Shinola, the Detroit-based maker of hipster-oriented briefcases, bicycles, and watches, has taken some flak since its 2011 inception, most prominently for its American heritage-oriented marketing campaigns and, at times, exaggerated claims of U.S. manufacture. It became serious. In 2016, the Federal Trade Commission ruled that Shinola must no longer include “Made in the USA” or similar claims in its marketing materials and must become more transparent regarding its manufacturing and supply chain processes, a blow which might have upended the brand. Some watch enthusiasts have also been tough on Shinola, citing high retail prices for relatively simple watches equipped with inexpensive Swiss-made Ronda quartz movements, which are, in fact, assembled in a Detroit factory from Swiss-made components.
In an apparent answer to its critics, Shinola released its first diver’s watch and first automatic as a limited edition of 500 pieces in 2017. The new watch was called the “Lake Erie Monster” in accordance with Detroit’s location on the Great Lake and the legend of the oft-sighted but still at-large monster purportedly lurking in its murky depths. Last year, Shinola expanded the collection with a non-limited Monster dive watch for each of the freshwater seas. A few months ago, Shinola again broadened its undersea (lake?) offering with the Bronze Monster, a 300-meter water resistant Sellita SW200-1-powered, sapphire- and ceramic-equipped diver’s watch in an on-trend 43mm CuSn6 bronze case.
Having spent last winter working underwater beneath one of the Motor City’s less savory neighborhoods as a commercial diver, I have a beguiling soft spot for the city and jumped at the chance to review Shinola’s newest aquatic time-teller. Given Shinola’s history and my admittedly limited experience with the brand, I approached the review with some trepidation but decided to set Shinola’s past and marketing aside to let the Bronze Monster speak for itself, as it should, as a watch on my wrist.
SHINOLA MONSTER DIAL: LEGIBLE AND REFINED
Other than being offered in more colors, the Shinola Monster dial is, with good reason, little changed since its release in 2017, as it is a thoughtful, highly legible, and distinctive design. With an inky-black gloss enamel dial surface and applied rectangular indices inlaid heavily with Super-LumiNova, paired with tapered, rectangular, Super-LumiNova-coated hands and a seconds hand with an intriguing spade-shaped tip, the Bronze Monster’s dial is instantly recognizable and in keeping with Shinola’s design language across the collection. Dial text, which I generally dislike, is pleasantly minimal, with only Shinola’s signature and lightning bolt logo at 12 and “Automatic” in retro-futuristic text at 6 o’clock. Very cool.
A white-on-black date wheel sits just inside the low-key 4 o’clock position and doesn’t interrupt the dial design, instead sits back waiting to be needed as white-on-black date wheels do so well. It’s important to note here that nowhere on the Bronze Monster dial is there any claim of geographic identity or country of manufacture. Instead, at 6 o’clock on the dial’s perimeter, where you’d often find “Swiss Made” or the like, Shinola has simply printed “1000ft 300m,” keeping the overall design uncluttered while attempting not to further irritate the watch-buying public and FTC as its done in the past.
There are a few little nuggets in the Shinola dial for those who care to look. Namely, the twelve o’clock hour marker is shaped like the international alpha (diver down) nautical signal flag, typically used by commercial divers and the US Navy in conjunction with the more common red flag with a diagonal white stripe to indicate a diver’s presence below. The Monster’s minute hand, essential to dive timing for the select few who still do it with a watch, is especially long, with its lumed sections broken in two to further differentiate it from the much shorter hour hand, a nice touch on what is at least intended as a capable diving watch. Finally, the spade-shaped point on the seconds hand is well done and helps to give the dial an overall interesting and refined look, executed well even for the price. Overall, this is a clean dial with instant legibility and a luxurious level of attention to detail. Not to leave you guys in the dark (get it?), the lume is also excellent on the Monster’s dial and hands and lasts all night, even on five-hour dives in dark water.
THE 43MM CASE FOR BRONZE
In the last couple of years, as evidenced by releases from Tudor, Panerai, and others, bronze has been very much in vogue as a case material. Much loved for its ability to develop a patina over time, bronze ages either naturally on the wrist or by chemical means to create a rugged, custom look, individual to a particular watch and wrist. For those who prefer clean bronze, simple household chemicals can quickly remove patina to recreate a brand new look. Being a nautical kind of guy, I really enjoy the look of bronze. It reminds me of diving the Mk V helmet and shining shell casings in my early military days. As it patinates, the Shinola Monster’s case becomes richer in color and texture, adding interest day by day. If you’re the stare-at-your watch type, and you probably are if you’re here, watching bronze patinate is fun in a cheap-thrills kind of way. If you can’t wait for patina, there are simple means of speeding the patina along as readily available as a hard-boiled egg. Google away.
All this talk about bronze should not take away from the actual case shape of the Monster, which is excellent. At 43mm-wide and 15.6mm-thick, this is a large watch in keeping with its Monster name but a reasonable 51-millimeter lug-to-lug (my measurement) and a carefully sculpted case bottom (supposedly inspired by a boat’s hull) combine for extreme comfort and wearability, even on my small 6.25” wrist. Crown guards, always welcome on a diver’s watch, protect the easily-gripped, large-diameter screw-down crown, which is signed with Shinola’s lightning bolt. Crown action on the Monster really is excellent for winding and setting, and it screws down beautifully as well.
