High-investment, emotional products are unwelcoming to newcomers. Like automobiles, you really need history and heritage to gain respect. Can you sell a car just because it's cheap? Yes, but you won't be respected or have a fan base like the prestige German brands. If you’re a newcomer and want to be admired, Shinola is a good role model to look at. Their products are selling out everywhere so there must be a good reason for it.
Shinola is a company in Detroit selling a variety of products from leather goods to bicycles. Everyone has an opinion on how Detroit should be “fixed”. I think an approach like Shinola is the way to go; they're best known for their watches manufactured right in motor city. Make amazing products, create jobs, and be proud of your city. Hope is the first step to renaissance.
A man could use a premium, heirloom quality watch so I decided to get a Shinola Runwell for my father this Christmas. This is the 47mm Runwell in stainless steel with leather strap and costs $550.
The Runwell is the center of Shinola’s product line and ranges from $500-1000. It’s available in a large variety of colors, materials and options like a chronograph. The Runwell is to Shinola as a latte is to a coffee shop.
The Runwell ships in a wooden box wrapped in black cardboard. It’s stylistically a little bit retro for me, but that comes with the brand. The initial presentation is well-done with an immediate reveal of the watch.
Shinola includes a small tin of leather balm. It contains paraffin wax, tallow, and mink oil. A bit of a homage to the brand’s origins?
The other contents of the box (clockwise): a short story pamphlet, manual/warranty booklet, storage case, and a small plaque.
The included pamphlet gives insight into the process of making the watch, and most interestingly, includes snapshots of the factory in Detroit. The Shinola watches are manufactured in the iconic Argonaut Building, once used by GM as a design studio. It's now called the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education, as it was donated to The College for Creative Studies by GM in 2007.
There's even a leather storage case included with the watch - a true sign of attention to detail.
The first thing you'll notice about the watch is its heft and solidity. This comes from the fact that the entire casing of the Runwell is constructed from polished stainless steel. This is how Detroit should feel. It's a different feeling of heft than the Germans (precision) or the Japanese (concentration). This is American heft - solid, bold and fearless.
The watch face is simple and bold. I'd prefer something more delicate but the design fits the brand and is great for legibility. There isn't much garnish here but the numbers and markers are slightly raised to add a touch of flair. This clean look is complimented nicely by a few orange touches (love the lightening bolt) and a reminder of its Detroit origins. The seconds dial is a bit more muted with tasteful thin lines. In contrast, the hour and minute hands have more classic lines with graceful curves. These hands are painted with Super-LumiNova, giving them incredible luminance in the dark.
The case back is clearly a reference to the automotive industry with a stamped metal plate that could belong on an engine. You'll find a laser engraved serial number on the plate, emphasizing the limited production numbers of the watch. You'll also find four screws pushed all the way to the edge of the backing. I've been told that they attach right to the face of the watch to increase structural rigidity.
The Runwell has a domed saphire crystal that is appropriately retro and plays nicely with the curved bezel.
The watch strap is slightly padded and made from Horween Leather* by Hadley-Roma in Largo, Florida. The strap is nice and thick to balance the heft of the solid-steel watch.
* Worth noting that Horween is America's oldest continuously-operated tannery.
Like the face of the watch, the clasp features a orange lightning bolt. It's something many people won't even discover but is a sign of the care that has gone into the watch.
The crown, which also features a tiny lightning bolt, screws into the body to prevent accidental adjustment. Shinola uses a quartz movement they call the Argonite-1069. It's Swiss-made (Ronda AG) but is manufactured in Detroit by a dozen or so watch makers. It's a good feeling to hold something that you know was hand-crafted by a small group of people. Everyone wants to see Shinola produce a mechanical movement but this is really the sensible financial and logistical move.
It's hard to not like Shinola. We all want to support the underdogs, and it doesn't get better than a unique, hand crafted watch company with a dream to revitalize Detroit. There's one thing that I wish Shinola could do differently: it's design. The watch is pretty, in a classic, timeless way but it's far from innovative or super desirable. For a watch that's looking so far ahead, the design is awfully stuck in the past. I'm hopeful that future Shinola watches will be both crafted with pride and progressive in design. It's what made Motor City great in the first place.