In the pursuit of horological truthiness, I see a lot of watches. And plough through a great deal of regurgitated press releases, pretentious twaddle and simple-minded pimpery. The 25 Best Watch Brands for Every Man’s Budget falls into the latter category. The Men’s Health’s watch guide is so bland I thought I’d wandered into CostCo. I hadn’t. I wandered into nonsense . . .
“Built by hand in Detroit, Shinola is an All-American brand through and through.”
How did Timothy Houser – “a New York-based writer specializing in fashion, style, grooming, travel, and so much more” – miss the controversy surrounding Shinola’s branding?
Shinola made its fortune promoting itself with the tagline “Where American is Made.” In June 2016, the Federal trade Commission issued a cease and desist order against Shinola, forbidding them from using the slogan.
The FTC also ordered the brand to publicly disclose the fact that it uses imported parts. Hence their May 2017 post on their Journal website begins with “All Shinola watches are built in the U.S. with Swiss and other imported parts.” China? Thailand? Vietnam? Somewhere.
Needless to say, Mr Houser’s watch guide had nothing to say about the Texas-born and based brand’s Detroit-flavored messaging, relentlessly exploiting The Motor City’s “Comeback Kid” rep.
Inc.com sure did. Their scathing expose – The Real History of America’s Most Authentic Fake Brand – condemned Shinola’s shtick as “manufactured authenticity.”
After spending most of his career slingshotting between Texas and Asia, [Shinola founder Tom] Kartsotis had set foot in Detroit only a handful of times.
Having mastered manufacturing halfway around the world, he had, at moments, considered establishing a watch factory on U.S. soil. “I talked about it, but never got cracking on it,” he says.
Whether or not Mr. Kartsotis built a watch factory in Detroit – whether or not Shinola can legitimately claim to be an American brand – depends on what you call a “factory.” Pre-COVID, Shinola claimed to employ some 400 “watch assemblers.”
I’m sure the facility’s genesis had nothing to do with Shinola’s “Made in America” PR disaster or the marketing campaigns highlighting its largesse and their employees’ comeback stories. Just as Mr. Houser’s watch guide had nothing to do with making money from affiliate links.
In July 2019, Shinola started laying off employees and closing stores. Expanding the brand from watches to “lifestyle” products has increased their reliance of foreign manufacturing. One thing’s for sure: calling Shinola “an All-American brand through and through” shows Mr. Houser’s ignorance, laziness or collusion.
Speaking of national identity issues . . .
“A Panerai is about as Italian as watches come,” Mr. Houser writes, introducing the watchmaker to newbies reading Baby’s First Watch Guide.
To be fair, planting the Italian flag for potential Paneristi is an easy mistake to make – if you only read the first part of the first sentence of Panerai’s wikipedia entry.
You could say Mr. Houser is more or less right. Panerai is famously – but not practically or legally – Italian. Coraggio amico! Panerai was born in Italy! Its timepieces have Italian style!
Sorry, but even discounting Gucci and Bvlgari, Panerai is not “as Italian as watches come.” That honor belongs to U-BOAT. Its timekeepers are made in Tuscany.
U-BOAT didn’t make Mr. Houser’s watch guide. Meanwhile, jomashop.com is discounting the [true] Italian watchmaker’s models. Just as you may discount this rant as self-indulgent cavil. If so, at least it’s honest self-indulgent cavil.
“New in the business world and want to make a good impression with what’s on your wrist?” Mr. Houser writes, sounding like a 1950’s TV ad, pretending that the economy is hunky-dory. “Seiko is a fantastic option for the young guys looking to dress like a total boss. They’re classic, clean, and handsome pieces that will catch your bosses attention without being too flashy.”
I’m not sure if Mr. Houser has ever worked in a large company, but dressing like a total boss is not the best way to catch the boss’ attention. In fact, since #metoo, dressing to “catch the boss’ attention” reeks of sexual harassment – one way or the other. It also suggests that physical appeal is acceptable currency in the workplace.
The majority of the descriptions in Mr. Houser’s watch guide are inoffensive to the point of pain. I draw your attention to his opening salvos to remind you that watch “journalism” is ill-informed, misleading, corrupt and dumb as a box of rocks. Our job is to do better. Truth be told, we could hardly do worse.
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