Detroit-based watchmaker Shinola is doing something pretty unique: hand-making watches in the United States, right down to the quartz movements contained within. The startup’s founding team includes some who worked for Swiss movement maker Ronda previously, and they built the company by flying in high-tech watchmaking equipment from Europe, as well as experts to train their Detroit-based workforce in the fine art of assembling timepieces.
The result is a watch that’s on the pricey side for a quartz keeper, starting at $475 and ranging up to $900 for their new chronograph model. And the parts are flown in from Switzerland and Hong Kong, so not made in the U.S. of A, even if they are assembled locally in Michigan’s case study in disastrous metropolitan economics.
It’s expensive for what it is, and in part it seems like the company is hoping to sell on the back of an “American made” campaign, but it’s also undeniable that these watches are well designed and finely crafted. I’ve been using the model seen in the photos for a few weeks now, and the so-called “Argonite-1069” movement keeps excellent time. The large readable numerals on the face are great for actually, you know, telling the time, and the small second-hand dial keeps things both uncluttered and adds to the overall attractiveness of the design.
It’s definitely a retro affair, and the model I tested emphasizes that with a brass finish on the metal case. The lugs are similar to those that were once welded to pocket watches to make the first wristworn timepieces, and even the choice of typefaces for the Shinola logo and movement name harken back to a vaguely 30s or 40s-ish time period. All of which is to say, I like the look of the watch very much, but if your taste runs more modern you might not agree.
Another very nice aspect of the model I tested was the Horween leather strap (made in Florida), which has a couple of lines of contrast stitching near the lugs and matte brass hardware to match the case. It’s extremely comfortable, while also remaining durable and good-looking.
It’s not typically my thing to go in for quartz watches, even when the design language they use is right up my alley. But the Shinola features such a bold design that it earns a place next to something like a Uniform Wares in terms of esteem, meaning it’s unique enough that the price tag becomes less of an issue. At those prices, however, you’re still getting into the affordable range for great entry-level automatics, like the Defakto lineup or a Stowa Flieger, which means there’s going to be a lot of competition for the Shinola with any customer serious about watches. Still, it’s good-looking, works well and, marketing aside, it is assembled in Detroit by a company that employs more than a hundred Americans, so there’s plenty of reason to consider one as a gift for the watch appreciator in your circle.