Made in the USA: Shinola

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If you listened to the premiere edition of The BarkCast (and really, who hasn’t by now), you know that I’ve been envying Matt Farah’s Shinola watch for quite some time. Well, as luck would have it (and I literally mean luck at the Spanish 21 tables), I found myself in possession of enough money to swing by the Shinola Midtown Store in Detroit during the week of the North American International Auto Show. I’d like to point out that I visited before the POTUS did.

Shinola is a fascinating story. I won’t retell it here (you can click the link for the whole tale), but at the heart of it is the desire to build great things in America again.

The orginal Shinola brand name had nothing to do with watches—it was a shoe polish company that went out of business back in the Sixties. The brand name was purchased by a VC firm at the turn of the 21st century. Tom Kartsotis, one of the founders of Fossil, wanted to make American watches, and decided to revive the Shinola name to do it when the old phrase, “You don’t know shit from Shinola,” came up in a planning meeting. in 2011, Shinola began producing watches in Detroit.  While they do use some Swiss internals, Shinola is the only company in America that is manufacturing watches in mass quanities—up to 500,000 per year.

Make no mistake. Shinola watches are battery-powered, quartz movement watches. They’re not automatics. One could question whether or not a battery-powered watch justifies a $550-$1,000+ price. However, the quartz movements are made by their Swiss partners, Ronda AG, and then are sent to the 30,000 square foot Detroit factory where Shinola created dozens of jobs for Americans. Each Shinola watchmaker undergoes intense, strict training. None of them had any watchmaker experience before. In short, not only did Shinola create jobs, they gave Detroit natives the training to do those jobs. That’s a pretty fucking noble cause, if you ask me.

Plus, the watches themselves are unquestionably stylish and beautiful. I chose the watch pictured above (that’s my actual watch, not a stock photo), the 41mm Runwell with a black leather band. The Runwell also comes in a 47mm variety, but my wrists are fairly, um, dainty. I was this close to getting a blue alligator band to go along with it, but that would have been an additional $225 on top of the $550 price of the Runwell. Don’t expect to ever find a sale price or a discount on Shinola watches. They sell out of every production run fairly quickly.

The service I received in the selection of my watch was incredible, as well. The young lady who helped me, also a Detroit native, was relentless in helping me find exactly the right combination of watch and band to suit my personal tastes. The store was beautifully appointed, featuring not only watches, but also Shinola’s leather goods and bicycles, all of which are made with American materials and assembled in Detroit. A good friend of mine owns one of the single-speed women’s bikes, with a chromoly steel frame-and-fork made by Waterford Precision Cycles in Wisconsin, and it’s her most prized possession.

For the price, it is difficult to find a watch that is more desirable than a Shinola. There’s a bit of a hipster element to them, sure—the Midtown store is right next door to Jack White’s Third Man Records location—but there’s also a je ne sais quoi about them that is difficult to describe. Everybody I’ve shown mine to is impressed by the quality, weight, and look of it. And when I found a colleague who also had a Runwell, we shared a sort of “we were doing this before it was cool” moment.

By buying a Shinola watch (or wallet, or handbag, or bicycle), you’ll not only be ahead of the fashion curve a bit, you’ll also be supporting the training and employment of real American workers.

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Plus, you also get this bad-ass wooden case, including leather balm for your band, a leather travel pouch for your watch, and a metal card embossed with the name of the person who actually made your watch.

willie

This is Willie Holley. He made my watch. He’s been working for Shinola since they started over four years ago. He looks like a good dude. I’m glad I helped him have a job.

What else do you need to know? Go to www.shinola.com and pick out your watch today.

 

29 Replies to “Made in the USA: Shinola”

  1. Martin

    Longtime lurker here. My wife gave me a Brakeman as a gift a year and half ago. 40mm like yours, since I too have skinny wrists. I’ve gotten several compliments on it since I started wearing it.

    After owning the watch for a while I learned about the foreign content of Shinola watches, and I admit it soured me on them a little. They use Swiss parts, as you mention, but also Chinese (some of the faces, hands, etc). There’s some question whether they will be in trouble for their “made in USA” marketing with the FTC: http://www.freep.com/story/money/business/michigan/2015/12/02/shinola-watches-built-in-detroit-slogan-ftc/76564976/

    On the whole, I still like my watch a lot, and I like the idea of supporting American worker, even if the parts content is largely foreign. Hopefully their success will spur more parts manufacturing in the US, and perhaps even a US-built mechanical movement.

    Reply
    • Bark M Post author

      At least they’re assembled here, and they’ve used as many American parts as they can. It would be impossible for them to source 100% American content for a watch—I think they’re doing as well as could be expected.

