When you think of Kansas City a few things come to mind: barbecue, blues, and Étienne de Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont, the first Frenchman to settle the area and his excellent treatise “Exact Description of Louisiana, of Its Harbors, Lands and Rivers, and Names of the Indian Tribes That Occupy It, and the Commerce and Advantages to Be Derived Therefrom for the Establishment of a Colony.” And now, thanks to Niall, you think of luxury watches.
This tiny watchmaking startup uses American-made parts and embeds Swiss movements. Founded by Michael Wilson, a former marketer whose father owned a fabrication shop where he learned how to cut and shape metal on industrial equipment, the company is offering a line of $4,000 automatic watches handmade in the U.S.
“All of this started from a passion for watches paired with a background in manufacturing and entrepreneurship. As we explored what it would take to build a watch, we were disappointed to find so many watch brands were shipping all the production to China / Germany and simply white labeling their products,” said Wilson. “After reading an article in the Economist we learned the average Chinese watch costs $2 to make – while the average Swiss watch costs around $685 to make. This opened our mind to how the market currently worked and how there was need for a little industry shake up.”
The name Niall is tangentially related to Wilson’s Irish heritage but it is also a testament to the durability of their pieces. The crystal, for example, is made of Gorilla Glass, probably one of the first uses of that material in watchmaking.
The company sources its materials from across the U.S. – screws and cases from Pennsylvania, bracelets from New York, and crowns (the little winding stems) from San Francisco. The movements come from Switzerland.
“All our cases and bezels are CNC cut from a solid block of 316L stainless steel and drilled and tapped utilizing a special machine from the same guys that do the CNC cutting. Why that is important is because finding someone in America that can thread a 1mm hole (for the screws) into hardened steel is rare. We shopped over 75 CNC shops to find two that best fit our requirements,” said Wilson. “The dials are stamped from 7075 aluminum and then the logo and tick marks are laser etched in Kansas City. We didn’t use paint (industry standard) so what you are seeing is actual metal and therefore will never wear or fade.”
The watches are shipped from a spring works factory in Kansas City. “It’s elite and it’s American,” he said.
The watches themselves are evocative of Hublot or Audemars-Piguet but the handsome back-slung lugs and the understated face are unique to the brand. The cheapest watch is $3,950, on par with other American competitors like RGM and Xetum.
The goal is to expand the Niall brand into more products and they do have plans for an American-made watch movement that will replace Swiss movements that are now harder and harder to source.
Watchmaking is a dying art and it’s great to see small manufacturers entering it with gusto. While the Niall will never be mistaken for a Rolex at parties, at least you’ll have a story to tell about a tiny Kansas City manufacturer’s race to build an all-American watch.