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Visiting the Shinola Watch Factory in Detroit
I recently had the opportunity to visit the Shinola headquarters and watch factory in Detroit, Michigan. As a Detroit native whose parents are also from Detroit, it is a point of pride to witness a true manufacturing operation in a city that has seen so much economic decline. Shinola is reinvigorating Detroit by hiring local employees to assemble its movements. Within a year, the company now employs a large number of skilled workers who are trained to the highest industry standards.
Shinola is located in the former Argonaut Building that now houses the College for Creative Studies in the New Center area of Detroit, near the Detroit Institute of Arts and Wayne State University. For those unfamiliar with the city, New Center is an historical district with landmark buildings such as the Fisher Building, an Art Deco skyscraper that is home to the Fisher Theater, one of Detroit’s oldest live theatre venues.
A lobby sculpture in the College for Creative Studies
Shinola started retailing watches in mid-2013, initially through an exclusive agreement with Barneys New York. Later that same year, Shinola watches retailed through a national retail network. In its first year, Shinola sold approximately 50,000 watches. In addition to watches, Shinola also manufactures artisanal leather goods, bicycles, shoe polish and Michigan-made paper goods.
The Shinola factory manufactures watches nearly from scratch. Ronda, AG from Switzerland provides Swiss-made component parts that are assembled into complete quartz movements. Ronda is a part owner of Shinola and not only trained the watchmakers, but also supplied the state-of-the-art machinery to assemble and test the movements. Within its 30,000 square foot factory, Shinola combines meticulous hand-assembly with the most advanced equipment to ensure its watches are both beautiful and built to last.
The movement assembly area:
The movement assembly area
The Quality Control area:
Inspection of the dials:
Inspection of dials
Lanette Knighton works in the dial inspection department
Moving to the assembly department, watchmakers lubricate the stems prior to insertion to the cases.
Nikki Holston lubricates the stems prior to inserting into the case
Attaching the hands:
The watchmaker in the foreground is attaching the hands to the dial
To attach the hands to the dial, the watchmaker must align them precisely and the machine will press them onto the pinions.
Movements are attached to the back of the dial, a spacer added later will hold it all together:
Pressure testing machinery:
Two green check marks mean the case has passed the pressure test
A watch as it exits the pressure test machinery:
Jaleel Kizy, a WOSTEP graduate and certified watchmaker
Following the tour, I sat down with Steven Bock, CEO of Shinola, to discuss the company and its watches. This is a summary of our conversation.
TimeZone (TZ): How did Shinola get its start?
Steven Bock (SB): Shinola came from ideas that had been percolating for many years. The primary thought was to fully manufacture watches in the United States along with being a multi-faceted company helping in a small way to enrich the city of Detroit and help its comeback. Shinola is recreating on a large scale watchmaking history in the United States. RGM does this on a much smaller and higher end way. Whereas, Shinola is looking at manufacturing at scale and picking up on the traditions of Hamilton and other large watch companies formerly located in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area.
TZ: What is the company’s philosophy?
SB: To create a high quality product at attractive prices, available to a large audience, designed and hand made in America with as many domestically made parts as possible while keeping in mind the value of the product. The drive for quality is paramount. Once again, sourcing as many parts as possible in the US is the key to this philosophy. The history of manufacturing and creative design drove the decision to manufacture in Detroit as well as the above mentioned ability to help in a small way with the city’s recovery. Shinola believes in the future of Detroit and wants to be a small part of this future. This belief is deeply rooted in our philosophy. Our watch cases, dials, hands and crystals are made in China. If the time comes when we can source these in the US and keep our commitment to quality and value, then we’ll change to domestic suppliers. Shinola uses handmade production processes for its products because we believe these methods yield an unmatched level of quality and an unsurpassed ability to conduct quality control. Our hope is to cultivate a cottage industry of suppliers who will move their operations to Detroit in order to supply us with needed components. With hard work and collaboration, we believe we can establish Shinola as an iconic brand, while expanding the capacity and reinvigorating the spirit of manufacturing in America.
TZ: What does the future hold for Shinola?
SB: We are working hard to expand our manufacturing facility. Currently, we are building a leather goods factory as part of this plant and will be opening a distribution center in Detroit. Expansion of retail outlets is a goal and, in 2014, we are opening a few new stores in Minneapolis, the Washington DC area and in Chicago. Expansion in Europe is also part of this goal with stores planned for Berlin and London.
TZ: What is Shinola’s target market?
SB: Shinola’s market is very broad. It’s not confined to a narrow target as we see our products as interesting, appealing to a broad audience with no age definition and with products that appeal to men and women. A reasonable price [$475.00 to $1000.00] is key.
TZ: Are there plans to use mechanical movements in the future?
SB: This has been discussed but this will not happen until we have the manufacturing expertise to build mechanical movements in the US. We will need to train workers to build, test and regulate mechanical movements. Only when we’re satisfied that the workforce is ready will we make this step.
TZ: Why the “Shinola” name?
SB: Yes, the name can evoke strong reactions. But there is a great ring to the name and a great story. There is a sense of irreverence to the name which is part of Shinola’s philosophy.
TZ: My thanks to you for sharing your time, candor and passion.
Shinola Runwell Chronograph
Shinola Runwell – Built in Detroit
Each case back is individually numbered
See also: Basel 2013: Introducing Shinola