Are Shinola Watches Good? (The Answer May Surprise You!)
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are shinola watches good

Are Shinola Watches Good? (The Answer May Surprise You!)

I last visited Detroit several years ago, and while it still has some great architecture and beautiful old homes along Lake Michigan, it’s a rather depressing place. So, if any American city needs a break and some economic opportunity, it’s Detroit.

Stepping into the jobs vacuum in recent years is Shinola Watches (although they also sell bicycles, leather goods, and other products). Billed as an upstart micro-brand but actually founded by the man behind the billion-dollar watch brand Fossil, Shinola has made a big deal about being “American Built” and their watch factory in Detroit.

This mission of being a part of the city’s revitalization has become a central theme of Shinola’s narrative and public relations strategy. They have even convinced two American presidents (Bill Clinton and Barack Obama) to sing their praises. 

Are Shinola’s claims of being American-Made as true as Honest Abe, or are they as phony as a three-dollar bill? Perhaps more importantly, are they a good value-for-the-money alternative to some of the more well-established luxury watch brands?

About Shinola Watches

While they’re billed as an American micro-brand, they’re hardly a “David among Goliaths”, when one considers that Shinola was founded by Tom Kartsotis in 2011, the man behind Fossil watches, and the company is currently owned by Texas-based Bedrock Group LP (a company that purportedly has more the two billion in assets under its management). 

Shinola has differentiated itself by making a wide-ranging collection of Americana watches with a vintage flair. One of their most well-known collections is the Runwell, a favorite of former American President Bill Clinton (who reportedly owns thirteen Shinola watches, including the Runwell). The Runwell is a great example of the brand’s classic, sturdy design cues, accurate quartz movements, and all-American looks. 

The Vinton is another popular Shinola collection featuring classic inspirations with trendy accents. Known for their unique color options and guilloché dial patterns, the dress timepieces give off an up-market sense of style. 

The Canfield Sport collection offers something for the outdoorsy and active types, with their durability, water-resistant features, and useful chronographs. 

Shinola is viewed by some watch enthusiasts and experts with skepticism. However, they’ve gained a loyal niche following that appreciates their American manufacturing narrative and cause, in addition to their build quality, style, and attention to detail. 

Their watches are priced higher than many of their mid-luxury watch competitors, and this has led some to question their value, especially when considering the discrepancies in their American Built story with the reality of their mixed third-party, foreign parts. 

The History of Shinola

In 1907, the Shinola brand was born, first as a shoe polish company, but in 2011 the brand was revived as a watchmaker in Detroit. Their mission was to do more than just create quality, stylish Americana watches. They were trying to do their bit to kick off a movement to revitalize the city of Detroit, which has been hollowed out by outsourcing manufacturing jobs overseas.

Shinola is known for making unique, vintage American-style watches. One way Shinola has distinguished itself is through its collaborations with celebrated American designers and artists. The collections and limited-edition timepieces they’ve created have furthered their esteem as a curator of the cultural heritage of the city and its artists. It’s also garnered a following among collectors.

They’ve diversified their business platform by branching out into other product lines, including jewelry, leather goods, audio equipment, and a hotel. This effort has attempted to demonstrate that Shinola is more than just a watchmaker. This has been a long-term strategy by the company’s leadership to position Shinola as a luxury lifestyle brand.

Despite their challenges and controversies, Shinola is still a formidable competitor in the mid-range luxury watch market. They’ve managed to find a niche following of loyal customers, and they’ve turned Detroit into a luxury brand, which is an accomplishment of sorts.

Are Shinola Watches Good?

Shinola watches have been praised by the likes of former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, former Prime Minister David Cameron of the UK, and American billionaire and owner of the Washington Commanders, Dan Snyder, among others.

They’ve also created some unique collections with local artists that are a diverse celebration of the city they represent. But they’ve also faced their share of criticism, as some see them as little more than a marketing ploy, with audacious ambitions yet lacking the business fundamentals to back up their bravado. 

Not Really “Made In The US”

Despite their claims of revitalizing American manufacturing, it seems their watches are only assembled in the US. The movements are sourced from Switzerland, and many of the components are purportedly a mix of third-party parts from Europe, China, and Thailand. 

When questioned about this, the company has argued (and I’m paraphrasing) that the laws are different for watches than, say, cars, and their claims are technically and legally accurate. To be fair, their timepieces are stamped with the phrase “Built in America”, not “Made in America”. However, whether their claims of American-Built are less than honest is for the watch-buying public to decide.  

Little To No Actual Heritage

In the world of horology, a watchmaker’s heritage counts for a lot. For watch collectors and enthusiasts, there’s more to consider than a watch’s style and perceived build quality. Their history matters to many because it’s a company’s story, and that story identifies the culture and ideals of a company and its founders. 

It’s also a track record of the company’s accomplishments, demonstrating whether they’ve lived up to their stated ideals. This heritage shapes the company’s brand and image in the public’s minds and often is a major determining factor in whether their timepieces will serve as a good, long-term investment. 

Many critics have argued that Shinola has no real heritage. Their argument generally goes like this. Shinola’s founders took an old shoe polish brand totally unrelated to watchmaking and tried to artificially capture the nostalgia of America’s past with their designs and promises to revitalize Detroit.

Yet they’ve fallen short of those promises and have no real connection to a deep watchmaking history. All this speaks to an issue of credibility in the minds of their critics.

Not Great Value For The Money

Typically, a watch micro brand aims to deliver high-quality luxury timepieces for a lower price, making them more attainable to a broader audience. They often keep their collections in the sub-$1,000 category without sacrificing quality materials and solid automatic movements. 

Considering this, Shinola watches aren’t exactly a deal, at least in the minds of some critics. They’re priced as a mid-range luxury watch brand, yet many of their models that are $500-plus models come with cheap, mass-produced quartz movements and other inexpensive third-party parts.

Some simply think there are better options out there and expect more from a mid-range luxury watch at that price point. There’s another side to the story, however. It’s important to acknowledge some of Shinola’s stronger points.  

Several Unique & Tasteful Designs 

Even if the brand isn’t your style, it’s pretty hard to argue that they lack style. Many of their designs are clean and elegant, and some of the dials and color combinations are downright eye-catching. 

At the very least, they should be respected as a fashion brand, considering their ability to consistently balance vintage vibes with modern touches and the diverse representations of their limited editions, birthed from partnerships with local artistry, which perfectly capture the city’s special heritage. 

Decent Build Quality

While the watch experts can take their swipes at the brand’s movements, their cases and dials are well-finished. Often the straps and bracelets are of respectable quality, as well. The timepieces are also both accurate and relatively durable. Most of their products show care and attention to detail when it comes to the exteriors of the watches that most will see and feel.

Most Notable Shinola Watch Collections

Shinola Runwell

The Runwell is arguably Shinola’s most popular collection. It’s available in a wide variety of combinations. The timepiece is Shinola’s take on a field watch, and I think the designs are relatively handsome. One can select a case size of 41mm or 47mm.

The cases come in stainless steel, titanium, gunmetal, and yellow gold plated, among others. Most of the dials feature Arabic numerals, but they come in a plethora of colors, from shades of blue, green, black, silver, gray, white, soft yellow, and orange. 

Some have leather, fabric, or rubber straps; others have stainless steel, PVD-coated options, and titanium bracelets. Some are simple three-hand watches, others are chronographs, and some come with a date display. There are options for quartz movements at a lower price point or automatic movements at a higher price point. Prices range from the upper $500s to over $1,500.

The materials and finishing work speak to the quality of the timepieces. There are contrasting polished and satin finishes on the cases. Some of the leather straps have contrasting hand-stitching. Most of the straps come with a simple tang buckle. Some of the bracelets are brushed and offer twin-release butterfly clasps.  Overall, the Runwell presents well and seems durable.

Shinola Monster

Shinola Monster

Their Monster collection of sports watches is tough and made for those that like to play hard. Some in the collection are designed for pilots and world travelers with GMT tools, yet others are divers. The cases come in sizes of 40mm, 43mm, and 45mm and materials ranging from carbon to brushed titanium to stainless steel. 

They offer rotating bezels for diving or GMT that, in some cases, feature ceramic inserts. The dials come in a variety of colors, like black, white, shades of blue, shades of green, and orange. Some have indices, others have a mix of Roman numerals and indices, and all of them have date windows. 

The collection includes bracelets of titanium and steel. Many of the bracelets offer micro-adjustment. Others have leather, rubber, or fabric straps. All of the timepieces in this collection are equipped with automatic movements, primarily from Sellita, and some are superior, while others are more basic. 

They all feature screw-down crowns, with the divers boasting a water resistance of 300 meters, while most of the others are resistant to 100 meters. MSRPs range from mid-$1600s to nearly $3,000.  

Shinola Canfield

Shinola Canfield

The Canfield is a collection of sporty yet refined timepieces from Shinola for both men and women. The watches straddle the line between dressy and sporty. Some of the timepieces in this collection have similar style cues to their Runwell line, with some notable distinctions, such as unique leather straps in colors like oxblood (a kind of purple-brown). 

Most in the collection feature quartz movements, though one is automatic. The one automatic comes with a Sellita movement with a 56-hour power reserve. Most are two and three-register chronographs, though they have a couple of simple displays. Case sizes range from 38mm to 45mm, and while most are stainless steel, some are plated gold and steel. 

These are larger watches, as even 38mm is fairly large for a woman’s watch. Many traditionalists would consider even their smaller 38mm offerings to be typically a size for men. The dials come in a variety of colors: gunmetal, brown, black, blue, gray, and white. 

They either have fixed bezels or no bezel at all, and some have features like tachymeter scales. Some dial options offer a classic mother-of-pearl texture. Most have Arabic numerals and date windows. They have screw-down crowns, and some offer push buttons.

Most of them are water resistant to 50 meters, so they are sportier in design than use. The bracelet and strap materials range from ceramic to leather and metal. Some of the leather straps are perforated and have a racing design. Priced from the upper $600s to nearly $3,000 MSRP. 

