The original ‘Shinola’ brand of shoe polish became a household name during World War II—an American-made and quality product that people were proud to purchase. However, it went out of production in the 1960s, and was largely forgotten about for decades. In the fall of 2011, Bedrock Manufacturing Company bought the name, and the brand was reborn. The new Shinola was founded on the belief that products should be made in America, and built to last.
Shinola settled on Detroit as its home base, an iconic American city with a rich history of manufacturing. By chance, they stumbled upon a vacancy in the Albert Khan-designed Argonaut Building, where they decided to establish their headquarters and factory. Built by General Motors in 1928, the Argonaut Building is considered by many to be the historic epicenter of Detroit automotive design. Today it is also home to the College for Creative Studies, providing a unique opportunity for collaboration between Shinola and the design school.
Inside today’s factory, each Shinola timepiece is made by hand, including full assembly of the Argonite movements that power the watches. Shinola also designs and manufactures bicycles, leather goods, journals, and pet accessories. The company stands for skill at scale, works to preserve American craftsmanship, and celebrates the beauty of industry.
As Shinola’s Creative Director, Daniel Caudill is responsible for the clean visual aesthetic that Shinola is known for. Born in Trinidad & Tobago and raised in Montana, Daniel was the Apparel Designer at L.A. Gear, the Global Product Designer at Adidas, and a design consultant for many American brands before joining Shinola.
He was a driving force behind the decision to set up shop in Detroit, and once said: “There are certain cities or places that undergo truly pivotal moments, moments that history will look back on. I believe this is one of those moments in Detroit—and to be able to experience it firsthand and to participate in it… well, if you’re not excited about that prospect, then maybe you should check your pulse.”
We recently talked to Daniel about the Shinola design process and his inspiration:
What makes Shinola watches most unique?
Shinola is making quality, handmade watches at scale in America, something that hasn’t been done in decades, in a state-of-the-art factory in Detroit.
Who is your ideal customer?
Our ideal customers are men and women who appreciate craftsmanship and the investment in a quality product that will last. We make a conscious effort to design all of our watches with a simple, clean and classic design, so it’s something that a person will want to wear and show off for years to come.
How does working so closely to Shinola’s manufacturing influence watch design?
Watches are complex, with upwards of 40-100 components for just the movement and other custom components needed. Once we design a new watch style, we need to source the components first and then our watchmakers can build one-off prototypes and samples for review. With the leather factory so close, we are easily able to innovate the designs of our leather watch straps for existing watch styles with different colors, stitching and more.
Who is your favorite maker?
To me, one of the most intriguing places in the United States is Marfa, Texas. It inspires everything in my life that makes me happy: art, nature, food, and friends. It feeds my soul. The minimalist aesthetic inspires how I approach design. One of my favorite artists is Donald Judd. Our Tribeca store was inspired by his personal library in Marfa.
As Shinola’s Movement Assembly Team Lead, LaKishka (“Mesha”) is responsible for the production of each watch’s movement—the “heart of the watch”. We recently interviewed LaKishka about her role as a maker at Shinola:
What is most interesting about Shinola watch manufacturing?
Shinola’s manufacturing process is unique in the United States, because we are assembling movements and watches in batches, at scale in our factory. Last year, we made upwards of 170,000 watches. Our factory is also unique because we’re Detroiters, coming from all different background and skill levels, trained by Ronda’s Swiss and Thai experts in the art of watch assembly.
What kinds of specialized skills did you learn through Ronda AG’s training program?
When I started on the movement assembly line, we worked closely with the trainers from Ronda who taught us all the proper techniques for how to handle the small movement components using different tools. Next, we learned the intricate process for each specific operation needed to assemble a full movement and also the mechanics behind how a watch works. Overall, it takes a lot of patience, practice, good hand-eye coordination and passion to get it right.
What is your favorite part of your job at Shinola?
My favorite part of my job is that I never thought in my life that I would know how to build a watch from start to finish – I love seeing a watch start off as just tiny components and then the final screw tightened down on the case back.
The Argonite movements that power Shinola timepieces are assembled from 46 to 100 Swiss-made components, requiring special tools, optical magnification equipment, and continuous testing. It’s quite the delicate process!
This video details the movement assembly, and the following photos give a behind-the scenes look inside the factory.
There are more than 90 people who work in Shinola’s Detroit factory, pre-production, and design. Meet the craftspeople who are responsible for Shinola watch assembly: