An interview with Michael Wilson, the founder of Niall—aspiring to be the next big name in American luxury goods
At the age of 17, Michael Wilson’s father presented him with a Tag Heuer Professional as a graduation gift. Since that time, his passion for high-end timepieces has grown, finally culminating in the debut of Niall One—the first timepiece created by Niall, Wilson’s luxury watch manufacturing company.
With a history in marketing and manufacturing combined with the quintessential American entrepreneurial spirit, Wilson is perfectly poised to fast track his luxury brand. One of only 17 watch brands and one of three true watch manufacturers in the United States—a distinction Wilson is quick to make—Niall is already making headlines. We caught up with Wilson, at his headquarters in the east Crossroads to discuss craftsmanship, Kansas City, and Irish mythology.
Kansas City Spaces: Beyond luxury timepieces, what would you like Niall to be renowned for?
Michael Wilson: I would like Niall to be known for truly making an investment in American manufacturing. It’s an easy flag for companies to wave right now but time will tell—there are so many wonderful puns in this business—and if my theory is correct, we will still be here when I’m 90 years old. Niall is a long-term play. It’s not going to become a billion dollar company overnight but the goal is to get it there. I want people to think of us as the Rolex of America, not a little boutique brand. We want to be a big name and a big brand with a focus on craftsmanship right here in America.
KCS: You’ve had a few speaking engagements recently. What advice do you have for other niche small business owners?
MW: I always tell people that you have to think well beyond one city. As a small business owner, your mentality is to think locally—and you should—but you really need to think globally as well. With the Internet and platforms like Shopify, your best customer base doesn’t necessarily come from the city you’re in. Small business owners need to think of themselves as a global small business instead of a local mom-and-pop shop.
KCS: Any new collections or expansions planned for 2015?
MW: We will be expanding our product line with two new men’s watches plus a women’s line. In Irish mythology, Niall was an Irish king that I am a direct descendent of. Cairenn was his mother. She was enslaved and had to make the hard decision of whether to raise Niall into slavery or leave him in a field and hope someone would pick him up. She decided to leave him and as legend has it, a poet picked him up and raised him until he could come back and free her from slavery. Therefore in Ireland, the name Cairenn represents strong women. So our new women’s line, Cairenn, is built around strong women. You’re not going to see dainty little timepieces with pavé rhinestones and flowery hearts. The women who have approached us want the female equivalent of our men’s line but for their shape and form.
Withstanding the Test of Time
The case and bezels found on Niall One.2 are individually constructed from a solid block of stainless steel then electropolished and bead-blasted before being coated in diamond-like carbon. The dials are laser-cut from a solid sheet of aluminum and the hour marks are laser-etched directly onto the dial with truly remarkable precision. The ‘Airlock’ crown has three gaskets that keep the timepiece sealed against water and dust. Each timepiece is hand-assembled in Kansas City and must pass a series of quality assurance tests before reaching the customer’s wrist.
Wilson reminds us “a wise man once said choose collaboration over control.” From marketing to packaging, Niall fosters that great sense of community collaboration, even partnering with Corning, maker of Gorilla Glass, to ensure that Niall’s luxury watches are as damage-resistant as they are beautiful.
Locally, Wilson has partnered with Sandlot Goods to cut, stitch and hand-assemble each leather case and with Houndstooth, a men’s apparel store located in the River Market, to sell Niall timepieces alongside other finely crafted luxury lifestyle goods.