It’s been quite a while since we spotlighted a brand in our “Microbrand Monday” series, last time going hands-on with Martenero’s Edgemere Reserve. This week we are back, now turning our focus to a company well known in the watch enthusiast community in and around New York City with Brew Watch Co.
The independent company is led by founder and designer Jonathan Ferrer. Inspired by industrial espresso machines and their “special blend of warm contrasting colors and a variety of brushing effects,” the brand’s uniquely designed watches have made waves since their initial launch in 2015, starting with the aptly named Special Blend model. Since then, Brew has unveiled three successive designs in its High Pressure (HP-1, two versions pictured below), Retrograph, and Mastergraph series, in the process gaining itself a loyal fanbase both for the personality of the brand and its founder, and for the truly unique value proposition its watches present.
Jonathan Ferrer and Brew Watch Co.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Ferrer and learn a little more about his background and his firsthand experience leading the Brew brand since its initial debut. Ferrer continues to be the sole operator of Brew, serving as its lead designer, project manager, engineer, photographer, marketer, and salesman, working with outside teams only for production, with specialized manufacturers assisting in prototyping, testing, and ultimately producing the brand’s models. He studied industrial design at NJIT (where he is now a guest professor teaching watch design), and began his career in watches first at Movado while still in school. After graduation, he started contributing his talents to a few other companies before entering freelance design and then formally founding Brew.
It was during his time as a freelancer that Ferrer gained his inspiration for the contemporary “caffeinated” company, having spent countless hours in cafes — his informal “studio space,” as he calls it. There, he produced designs for various watch brands, but through it all deeply wanted to own something of his own, to “design and create watches that were substantial in their quality and make [them] attainable across the board… I wanted to make my brand and watches approachable by everyone.” With the coffee shop as his workplace and his mind made up, the café space soon became his steeping inspiration for a new and uncommon brand, with Brew bubbling up shortly after in a Kickstarter campaign, and its first batch of watches shipping that following June (Special Blend pictured below).
While it’s easy to take microbrands for granted these days, in 2015 when Brew first launched, the longer term viability of that category was frequently called into question. Only a few brands existed in the space, and the market was barely fledgling at only a few years old, far from being as thriving and diverse as we find it today. Despite the uncertainty, Ferrer persisted in his pursuit of owning and operating his business, continuing a dynastic line of jewelers that began with his great grandfathers, who were designers at Cartier, carried through to his father (another jeweler), and now resides with him. In this way, Brew is one of the few “OGs” in the microbrand space, with the still-young Ferrer steadily becoming a fixture as part of its history.
Following our interview, Ferrer was kind enough to forward me the brand’s two latest models, the Mastergraph and the Retrograph, which I was able to go hands-on with for about two weeks.
The first of the two watches is the Brew Mastergraph, the brand’s most recent release, available with either a sunray steel, copper, or matte black dial. The Mastergraph features a 41.5 by 38.0-mm, pillow-shaped case, with integrated chronograph pushers and a coffee-bean signed crown which serves as the brand’s alternative logo. Surrounding the dial of the Mastergraph, we find a minimalist bidirectional bezel with a “shot timer range” marking the 30-to-35-second interim that baristas use to time the optimal espresso extraction time. Like previous Brew models, the shot timer takes its inspiration from 1930s telephone timer watches, whose special markings highlighted the three-minute range that indicated when another coin was needed in the bygone payphones of yesteryear.
The brand cites sporty 1960s case designs as its inspiration for the Mastergraph’s shape, with the funky style reminiscent of some of the pillow-shaped models made by Omega and Bulova, among a few other brands, during that decade. However, Brew makes the design distinctly its own, not only in the pushers and crown, but further in the hidden lugs and the quick-release black leather strap that secures the case to the wrist.
On the dial, a tachymetric-inspired minute ring surrounds the outer edge, marked with applied, lume-accented markers for each hour; small applied circle markers are also used for the top three hours and for four of the bottom five. The last prominent detail on the dial are the three square subdials matching the silhouette of the steel case, with running seconds at 6 o’clock, 60-minute chronograph counter off-center toward 10 o’clock, and running hours opposite this toward the 2 o’clock position. At the top of the dial we find the straightforward Brew logo, a no-nonsense accent to an otherwise eccentric design.
The watch is powered by Seiko’s VK68 caliber — a hybrid mecha-quartz chronograph movement that features a regular quartz running time feature alongside a mechanical chronograph. It’s very similar to the Seiko VK63 that is prominently used within another popular small, independent brand’s watch — Swedish Nezumi’s Voiture racing chronograph. The mecha-quartz chronograph caliber is one I’m keenly fond of, as it brings together the overall feel of a mechanical caliber, in the movement of the chronograph and subtle ticks of the running seconds on the subdials, with the cost-effectiveness and accuracy of a quartz mechanism. Interestingly, the Mastergraph’s VK68 features a date mechanism, but Brew opted against including the feature in favor of a sole focus on its already engaging dial design.
