This Oakland Collector-Turned-Watchmaker Is Now Making “Accessible Heirlooms”

John McConnico is making customized watches for a new generation of collectors

October 11, 2022 6:35 am
John McConnico of Bespoke Watch Projects
John McConnico of Bespoke Watch Projects
John McConnico

As a bespoke watchmaker, John McConnico has his own definition of luxury. “People are starting to discover that luxury is just the joy you get out of certain objects, and how that can support the lifestyle you denote as luxury,” McConnico tells InsideHook. “Looking at a piece of art, a great design, or distinctive timepiece, for example — it’s an emotional experience as much as a pragmatic one. Understanding what you really desire and not losing sight of that is really important. And that speaks to a lot of different things in life.”

Part of what makes McConnico’s designs for Bespoke Watch Projects so special is this aesthetic-first philosophy — and the fact that he got into watchmaking almost by accident. When he first started designing watches on his own, about a decade ago, McConnico had no plans to sell them or even do it long-term. After collecting watches himself for about 25 years, one day the thought hit him: What would it take to design his own? 

McConnico was better positioned than most to answer that question. As a creative director and designer who has worked with brands like Apple, Sony and NBC, he already had the necessary experience with design, as well as a separate career as a fine artist. But even for him, the process of actually learning about what he calls the “traditional parts of watchmaking” — like Swiss movements and the engineering standpoint — took a while. McConnico pursued a three-pronged approach to learning the technical or “historical” process of building the watch mechanics, learning from veteran watchmakers as well as horological workshops and online resources. From there, he started iterating and prototyping his ideas, and posting the progress online. An audience quickly formed, and the requests for orders started coming in, too. He began prototyping and assembling some early concepts, which ended up as one-off bespoke projects for clients.

“Bespoke Watch Projects is a pretty literal description of what I do, but it really just started out as a personal project,” McConnico says. “Initially I was sharing what I was creating on social media, and pretty quickly started getting orders — primarily from international customers. It was interesting to see how broad the reach was at the time, tapping into an interest in unique watches as pieces of art, not just tools or accessories.” The inquiries he received would relate to the watch McConnico was currently working on, and they usually asked for a slight twist or customization on his prototype. After crafting a few of these bespoke watches, the project was born. 

Now a decade strong, McConnico ships to customers all over the world, and likes to take part in events and pop-ups whenever possible. This includes shows in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, among other locations. On his website, McConnico offers a collection of expanded design options and in-house production that allows him to be nimble and create new designs quickly. He’s also established a custom build section that includes an elaborate tool called the Watch Builder, where potential buyers can add and subtract dials, hands, bands and cases to create their ideal piece. 

“I’m a designer by trade, a watch aficionado and collector,” McConnico says. “My combination of skills and approach are what make the brand unique. I pride myself on using unconventional techniques for watchmaking, applying influences from other design disciplines and my past experience. My Intaglio dials have become my secret sauce: all of them being handmade in house, incorporating unique patinas, finishes, and engraved from metals such as brass, copper, sterling silver and gold alloy. Each dial is essentially a unique piece of art — created for each watch and customer.” 

A graduate of Otis-Parsons in Los Angeles, McConnico says that his study of architecture and furniture design, along with his love of Modernism, remain key influences to his current watchmaking practice. Some of his work reveals an affinity for Art Deco styles and fine art elements. Actually, the logo or mark for Bespoke Watch Project, three adjoined circles, is related to an earlier design McConnico used as a furniture designer. But now that he’s settled into his role as a watchmaker, McConnico is determined to make what he calls “accessible heirlooms,” or luxury watches that are of the highest quality but kept at a price point that won’t turn away younger collectors and other audiences.

Considering the custom aspect of it, and looking at the materials that he uses, McConnico estimates that if someone were to buy, say, a $1,000 watch from him, it’s equivalent to a $5,000-$6,000 watch available at a retailer. “Luxury, high craft and value can all be synonymous in my opinion,” he says. “While I incorporate top-grade Swiss components, limited production cases, and labor-intensive custom dials, I pride myself on delivering value to the end client. I want each and every owner to feel they have a unique heirloom piece, whether they’re a seasoned watch aficionado or aspirational collector. A precious object can indeed be accessible.”

Find McConnico’s designs here. McConnico has also offered a one-time discount to InsideHook readers on both readymade and made-to-order timepieces with the code INSIDEHOOK.

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