Just below the domed, interior AR-coated sapphire crystal, a unidirectional, 120-click rotating elapsed time bezel is also executed in bronze, complete with a charcoal-colored ceramic insert with raised bronze indices. The Bronze Monster’s bezel is easy to grab even with gloves on and features some of the better bezel action I’ve experienced. Matte ceramic as an insert material should promise a high degree of durability while also visually complementing both the glossy dial and brushed case surfaces. Raised bronze graduations on the bezel complete a three-dimensional and interesting overall look and ensure that the patina won’t stop at just the case.
SELLITA SW200-1, NOT EARTH SHATTERING, BUT SOLID
In or around this price point, we are more than likely to see a Swiss sports watch equipped with either the ETA 2824-2 or the Sellita SW200-1, both of which are dependable, durable, and nearly identical calibers from two of the largest Swiss houses of movement manufacture. While the original limited-edition Lake Erie Monster housed an Argomatic R-150 movement developed between Shinola and Swiss giant Ronda AG, Shinola’s Bronze Monster depends on the more pedestrian Sellita SW200-1 for timekeeping purposes. Even though the SW200-1 isn’t necessarily sexy, it is a rock-solid, proven, and accurate time-teller that makes perfect sense in a watch marketed toward the diving crowd. We at ABTW have already gone into much depth on this movement here, but the short version is that the SW200-1 is a 24 jewel, 38-hour reserve, automatic time and date caliber which beats at a near-standard 28,800vph. My Bronze Monster has kept excellent time at right around plus four seconds a day when worn, which is great time-keeping, no matter who made the watch.
U.S.-SOURCED LEATHER AND KHAKI ZULU STRAPS
Shinola is perhaps as well known for its straps as it is for its watches, often utilizing U.S.-sourced leather from brands such as Horween in Chicago, as well as U.S.-produced rubber from Stern Rubber Company in Staples, Minnesota. The Bronze Monster’s included brown leather strap, while not affiliated with the aforementioned brands, is still produced in the U.S. from “premium teak-leather” and has a distressed look and soft feel on the wrist. It’s incredibly soft and feels broken-in after about two hours of wear. For the spring-bar-tool-challenged, the leather strap has a little quick-release lever at the lugs for tool-free strap removal. In short, this leather strap complements the bronze case on the Monster really well and is comfortable. A bronze-plated buckle finishes off the look. My one quibble with this strap is that the second keeper stretches out quite easily, slides off the end of the strap, and has to be put back in place throughout the day. Not a big deal, but maybe a deal.
Of course, a leather strap doesn’t make any sense on a watch designed for aquatic use (don’t get me started), but Shinola is way ahead of us and has also provided a khaki-colored five-ring zulu strap (which they call a G10, for no reason) with matching bronze hardware. With the spring bars on the leather strap built into its quick-release system, Shinola has had to include a set in the box for wearers who want to rock the nylon strap. Once set up, it’s a decent zulu strap, though it does make the already tall watch sit up a bit taller on the wrist (especially on my small 6.25” wrist.) Minor gripes aside, it’s nice of Shinola to include two wearing options and at least the zulu hardware matches. I’d personally love to see a rubber strap in the package, but I’m getting greedy.
Frankly, Shinola’s Bronze Monster is a lot nicer than I expected it to be in look, feel, and timekeeping. While it’s not inexpensive for what it is, it’s just about as good as the more expensive Oris Carl Brashear Limited Edition (and has better lume), and it doesn’t look or feel all that much less refined than the excellent and much more expensive Tudor Black Bay Bronze, though that watch, indeed is equipped with an in-house-caliber. For lovers of bronze diving watches, especially those with a soft spot for U.S. assembly, if not complete manufacture, Shinola’s maiden bronze release presents an interesting and truly different-looking design compared with many other choices of both lesser and greater cost. Further, the Bronze Monster demonstrates an intent from Shinola to push past its previous mass-market offerings to compete in the actual premium watch space. While its initial attempts at returning watch manufacture to the U.S. were imperfect, the brand has refined its messaging to more accurately demonstrate how “American” its products are. If the Bronze Monster is any indication of what Shinola is now capable of or interested in, I for one am excited to see what’s next out of Detroit. The Bronze Monster is available from shinola.com for $1650.
Model: Bronze Monster
Size: 43mm x 51mm x 15.6mm
Would the reviewer personally wear it: Yes. It’s a distinctive, high-quality bronze diver with at least some U.S. roots.
Friend we’d recommend it to first: Most patriotic bronze-curious diver’s watch fan I know.
Best characteristic of watch: The bronze case is perfectly executed with a comfortable and visually interesting shape.
Worst characteristic of watch: I wish the watch came with a U.S.-made rubber strap as other Monster models do, but I understand why they went with leather.