When you think luxury watches, a list of Swiss brands may come to mind: Rolex, Breguet, TAG Heuer, Omega, Patek Philippe. However, one American watch company is rapidly changing that association — and it’s called Shinola.
The Detroit-based brand has seen immense success in its 10 short years on the luxury watch scene, and for good reason. Their practical and elegant timepieces are fit for a president — literally. (More on that later.)
With a diverse slate of options from vintage-inspired bestsellers to funky and colorful new lines, Shinola has something for every elevated taste. It even offers a program in which you can design your own piece, for those who march to the beat of their own drum.
Learn everything you need to know about this popular American brand, including its beginnings and evolution, famous fans, and patriotic mission. Also, get details on Shinola’s most sought-after styles, and find out what other products the company crafts.
A Brief History of the Shinola Brand
Shinola has been around for a decade now, and it’s certainly made a name for itself in that relatively short span of time. Here is an outline of the company’s history:
Tom Kartsotis, who co-founded Fossil, began the brand in 2011 after purchasing its name from a popular 1900s shoe polish brand. Reviving the old name infused the company with a sense of nostalgia early on, which is integral to its marketing.
In 2012, Shinola transformed the 12,000 square foot historic Argonaut building (formerly a General Motors research facility) in Detroit’s New Center area. Before production began, the teams underwent extensive training through the company’s Swiss partner, Ronda AG, which specializes in making mass-produced quartz timepieces.
The first products the company launched were the 40mm and 47mm Runwell watches in 2013. The company saw instant success, as the 2,500 special edition pieces sold out in less than a week.
Now, the factory assembles anywhere from 500 to 700 watches per day and regularly introduces new lines.
Several big names are fans of the Shinola brand.
First, there’s former President Bill Clinton, who famously donned his Shinola Runwell 47mm watch at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Apparently, he owns at least three Runwell models and calls the piece “elegant and informal.” One has a black band, another has a tan band, and the third is embossed with the presidential seal. He’s reportedly bought 13 Shinola watches in total, most of which he’s gifted to others.
Another former president is also a big Shinola fan: Barack Obama. Esquire even wrote a piece entitled “Here’s What You Need to Know About President Obama’s Badass Shinola Watch.” The cover photo for the story shows the former president pointing to his beloved timepiece upon leaving his visit to the Detroit headquarters. In it, he’s wearing the Runwell Sport Chrono 42mm, which is now sold out.
A Focus on Patriotism and Job Creation
It’s no wonder two former presidents are massive fans of the Shinola brand, seeing as it has become a sort of symbol of patriotism and renewal. In a 2014 speech, Bill Clinton said, “We need more American success stories like Shinola in Detroit.” Here’s some detail into how the brand earned such an esteemed designation.
Although Kartsotis didn’t have a formal connection to Detroit, he and his company are steadfast in their commitment to the flagship’s city. The company single-handedly transformed the once-dilapidated Class Corridor in Detroit into what Curbed Detroit now calls “the luxury retail mecca of Midtown Detroit.”
At the core of Shinola’s mission is a desire to create jobs in the economically struggling city. Speaking with the New York Times, Kartsotis said:
We’re not a watch company. . . . I did not want to build another watch company. This company really started as a job-creation vehicle.
Today, Shinola employs more than 300 people at its Detroit factory and about 200 more people worldwide. According to the company’s website, over 30 people participate in the assembly of a single timepiece.
Moreover, every watch is built in Detroit, as their famous motto declares. This makes Shinola one of the only American-made luxury watch companies, and it’s proud of that fact. That’s why each and every Shinola product is stamped with the words “Built in Detroit.”
That said, Shinola is partnered with three different companies: Bedrock Manufacturing Co. which was founded by Kartsotis, Taiwan-based dial maker BAT Ltd., and the Swiss firm Ronda AG. Therefore, not all Shinola parts are actually made in the United States, but they are in fact all assembled here. According to their website, Shinola designs each of its products in Detroit and globally sources the “best possible components.” The website also claims that the company works with manufacturers both in the United States and around the world.
10 of The Most Celebrated Shinola Styles
There are scores of Shinola styles to choose from, so we’ve compiled a handpicked list of our favorites. Here are 10:
The Runwell is the brand’s signature line, and this model is one of the most popular pieces in it. To make it, Shinola took the flagship model and refined its design while making it automatic. Features include:
- A richly printed dial
- An iconic caseback with a window into the watch’s inner workings
- The Sellita SW200-1
- A matte black vellum-textured dial
- Premium leather strap in the color British tan
This piece is begging to be passed on as a cherished and classic heirloom. With its simplicity and vintage aesthetic paired with modern functions, it’s no wonder this watch is so popular.
Although this Shinola Runwell Watch is built with performance in mind, it doesn’t look it. The sport-friendly timepiece boasts intricate designs and gives off a sophisticated time-honored appearance. Here are some of the features:
- A polished stainless steel case
- A 10 ATM (atmospheres) depth rating
- Scratch-resistant sapphire crystal
- A matte ivory velvet dial
- Three black subdials
- A black unidirectional bezel
- A bourbon-toned leather strap with quick release
- A stopwatch function
This is a practical watch, but it’s also one to show off and treasure.