The Mastergraph as a whole is incredibly interesting. As mentioned, I had the pleasure to wear one for the better part of two weeks, and frequently found myself lauding its many interesting facets to anyone willing to engage with me for a few minutes over video chat (this quarantine is an odd time). It’s comfortable on the wrist,: the 38-mm sizing gives the pillow shape a well-proportioned look, and the unique placement of the subdials keeps you entranced by its face long after it’s become a regular wearer. Possibly due to the black colorway model I had for testing, but also likely due to the hour markers and outer minute ring, I found the watch reminded me quite a bit of an Omega Speedmaster — an unexpected and appreciated influence I became quite fond of in my test wear. And while I don’t have an espresso machine to time any extractions, I did frequently find myself opting to use the watch’s chronograph and bezel during my regular drip-coffee sessions during workdays.
The Mastergraph is currently marketed by the brand for $375, and is available through its online store, here.
The second watch Brew forwarded me for review was the Retrograph model, which preceded the Mastergraph and is best known for its dual-register chronograph as well as its recognizable Brew square-style case. This model also uses a 41.5 by 38.0-mm steel construction with its hidden lugs, integrated pushers, and bean-signed crown, though opting away from an outer bezel and thicker siding. Still, despite lacking the moving bezel, the Retrograph also features a shot timer, here located on the outer edge of the dial, integrated into the first 35 seconds of the minute ring, which is itself accented by lume-filled hour markers. On the left and right side of the face you can find the running seconds and 24-hour counter, respectively, while a date window sits at the 6 o’clock mark.
Passing over the dial are slim baton hands for the hour and minute, while a simple chronograph seconds hand with an uncommon circle counterweight is found standing at attention. The Retrograph opts for the Seiko VK64 caliber — another hybrid movement, though limited in its dual-register capabilities as compared to the VK68’s triple-register display.
The Retrograph was the first collection from the brand to gain an outsized appreciation outside of the typical realm of watch enthusiasts. The colorfully accented Technicolor model was featured on a number of men’s fashion publications outside the watch space, and the black Remington model — which I was able to review — famously became a go-to wearer for celebrity chef Alton Brown, who’s been seen wearing it on Good Eats – The Return, a follow-up series of his original Good Eats show on the Food Network. Admittedly, it was the blue Cobalt edition that was the first model offered by Brew to catch my eye: the color reminded me quite a bit of vintage Bulova Deep Sea 666 chronograph divers, which I’m quite fond of. The brand has also recently released a new teal-dial model of the watch (pictured above) that opts for a color virtually unseen in the market.
Overall, after a few weeks of wearing, I found the Retrograph to be a bit more playful than the Mastergraph, lacking the refinement brought on by applied dial markings but still featuring a highly wearable case shape and size with plenty of intrigue on the dial. The case itself is more rounded than the Mastergraph’s, using what appears to be a more polished finishing rather than the latest model’s more brushed look. At the end of the day, I did find myself opting for the Mastergraph more frequently than the Retrograph, but it nonetheless came down to personal preference rather than any objective strength of one model over the other. In either case, the model has been long sold out by the brand, though coincidentally is slated to come back in stock in the coming weeks (exact date TBD), retailing for $350 on a black leather strap and $395 on a beads-of-rice steel bracelet, again through Brew’s online store.
In the context of the market at-large, Brew is offering two unique designs at a solid price point and with a relatable and motivating backstory. (Who among us hasn’t sat at a coffee shop thinking of the next big thing?) Very few brands offer completely original designs under $400, and fewer still do so effectively and with favorable reviews by both hardcore watch enthusiasts and more fashion-focused, casual wearers. Most new brand’s models find their inspirations, both from a stylistic and marketing perspective, from some other historical or popular watch, so for a brand like Brew to say it’s inspired by the casual coffee break and industrial espresso machines is something unheard of, and further appreciated, by a significant swath of modern collectors. Truthfully, that every barista in the country isn’t wearing a Brew as a rite of passage into the café industry is somewhat stunning to me, but I suppose it does take some time to evolve the highly prized coffee-making rituals so many in the industry hold dear.
What’s next from Brew Watch Co.? New designs, more options, and an overall refinement as the brand moves forward with its next collection, set for a late 2020 release. At the core of each new upcoming development, Ferrer, like any good designer, is continuing his work “to create a design and brand identity that is recognizable at a glance.” It isn’t enough that the brand has an interesting backstory and inspiration; it must go on to forge a distinct style category of its own. “The same way you can spot a Rolex or MB&F,” Ferrer posited, “there is no doubt that it is a Brew watch.”
It was about five years ago this month when I first met Ferrer. I was at the start of my writing career, attending my very first watch meet-up in Manhattan, and Ferrer — who at that point had just launched the Special Blend — was sitting at the door with a friendly face, a firm handshake, and an unfamiliar watch unlike any I’ve seen before. All of these things are still true of him. Ferrer is still often found at both formal and informal industry events, and more often than not he sports an uncommon Brew model, ready to share details on the watch and eagerly ask about yours over a warm conversation and perhaps a fresh cup of coffee.
Caleb Anderson is a freelance writer located outside of New York City. Since entering the world of watches, he has spent much of his time exploring the neo-vintage trend covering historically inspired, modern timepieces. Today, Caleb finds his greatest interests in utilitarian designs with outsized value propositions and in the personal stories behind up-and-coming brands.