Monday, October 17, 2016

Shinola Watches-The Mackinaw Field Watch

As a US based watch collector it has always been something of a bummer to me that the US has had no domestic watch industry beyond very limited production high end pieces for decades now.  That situation is thankfully changing a bit due to the introduction of Detroit based Shinola into the marketplace.

Before I get into a discussion about Shinola though, let's introduce today's contestant. The Filson Mackinaw Field Watch. Shinola, in addition to making watches under its own name also produces models for Filson, the outdoor clothing and accessory company known for its very tough fabrics. The watches are available through both Shinola and Filson. This model measures 43mm in width, 51mm lug to lug, 12mm in thickness and has a 20mm band lug width.  The crystal is synthetic sapphire with an anti-reflective coating.  Water resistance is rated at 200 meters and the crown screws down. (In a nod to Filson's history, the crown is decorated like a shotgun shell. They still make bags for such ammo.) The movement can be hacked if that feature matters to you.  The case back is secured by six screws and is really nicely done.  The movement, called by Shinola an Argonite 715 is a US assembled Ronda Swiss quartz engine with a date function. I believe that it has a five year battery life. The lume on the face and hands is very good, remaining visible for at least six hours in darkness by my observation. It probably lasts longer than that but I had to get out of bed regrettably. It is almost Seiko diver quality lume and that is saying something. The band included with this model is very nice by the way.  It is a nato style strap that is appears to be made from Filson's own Tin Cloth material which is super strong stuff.  The band has a roller buckle to keep it from being chafed and the color matches the face perfectly. All in all, it is a very attractive watch.

Shinola got its start in 2013 with the idea that it should be possible to build quality things, like watches, in the US again. The company selected Detroit as its base in an effort to help kick start a revitalization of that depressed city. Shinola has three production lines there,  leather goods, bicycles and, their largest line, watches. To the extent possible, production or assembly is carried out on site for these products. For more on the Shinola story see this article and here as well. 
Shinola's watches are all quartz powered.  The movements are based on Swiss Ronda models that are supposedly hand assembled in the Detroit factory.  Case production is in China, I believe, and the dial printing and final assembly are done in Detroit.  The watches are then put through an extensive inspection process before being cleared for final sale. That's a pretty typical way to assemble good watches these days and it's encouraging to see someone giving it a shot here. 

Price wise,  Shinola is a bit on the high side as quartz watches go.  The list price of the Mackinaw model above is $650 which, while not the most expensive quartz watch out there by a long shot, is still not cheap by any means.  A lot of that cost comes from the reality of doing business in the US and paying US wages of course. And, frankly, that's not a bad thing in my mind. That being said though, this is a high quality product and you do get something for your money.  In the example above,  the crystal is synthetic sapphire, water resistance is 200 meters, the lume appears to be superluminova, the case back and crown are well decorated and the watch carries an almost unheard of lifetime warranty.  That warranty alone gives you some idea of how well built this watch is. 

As an aside and for what it's worth,  I used to be one of those guys who wouldn't give the time of day (pardon the pun)  to a watch with a quartz movement.  If it wasn't mechanical,  preferably automatic, it wasn't a collectible.  That didn't mean that a quartz watch was no good in my eyes mind you.  If you want a reliable and accurate watch, quartz conquers all mechanical models in reality.  It's just that mechanical watches always seemed the better choice from a collector's standpoint.
I recently got a big reality check when it comes to mechanical watches though that made me realize that the times, they are a changing.  The reality check in question had a name too-servicing.  One of my nicer autos,  I won't divulge the name,  needed a stripped crown tube replaced and a movement service.  I got two price quotes for the work, both on the high side of four hundred dollars.  Given the age and overall condition of this watch, that price was more than the watch was worth.  So, in effect,  this very nice Swiss auto just became disposable thanks to the cost of keeping it going.  It's a sad truth I'm afraid that the days when any jeweler could service a mechanical watch for a low price are over. That's something to keep in mind when buying a watch these days. Sooner or later it will need fixing. 

And that made me think of how much less expensive it is to keep a quartz watch running.  Say what you will about a quartz movement, they rarely need more than an inexpensive battery change every few years. And that means that the conundrum above, service costing more than the watch is worth,  is not likely to happen to a quartz watch. 

The inherent reliability of quartz movements coupled with the high level of workmanship in the Shinola watch above strongly suggest to me that the company's lifetime warranty isn't something they are going to lose money on.  This is one very solid watch that should last for a long time. And for that reason, along with its made in the USA rarity, I think it's worth its price.

I really wish Shinola luck in this endeavor. It would be great to see a US watch company become firmly established in the industry again. It would also be nice to see Detroit become known as the watchmaking capital of the US. That city could really use some good news. 

The Shinola Filson is one of those watches that goes well with a variety of different watch bands. It is pictured here on one of Johnny Torrez's (JStraps) wonderful creations. As an aside, if you want to treat yourself to a really superior watch band, check out Johnny's site.


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