Getting its title from one of the North American Great Lakes, this divewatch is aptly named. It’s meticulously engineered to be able to withstand extreme pressure, with a depth rating of a whopping 1,000 feet. Some of the many other features include:
- 316L stainless steel
- 26 jewels
- 38-hour power reserve
- Anti-reflective sapphire crystal
- An anti-magnetic shield
- A unidirectional bezel
- A flexible black rubber strap
Last but not least, the striking orange enamel dial is designed to mimic the gorgeous sunsets at Lake Huron. This watch is every diver’s dream.
This Shinola men’s watch is everything but common and nothing if not striking. It truly hits the mark for a stylish and trusty divewatch.
Powered by the SW200-1 automatic movement featuring 26 jewels and a power reserve lasting 38 hours, this 316L stainless steel watch is engineered to handle extreme pressure and depths of up to 1,000 feet.
Additional features include:
- Anti-reflective sapphire crystal
- An anti-magnetic shield
- A unidirectional bezel
- Stainless steel link bracelet with a micro-adjustable strap
Dive in style with this unforgettable timepiece.
One of Shinola’s newest lines is the Detrola, which caters to a younger and more diverse demographic than many of its other styles. The line is full of refreshing and eye-catching color combos, with seven different colorways to choose from. Each piece comes with a comfortable silicone strap fitted with a quick-release function so you can switch it out whenever you fancy. Every model also has luminous hands along with classic Shinola features.
If you’re looking for a timepiece that brightens up a room, the Silly Putty Detrola may be for you. It comes in a cherry red case, sandblasted silly-putty-toned dial, and a fun aqua strap.
One look at it, and you’ll be inundated with summery poolside memories and have the sudden urge to press some putty against the newsprint funny pages.
Although we love the Silly Putty Detrola, one of the most popular Detrola models has to be the Middle Child. An ode to subtlety and the idea that less is more, this watch is made to be nearly invisible. However, when you look closely, you’ll see the piece’s unforgettable details, including:
- A translucent TR90 resin case
- A transparent dial
- A semi-transparent clear silicone strap
Just like its namesake, this watch is understated yet impressive.
This class-act women’s Shinola Birdy watch exudes elegance. It incorporates all of Shinola’s classic features into a tasteful and distinguished design.
The dial comes in white mother of pearl with a coin edge and wire lungs, while the bracelet beautifully combines stainless steel with PVD Gold. Overall, the piece is meticulously crafted and makes for one of the most timeless Shinola women’s watches.
According to one report, this style is one of Shinola’s bestsellers. Although the Shinola Canfield Watch comes in several different models, this one has the most elevated and complex design details.
Here are a few of the features:
- A fixed top ring with a ceramic insert
- An open dial punctuated by three sub dials
- A three-link bracelet alternating between polished and brushed stainless steel
The piece may be made for sports, but it’s begging to be worn with a tux.
If you’re looking for the perfect gift for a loved one, this watch should be at the top of your list.
Its sophisticated design includes a white mother of pearl dial that brilliantly compliments the PVD case in champagne gold. The best part is: the caseback is engravable, making the piece an excellent and elevated way to commemorate life’s most special moments.
Last but certainly not least, we have the Shinola Station Agent Automatic Watch. As one of the brand’s priciest pieces, this watch comes complete with every feature you could possibly want, including:
- Swiss-made SW260-1 Sellita Movement
- A sapphire crystal exhibition window
- A solid stainless steel case
- A Cattail Grizzly leather strap
- A matte vellum dial
- Super-LumiNova hands color-matched to vintage watches
This watch is a tribute to how the city of Detroit continuously rises from the ashes, which is why the bespoke Runwell Automatic Station Agent Box has fire-treated detailing embossed with the Detroit motto. Every watch also comes with an exclusive story booklet and brass badge.
This is a luxury watch at its finest.
The Willard Program
If you love the Shinola brand but haven’t landed on any style in particular, consider creating your own.
In 2016, the company introduced the Willard Program, which allows customers to craft their own watches by choosing a tailored strap and case style. Shinola teamed up with fashion-forward bloggers Eddie and Angelee Fortuna to launch the program.
So now you can customize your heart out until you’ve crafted a timepiece that suits your own unique taste.
Additional Shinola Products
In addition to making Shinola watchbands and watches, Shinola also crafts the following products:
- Pet accessories
- Speakers and turntables
Although most of Shinola’s best-selling products are their famous watches, other notable items on the list include:
- A set of professional musician-quality Bluetooth Bookshelf Speakers produced with Shinola’s partners at Barefoot Sound
- An adjustable leather Computer Brief for both travel and daily use
- A Double Zip Brief made with rugged navigator leather and fit with pockets for all of your essentials
- A minimalist Utility Tech Case that comes in two different types of smooth Vachetta leather and is sewn together with USA craftsmanship
- A Slim Bifold Wallet that features six faille-lined card pockets, two open-sided pockets, and a leather-lined cash pocket as well as a lining that helps protect against Radio Frequency Identification fraud
Find Your Perfect Shinola Watch
Here at Brinker’s Jewelers, your desires and unique expression are at the forefront of all that we do.
If you have your eye on one of the aforementioned watches or want to check out more of this brand’s offerings, peruse our curated selection of Shinola watches today.