Inside Look: Luxury Watches Made in New Jersey (Yes, New Jersey)

Blair Pfander

watchmaking2 Inside Look: Luxury Watches Made in New Jersey (Yes, New Jersey)On the long list of hobbies we’ve contemplated taking up—knitting, for example, or DIY bracelet-making—the manufacture of luxe, carefully-crafted watches has never been among them. But Michael Stanton, founder of Hoboken-based The Stanton Watch Co., likes to solve complicated puzzles.
Indeed, Stanton—a former competitive skier—began tinkering with watch movements and mechanics shorty after law school, while he was working in the finance world (another world we don’t see ourselves mastering anytime soon). Soon, he was taking orders for custom creations from friends and family members. Today, his collection consists of three sleek styles: the Ludlow, L.E.S. and Grand editions, all of which he crafts personally in his Hoboken studio. Here, Stanton discusses how he picked up this tricky hobby, how it morphed into a full-fledged business and what he has in mind for a ladies collection.
The Vivant: Watchmaking isn’t the easiest or most typical of pastimes—how did you get into it?
Michael Stanton: I had been collecting watches for a long time, and so after awhile, I decided I wanted to see if I could mess around with them myself. I was always interested in the mechanical movements of a watch. I got in contact with one of the jewelers who I bought watches from, and he arranged for me to get a movement. I would just mess around with it, really. What happened was, eventually, I said okay, I want to try and learn a little more. So I got in contact with one of the companies in Switzerland that made movements. They were really cool—they basically set me up with a blue print of a movement, like almost a schematic of its architecture, and the whole movement on a super small scale. And I would just learn about it and play around with until I felt comfortable taking it all apart and then putting it back together.
How long did it take before you got one to really work?
Oh yeah, I messed up a lot of movements. It took awhile—it was a trial-and-error process getting the hands to work properly so you didn’t wind up with ridiculous weird times, and getting everything set up just right. But learning those mistakes the hard way, right up front, helped me more than simply being taught, “Here’s how you do it,” I think. It was nice to make those mistakes on my own. Then I learned very quickly what mistakes to avoid when you’re making a watch.
What were you working on prior to launching the watch company?
My professional background is a little weird. I’d been a competitive skier for awhile, so that’s where I was. And after I got serious about my life I came back to the east coast and got a job in finance, and finished up my undergraduate degree. So that was kind of the mark of, okay, I’m getting serious about life now. A real grown-up job. And the finance job was the cliche, maybe, but that’s kind of when I got into watches. I was young, had a little bit of disposable income, so I could afford to buy a nice watch. That’s what kick-started my interest, that period of my life. In finance, they encourage people to get advanced degrees, so I decided to pursue my law degree. It was always something that was in the back of my mind, and I figured it was a good time to do it. I applied to different law schools and got in, and went to law school. The watch side of things just kind of happened by accident. I never set out to have a watch company—don’t get me wrong, I am super excited that this worked out the way that it did—it was really just a passion project that built up naturally. I have a random story that led me to this point, but I’m extremely happy. It’s nice when you get to take something you’re passionate about and earn a living with it.
How long, on average, does it take to produce a watch from start to finish?
I’ll never build more than one watch in a day, just because you have to be really focused, you have to be paying attention to every little move, your hands can’t be too shaky. You’ve got to stay focused. I want to be sure that every watch that I’m creating is super high-quality. I want to make pieces that are generational, that someone can pass these down to their children and their grandchildren. I want them to have that sentimental value, that family value, and tell a story. So when I build a watch I don’t build more than one a day because I don’t want to overlook even the littlest detail. It’s important to me that every watch I build is a great watch, the best watch that I can make.
Your materials are from all over the world—can you give a few examples of where you’re sourcing your parts?
If I’m building a watch and starting from square one of the design process then it takes much longer. I’m putting out a new edition of our watches probably in the next month or two, and I’m working with some really skilled craftsmen from around the world. The cases that I use for my watches, for example, they come from Germany. I’m working with a metal craftsmen—I think he’s a fourth generation case-maker—so he’s been doing this for awhile, and he’s really fantastic at what he does. He just makes the cases for me—the bezel, the backing, the crown. He machines all of those pieces out of a block of steel. I work with him on the design of the case, and then the movements, I use Swiss parts. They’re just known in the industry as being good at what they do, but I’ll tell you there are a lot of other countries now that are doing great stuff, too. I’m not saying they’re the only ones, they’re just the ones I’m working with now because I want to make a great watch and they make a great product. The strap on the Ludlow edition comes from Germany, and some of the other straps are made at a small company in France, which does fantastic calf leather straps. I’m moving towards having most of my watches in an alligator leather, which is really great, and they’re down in Florida. I love that classic, understated alligator grain. Some of the other parts—like the clasp—are done out in Califorinia, so it’s nice to find some pieces here in the States for manufacturing. It makes it a complicated web of an international business that I’m putting together here.
Where did you look for design inspiration when you were getting started?
My design inspiration has been, really unequivocally, New York City. More specifically, when I started this company, I was living in the Lower East Side. I take my inspiration very specifically from that area. I love how you find these super old buildings in the area that have been standing for a hundred years, if not longer, and the architecture is just super cool—very classic, very traditional. And then you have these young people living there, because it has become such a popular area, and they’re wearing more modern clothing styles. So it’s almost a weird dichotomy between the classic old look, and these crazy new trends. That has always struck me as a cool thing to see, people coming out of these buildings with their cool new styles—and you have a lot of creative people down there. I wanted to create a watch that was inspired by the classical, traditional styles but with a hint of that modern attitude that I see downtown on the Lower East Side.
Which style from the collection do you find yourself wearing most often?
Pretty much every day I wear the Ludlow edition. It’s just a really simple, understated design that fits my wrist really well. For me, a watch is a personal thing. Some days you want a bigger watch, some days a smaller watch. It depends on what you’re wearing. But I find that, for me, that watch goes great with jeans and a t-shirt or a simple navy blue suit or even a blcak dress suit. I find myself wearing the Ludlow a lot.
Any plans to roll out ladies watches in the future?
Yes, that is in the plans. My girlfriend and my sister are both hounding me about it. Yesterday, my sister called and said, ‘”So, where are we on the women’s watches?” Definitely going to be doing women’s watches down the line. I’m excited to create a women’s watch with more of a traditional, classic styling. Not something with a lot of flash, but in line with the rest of my collection.
For more information or to order visit stantonwatches.com.

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