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Collector Confessions: What Was the Watch that Started it All?

I’m new to working at Feldmar, but I’ve been collecting watches for just over 10 years. In this time, I’ve accumulated some tips, tricks, advice, observations, and, yes, confessions that I hope are worth sharing. So, consider this the pilot episode of a new series that you can enjoy whenever you need some watch distraction in your life.

Anyways, I’ll start at the beginning. After I meet someone new, and they ask the inevitable, “how did you get into watches,” I usually get the follow up, “what then was your first ‘real’ watch?” By “real” I assume they mean anything that costs more than an inflation-adjusted $250.

I think my first watch watch was one of those 80s Casio calculator jobs that was then followed a few years later by a bizarre monstrosity that could store and dial your friends phone numbers—when I mean dial their numbers, I mean you would have to go to a pay phone, put in a quarter, and ‘play’ the dial tone of your friend’s number through the watch’s speaker into the payphone’s mouthpiece. At the time, it seemed pretty rad.

Casio Databank
Circa 1990 Casio Databank—the iPhone’s ancestor?

Now that you know that 1) I’m old and 2) I was not much of a hit with the ladies back then, let’s move on…

The year was 2012. America was coming out of one of the worst recessions of all time. The Red Dawn movie reboot happened (more horrendous than that Databank watch), and it reminded us that we were vulnerable. There was, as Jimmy Carter put it, a general malaise, a crisis of confidence in America’s place in the world.

Then along came a watch-based reboot of a defunct but beloved American shoe polish brand, Shinola, which helped kick off the made-in-the-USA trend. Shinola promised a watch that was made in the USA by Americans in the classically American city of Detroit, birthplace of most great American music and home to a perennially bad American football team.

Since then, Shinola has gotten into a bit of trouble over its “made in the USA” labeling, but that still wouldn’t have stopped me. The messaging still hit home, and there was a great story: an American renaissance was underway in one of the most unlikely of places. Back then I didn’t know quartz from mechanical, lug-width from luggage, or, frankly, s*** from Shinlola, but I was going to be part of this comeback, and it made me feel good, damnit!

So, this is as much a story about marketing (and Shinola’s marketing roots have now been well studied) as it is about horology. The watch I wound up getting was a Runwell Chrono 47MM. I loved the blue dial, the Horween Leather strap, the classic-but-rugged look. Here’s the version that Feldmar is offering: SHINOLA RUNWELL 47MM.

At the time, I had never paid more than $150 or so on a watch, so this was a real luxury. I showed my friends and family my new watch and the patriotic spirit behind it, and they were impressed. However, one work colleague at the time exclaimed, “dude, you paid how much for a quartz watch?” I shot back: “Damn right, I did. This watch is awesome. It looks great. Keeps great time and is [basically] made here. So why don’t you go drive your imported car into a lake while eating profiteroles.”

I’ve mellowed a lot since then. I know now that the true prevenance of watches, like cars, doesn’t mean that much anymore. Some parts are made elsewhere. Assembly can occur just about anywhere. Jingoism is not a virtue.

What I will say is that this watch makes a great (early) collecting piece because of the high quality to price ratio. It’s more pedigreed that a “fashion” brand, and for newbie collectors, it’s just not that much of a risk. Should you buy this watch because years from now it will be worth 3x as much? No, you should buy it because it’s well made and will last long enough for you to pass it on and say, this was my first watch, and it has a great story. Then you can eventually build on this and start moving into the wild world of automatics, chronographs, tourbillons, et al.

That’s all for now. Next time on Collector Confessions: I know what you did watch-wise during the pandemic…

Shinola Runwell 47
Behold! My First “Real” Watch

About The Author: Matthew Rosenberg


Matt was born in New York City where he lived until 2007 when he moved to Los Angeles. He has also spent significant time in Vermont and London, UK.

Prior to attending business school, he worked as a researcher for the Council on Foreign Relations in New York where he specialized in international economics and military affairs. He then worked on Wall Street for a time before focusing on marketing and e-commerce in industries as diverse as SaaS, higher education, legal, national retail, non-profit and financial services.

Matt is an avid watch collector and a published author who has been writing business and marketing content for over 20 years. In his spare time, Matt writes, plays, and records music and is always up for a discussion on everything from fine timepieces to international affairs and military history.

Read more from Matthew Rosenberg

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