Daniel A. Spitz doesn’t like to hear the word “No.” In fact, the three-time Grammy nominee, world-renowned thrash metal guitarist, and now master watchmaker wakes up every day yearning for a new challenge. The upcoming release of his Raw Metal Series One watch will be the realization of his biggest challenge to date – designing and making an all-American, Swiss-grade luxury timepiece from the ground up.
“Because of my diverse skill set, yeah, I’m a double freak,” Spitz described himself in a 2016 CNN Great Big Story micro-documentary. And the moniker stuck. Since then, his incredible watchmaking journey has been featured in the New York Times, Hodinkee, Revolution Watch, and the award-winning Horological Times, the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute (AWCI) official magazine.
His mechanical genius has not gone unnoticed on the other side of the pond, either. Spitz was also invited in 2022 to join the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve, the Swiss watch world’s equivalent of the Grammy Awards.
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Deep Roots in Watchmaking
While some may wonder why the lead guitarist of the legendary heavy metal band Anthrax put down his Jackson Rhoads to pick up a watchmaker’s loupe, a glance at his family history will show you that it makes perfect sense. Spitz is a third-generation watchmaker who first developed his love for luxury watches at the tender age of 8 in his grandfather’s jewelry and watch shop in the Catskill mountains.
“[Watchmaking] was in my blood. It was around me from when I was a young child,” said Spitz in a 2020 interview with Australian independent watchmakers Nicholas and Josh Hacko. He went on to explain how his whole family would spend three months in the Catskills every summer, and it was there that he would sit on his grandfather’s lap and watch him work. The first watch the two opened together was a Patek Philippe, and Spitz still has a passion for them today.
Back to School
After spending over a decade composing music and playing for Anthrax, Spitz left the band to pursue watchmaking full-time in 1995. By then, the thrash rocker and his mates had sold over 30 million albums worldwide and were touring non-stop around the globe. They had also reached the pinnacle of fame on two planets, Earth and Mars (Anthrax’s cover hit “Got the Time” features prominently in the top ten lineup of wake-up songs for NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover).
Spitz felt ready for a change.
His first stop after quitting the heavy metal scene was attending the now-shuttered Joseph Bulova School of Watchmaking in Woodside, New York, where he graduated in under half the time it usually took to earn the four-year watchmaking degree. The faculty was so impressed by Spitz’s talent, they lobbied on his behalf for admission to the world famous master watch school, the Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Education Program (WOSTEP) in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, to continue his studies.
At the time, the program only accepted a handful of students from around the globe every three years. After initially rejecting Spitz because they felt he needed more time apprenticing, WOSTEP leaders changed their minds and granted him a scholarship to attend in 1998. Spitz would spend the next two years studying under the master watchmaker, teacher, and co-founder of WOSTEP, Antoine Simonin.
In His Grandfather’s Footsteps
Life was anything but boring after Spitz finished school. He would soon embark on his second career, opening luxury watch service centers in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, and Boca Raton, Florida, where he would easily spend hours engrossed in vintage Patek Philippe repair and restoration. He has also worked on numerous other luxury brands, but to this day, Patek Philippe remains his first love.
Notwithstanding his new solo occupation, Spitz the rocker did find his way back to the stage for a roughly two-year reunion tour with Anthrax in 2005. The birth of his twin sons, however, quickly put an end to life back on the road. He wanted to spend more time with his family, and horology, not heavy metal, seemed the best way to do that.
Inspired by his credentials, Swiss luxury brand Chopard later managed to lure Spitz away from his service center business to become the company’s “Watchmaker of Complications Specialist” – a job that would figure significantly in his journey to becoming an independent artisan.
Chopard needed Spitz to teach after-sales service complications to the brand’s watchmakers throughout North and South America, as well as help it open its first service center in New York. He traveled back and forth to Switzerland to train on Chopard’s in-house LUC movement and then returned to New York to create the curriculum for the complications workshop and conduct training for the new service center.
An American-Born Independent
This unique opportunity allowed Spitz to deepen his knowledge of creating and assembling parts for various watch complications, further igniting his desire to design and build luxury watches instead of merely restoring them. Later in the 2020 interview, Spitz spoke appreciatively of his time at Chopard. “My whole gig was working on the world’s most complicated stuff and getting that experience so that … later on, I could build [it] into my own timepieces.”
He points specifically to conditions at the time when major luxury brands were closing their parts accounts with third-party watch repair and restoration companies, which would have precluded him from getting this crucial additional training.
The third-party luxury watch servicing industry suddenly faced an existential crisis. How could a private watchmaker trained in Rolex watch repair service his customers’ timepieces without a steady supply of parts? The fact is, they couldn’t, so the only option left for collectors was presumably to go back to Rolex and pay a premium for repair or buy a new watch entirely. While many independent watch repair organizations and watchmakers have gotten out of the business of repairing luxury Swiss watches, a few continue to weather the storm. They have had to rely on parts inventories collected over years of doing business as well as gray market scavenging skills to stay alive.
Some, like Spitz, have turned to making their parts in-house. He explained that this quest by the big Swiss brands to monopolize the areas of service and repair has much to do with the recent rise of independent watchmakers. “They birthed independent watchmaking,” Spitz said. “They forced [us] to figure out how [we can] make our own” machinery and parts in more cost-effective ways and with the same Swiss quality.
Spitz has spent a good many years building his own CNC (computer numerical control) milling apparatus and finding and restoring several vintage watch parts machines to create his workshop. It is a successful blending of both modern technology and old-school technique.
The open-work Raw Metal Series One timepiece, dedicated to metalheads everywhere, has been in development for a long time and represents a true labor of love. It features metals not ordinarily used in watchmaking, no watch dial, and a hand-finished solid steel click spring with a skull head, eyes, nose, and mouth in red and black enamel. Manufacture will be limited to 30 pieces, and Spitz’s official website states that the watch is slated for release very soon.
Just in time for Christmas, perhaps?