The Write Stuff: Jersey City's General Pencil Company (Above)
One of the industry’s last American manufacturers, the family-owned General Pencil Company has been making top-of-the-line pencils, charcoal and pastels in Jersey City, New Jersey, since 1889. Those include their classic cedarwood-and-graphite Draughting Pencil, a favorite of architects, which retains its tip shape longer than almost any other instrument of its kind. Above, pencils on a conveyor belt after receiving the first of four coats of paint.
Future Perfect: Unusual, Heirloom-Quality Objects From Um Projects
The intricately organized workshop of François Chambard, the visionary founder of UM Projects, a maker of stunning, original furniture and “unusual objects,” is one of many along a corridor in an industrial building in Greenpoint, Brooklyn—a historically Polish neighborhood, once dominated by a shipyard, that’s now full of artisans and craftsmen. “It reminds me of a village,” says Chambard, who grew up in an actual village in northern France. After years as a brand consultant, in 2004 Chambard quit his job to apprentice with master furniture maker and wood sculptor Hank Gilpin in Providence, Rhode Island. “I wanted to move away from the abstract,” he says. “I wanted to build actual material. With woodworking, there is no undo button.” Today, Chambard is his own master, mixing old-world craftsmanship with emerging technology and outsize imagination to create stools, lamps, tables, tents, trunks, mixing consoles, a maypole, and this modular bar, which extends from 13 to 22 feet, made for a neighboring design firm. “It’s perfect for any sort of party, big or small.” —Joshua David Stein
Time Bandit: All-American Watches From Weiss
Five years ago, a young Californian named Cameron Weiss set out to launch a truly American watch company, one whose timepieces were not just assembled in the U.S. but constructed with parts manufactured here. It wouldn’t be easy: Even today, most watches in the world use movements made in Switzerland, and the tradition of American horology has largely vanished.
Weiss dropped out of USC to study at Miami’s Nicolas G. Hayek Watchmaking School, then trained with Swiss watchmakers Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin before launching his own brand, Weiss Watch Company, in 2013. Each of his first 10 timepieces took him 300 hours to finish, using Swiss parts, in his dining room workspace. He sold them at a market in San Francisco. The company quickly flourished, and four years later, in 2017, the 30-year-old Weiss launched the American Issue Field Watch, which uses a movement he manufactures and assembles himself in his L.A. studio. Except for a tiny alloy spring, which is too cost-prohibitive to produce in-house, every element of his American Issue timepiece is made in the States, down to the screws, pinions, cases and dials. Even the strap is from the oldest American tannery still in operation, Chicago’s Horween Leather Co. It’s one of just a handful of watches manufactured entirely in the U.S.
WWC is also one of the most hands-on operations out there: Weiss designs the new parts and assembles each watch himself. Every component for the American Issue is machined in the company’s studio. “When the components are complete, I hand finish them, jewel them and plate them. I test fit each part before they go into final assembly. I even hand polish the tiny screws inside the movement myself,”says Weiss. The entire process takes about 80 hours and uses roughly 150 components.
Partnering with WWC engineer Grant Hughson, Weiss has also launched Pinion Precision Technology, a supplier division that provides movements to other American watchmakers. “There are so many steps and parts that go into the making of a timepiece, and we’re happy to be able to provide them to people under just one roof,” he says. That open-sourced transparency extends to the timepieces themselves, which use what’s called an exhibition caseback, pictured above: Flip over your American Issue and you can witness your watch telling time. “This way you can see the true piece of art that’s like a tiny engine sitting on your wrist,” Weiss says, “and all the time I put into it for you.” —Mitch Moxley
Bright Young Things: Fresh Designs Hatched by Egg Collective
Stephanie Beamer, Crystal Ellis and Hillary Petrie met studying architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, and when they moved to New York and founded their design studio Egg Collective, in 2011, they brought a solid midwestern commitment to building things that last. “We’re making heirloom-quality contemporary furniture,” says Beamer, who oversees the firm’s Brooklyn workshop. “We do the woodwork ourselves, but work with a lot of local manufacturers and craftsmen. We want to create jobs here.” From a marble dining table atop a base of blackened steel to the jewel-like benches for balletomanes at Lincoln Center, their work combines an art deco sensibility with clean, modern lines and a more plainspoken bonhomie. “We name all of our pieces after friends and family—the people who supported us and made us who we are,” says Beamer. Those homages include the Nora and Pete Lamp, shown here, a five-foot-tall U-shaped stainless steel tube with hand-blown bulbs on either end; it’s named for a beloved designer couple. “This is what love looks like,” says Beamer, “because they’re united. They aren’t looking at each other, but they are one.” —JDS
Roast in the Machine: Made in Seattle, Slayer is the Ferrari of Espresso Makers
When Jason Prefontaine and his brothers were growing up in Calgary in the 1970s, instead of trucks or blocks, they played with coffee machines. “My father was in the office coffee business,” explained Prefontaine recently, “so I spent a lot of my childhood taking coffee machines apart and putting them back together in the alley behind our house.” For 40 years, he hasn’t stopped. Today, Prefontaine runs Slayer, a Seattle-based company that brings a sculptural elegance to premium espresso machines—from an $8,000 basic model to a $36,000 gold-wrapped version—which grace the counters of some of the best third-wave cafés in the world.
