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Lovell Hunter: American Independent Artisanal Watchmaker

Confession: I struggle with whether I sometimes take this whole watch thing too seriously. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is completely healthy to approach watch collecting as an enjoyable leisure activity. Lightheartedness about horology, from a certain perspective, just makes sense. Part of the watch collecting “canon” is that watches are not necessary for keeping track of time. Collectors are also drawn to humor. I laugh at meme accounts on social media and even try my hand at making a meme now and then. When it comes to sustaining an industry, casual clients are just as vital as hardcore “savants.” But part of me starts getting a little uncomfortable when I hear people referring to watches as a “hobby” or as “something nobody needs.”

I did not dwell on this discomfort until I had a conversation with an extraordinarily accomplished American watchmaker named Lovell Hunter. We spent a bit of time discussing Lovell’s education and experience as a watchmaker, a topic I’ll return to in a bit.
Lovell Hunter, founder of Love Hunter Watches.
What came across in our conversation, though, was an unspoken impression that I think bears emphasis: watchmaking is a profession that many thoughtful people, and their families, have depended upon for many decades.

This perspective is also grounded in a somewhat recent development on the world stage. On December 12, 2020, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) formally added craftsmanship of mechanical watchmaking and art mechanics to the list of intangible cultural heritage. While the proposal for this adoption was spearheaded by Switzerland and France, their nomination form noted “artisanal watchmaking production does exist elsewhere in the world.” Indeed, if you’re deliberate in following Instagram tags on pictures of unfamiliar watches, you might find they are the product of a craftsperson in Eastern Europe, Canada, Germany, Australia, Japan or China.

Thomas Harland's shop in Norwich, CT. Source: Old Houses of the Antient Town of Norwich, 1660 - 1800. Available here..
Artisanal watch and clockmaking also once found a home in Connecticut. English clockmaker Thomas Harland settled in colonial Norwich, Connecticut in 1773 and set up his workshop. He advertised production of clocks in cherry and mahogany cases, as well as enameled and “silvered” clock faces. One of Harland’s tall clocks from 1775 is on display with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City while another example sold for $36,800 at auction in 2018 (granted, some of this price is explained by a woven newspaper dated 1785 held within the clock’s cabinet). Harland’s success allowed clock and watchmaking to bloom in Connecticut. By 1844, traveler G. W. Featherstonhaugh wrote, “In Kentucky, in Indiana, in Illinois, in Missouri, and here in every dell in Arkansas, and in cabins where there is not a chair to sit on, there was sure to be a Connecticut clock.” Recent reports suggest that there are still locations in a former clock factory which set off a Geiger counter, marking the location where luminescent radium was applied to dials many years ago.

The Path to Watchmaking

Let’s return to my discussion with Lovell, who recently launched his own independent brand called Love Hunter Watches in Connecticut. Lovell grew up in the Melrose Projects in New York City’s South Bronx. He shared that, in his early years, he was fascinated with geology, the solar system, and the heavens. For Lovell, the launch of the Hubbell Space Telescope was a particularly momentous event. He enjoyed disassembling mechanical devices in his youth, although he admits that reassembly was sometimes a challenge. Lovell also has fond memories of his fascination with a Casio calculator watch from those years.

Lovell’s father worked in the fashion industry. As many parents do, he offered a thoughtful suggestion of a possible career path that might resonate with his son. He told Lovell about watchmaking as a career and shared some details about what that job entailed. Subsequent events would show that Lovell’s Dad demonstrated keen insight when he realized how his son’s interests were natural compliments to horology.

In high school, Lovell began working for Tiffany’s in Manhattan. In most jobs, there really is not a great substitute for experience. The fact that Lovell began accruing experience in the fine jewelry industry before he reached adulthood has undoubtedly provided him with insights and skills which have stood the test of time.

A prototype baseplate machined by Lovell Hunter.
Following Tiffany’s, Lovell began working at the Tourneau watch retailer on 57th Street. He spent five years in sales and one year in management. Eventually, the call to deepen his understanding of watchmaking was too strong to resist. He enrolled as a watchmaking student in the Lititz Watch Technicum in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. There, he completed a school watch. Through work on this pocket watch, Lovell gained experience with case-making and dial fabrication. Following graduation, he spent roughly ten months developing movements on paper.

