KC startup Niall is helping create a new ecosystem for watchmaking in America.
As busy as things have been for Michael Wilson, the founder of luxury watchmaker Niall, the coming year promises to be even bigger for the Crossroads startup.
The company is in the early stages of a large-scale ramp-up, with plans to add employees and partners and build a new distribution network.
Wilson answered a few questions about Niall’s process and why being “Made in KC” has been a competitive advantage.
How did you get into this line of work?
MW » I got into the business of watches by fusing three of my passions: manufacturing, marketing and watches. I did a great deal of research on the industry and believed there was an opportunity for a company focused on manufacturing innovation in America to take hold.
What has been Niall’s “secret weapon”?
MW » From a manufacturing standpoint, it’s been the ability for our team to rapidly learn and innovate. Listening to product feedback and iterating the product accordingly. We call it the accumulation of knowledge—the Swiss call it savoir faire. Know-how is the thing that lets you enter the big leagues.
Regarding our brand success, the world is really resonating with our story. The story of honoring those that are all in. Our relentless path to manufacturing in America. Surprisingly, “all in” is a concept we’ve found to be universally appealing.
Everything but Niall’s movement—the inner mechanism of a watch, the part that makes it go—is made in the United States, and it’s all assembled at your Crossroads office. How difficult is it to source parts in the United States?
MW » Extremely difficult. When it comes to watchmaking, it’s a whole new level of precision manufacturing. We’re discussing units of measurement in the microns—0.01mm and lower.
We’re concerned over the paint consistency of a dial marker under 100x magnification. We’re manufacturing our own 1mm screws in order to have perfect consistency on the heads. The expectations are so extreme in watchmaking that those who don’t chase absolute perfection don’t stand a chance.
Why was it important to use U.S. parts?
MW » It’s a huge engineering and strategic advantage that over 60 percent of our parts are made right here in Kansas City. Problems get solved quickly. We pick up parts rather than ship them. It’s seamless.
The result is Niall has helped make Kansas City the largest ecosystem for watchmaking in America. Bar none. We’ve worked with over a dozen companies in this city to bring Niall timepieces to life—companies like Burger & Brown Engineering in Grandview, which makes all our cases, bezels and crowns.
Now, there are other brands calling our suppliers to help them manufacture watches in America.
How long is the production process?
MW» It takes two years to go from concept to production on a new automatic timepiece. The process includes design, engineering, prototyping, market validation, iteration, sourcing, polishing, assembly and much, much more.
When you build a timepiece, you have to consider how to replicate it thousands of times in a row—thus a new level of complication comes into effect when we design and engineer any timepiece.
Now, while it may take two years to produce a new timepiece, it takes three months to take a watch from its raw state as basic components and bring it to life at 1810 Cherry. This involves machining, polishing, finishing, engraving, assembly and quality assurance. Which is, of course, all done right here in Kansas City.
Several celebrities wear your watches. How tough has it been to connect with them?
MW » It’s been very encouraging to have personal relationships with people like Bill Self, Ned Yost, Robert Streb and Jack Sock and having them be fans and evangelists of the brand. The Crossroads is the New Brooklyn, and my fellow entrepreneurs down here have been big door openers.
Outside of Kansas City, of course, it can be tough. However, we have some secured some exciting things in the next 12 months. Keep your eyes open at the movie theaters.