Shinola Brakeman Review

 

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I’ve written a decent amount about Shinola since they came onto the market, as they captured my interest. This was first by being right from my old hometown, but also by bringing watch manufacturing to the States, and (most compellingly) creating some very nice-looking watches. Today, we’ve got a hands-on review of a model I’ve not seen reviewed anywhere else – the Shinola Brakeman.

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Yes, that’s right, it’s not a Runwell model that you might see popping up all over the place – and frankly, I’m surprised I’ve not seen the Brakeman being reviewed. Perhaps it’s just my own personal tastes, but the modified cushion case is a classic style. And, as our review model paired an electric blue dial with a lovely brown strap, it was right up my alley.

Shinola-Packaging

When you first get a Shinola watch, you’re greeted by some very cool packaging. You’ve got a wooden box keeping your precious new timepiece safe, which is held shut by a magnetic enclosure (just don’t set the watch on that, ok?) Often times, watch packaging is something that gets shoved off on a shelf somewhere, or recycled (if it’s minimal). With this box, though, I could see actually keeping it out to keep the watch in it. Or, perhaps clearing out the inserts and using the box as a sort of valet. Either way, I think this is a watch box that won’t just collect dust for many buyers.

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But, watch boxes aren’t why we’re here, is it? No, this is about the watch. As I mentioned, the style and colors used in this particular version of the Brakeman were right up my alley. Surprisingly, it was right up my wife’s alley as well. When I went to put it on one day, I couldn’t find it anywhere. When I asked her if she had seen it, it was already on her wrist. If that isn’t a vote of confidence in the piece, I’m not sure what else would be. It’s also a WWR first – this is the first watch I’ve had her “steal”!

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Her only complaint about the watch was that she felt that the deployant clasp was digging into her wrist. On the other hand, I didn’t find that to be an issue, but I’ve also been accustomed to that sort of feeling. Given that the straps are from Hadley Roma, though, I think it would be a simple matter to find a thumbnail buckle that would work quite nicely, should you find the deployants irritating. And, if you do swap it out, you’re not changing the look of the watch all that much. This is because (surprisingly), the buckle isn’t signed at all. It seems to me that this would be a perfect spot for the Shinola lightning bolt to make it’s appearance. Perhaps as the brand matures we’ll see that added into the mix.

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Regardless of the buckle, the strap holds the 40mm cushion case in place quite nicely. While you’ve got that familiar squared-off shape, it actually presents a bit smaller than you might otherwise think. This is due first to the polished bezel around the crystal, which visually catches the eye; it’s also helped by the narrowing that occurs as you get to the edge of the case. The case finishing overall is very well done, with alternating brushed and polished surfaces. This allows for nice bits of “flash”, while keeping the fingerprint-magnet (polished) surfaces mostly out of direct site.

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Set into that polished bezel you’ve got a sapphire crystal with another first for my reviewing track record – and under-mounted cyclops on the date window. I’m still undecided (in general) as to whether or not I like a cyclops. While I appreciate it helps to make the date easier to read, it makes for an odd look (as any lens would) when you’re at an off-angle. That said, if you’re going to have one, I think the undermount is the better option, as it presents a much smoother profile, and keeps it from getting bashed around.

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Of course, the primary job of the crystal is to protect what’s underneath it. Here, on the Brakeman, we’ve got a very clean dial (on this model, in a great shade of blue) with minimal text – thought Detroit is proudly displayed. The length of the handset is spot on for the dial, and well proportioned to one another. That said, I wouldn’t have minded them being a touch wider to better fit the proportions of the case. I’m also a little unclear as to why we’ve got numerals at 12, and stick indices everywhere else. To me, if the cardinal points are going with indices, they should all have them (perhaps a double stripe at 12 to orient the watch). A minor point, to be sure, but one that caught me a little by surprise.

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Over to the side of the case, you have what seems to be a too-small crown. It’s nicely textured, though, and that makes it easy to grip. This allows the width of the crown to be a bit smaller, which keeps it from digging into your wrist (always appreciate). That leaves just the back of the case to discuss – and wow, what a nice caseback. You’ve got what appears to be an applied medallion, with the Shinola branding and the serial number of the watch. For something that isn’t seen all that often, it is a nice attention to detail.

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While it might seem like this would dig into your wrist, I really didn’t experience that. In fact, I found the watch to be rather comfortable, once the deployant on the 20mm strap was adjusted to the right size. With a weight of only 96g, this is also a lighter watch, which helps in the comfort department for sure. This is a watch that worked well both around the house and at the office, and it could ostensibly work in a dressier situation, although you might want/need to swap out the strap for a dark color in that scenario.

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It’s safe to say, I liked the Shinola Brakeman (although, for a train-based name, it’s interesting there’s no locomotive references on the piece), and it quickly became one of my favorites from their lineup. For those who like a nice cushion case, this is one of the slimmer options I’ve run across in the last year or two. At a price of $675, it’s definitely on the higher end for a three-hander quartz. Is it worth it? I’ll admit to being biased to the Detroit connection, so I’d be tempted by it. Take that out, though, and you’re still left with the fact you’re picking up a built-in-the-U.S. watch, which is a relative rarity these days. So, yes, the price is higher than I might expect, but I think it’s a premium that the people these watches speak to will overlook.

Review Summary

  • Brand & Model: Shinola Brakeman
  • Price: $675
  • Who’s it for?: Someone wanting to jump into the Detroit bandwagon, but hasn’t had the more popular Runwell model speak to them
  • Would I wear it?: Provided my wife didn’t get hold of it first!
  • What I’d change: Widen the handset, use indices at 12, and a signed buckle
  • The best thing about it: The overall look combined with a slimmed down cushion case
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  • Jim Scollin

    Patrick…Perhaps the Shinola company read your review. For my birthday in March of 2014, I purchased this very model…the Brakeman. Having worked in Detroit radio for several years, I thought I would support this new, Detroit-based company. Besides…I love the look of the watch. On my watch, there is now and orange lightening bolt on the buckle! Perhaps they added that in 2014. JAS63

    • Patrick Kansa

      Jim – thanks for the update! Want to send us a quick shot of the new buckle?

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