After years roasting his own coffee—under the Fratello label, a nod to his two brothers, partners in both businesses—Prefontaine founded Slayer in 1997 when he realized that the weakest link in getting high-quality coffee from the bean to the consumer was in the hardware. “I really care about my coffee,” he says. “So we decided we’re going to design a machine for ourselves.” While most were manufactured for Italian espresso, he found that single-origin coffee begged to be expressed with finesse, too, and he spared no expense in the pursuit. “We made a decision that everything we do is going to be around quality, and that means it’s going to be more expensive to make our machine, and that means they take longer to build.”
Each Slayer unit takes shape over 25 man-hours in a sun-drenched, monastically quiet workshop that has grown from eight to 45 employees. Often customized, sometimes wrapped in leather or encased in glass, their machines evoke a kind of retro-futuristic spacecraft. As opposed to the belle epoque dome of the famous VFA machine or the brutalist architecture of a La Marzocco, Slayer is as sleek as a Zaha Hadid. Handsome aluminum ribs bracket the body, hand-carved hardwood paddles are shaped to baristas’ hands, and inside, Slayer’s unique ability to manually manipulate brew pressure ensures that the ideal shot is pulled every time.
Prefontaine, the consummate craftsman, thinks the perfect sip of coffee happens before it reaches your lips. “People consume with their eyes, before they’ve even had the product,” he says. “Have you driven in a Ferrari? I haven’t, but I’ve seen one. I’ve heard one. It looks awesome, and it sounds awesome. I bet you it’s going to be awesome when you take me for a ride in that car.” —JDS
New Wave: Ashley Lloyd's Boundary-Breaking Surfboards
Ashley Lloyd is a master of balance. Part of this is professional: For much of her twenties, Lloyd, now 37, was a competitive surfer, traveling the world looking for the perfect wave. Part is personal: The Malibu native is also a bass guitarist, a mother and, as the founder of Ashley Lloyd Surfboards, one of the few women in America making their own brand of surfboards. After training with the legendary Encinitas, California–based Bing, in 2005 she rode her own wave, launching a business shaping handcrafted, eco-friendly boards. To reduce their carbon footprint, she often coats her creations in a flax fabric rather than fiberglass and uses plant-based resin instead of polyester. Along with her husband, fellow surfer Alex Thompson, she makes about 100 boards a year, ranging from the colossal 9’ 8” Dreadnought, named for the British battleship (when it comes to hydrodynamics, she says, “the bigger the board, the easier it is”), to the shortboard she recently gave her four-year-old son for his birthday. Each one, she says, is crafted with the same care. “I’m really precise about my surfboard shaping,” she says. “You’re sculpting something. That’s my life and happiness.” —JDS
Sound and Vision: McIntosh's Handmade HiFi Never Goes out of Style
For the last 70 years, in dens across America, the deep blue light emanating from the output meter on a McIntosh amplifier has meant you’re in for some serious fidelity. Headquartered in Binghamton, New York (also home to IBM), the maker of the very highest-end audio equipment there is has delivered much of the country’s sonic history: LBJ’s inauguration speech, the psychedelic shock of Woodstock, and the Grateful Dead’s “Wall of Sound,” made of 48 McIntosh MC2300 amplifiers. Each amp, pre-amp, speaker and receiver is still handmade by the company’s 150 employees, many of whom have been on board for decades. With the fit and finish of a German supercar and minimalist design that never goes out of style, its products are as easy on the eyes as they are on the ears. Though some technology has evolved—you can now control the AP1 Audio Player with the McIntosh app—the spirit of the equipment remains the same, notably with the recent reissue of the classic tube amp, the MC275, whose four vacuum tubes have enamored generations of audiophiles. —JDS