgeous dial, let’s break it down!
- Wowza Factor * 8.8 A truly awe-inspiring dial with guilloche that is giving everyone in the industry a run for their money!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 88» 862.985m/s2 Looking deep into that Infinity weave is enough to keep you up all night just wondering how in the heck it’s even possible!
- M.G.R. * 63.8 A small-batch movement company like Uhren-Werke-Dresden is an incredible choice for a small-batch limited edition watch from an independent creator. I hope this movement shows up more and with some more technical flair on top!
- Added-Functionitis * N/A Once again, as I have stated many times, this has no added functions so you can skip the Gotta-HAVE-That cream and just enjoy its aesthetic awesomeness!
- Ouch Outline * 10.6 Lifting something heavy that cuts you when you pick it up! Any time you pick up heavy things in a shop, there is always a chance that there is something sharp on the bottom and you will cut yourself when you pick it up. What is worse is when you can’t put it down immediately and just have to let it cut into your hand. Still, I would take that risk to get this watch on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * Look at that tiny basket weave! If you have any exposure to the actual process of guilloche and have tried your hand engraving a line, you probably also stand in awe of the Infinity weave and its incredibly tiny cuts!
- Awesome Total * 907 Start with the hours of power reserve (53) and multiply by the number of jewels in the movement (19), then subtract the water resistance in feet (100) to get an aesthetically brilliant awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.jnshapirowatches.com/portfolio_page/infinity-tantalum-navy-blue.
Quick Facts J.N. Shapiro Infinity Tantalum
Case: 39 x 9.75 mm, tantalum
Movement: manually wound Caliber UWD 33.1, 53-hour power reserve, 21,600 vph/3Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, (hacking) seconds
Limitation: 26 pieces
Price: $33,000 (base price)