Ode to the Open Road: The Traveler

BY Taylor Rebhan

Inspired by road trips and the empire of the sleeping bear. Introducing the Traveler: A watch born out of the natural wonders of the Great Lakes and the great American road trip.

How does an inanimate object gain character? For any product designer, giving a unique personality and identity to a thing is both a challenge and a canvas for creativity. Shinola’s latest watch, The Traveler, is case in point. It’s wanderlust personified, a study of how color, texture, material, and shape can evoke memories of a place you’ve never been—and give a watch its soul.

When Greg Verras, Design Director for Watches, looks back at the beginning of the Traveler, it’s touched with a tinge of irony. “We were concepting and designing throughout the early days of the pandemic. We were thinking, ‘People are gonna want to get out.’ So we started going on that journey: Imagining what it’s going to be like when we’re finally going places again.”

Designers embarked on a path to create a watch that was both elevated and road-ready, a timepiece at the intersection of travel and field. They didn’t have to look far: From Leelenau and Glen Arbor to the Sleeping Bear Dunes, inspiration flowed out of the Empire region of Lake Michigan.

The designers hit the books, pulling cues from vintage “Travel Michigan” posters, post cards, and images from Straight as the Pine, Sturdy as the Oak by Michael Huey, a historical look back at the camps and locations of Northern Michigan through first-person stories and photography.

Long a destination for travelers both local and global, Verras explained that Northern Michigan immediately provided a rich characterization for the watch. “The story began to take shape with a unique and charming warmth, rooted in nostalgia, with a vintage and classic feeling.” Early iterations of the watch even touched on Traverse—inspired by the iconic Cherry Capital of the world, Traverse City—before landing on the universal Traveler.

The slim case profile, two-eyed chronograph details and box crystal lend the Traveler a refined persona. But it’s grounded with textures and colors that give it a friendly, everyday feel. It’s the crossroads where heritage watchmaking and contemporary design meet.

For a watch designer, texture is one of the most immediate and literal ways of evoking a feeling. The eggshell-like dial of the Traveler calls to mind the texture and scrub of sand dunes, somehow both smooth and course at the same time.

The color story sprang from another vintage reference, one familiar to any longtime Shinola fan and historian: Willys Overland Jeeps. Designers created color studies from the more modern post-WWII customizations of those Jeeps. Another tribute to the road-trip and Willys theme: A little tail on the seconds hand is pulled straight from the dashboard speedometer.

As the latest in a long line of Detroit-assembled watches, made to last, the Traveler Chrono features the Argonite 5021.D movement. A range of color options come with a whip-stitch leather strap, or a canvas with leather backing. Future iterations of the watch are already in the making. And because it’s a Shinola, the Traveler is backed with a best-in-class warranty to last a lifetime of road trips—today, tomorrow, and every journey after that.

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