      Reply
      • Athos

        Coming from the 3Rd world and now living in the 1St, there’s a fundamental difference between assembling and manufacturing the whole lot, even if there’s the inevitable foreign content. And then is the engineering of the product itself.

        A good and positive effort, but they still have a long way to go.

        Reply
    • Athos

      The sad part is, the USA did produce watch movements. Look briefly at Hamilton’s history and you’ll find out.

      There are more examples.

      Reply
  2. Chris

    Love it, Mark. My watch collection is quite humble, populated solely by Japanese brands. Really want a Brakeman Chrono, Black, in 47mm, as I wield a substantial wrist.

    That sounds kinda odd to say.

    Reply
  3. jz78817

    What pisses me off are companies like Tommy John and Mack Weldon (men’s undergarments.) They extol the quality of their wares, but they have the nerve to charge $20+ for a single pair yet still have them made in China or Thailand. Which they try to avoid telling you upfront. When you ask, they first tell you that their distribution and warehouses are in the US which is a clear tell where the product itself is made.

    Reply
  4. -Nate

    Thanx for the up date ~ I remember when Shinola was just beginning and thought ‘ this is really good ‘ .

    I don’t think I could ever pay that much for a watch having grown up on Timexes…..

    -Nate

    Reply
  5. Cptbkl

    My younger son and daughter-in-law gave me a beautiful watch years ago. I wore it daily until my eyes got too bad to see the very small face. I still enjoy its beauty every time I open my jewel box.
    I was so glad to see you explained the derivation of the name Shinola. I have been too embarrassed to ask anyone..,.mainly because I remember my father and grandfather arguing baseball on the front porch. One ot the other usually wound up saying the trademark slogan.

    Reply
  6. arbuckle

    Hey, neat! I have the same watch.

    http://s14.postimg.org/mav5gmgn5/rps20160122_192147.jpg

    What’s kind of a “cool story, bro” thing about mine is that it was built by Stefan Mihoc, who is a Romanian immigrant, and the day after I bought the watch I met my current girlfriend, who is also a Romanian immigrant from the same area.

    I thought it was kind of an interesting coincidence, although now she refers to the Shinola as my “Romanian Watch”.

    Reply
  7. MrGreenMan

    Do they still offer only leather bands? I only wear a metal watch band – any other material, it always becomes irritating to my skin or it moves just the wrong amount – either way too tight or way too loose. I know the leather is their thing – that it was American untreated cowhide on the first watch, with Shinola’s strength being their leatherworking – so I don’t expect them to add metal bands.

    (Funny fact: There were incredibly skilled leatherworkers in the Flint, Michigan area as recently as ten years ago. I had a very expensive belt that was damaged, and it had some sentimental value, so, after asking around near certain local establishments, I found a guy who was a former UAW shop rat who worked out of his shed. He made beautiful stuff – the fixed belt was better than the original.)

    Shinola was trying to transfer the face painting technology. They brought in experts from China to teach them to paint them in Detroit. I don’t know if they have the hang of that yet.

    Reply
  8. James

    Shinola is owned by the same company that owns Filson, aren’t they? Filson makes canvas bags in Seattle; design and quality seemed OK to me!

    Reply
    • Ronnie Schreiber

      Shinola is co-owned by Texas-based Bedrock Manufacturing and Swiss watchmaker RONDA. Bedrock is an enterprise of one of the founders of Fossil, Tom Kartsotis. Bedrock also owns Filson and Shinola assembles the watches that are sold under the Filson brand.

      Reply
  9. Athos

    I have known about them for about 1 year + now. One of the guys from a forum I’m part of, has a friend in the factory.

    Their watches are beautiful, however our exchange rate is crap ATM. And they don’t make automatics.

    I’m eyeing the Seiko as, if I get to wear a watch again, I want something automatic.

    Reply
  10. Steve Ulfelder

    While I applaud Shinola’s job-creating intent, put me in the “$500 is a lot of cake for a quartz Invicta-style fashion watch” camp. That money gets you a completely restored and relumed Seiko 6309-7049 diver’s watch – an automatic and a legend. Also, does anybody else find the brand, right down to its repurposed name, offputting? It feels like Shinola was aiming for hipsters from the get-go.

    Reply
    • jz78817

      “That money gets you a completely restored and relumed Seiko 6309-7049 diver’s watch – an automatic and a legend. ”

      it’s also ugly. just like cars, things like this have an emotional component to them. telling me I could have bought a CPO 3-series for what I paid for my Mustang GT is pointless when I have zero interest in owning a 3-series. once you get past bare functionality, people generally buy the things they want and not the thing that was at the top of the spreadsheet after they cross-shopped the entire market.

