Hands-On Debut: Shinola Mechanic Watches
Although there is no shortage of automotive-themed watch designs in the current market, for the most part the luxury watch industry tends to cater to a single facet of the automotive community with its releases. The overwhelming majority of car-inspired watch designs are at capturing the look and feel of either top-tier motorsports or classic European sports cars, with little heed paid to the vast diversity of the automotive hobby. Detroit-based Shinola has carried an automotive bent throughout its history, especially in the broader sense of celebrating its home city as the heart of the American auto industry, but as the brand continues its focused campaign to win over traditional watch enthusiasts in 2022 its latest release looks to capture the spirit of a very different sort of car enthusiast – the hot rodder. The brand itself claims the all-new Shinola Mechanic series is named after a traditional moniker for Detroit-area sign painters. However, the classic Americana bent of the design, the vintage automotive color palettes, and the handwound construction all work to celebrate the car enthusiast who spends less time blasting around the race track and more in the garage; servicing, restoring, and customizing their cars with their own two hands. The Shinola Mechanic series brings together a dynamic handwound movement, effortlessly charismatic vintage American automotive-inspired design, and markedly improved build quality to offer what might well be the brand’s most compelling enthusiast-focused collection to date.
At 39mm-wide, the Shinola Mechanic line’s stainless steel cushion case design strikes an ideal chord between wrist presence and easy, comfortable wearability. Unlike many cushion case designs, Shinola keeps the dial aperture as wide as possible here, preserving the soft roundness of the main case body through a narrow, brightly polished bezel. The main case body itself is handsomely contoured, with just enough of a gentle curve between the sharp vertically brushed upper case and the polished case sides to keep the design from feeling too industrial or sterile. The slender, sharply downturned lugs help to keep the overall stance on the wrist compact and manageable, while the tall domed sapphire crystal adds a touch of conspicuous height but keeps the rounded, flowing profile intact. Overall, while there’s nothing overtly automotive about the form, like most of Shinola’s designs a touch of classic American industrial design flavor seeps through in the details. The rounded contours, the sharp confident mix of brushing and polishing, and the azurage detailing atop the signed crown all put me in mind of the heroic, streamlined feel of American automaking immediately pre-World War II, especially my father’s old custom 1939 Ford Deluxe coupe. The finishing work throughout is a confident step ahead of Shinola’s mass-market offerings and has a sharper presentation than many competitors in this price bracket. Shinola’s use of a sapphire display caseback is another premium touch here, but the Mechanic’s paltry 50-meter water resistance rating leaves much to be desired on the durability front.
Shinola sets the models in the Mechanic series apart with three handsomely muted dial colorways in cream, black, and olive drab. Out of the three, the cream dial is the immediate standout, with a soft, warmly matte main dial hue complemented by printed Arabic numerals in an attractively antique mix of navy and sky blue. A simple pointed stick handset in soft slate blue and brick red completes the color palette. In conjunction with a subtly lumed railroad outer seconds track, it’s a combination that feels perfectly aged right out of the box, without resorting to any of the “fauxtina” methods brands typically rely on to simulate aging. Shinola presents the hour numerals as the core of this design, featuring a combination of crisp edges, drop shadows, and rim highlights that harken back to classic sign painting techniques. More relevant to the “Mechanic” moniker, however, this distinctive hand-painted lettering style was also a fixture in early American car customization, appearing on everything from front-engine Indy roadsters to homebuilt hot rods chasing top speeds on dry lakebeds like El Mirage , Muroc, or Bonneville.
The pronounced dome effect of the dial surface also helps to give the Shinola Mechanic a softer, more unique look on the wrist, and both the minutes and seconds hands follow this curvature with significant downturns toward their tips. Shinola reserves arguably its punchiest color scheme for the black dial model, with numerals in goldenrod and orange flanked by dial hardware and a handset in powder blue. A needle seconds hand in pale canary yellow completes the look, which manages to be decidedly dramatic in person without resorting to overtly vibrant color. Shinola’s army green colorway falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Green dials are still a massive trend in the current watch industry, but the brand firmly roots this design in vintage visual territory rather than chasing a more contemporary look. The matte olive drab main dial is livened up by identical numerals to the black dial model, but a handset and seconds track in off-white keeps the overall look tastefully restrained even with an orange seconds hand. All three models wisely remain time-only, and any attempt to disrupt the overall dial symmetry of the design or encroach on the charismatic hour numerals would have severely impacted the feel of the final product.
Shinola powers the Mechanic series with the hand-wound Sellita SW210-1 movement. Performance for the SW210-1 is standard fare, with a 42-hour power reserve and a 28,800 bpd beat rate. Like the case and dial, however, Shinola takes a special interest in the movement’s finishing. Black-coated bridges and a matching balance cock are topped with crisp Côtes de Genève to add an extra punch to the design, while nearly all visible screws are blued and several gear train elements receive a deep, dramatic radial brushing. Although it may not be the absolute finest movement work in this segment, it’s undeniably stylish, and should make for an excellent conversation piece when showing the watch to others. To complete the Mechanic’s classic look, Shinola pairs each watch in the collection with tuck and roll-style textured straps in soft, grained Nappa leather. Finished in mahogany brown for the cream dial model, deep black for the black dial, and a deep avocado green for the olive drab variant, these straps further the vintage American automotive flavor of the overall design, and are impressively comfortable out of the box.
With a classic, easily wearable look, attractive colorways, solid finishing, and an automotive spirit that dares to step away from the racy Eurocentric feel of most car-themed watch designs, the new Shinola Mechanic series is a charismatic slice of idealized vintage Americana that may well be its most complete enthusiast-focused offering to date. The Shinola Mechanic series is available now through authorized dealers. MSRP for each model in the Shinola Mechanic line stands at $1,450 USD as of press time. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.