Anthrax was one of the thrash metal icons of New York that rose from the clubs of the outer boroughs to the stages of the world. And Dan Spitz was its lead guitarist from 1983 to 1995. The band helped to forge a path for the genre of metal alongside the likes of Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer. They were nominated for three Grammy Awards for Best Metal Performance and sold over 30 million albums during the years that Spitz was a member. Their cover of Joe Jackson’s “Got the Time” was one of several songs used to wake up the Curiosity rover of the Mars Science Laboratory. As Spitz proclaimed, “Thrash metal and my guitar have been heard on Mars. I’m the first intergalactic dual planet metal artist.”
He returned to the band between 2005 and 2008 for three world tours during the Anthrax Reunion Tour, appearing on the tour DVD, Alive 2. In 2010, Spitz co- founded a new Christian rock/metal band, Red Lamb, with Dave Mustaine of Megadeth to help spread awareness for autism after the diagnosis of his twin boys. Together, Spitz and Mustaine wrote the song “Puzzle Box” as the first official heavy metal song dedicated to the topic.
As a musician, he worked to hone his skill, but he had another hidden engineering talent that would be a catalyst for his shift away from music. He hand-built his own Marshall tube guitar amplifiers for the reunion tour, having worked on guitar design in the past with Grover Jackson and Paul Reed Smith (PRS) Guitars. His signature customization was a nod to a pop culture icon that is familiar to most of us who lived through the ’80s: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In one collaboration with PRS, a new custom model was created with a “Spitz” headstock and a TMNT paint job from tattoo artist and painter, JR Linton.
Music was an important part of his life, but there came a time when the chaotic tour schedule that took him away from his young children gave way to a different and powerful calling.
Spitz grew up in the Catskill Mountains of New York, spending much time in his grandfather’s store. He learned at an early age about watches — and their beauty and value — by helping his grandfather restore and repair timepieces. He takes pride in the skill and knowledge passed to him from his family. He says, “I’m a third-generation watchmaker. It’s in my blood; I grew up in my grandfather’s jewelry and vintage timepiece store, repairing Patek Philippe watches.”
He made the decision to get off the rigorous tour schedule and invest in his passion for watches. Joining the Bulova School of Watchmaking in New York in 1995, Spitz finished the four- year curriculum in only one and a half years. Encouraged, he continued his education with the prestigious Swiss WOSTEP school under the legendary director Antoine Simonin in 1998.
He grew his skill by repairing vintage timepieces, something he considers a personal specialty and a trade that is close to his heart. He has owned and operated three different restoration and after- sales service centers for pre-1960s mechanical complicated pieces. His reputation got the attention of Swiss-based watchmaking and jewelry company, Chopard. He joined the company as the only “Watchmaker of Complications Specialist” for all of North America, where his duties included designing courses and instructing other watchmakers at the company. He also worked as a consultant for Chopard’s four-barrel L.U.C Quattro caliber.
After a short break for the Anthrax Reunion Tour and the birth of his twin boys, he received a call from the president of Leviev, Mr. Thierry Chaunu, with an invitation to once again don his horology hat as “Master Watchmaker of Complications Specialist” for the luxury brand.
A Road Less Traveled
Spitz knew from early on he would pursue the path of independent watchmaking. In his words, “I remember seeing a small picture in a watch magazine of Paul Gerber’s triple- rotor independent piece and thought, ‘Wow! You mean I can make my own watch?’ To me, that was the start of independence, and my path was set in motion. It’s been a long ride from there to here, but it was all worth it.”
He took the knowledge and skill he’d picked up from his own family history, his education and from working in service centers through his life to forge his own direction. There were problems that he saw often in his years servicing watches, and he knew he wanted to try his hand at finding solutions through his own designs.
He found his passion in one main idea: he wanted “to manufacture a caliber where each and every part can be remade by hand by a traditionally schooled and trained watchmaker.” It was a powerful place to start, and so he set out to do just this.
He knew exactly where to start: in the past. “Most of my experience lies with restorations from the birth of the wristwatch era. My specialties and passion lie with vintage chronographs and hairspring driven instantaneous retrograde flyback mechanisms, even though I work on pieces from all eras,” he explains. “I’ve also had the pleasure to be one of the few watchmakers ever to repair the infamous Rolex Zerographe, one of the most expensive Rolexes ever to be auctioned, in my work for Phillips auction house.”
Collection Daniel A. Spitz
As of 2021 and after five years of research and development, Spitz’s eponymous atelier now has an in-house movement named the caliber J11.13 after the birthday of his firstborn daughter. He built his own CNC machine from scratch, learned the CAD/ CAM design framework and worked alone to create and craft his first movement.
He brought to bear all of the things he learned about what causes a wristwatch to fail and delivered a design that counters much of the sources of trouble. There is a single impulse, no-oil escapement composed of raw titanium parts to counter the issue of old, tacky oil over time. He included a full plate bridge system, the first of its kind, and an oversized balance wheel. The plates are made of vintage metallurgy German silver, and Spitz is currently developing a barrel system.
“I design, create and make all my own gears, pinions, main plates, etc., on premise. My workshop has a very rare 100+ year old Lienhard brocading machine where I personally handmake the solid silver guilloché dial per unique piece for the collector,” says Spitz. “Additionally, I have a straight-line vintage guilloché machine. I utilize both modern and vintage manufacturing processes in unison.”
These days, Spitz is able to create three timepieces a year using his own design in his independent workshop near Dallas, Texas. Each piece leaves an indelible mark on the watchmaker. Spitz explains his journey eloquently, “Each watch is unique because I make it by hand. When I’m finished making the watch, I have the memory of the (sometimes painful) journey of creation, of all the people around me, the time around me and the non-human machine interactions.
“I’m not comfortable in my skin when this becomes an industrialized pallet of 1,000 identical watch parts created by a robot, for mass consumption, utilizing de-compartmentalized assembly of those parts by non- watchmakers, used as human robots. I’m happy inside my own thoughts, beginnings that birth an epiphany of ideas inside my universe and challenge me to invent ways to bring this to a tangible living machine.”
Spitz is often left drained, having given all of his time and attention to the timepiece at hand. He says of the aftermath, “At the end of this process, I’m a complete mess, so I have to consistently create and move forward to feel somewhat normal. I’m not good with copacetic.”
Currently, Spitz is working on a pocket watch project which he will unveil later in 2022.
The Future of Independence
Spitz has watched the rise of the independent watchmakers with interest and enthusiasm over the years. He compares it to the early days of breaking down doors to bring a new kind of music to the world. Like the birth of thrasher metal, the creation of a new kind of timepiece is a labor of love and persistence. “That’s independent watchmaking,” he says. “Our human story of struggles, love, passion and insanity. We have to be crazy to do this.”