      Reply
    • Bill

      I had the same reaction once I saw what they are charging for a quartz movement. I wanted to like them, but when you add up the cons I just can’t get behind it: quartz, non US movement, other Chinese parts, and other ~$500 options. I think they are making watches for hipsters, not watch people.

      My gut feeling is that the $500 is probably not even price gouging when you factor in the US mfg and startup costs. It’s just not that great of a watch. I’d like to see them source some less expensive movements from Japan and throw a respectable mechanical together. Then again, they’d charge $750 and I’d be less accurate than a $25 timex and less knowledgeable clusters would lose their minds.

      At least they aren’t abusing the name as badly as Madewell- read up on that shameless remake of a brand name.

      Hell, what do I know. They are selling all they make and I own 2 <$100 mechanicals that I wear and use like the tools they are.

      Reply
  11. Ronnie Schreiber

    Cleaning in my parents’ house after my mom moved into an assisted living facility, I’ve found some of my father’s watches. I didn’t realize he was that into watches but then a decent watch was what adult men wore. In the 1940s and 1950s, some kind of nice Hamilton or the like would have been a nice bar mitzvah gift to celebrate a boy becoming a man (interestingly, nice fountain pens were also popular as bar mitzvah gifts back in the day before savings bonds, checks and cash became the thing in the 60s).

    A while back I started wearing my dad’s Hamilton automatic. It’s simple, but stylish and it’s the only time I’ve gotten complimented on a watch. Since then I’ve found a couple of Bulova’s, a Wrist Alarm that’s about 32mm wide, and an Accutron Deep Sea 666, that would probably be more fashionable today because it’s bigger, about 40mm. Both of them have unique features, the Wrist Alarm, as the name indicates, has an alarm with a fourth hand set by a second crown. The Deep Sea also has a second crown that sets the secondary diving timing bezel.

    Fortunately, there’s a local guy that specializes in Accutron service for a $265 flat rate plus parts (which he says they rarely need) and I wouldn’t be upside down on the Deep Sea so maybe if I have a good spell of revenue I might get it fixed since I think it looks kind of cool and I like using my dad’s things.

    http://hodinkee.squarespace.com/storage/thumbnails/2431710-6684176-thumbnail.jpg

    Reply
    • Felis Concolor

      As a kid, I could tell when someone with the then-new Accutrons was nearby; that hum was faint but unmistakable.

      I’ve not kept up with the market, but my father once brought me the gift of a “rocket” (RAKETA) mechanical watch from his trip to Russia, complete with box filled 20% by the watch and 80% by the massive production certificate (poster sized!) filled with signatures and stamps verifying that yes, we made this watch. I fell in love with the huge dial and 24 hour sweep hand (at noon, it’s pointing straight down). The outer dial also contained a classic adjustable 4 hour patrol/watch indicator along with a sweet world time zone label: seeing “Denver” in Cyrillic was a hoot.

      I haven’t really checked out what’s available these days, but I recall in the late 90s to early 00s you could obtain damn near anything RAKETA for $100-125 via ebay vendors, although one of their digital electronic movement models was pushing $270 per each example.

      Checking the online vendors, it looks like vintage models are still available in the sub-$100 range and the dozens of variations should keep most collectors happy in the pursuit.

      And I still think Shinola needs to offer a Rohloff hub option for their top line bicycle models; price-wise, it would appear to cater to the same discerning market.

      Reply
      • Nick D

        I’ve had my eye on USSR Poljots ever since I saw my uncle-by-marriage and 80s Polish defector wearing one. He passionately hates everything about Russia and communists, but still wears that watch.

        Reply
  12. dkleinh

    When I was a kid we had a bunch of shinola shoe polishes and I seem to recall seeing them for sale around – that was the sixties. Interesting revival of the name – I guess the branding will stick there. Also happy to see USA produced, even if only assembled.

    Reply
  13. AoLetsGo

    We shopped this store a couple of years ago and I liked the décor and it’s mid-town location. However, I don’t wear a watch and thought the bikes and other stuff was over priced. I did buy a couple of big pencils with a Shinola stamp on them. I have driving by the AA store a few times, but have yet to stop in there. I did hear that they are paying top dollar for their space in AA.

    Reply
  14. SCE to AUX

    I like the idea of a domestic watch, and I’ll admire someone else’s $600 watch, but my $28 Timex has been great. And I never have to worry about damaging it.

    Reply
  15. martan

    I too like the Shinola watches.
    BUT.
    $500-800 for a battery powered watch?
    NO.

    I ll spend more and get true luxury. Omega SeaMaster

    Reply

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