Shinola keeps Detroit ticking by making watches

Remember when Americans made stuff by hand in America? Today, one company has kept that tradition alive since 2011 by hand making watches in the watch-making capitol of America, Detroit.

In a time when people would rather dodge Detroit, Shinola embraced the Motor City with open arms. While exploring Detroit for a place to set up shop, company president Jacques Panis took a tour of the College of Creative Studies.  Coincidentally, the elevator stopped on the fifth floor of the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education, formerly known as the General Motors Research Laboratory. As the door opened, Panis saw what he was looking for, a vacant space with thousands of square feet available. With the help of Swiss movement manufacturer Ronda, the watch-making company renovated the space into a state-of-the-art watch factory and company headquarters. Since founding the company back in 2011, Shinola has become a household name in Detroit and is worn by blue-collar workers and celebrities alike.

Shinola’s RUNWELL watch. Photo from

To find out more about Shinola and what the company has been up to recently, LookUpDetroit interviewed Panis and Master Watchmaker Stefan Mihoc.

LookUpDetroit: Why Detroit? What made you want to base your company in Detroit?

Jacques Panis: It’s the people. The people inspired us. The American manufacturing heritage inspired us. If you look at the United States in an historical point of view, we have some of the greatest innovators ever in the history of the world. When we came to Detroit and started visiting people and meeting them, we realized how rich the manufacturing DNA was here in the city and how important quality and craftsmanship was to the city. We’re making small engines and our engines make watches tick.

LUD: What does your product stand for?

JP: Our products stand for quality and American craftsmanship. They stand for what we’re able to do here in the United States. They’re products built for a lifetime and come with a lifetime guarantee. They’re the embodiment of American manufacturing. What you’re seeing is manufacturing coming back to our shores.

LUD : Who is Shinola targeting to buy their products?

JP: Shinola’s for everyone.

LUD: How has Shinola given back to Detroit?

JP: Shinola’s a small part of this incredible movement in Detroit. People have been working for decades in this city to make it what it is today. We’re part of this community and doing everything we can to play a positive role in the current movement of revitalization of this city.

LUD: How has Detroit impacted Shinola?

JP: We’re inspired by Detroit. We’re inspired by what goes on in this city. It’s proof that anything is possible. If you look at the city, the first paved road is right out in front of our door here, Woodward Avenue. The inventions here have changed the world. People from around the globe were coming here to see what Henry Ford was doing. The Henry Fords of the world are the people who inspire us today. It isn’t happening anywhere else in the world. I can take you around the city and show you things that will blow your mind. 

LUD: Are most of Shinola’s employees from Detroit?

JP:  A large share is from Detroit and I’m happy to say I live in Detroit. I can’t think of a better place to be right now. For my kids to have an opportunity to grow and see what’s happening and be a part of that is special and will impact their lives in an amazing way. They’re pioneers and I don’t know what impact they will have.

LUD: How long does it take to make a typical watch and how many do you make per day?

JP: We’re making upwards of 800 watches a day and each watch takes us about an hour.

LUD: How much precision and care goes into making a watch? 

Stefan Mihoc: It takes surgical precision to make a watch and a high level of care and focus on the job.

Watchmakers assemble watches. Photo from

LUD: How many steps does it take to make a watch? 

SM: First of all, you need to plan the project. You need to know what size and style of watch you want to make, what movement you want to put in that watch and plan accordingly. Depending on the movement style, there are between 14-20 different operations on the movement assembly. The movements also go through several quality control stages. Once the movements go to the watch assembly side, there are another 10 operations to assemble and make a complete watch. The watch assembly also includes a number of rigorous quality control processes and technical tests.

LUD: Do you take pride in what you do?

SM: I do take a lot of pride in making watches. Each and every watch that I touch with my hand gets the same care and focus to make the best quality watch.

LUD: An abundance of City Clocks have appeared around Detroit. What is the purpose of this?

JP: They’re to be part of the community. They’re our gifts to the city. They’re randevú points and functional as well. They’re places that people might gather. They’re beautiful and made in America. We hope the people of Detroit will enjoy them and see them as a part of the positive light shining on the city today.

A Shinola clock in Midtown. Photo from

LUD: Shinola recently launched a #saynicethings campaign. What is the goal of the campaign and how is that doing?

JP: We have roughly 2,000 say nice things submitted. We’ve started a bit of a mob-movement for people to say nice things. We’ve accomplished what Emily Gail, the founder of the campaign, wanted this thing to be – a positive, inspirational campaign where people say nice things about the place they live and about people.

To promote their campaign, Shinola painted an ad on the wall of the Holiday Inn in Detroit. For more information, watch the video provided below.

LUD: What are Shinola’s plans for the future?

JP: We have an incredible collaboration with Bruce Weber that we’re working on to bring new products to the market. We’re opening a store in Chicago. We have a lot of wonderful things happening to Shinola and we are forever working to expand and produce quality items.

Watches are just one item on Shinola’s catalog. They also make luxury bicycles, hand-bound leather journals, men’s and women’s accessories and much more. Like their watches, every product Shinola makes is made in America. Shop at their flagship store located at 441 W. Canfield St., Detroit, Mich. 48201 or go online. 

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