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Shinola Mechanic 39

The Return of American Watch Design at its Finest

The year was 2017 and I was working at a contemporary and modern art museum in Washington, D.C. This was a few years before I switched careers to writing about watches full-time and a few years into my horological obsession. The museum had a small shop in the basement and sold things I mostly couldn’t care for. However, there was a narrow and tall glass display case with Shinola watches. I didn’t know anything about the brand at that time and, honestly, my knowledge of watches was still pretty basic. But I was immediately intrigued by the brand and its models. I can’t remember the name of the one that I liked the most but it had a Dirty Dozen look whilst appearing resolutely modern and well built. 

How ironic it is that today we’re going to be looking at a Shinola? And not just any model but one that you will most likely not be surprised I would review: their latest release called the Mechanic 39. I imagine you won’t be surprised because you may have noticed a trend in the type of watches I like to talk about—tool watches and vintage/military-inspired timekeeping devices. Although I never thought it would be possible, I now embrace dateless watches as I did fall in love with their timelessness, classicism, and overall good symmetrical looks. As the old adage goes: “Never say never.” So, without further ado, let’s take a look at my first Shinola and one which I can already tell will leave a long-lasting impression on me. 


While I recently veered towards smaller watches, I must admit that a well-designed 39mm mechanical watch does bring me a lot of joy. As you can tell from the photos, the Shinola Mechanic comes with a cushion-style case reminiscent of Panerai, though a type of design which seems to have been more common in the past than one could originally believe. At least, that’s where I’m at. As its name indicates, the Mechanic has a diameter of 39mm and it comes with a lug-to-lug of 46.6mm, a thickness of 12.5mm, and a lug width of 20mm. The combination of the case shape—and specifically how thin and short the wire lugs are—with the dimensions makes for a satisfying and comfortable wearing experience. I’ve never tried this type of case before and now I understand why so many people like them so much.

I also appreciate the domed sapphire crystal and how its gentle slope blends in with the fixed bezel and the overall roundness of the case. The entire case is just one soft rounded line that runs all around and that makes the case look well-balanced and symmetrical. Still speaking of the case, it is made of what the brand calls “Brushed PVD Khaki” which is a coating applied to the stainless steel case that gives it an old school bronze appearance. The latter is matched by old radium colored lume applied on all hour markers and the hour and minute hands. The lume application is great and charges rather quickly. To make the Mechanic legible, Shinola opted for a matte finish on the dial (it has a very fine sand texture) and hands so that they contrast well and don’t reflect light. 

Lastly when speaking of specifications, you should know that although the Shinola Mechanic only comes with 50 meters of water resistance, the trade is that you get a see-through case-back which makes it possible for us to admire the elegant manual-wind Sellita SW210-1 caliber that beats at 28,800 BPH and has 42 hours of power reserve. This movement comes with a safety-mechanism which prevents untrained watch nerds from over-winding the mainspring, and it is paired with a well-executed, grippy push/pull crown that is large and is endowed with a superb winding action. 


What’s impossible to demonstrate in the photos is the depth the dial is endowed with. The latter is domed, meaning that it slopes down towards the edges and upon closer inspection, one can see how the large printed Arabic numerals are actually printed at an angle. (Something I’m sure can’t be easy to execute so flawlessly.) The dome of the dial matches that of the crystal, and to guarantee superlative legibility, Shinola opted to curve the tip of the minute and seconds hand. (Also note how the hour hand ends just where the dial curves downwards.) This way, and despite the curved dial and domed crystal, reading the time is easy at any angle, regardless of the distortions created at the edges of the crystal. The latter generally bothers me as, more often than not, domed crystals come with intense distortions that make reading the time difficult. 

The leather strap also perfectly matches the style of the watch. And this is one of the very rare occasions when I didn’t swap the stock strap for something else—something surprising for someone who describes himself as a “compulsive strap swapper.” Usually, I don’t like whatever strap or bracelet a watch is on, especially leather straps which tend to be too stiff, too long, and require too much time to break in. Nah, that’s not the case here. The vintage-style black/chocolate brown strap comes with a matte appearance which works oh just so well with the dial, and the PVD buckle perfectly matches the case. Such a nice strap! And I can’t believe I’m saying that. 

Another visual element which has totally seduced me is the subtle alternation of finishes on the case. The Mechanic 39 comes with high-polished accents on the flanks and fixed bezel, and satin-brushed surfaces on the top of the case and lugs. This means that little light is being reflected when looking at the watch straight down—which is good given that the domed crystal does come with some serious flecto—while a lot of it shines when holding the watch at an angle. I particularly adore how the light plays differently in various areas of the copper-looking case. The whole thing looks and feels amazing on the wrist and I’ve never quite experienced that before. 

The Heart of the Matter

At the heart of the matter is the fact that Shinola is a brand which I believe to be massively misunderstood. Although I didn’t know much about it when I first encountered it during my museum job in D.C. (see introduction,) over the years I came to know the brand as making expensive watches that were generally too large. True, many of the models currently appearing in the brand’s catalog tend to be too large for my taste, however the Mechanic 39—along with the Monster Automatic GMT with its 40mm case—demonstrate two things about Shinola. First, that the brand is embracing the trend for smaller watches. Two, the fact that the Detroit-based watch brand is refining its design language. 

If there is only one thing you should know about Shinola is this: it’s the first brand to have opened a watch manufacturing facility in the United States in the past 50+ years. Indeed, while many of the U.S.’s iconic brands closed their doors during or right after the Quartz Revolution—which should be better known as the “Quartz Crisis’—or moved production to Switzerland (hello Hamilton!) Shinola decided to revive the American tradition for watchmaking which was a bold and risky move. Because making watches in the U.S. means a higher production cost and, therefore, a higher retail price. However, many bet on Shinola and encouraged the brand to push forward. Without this, the brand wouldn’t have been able to create something like the Mechanic 39.

You know me, I like to speak the truth. So here it is. Despite its higher-than-usual-price-tag-for-Mainspring of $1,550, I’m very impressed by the quality of the Shinola Mechanic. Not only is the finishing on the case refined and showcases seamless transitions, but everything from the crown action—that is absolutely stunning!—to the printing on the dial and the juxtaposition of a curved dial and domed crystal, is superb. The Mechanic 39 is exceptionally made and accurate, both in the sense that reading the time is easy and that the movement runs very well, it’s also somewhat of a subtle statement piece that calls out for attention. Not in the Rolex Submariner-flex-kind-of-way, but in the “Hey, look at handsome and well made I am!” kind of way. 


Although $1,500 is more than the majority of the watches I review, the price is absolutely justified here. No, Shinola hasn’t been around for two centuries, however it does feel as it it has. Opening a brand new factory in one of America’s oldest manufacturing center was bold and risky, and what came out of this event is the creation of bold and risky timepieces. While many of Shinola’s models are larger than 40mm, the brand is now offering smaller models that fit humans endowed with smaller wrists like your truly. At the end of the day, for $1,500 you get a beautiful and unique looking watch that is well-made with great components, and that has the added benefit of having been designed and assembled in the good old US of A. 

You can learn more about Shinola and the Mechanic here. Note that this model comes in four color variants. 

Thanks for reading. 


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