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.
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.
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.