This past Saturday, I met Jonathan Ferrer of the Brew Watch Company to discuss his first model, the Special Blend, which launched yesterday on Kickstarter. I had seen pictures of the watch online and corresponded with him, I even previewed the watch for you last month, but this was my first opportunity to review it in person. I came away deeply impressed.
Since he was traveling from New York to DC for the occasion, it seemed like a good idea for the two of us to meet at a watch gathering. That way, we could chat about his watch, I could check it out first hand while shooting pictures for this review, and he could share the news of its debut with a group of fellow watch enthusiasts. It sounded great on paper, but in practice it was a bit too much. Turns out, it is rather difficult to conduct any sort of coherent conversation when surrounded by a roomful of people, all geeking out over tables overflowing with watchy goodness, and the few photos I snapped under the dodgy lighting were, shall we say, not my finest. Still, I was able to hold the Special Blend in my hand, strap it on my wrist, and appreciate the things a still picture can't convey.
a case mock-up, a pair of gold and stainless watches with an earlier incarnation of the dial and a prototype of the PVD black Dark Special Blend. The last prototype looked for all the world like a finished product, displaying a high level of fit and finish. The only difference between it and the ultimate production version will be a slightly thicker strap and stronger lume.
The 44mm square case is the defining feature of this watch. It really showcases Jonathan's industrial design skill and offers a refreshing dose of originality with a degree of sophistication rarely seen in a first-time effort on Kickstarter. The general shape reminded me of certain television style cases from the 1970s, but you would never mistake it for a vintage watch. Rather, it draws on an older theme to cut a thoroughly modern figure. Inspired by professional espresso makers, the Special Blend incorporates their sculpted steel bodies and bristling knobs. Can a professional food service machine be sexy? Sure - if it's made by Italians. Check out the Rancilio Classe 10 or Nuova Simonelli Aurelia and tell me I'm wrong.
You would think a 44mm square would be enormous, but it is quite manageable. This is thanks in part to the fact that it is lugless, but there are other factors at work here. At first blush, the watch looks wider than it is tall. It isn't, but the dial and crystal are. They stretch across the case, squeezing against the sides while leaving healthy margins at the top and bottom, creating the illusion of width. All corners and edges are round, eliminating unnecessary mass and creating a pleasant softness that tempers what might have otherwise been a cold brick of stainless steel. This aspect most visible when viewing the watch at an angle, but it is best appreciated by touch. The radiused surfaces are inviting, almost organic. I found them irresistible, absently rubbing the corners like worry beads.The deep channel bisecting the case and decorative "steam vents" break up the sides and elongate the profile. Finally, the watch is only 11mm thick; surprisingly thin for such a large case.
Three colors are offered: steel with a cream dial, rose gold with a black dial, and black with a black dial. The latter two are PVD coatings. All have a brushed finish, but it is most apparent on the uncoated case where you can really appreciate the radial pattern cascading over the edges. The Brew brand name (itself an attractive feature in a broad serif font and wide spacing) is absent from the dial. Instead, it is engraved in the lower right corner of the case. I was afraid this might be too prominent, but I can report that it works very well. It is actually more noticeable in photos than in real life, where it comes and goes in the interplay of light and shadow.
All three varieties use rose gold and/or black as accent colors. On the Dark Blend, the case back and chronograph buttons are rose gold while the coffee bean adorned crown is gold with a sculpted black grip. The contrast is carried onto the layered dial. A printed index steps down to the broad center where rose gold dauphine hands filled with white lume make their rounds. The chronograph sub dials are further recessed at 12 and 6 o'clock. A black-on-white date window peeks through at 3 o'clock. Was 9 o'clock forgotten? Certainly not. The company's coffee bean logo is discreetly embossed on the dial. Not placing the brand name on the dial freed up considerable room, and I thank Jonathan for leaving it uncluttered. The dial provides the information it should and no more. Water resistance (5 ATM), movement origin (Swiss), and other details are relegated to the engraved case back where they belong, allowing some negative space to let the dial breathe.
I confess I did not get the chance to play with the chronograph functions, but the movement is the familiar Ronda Startech 3250.D, a reliable 4 jewel unit with a 12 hour totalizer and a small seconds dial. I know the comments section will soon light up with "It should have been an automatic!" or "It should have been a meca-quartz!" I have no such criticism. The Ronda quartz is a quality movement that should serve its owner faithfully for years between battery changes. It also helps keep the price down to a very reasonable $375, or $275 if you grab a Kickstarter pre-order.
On the wrist, the Special Blend feels surprisingly solid. Not too heavy, but it has a reassuring heft that speaks volumes about the material in that case. The large, anti-reflective sapphire crystal shows a hint of blue when viewed off-axis. It sat comfortably within the confines of my 6.5" wrist. The watch comes equipped with a 22mm leather strap and a signed buckle. As mentioned above, the production strap will likely be a bit more substantial, but strap swappers beware; there is very little room in between the case and spring bar.
The Special Blend is one of those watches that defies easy classification. I would not call it a dress watch due to its size, but it is far too pretty to beat up as a tool watch. I'd call it "smart casual," that effortlessly stylish fashion goal you strive to achieve when you are trying to impress your date. It is in a word, cool. In fact, if your date is not impressed with the Brew Special Blend, move on. You deserve someone with better taste.
Pro: Smart and subtle design.
Con: Still a bit large.
Sum: Rich and nuanced with an earthy core, notes of toasted nuts, and a hint of caramel. The Time Bum approves.