Motor City grew rich – before growing poor – by exporting massive sheets of aluminum and rumbling V8s, but the latest Detroit export wraps around the wrist and houses a tiny ticking heart run by a quartz crystal. If this latest offering is a suitable metaphor for the life and afterlife of an American city, it is – in a more immediate sense – a hell of a timepiece. Shinola, which also builds bicycles, leather goods, and journals, aims to single-handedly revive the lost art of timekeeping in America, and the brand's retro modern timepieces are masterpieces of understatement.
"Our goal is to create products that are timeless," says Shinola Creative Director Daniel Caudill. "We aren't looking for trends, and we don't work on seasons. We release product when it's ready, and we're building products that will really last, that you'll own for a long time."
Shinola's intricate components are assembled by American fingers inside the historic and historically creative Argonaut Building, but the movements are sourced from the Swiss brand Ronda, which works in close cooperation with the American company. Every new watch or movement is accompanied by a visit from Ronda technicians who steep Detroit-based employees in the finer points of the assembly process.
By adhering primarily to traditional round and cushion-shaped cases, Shinola honors classic field-watch style, taking a blue-chip approach to an oft-grandiose accessory. The watches feel substantial on the wrist, with a bold visual presence and band materials like alligator, which back up their weighty visual presence. Our favorite watch, the Runwell model, is both simple and handsome enough to always seem appropriate. The Shinola name, bought from the legendary and defunct boot-polish makers, seems appropriate for a product ideal for shining up casual ensembles.
Whether or not these timepieces do, indeed, become revered enough to be handed down to the next generation remains to be seen, as does Shinola's anticipated move from quartz to more complex automatic movements.
"Automatic movements are definitely on the list," says Caudill, "but we're making sure we build these pieces perfectly before we move on." [$475 to $725; shinola.com]