Subsequent to Lititz, Lovell relocated to Connecticut and joined the watchmakers at Breitling’s service center. He mastered incredible challenges, such as servicing a Breitling perpetual calendar with 415 distinct parts. However, the routine of servicing watches did not provide Lovell with the opportunity to employ many of the skills he enjoyed developing in watchmaking school. He shared that the challenge of the job had largely disappeared. At some point, Lovell became uncomfortable referring to himself as a watchmaker.

Becoming Independent

A screenshot from a broadcast interview with Lovell Hunter. Source: WTNH.
Just after 2019, with the onset of the pandemic, Lovell took his first, bold, steps on a new career path. He began finding and acquiring machinery for his own workshop. Lovell acknowledges that without the care and support of family and friends, the effort may have been insurmountable. He related how his community helped him bring two key pieces of equipment down stairs leading into his workshop. They were angled at a steep 60 degrees. Lovell’s Schaublin 70 lathe weighs 750 pounds while his Schaublin 102 weighs 1650 pounds. It required some creative and skilled rigging to set up the machines in their designated locations. An electrical rewiring project was part of the effort.

Even in conversation on the phone, you can sense Lovell’s happiness and fulfillment when it comes to these efforts. Lovell’s design aesthetic draws from art deco and art nouveau styles. I’d seen a photo of one of his watch prototypes in a local newspaper (which was how I first learned of his work) and I suggested that it was reminiscent of Daniel Roth. Lovell replied “ahhh, now I know you know watchmaking,” while confirming that he found inspiration in that great watchmaker’s achievements. He is fond of using German silver for his mainplate. Lovell uses the same material for construction of finger bridges, a mechanical element which serves as an homage to traditional watchmaking.

A design schematic for Lovell Hunter's click system. Source: Lovell Hunter.
Lovell is currently completing his first commissioned watch, which he plans to deliver in the near future. Through work on this inaugural timepiece, Lovell has streamlined the process for making parts for his movements. For example, the design schematic presented here shows how six copies of a component in Lovell’s click system can be machined at the same pass. The result of a machining run can be seen in the next picture, where the six components have been milled on the end of a piece of bar stock.
Machined compenents for Lovell's click system. Source: Lovell Hunter.
This work shows that Lovell is developing his processes in a manner that allows for a certain degree of scale efficiency in production. This augurs well for the sustainability of his fledgling brand. Challenges certainly remain. For some measurements, Lovell must work in imperial while in others he switches to metric. We shared a laugh over the fact that such conversions have caused difficulties for NASA in the past.

I asked Lovell about his experiences with inclusivity in the watch industry. He specifically cited Audemars Piguet’s partnerships and collaboration with Jay-Z as a moment in industry history that inspired him greatly. Lovell shared that, in his view, this bold step towards improving representation in the watch industry was a key component to the brand’s success. It is said that inadequate inclusivity hurts everyone involved, both those excluded and those excluding. From this perspective, brand partnerships with individuals from under-represented communities are in the financial interest of brands themselves. The challenge to improve inclusivity is great. To the extent that watch brand employees from Europe, for example, operate in the United States, those employees are doubly challenged with addressing an unfamiliar market while at the same time implementing inclusivity within a similarly unfamiliar culture.

Alongside practicing his craft, Lovell is committed to transmitting his skills to the next generation. He presently teaches at a local high school and community college so that others can learn more about watchmaking. From this perspective, Lovell’s commitment to horology connects directly to something mentioned above: the official arrival of watchmaking as part of the world’s intangible cultural heritage. Through design, manufacturing and communication, Lovell Hunter is enlivening Connecticut’s long, but interrupted, contributions to horology. He is creating a new legacy for horology in America.

If you would like to communicate with Lovell Hunter about his watchmaking, you can reach him at lovellhunter1@gmail.com . You can find video of an interview with him broadcast in Connecticut here.
My book on the history of Rolex marketing is now available on Amazon! It debuted as the #1 New Release in its category. You can find it here.

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