Being All In: Talking American Watches with Michael Wilson of Niall
Later this week I'll be publishing my review of the Niall GMT Black Swan but in the meantime, I wanted to learn a little bit more about the man behind the brand.
Michael Wilson started Niall in 2012 after spending four years convincing American based manufacturers to make components for Niall. This prep work laid the ground for him to manufacture all non-movement parts of Niall watches right here in America. Niall's first watch, the One, was launched in 2012 with their second watch, the GMT, coming out last year. In October I spent some time with the Panda Limited Edition and last week I wore the Black Swan, the latest GMT piece with the most intricate dial Niall have made.
Timepiece Chronicle: Michael, thanks ever so much for speaking with me. You've said before in interviews that you're not looking to flip Niall in five years for a quick buck, but rather you're looking to see what you can build over a lifetime. So what would an 90 year old Michael Wilson look back on with pride?
Michael Wilson: Looking back, it would make me proud to have influenced the direction of the watchmaking industry in the United States. At Niall, we're in pursuit of building Swiss-quality watches in America. We respect the tradition of Swiss watchmaking and understand that truly becoming iconic and respected takes both time and hard work. Everyone at Niall is all in for this vision
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TC: In a 2015 interview, you mentioned plans for a Niall 2 and the Caliber 1810. Is that still something we'll get to see in the near future?
MC: We've learned to be more careful with our plans for movement production - as well as becoming more protective over our supply chain and IP. In the past I've been very excited to share future plans, but I will say the industry is both competitive and fierce. What Niall has developed from both a know-how and technology standpoint is that has incredible value and something we plan to protect.
We will, however, have product announcements twice a year - and I look forward to sharing our movement plans when the time is right. Patience is a key thing at Niall - we never want to release products or plans that are partially developed or not 100% on point.
TC: Have you any plans to expand the ladies collection from the unisex GMT models to something designed specifically for women?
MW: Very much so. We've been asked by customers to expand our GMT into a gender neutral place - but even more we've been asked by ladies to develop thinner and smaller timepieces that reflect their tastes.
TC: Watch brands in America are held to an impossible standard by the FTC when using unqualified phrases like 'Made in America' 'Assembled in USA' etc., especially when compared to German and Swiss standards. Do you see these restrictions as a challenge or a hindrance to building an American luxury brand, especially when the phrase "Made in America' can hold such appeal in the eyes of the consumer?
MW: Yes and no. It's restrictive in the sense that for the next five years no one will be able to fully claim USA Made. Beyond developing the mainplate, bridges, gearing, pinons, of a movement, you still have the escapement assembly to chase. To achieve developing our own escapements in America is an entire next generation of manufacturing that simply can not be achieved here without the proper investment and know-how.
To achieve the true FTC USA made standard all components need to be manufactured in the USA. Screws, spring bars, straps, buckles, etc. To achieve 100% is going to require a strong supply chain and strong distribution to justify the costs. We will, as a country, get there - but its going to take time. Time - it's the irony of watchmaking.
MW: The third part of this is, what does American-made mean to consumers in the luxury watchmaking industry? A very wise man from Silicon Valley once told me that the next generation of consumers are rejecting the prestige brands of the past and that its an equal playing field. Which I truly believe. We're in a time in this industry that we get to define what American-made means. For Niall, it means service, quality and authenticity.
Furthermore, you're finding more Swiss brands, like Moser, running from the Swiss made label because the value of the label is losing its luster. While Swiss-made, for a very long time, will stand for quality - it might not stand for things like authenticity and quality service. So, you could say, it's an interesting time to be a watchmaker. With all the focus being on the American market right now, we're thankful we've been manufacturing so much in the United States for so long. It's given us a rather strong head start and a competitive advantage we are proud of.
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TC: What are some of the biggest challenges when designing and developing a watch in America?
MW: Savoir-faire - Know how. It is technically possible to manufacture everything here. Machinery, materials, etc. What is currently missing in the decades of experience manufacturing horological components. The compounding knowledge that develops through hands-on experience is what has allowed the Swiss to build such a strong industry and supply chain. It is for this reason that we have members on staff at Niall that speak French and German. So that we can closely work to develop the know-how necessary, from the Swiss, to carve our own path here in the United States.
TC: How does Niall aim to educate the average consumer that an American watch can be a luxury watch?
MW: After four years of really studying this and listening to feedback its a mixture of things. Time is how you earn respect amongst the consumer. The longer you are around and continue to be successful the more people respect you and consider you a brand worth watching. Two, we are always in pursuit of achieving (and sometimes exceeding) Swiss standards for things like quality, service time, etc. Authenticity and service are two big characteristics that have allowed Niall to be the new watch choice of the All In man or woman. The entrepreneur, CEO, lawyer, doctor, etc. Those who have sacrificed to build something greater than themselves. In short, educating the public on American watches is rooted in over delivering on experience, speed to service and always pushing quality to the next level.
TC: What does 2017 hold for Niall ?
MW: 2017 is a big year for Niall. We're launching new products. The One.M and the Fieldhouse Blue this month - both that we are incredibly excited about. This year, you're going to see the conversation about Niall more on a national stage. You're going to see Niall expand distribution to new cities with new retail partners. Which is something that really excites the team at Niall - taking our passion and our products we believe so deeply in - into new locations.
TC: What watch are you wearing right now?
MW: I'm currently wearing the One.M with a camo victory strap. The One.M was developed out of an R&D project with local law enforcement to create an extremely durable and lightweight timepiece at a super affordable price point. The One.M is completely made out of carbon fiber and weighs in at 27.8 grams. It's fascinating because we've been able to achieve such a light weight, durable watch, out of carbon fiber - at such an exciting price category - under $2k.