Michael Wilson believes people want to see the “magic of watchmaking.”
Starting Sept. 30, his company intends to provide that chance in a Niall store on Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza.
Just two years after Niall was founded in the back corner of a building in Kansas City’s East Crossroads, co-founder Wilson plans to put watch assembly on display.
A watchmaker will work in the shop, where in addition to watches Niall-branded wall clocks, personal accessories and watch-themed books will be sold.
This week, chief watchmaker Dominik Maerki was assembling cabinets instead of watches, helping to prepared the 800-square-foot retail space at 612 W. 48th St. to be the company’s flagship operation.
The space will be staged with an “open kitchen” layout with an assembly station on view behind glass at the back of the store.
The concept “is our way of showcasing just how complicated and intricate our process and product really is,” Wilson said.
Wilson said he visited more than a dozen watchmaking companies in Switzerland, noting that factory tours combined with a store generated strong customer interest.
Niall has earned national attention in the trade for its entrepreneurial work to build high-quality, American-assembled timepieces, and Wilson said the Plaza was the right venue to fit his top-quality goal.
Currently offered online for $3,700 and up, Niall watches are among a small but growing number of timepieces that symbolize a return of the luxury watchmaking trade to the United States. American watchmaking basically ended in 1969, when Hamilton closed its factory in Pennsylvania.
In recent years, several small shops have re-established American watch production. The best known is Shinola, which makes quartz watches in Detroit. But small producers like Niall, RGM, Keaton Myrick, Devon, Kobold and Weiss, are growing the trade.
Niall and others continue to use Swiss watch movements, largely, Maerki explained, because the precision-manufacturing industry needed for intricate-movement parts hasn’t yet redeveloped in America.
“But we’re working on it,” said Maerki, who previously worked for Omega.
Niall’s corporate goal is to one day have 100 percent American-made watches. Meanwhile, it uses Kansas City area companies to make parts and packaging whenever it can. Suppliers include Jules Borel & Co. for watch parts and watchmaking supplies in downtown Kansas City, Sandlot Goods for leather goods in the East Crossroads Arts District, and Burger & Brown Engineering in Grandview for precision-machined parts.
Brett Simpson, a Kansas City business owner and one of Niall’s early investors, said he has confidence in Niall’s growth potential. The company has been introducing different models for men’s watches and is developing a prototype for women.
Wilson and others in the luxury timepiece trade have noted that sales stayed up even through the Great Recession because there are “collectors and watch lovers” who keep buying.