Shinola Detrola

Shinola Detrola

The Detrola collection is a more everyday, casual wristwatch. All of the watches in this collection have quartz movements and reasonable price points. The cases range in size from 40mm and up to 43mm. Some of the cases are steel, but mostly they’re a composite made from plastics and other recycled materials found in the ocean. 

They all have date windows. The dial colors come in: clear, natural, black, blue, green, and yellow. They’re all vibrant, fun colors, as are many of the bezels. They offer straps in nylon, rubber, silicone, and ocean plastic.

Most of them are water resistant to 50 and 100 meters. The watches in this collection are decent, everyday watches that come in exciting colors and offer a statement of one’s love for the environment. Priced from the upper $300s to the mid-$400s MSRP.  

Shinola Mechanic

Shinola Mechanic

This collection is a tribute to the sign painters of Detroit that referred to themselves as “Mechanics”, for their commitment to exactness and the lucidness of their messages. This collection features three timepieces, all with vintage vibes, from their domed crystal to the sign painting cues on the dial. 

They all have 39mm stainless steel cases, and they’re all simple three-hand watches. The dial color options are cream, green, and black with Roman numerals. The open case back reveals a mechanical hand-wound movement. They’re all fitted with leather straps in brown, green, and black. 

They all come with push-down crowns and 50 meters of water resistance. All three timepieces are smartly styled, and one would undoubtedly get a lot of positive comments on these. However, at a price of $1,500, it’s hard to justify when one is only getting a simple watch that offers no features other than time, including a mechanical movement, in contrast to an automatic watch that lacks a screw-down crown.  

Should You Buy a Shinola Watch?

There’s a lot to like about Shinola watches from an ascetics standpoint. They’re both modern with their simple, clean designs and yet vintage in their choice of materials and style. Before you jump in and buy any watch, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of each brand and specific model.

Shinola especially appeals to those who admire the company’s mission of revitalizing Detroit and the philosophy of bringing manufacturing jobs back to America. Wearing a Shinola timepiece will send a moral signal, letting everyone know where you stand.

Shinola also appeals to watch buyers who value fashion over a watch company’s heritage or the intricacy and complexity of a watch’s movement. Shinola really delivers on fashion-forward concepts and has positioned itself as a luxury brand that goes beyond watches.

There’s also a loyal following of collectors that value Shinola for their limited-edition timepieces, made in partnership with some talented local artists, which have captured the spirit of the city and its heritage in their designs. 

Besides the controversy of being made/built in Detroit, the main criticism of Shinola from watch experts is that they have high price points yet offer few features and lower-end movements. These are the same kinds of criticisms that a watch company like Movado has faced, by “watch snobs”, who tend to put a lower premium on fashion in watches. 

Alternatives to Shinola Watches

There are many competitors to Shinola that one might consider. We’ll identify three that are trying to capture a similar American ethos. 


Bulova has a rich history, founded in 1875 as an American luxury watch company, they’re currently owned by Citizen, a Japanese conglomerate. The brand was first introduced to American audiences via the radio and is often remembered fondly by older American generations for its radio ads. 

They’re also known for being the company that standardized the production of watches and for developing the first fully electronic watch, with tuning-fork-based technology, which at the time allowed them to produce the most accurate timepieces in the world. 

They offer a wider range of designs, in contrast to Shinola. Bulova is priced more conservatively and gives buyers a better value-for-the-money option over Shinola. They were also a favorite of Frank Sinatra… so you can’t get more American than that.


Hamilton is another company with a rich American heritage. They were founded in 1892 in Lancaster, PA. As a brand, they cemented their relationship with the American public by producing quality wristwatches for the American military during World War Two. 

They’re now owned by Swatch Group, a Swiss company, and they’re known for their build quality and the superiority and reliability of their mechanical movements. Hamilton offers classic Americana designs, like Shinola, but their movements are more highly respected by watch experts. 

BALL Watch Company

The BALL Watch Company is another watch brand with deep American roots and a connection to America’s railroad industry. They offer rugged and spirited designs and are well respected for the quality of their movements and their extensive features. Some are priced higher than Shinola, but they have many models that are in the same price range while offering more features.  

Parting Thoughts 

There’s a lot to like about Shinola, from its mission to its vintage and artistic designs. They build quality, reliable, and accurate wristwatches that have attracted the attention and admiration of a number of high-profile politicians and businesspersons. 

They’ve also attracted criticism over their claims about being built in Detroit when some argue they’re little more than assembled in the city. They disappoint others with their higher price points, lower-end movements, and lack of complex features. Ultimately, it’s up to you, the buyer. Hopefully, this article has given you enough information to help you make an informed decision. So, what do you think?

About Exquisite Timepieces

Established in 1998, Exquisite Timepieces is your one-stop shop for all things luxury watches! We are an authorized dealer for 60+ luxury watch brands including Omega, Hublot, Seiko, & Longines! We are proud to showcase one of the world’s largest pre-owned watch collections, including renowned brands like Rolex and Patek Philippe. Check out our brand new watch arrivals here and popular pre-owned listings here.

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