Most of us are familiar with the term "You don't know sh*t from Shinola". This playful phrase sets a high bar for an iconic name that was once associated with a (now long defunct) brand of shoe polish. The brand name was revived in 2011, and Shinola can now be found printed on the dials of watches assembled in Detroit Michigan- otherwise known as Motor City, the automobile capital of the world.
Shinola holds a special place in my heart for two reasons. First, their eclectic collection of everything from elegant dress watches to 48mm chronographs reminds me of a simpler time in my horological career. Long before I spent my free time reading about the nuances between an ETA 2824 and a Sellita SW200, I simply craved a stylish watch. This was an era when quartz watches reigned supreme, a 45mm Fossil watch felt midsize, and the term "fashion watch" (a category in which Shinola dabbles) didn't carry the loaded connotations it does today.
And, as someone who spent their childhood in Michigan, a state renowned for its Great Lakes, it's heartwarming to know that Shinola calls Detroit home. Michigan’s vastness is notable, requiring 10 hours of driving to travel from the west end of its upper peninsula to the east end of the lower peninsula, where Shinola is headquartered. It's a scenic trip that would take you past the Great Lakes that have inspired Shinola’s dive watches and past beaches where stones are collected for their one-of-a-kind dials.
Are Shinola watches as good as the old phrase implies, and what sets this brand apart from the rest of the crowded market of microbrand watches? Let's take a look at my personal top five watches and find out!
My Top Five Choices:
Shinola Monster Lake Superior- 43mm
Shinola Monster Lake Superior - Credit Shinola
From a watch enthusiast perspective, the Shinola Monster is hands down my top choice for the best Shinola watch. It's got everything I look for in a dive watch: robust specs, wearable dimensions and legible dial. My personal favorite is the simple black dial found on the Shinola Monster Lake Superior, but the collection includes several impressive variations inspired by Michigan’s Great Lakes including the vibrant orange dial on The Lake Huron and even a GMT.
Paired with a thoughtful and subdued design, the Monster collection would be the ideal pick for anyone looking for a versatile daily wearer or for a capable tool watch ready for their next ocean adventure. With a diameter of 43mm and 15.2mm thick, this watch is on the large side and may not be the top choice for wearers looking for a timepiece with more modest dimensions.
- -Water resistant up to 1000 feet
- -Powered by the reliable SW200-1 automatic movement
- -Features a sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating
- -Comes on a three-link bracelet with a micro-adjustable clasp
The Runwell Petoskey- 41MM
The Runwell Petoskey - Credit Shinola
When I was a kid, we took an annual camping trip to Northern Michigan. Scouring the beaches in search of Petoskey stones was one of my favorite activities. With enough hunting, one could always find one of these iconic fossils formed as a result of glaciation. A Petoskey stone made for the perfect souvenir every summer, reminding me of my time on the beautiful beaches of Lake Michigan.
The Shinola Runwell with a Petoskey stone dial captures the feeling of beachcombing on a summer day and puts it into a sandblasted 41mm case. Because Petoskey stones are formed naturally, no two dials are the same! The Runwell is an ideal choice for anyone looking for a midsize timepiece that tells a story.
- Powered by a quartz Argonite 703 movement
- Features a dial made out of naturally formed fossil
- Housed in a sandblasted gunmetal PVD case featuring a double-domed sapphire crystal.
- Fitted with a premium quick release leather strap
The Birdy 34mm
The Birdy - Credit Shinola
With an extensive catalog of various sizes and styles, Shinola makes it easy to follow the classic advice of “buy what you like.” If you're in the market for a smaller watch with a white mother-of-pearl dial (a combination few microbrands offer), Shinola has you covered.
This refined women's watch is powered by a high-accuracy quartz movement that was hand-assembled in Detroit and features a stunning dial housed in a 34mm case with gold PVD coin edge detailing. The Birdy is an ideal choice for anyone looking for a classic dress watch with a unique connection to Detroit.
- Features a bold and legible dial with applied indices and Super-LumiNova
- Powered by a movement hand assembled in Detroit
- Housed in a classic case with coin edge detailing and an easy to operate pumpkin crown
Canfield Sport 45mm
Canfield Sport - Credit Shinola
Looking for a quartz chronograph with a dual calendar? Look no further than the Canfield Sport. Making the most of a generously sized dial, the Canfield Sport manages to share a lot of information without feeling cluttered. On each of the available three colorways, you’ll find three subdials and even a fourth hand pointing to a date on the outer track!
Available in various colorways that can be purchased on a bracelet or leather strap, Shinola makes it easy to customize to your personal preference. At 45mm, the Canfield sport is the biggest watch on this list, but it isn't the largest watch in Shinola’s catalog, a title that belongs to the 48mm Runwell Sport Chrono. Check it out for even more functionality and wrist presence.
- Features three sub dials, a dual calendar aperture and a fourth date hand
- Available in various combinations
- Housed in a sandblasted stainless-steel case with a coin edge bezel and a sapphire crystal
The Mechanic 39mm
The Mechanic - Credit Shinola
Once upon a time, the sign painters of Detroit called themselves mechanics- a name highlighting the precision and style of their hand-painted masterpieces. Shinola’s Mechanic, a 39mm hand wound timepiece in a classic cushion case, pays tribute to these artists. The domed dial, curved hands and striking font embody their meticulous skill, while the tactile feel of a hand-wound movement reminds the wearer of an era long gone. At a universally loved size of 39mm and featuring an ergonomic case, The Mechanic is an ideal choice for anyone looking for an interactive experience from a thoughtfully designed hand-wound watch.
- Powered by a hand wound SW210-1
- Features a display caseback, allowing the wearer to see the movement in action
- Exemplifies classic and historically inspired design
Does Shinola offer the best value in the current American microbrand space? The answer to that question depends on what you value. In terms of specs, the Shinola Monster stands out among Shinola’s current offerings, but it has some serious competition in the crowded automatic dive watch category. Starting at $1,450 and going up to $2,000, its price tag is higher than a Christopher Ward C60 (powered by the same movement) and on par with the Formex Reef, a true luxury timepiece from a brand associated with expert finishing.
But looking beyond specs, Shinola offers value in their ability to create watches that excite a large audience, and even some picky enthusiasts such as myself. I’m a strong proponent of “buy what you like” and Shinola makes it easy to achieve this, no matter if you're excited by a 34mm mother of pearl dress watch, a massive 48mm chronograph or a chunky automatic dive watch with a Swiss movement. Add a touch of American history to your wrist and consider Shinola for a watch that not only tells time but also tells a story.
Christopher Ward has definitely been targeting more feminine wrists recently with their Twelve 36 collection. The smaller-sized, 36mm models come with arguably feminine pastel-coloured dials and in some instances, rose gold detailing. For the first...
Not all that long ago, one of my favourite Glashütte watchmakers launched a trio of 33mm-sized watches with beautifully coloured dials. Yes, I’m talking about NOMOS and the three Metro 33 watches introduced a few...