January 8, 2023
by Ariel Adams
Based in Detroit, Shinola watches launched with the original Runwell timepiece roughly a decade ago. The headline story at the time was how Shinola was assembling its watches in Detroit, thanks to a major investment from Bedrock (its holding company) in an impressive facility near downtown Detroit. A modern company founded by experts with a deep knowledge of brand-building and selling to consumers in America, Shinola was not originally set up as an enthusiast’s watchmaker. Ten years on, things have changed. Shinola has refined and improved its products, while also increasing its technical expertise. The company’s staff began with assembling Swiss Ronda quartz movements and has since moved on to starting to master the assembly of Swiss mechanical watch movements.
This particular Shinola Runwell Station Agent watch I am reviewing today includes a Sellita automatic movement that is cased and tested in Detroit. I recently visited the factory and saw them putting this watch together. I found the facility to be most analogous to those assembling watches in Europe or Asia. It was heartwarming to see workers in watchmaker’s gowns sitting at the benches who were fellow Americans, a somewhat new experience for me. I also saw how Shinola produces its leather straps in-house. The process produces among the better-made straps on the market. Even if you aren’t into the theme of Shinola timepieces, there is still a viable way to enjoy the brand through its high-value American-made straps.
The Shinola Runwell Station Agent represents the latest look and feel of the Runwell while paying homage to the style that has maintained a fair bit of consistency since the brand’s founding. That visual look begins with a “pocket watch on the wrist” case sized at 45mm-wide and a wall clock-style dial that feels friendly, familiar, and mid-century Americana-inflected. The Runwell was a cleverly designed watch that took years to prove its merit and has also benefitted from a lot of upgrades. This Runwell Station Agent is sturdy and durable, with great case polishing and detailing that feels higher-end than the retail price would suggest. It is, in truth, a good value at its sub-$1,500 price point.
The Station Agent name (which comes from train station agents, who, during busy times in American history helped usher countless daily passengers to their destinations) is meant to signify the new Runwell automatic collection, which features a subsidiary seconds dial (versus a central seconds hand). This is a classier look, and more effectively connects a central part of the design theme with the look of classic pocket watches. The subdial is slightly recessed and features a snailing finish. The rest of the dial details are excellent, including the shape of the date window (which doesn’t cut off the 3 o’clock hour indicator) and the length of the hands. Shinola currently produces the Runwell Station Agent in off-white, but additional colors will be coming later in 2023. While it is also somewhat off-brand (given that focus on the in-house made straps), Shinola does offer a bracelet for Runwell Station Agent watch that I think works quite well with this case. Over the dial is a slightly domed sapphire crystal that produces some glare, but it isn’t too bad.
If you balk at the 45mm-wide case size, then be aware that Shinola does make a smaller version of the Runwell. That said, the watch doesn’t wear overly large. The case is only 12mm thick (not including the lugs), and the lug-to-lug distance is only a bit under 50mm. That means this wears rather modestly for a 45mm-wide size. The rounded and polished steel case has a narrow bezel and offers ample space for the efficient dial. The hour markers and hands are painted in Super-LumiNova, and the matte-black outer hands offer excellent legibility and contrast against the main face. (Shinola refers to this off-white hue as “vellum.”) The subsidiary seconds dial is also helpful in making the best use of space on the face, which is a designer’s love letter to classic American clocks.
Attached to the case is a 22mm-wide made-in-Detroit leather strap in a brown color and texture that Shinola calls “Cattail Grizzly.” For convenience, the strap is paired with quick-release spring bars so that you can easily put others on the Station Agent watch. Even though the case has a screw-down crown, it is only water-resistant to 50 meters. I think this is because the caseback is secured using screws (for style purposes) as opposed to being screw-down. I’d like to see Shinola increase water resistance to 100 meters for the stock Runwell in the future, but that is a very minor point. Through the caseback, you can view the automatic mechanical movement with a custom black-colored Shinola automatic rotor topped with the company lightning bolt logo.
The movement inside the Runwell Station Agent is a Swiss Sellita caliber SW260-1 automatic. This is essentially the SW200 with a subsidiary second dial. It operates at 4Hz, and has roughly two days of power reserve. Again, the movement is assembled in Switzerland but cased and tested by Shinola in-house at its factory in Detroit. So while this is not a purely American movement, I think it is about as emotionally satisfying as one, and it combines practicality with movement reliability that most consumers will probably end up appreciating.
For years, I’ve seen quartz Shinola Runwell watches on the wrists of regular people who liked the brand. Now with its automatic models in improved products like the Runwell Station Agent, Shinola has opened up the world of its most popular timepiece collection to more enthusiasts. The brand is steadfastly including more assembled-in-America mechanical watches alongside the now-familiar assembled-in-America quartz movements. Of course, there are now entire Shinola model collections that feature mechanical watches exclusively.
By design, the Shinola Runwell Station Agent is a conservative vintage-style timepiece meant to celebrate a sense of nostalgic Americana, with an authentic story about urban revival in the great city of Detroit. That is a story that will certainly appeal to some consumers more than others, but I think there is plenty in the United States for a product like this to be a major hit. Even though this is a newer model, Shinola is doing well with it. As a humble-yet-handsome daily watch or gift, the Runwell Station Agent is a really nice item from Shinola. Price (each piece has an individual serial number) is $1,450 USD. Learn more at the Shinola website.
>Model: Runwell Station Agent (“vellum” dial color as tested.)
>Size: 45mm-wide, 12mm-thick, and ~50mm lug-to-lug distance.
>When reviewer would personally wear it: As a sensible and comfortable casual-wear watch anytime I want to feel a bit of American pride.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Mechanical watch enthusiasts interested in the Runwell design seeking a bold-faced dress watch for versatile wear.
>Best characteristic of watch: Refined case and dial design. Great story for anyone with an interest in American assembly or Detroit. Fancy packaging. Fashionably versatile. Priced fairly.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Slight glare due to the sapphire crystal shape.