Hands-On Review – Brew Retromatic

The Skinny

  • Width: 36mm
  • Height: 10.5mm
  • Movement: Sellita SW200 / Seiko NH35A
  • Water resistance: 50m
  • Case material: 316L Stainess Steel
  • Price: $495 (Sellita) / $425 (Seiko)
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In 2015 Jonathan Ferrer designed his first watch inspired by a coffee machine and powered by a Ronda quartz movement. He subsequently launched on Kickstarter and New York’s Brew Watch Co. was born. Since then, Brew have subsequently released the automatic HP-1 (HP for High Pressure, 2017), the mechaquartz Retrograph (2018) and the mechaquartz Mastergraph (2018). Now, Brew are back in 2020 with the Retromatic and out go the mechaquartz movements and in come the automatics, including Brew’s first Swiss movement.

Jonathan is a regular on the NYC watch scene and so the story of Brew is well-known to us in the local area but for those that don’t know the back-story, Jonathan is an industrial designer by training and comes from a line of jewelry designers whose previous work included designing watches for Cartier. Brew is very much still a one man enterprise, which enables each watch to embody a personal vision. In those visions, we continue to find references back to Jonathan’s initial coffee ritual inspiration. For example, Brew’s chronographs have a section highlighting the 30-35 second sweet spot for an espresso brew. The HP-1 featured a dial and crystal inspired by the pressure gauges found on espresso machines. The Retromatic does not disappoint either in this respect with numerous coffee references for the wearer to discover.

Brew’s previous watches: Special Blend, HP1, Retrograph and Mastergraph

First Impressions 

The Retromatic’s elegant simplicity is apparent immediately. The markers are as small as practical and the hands thin, long and straightforward. It is not until one looks in detail at the Retromatic’s signature dial that we find anything unusual. The top layer of the sandwich dial is perforated with approximately 500 small holes, reminiscent of a coffee machine’s  draining surfaces. The case may take its inspiration from the vintage cushion cases of the 1970s but in this day and age, most will associate its shape with that of the Apple Watch, albeit it with the crown at three rather than two.

The Case

The Retromatic’s smooth, rectangular case never feels large with a lug to lug length of 39.5mm and width of 36mm. That’s a tiny bit smaller than Apple’s 44mm watch. The slim 10mm thickness helps to keep the watch’s center of mass close to the wrist and which makes it comfortable to wear. The case is the same shape as the earlier Retrograph chronograph but now smaller for this three-hand watch.

The upper surface of the case is radially brushed which extends to the bracelet while the sides of the watch are polished. The approach is both understated and confident and while the finishing is obviously not up to Moser standards, the overall impression reminds me very much of Moser’s Streamliner case.

The tapered bracelet is not truly integrated but the hooded lugs and common brushed finish disguise that well. The bracelet links are simple slabs with hidden links and contribute to the simple vintage vibe of the watch. The Retromatic has a lug width of 20mm and the bracelet has quick change springbars so changing to a leather or rubber strap will be straightforward if desired. However, with a bracelet so well-matched to the watches design, I am not sure why you would want to. Unless, the lack of micro adjustment at the deployant clasp means that you cannot find a comfortable adjustment. Thankfully for me, this was not an issue.

While not particularly heavy, the case certainly feels solid, perhaps due to Brew CNC-machining each case from 316-grade, aka marine-grade, stainless steel. Turning over the case reveals an exhibition case back with a circular view of the Sellita SW200 movement. A nice detail is that even the case back is machined to give the impression of a striped draining surface in keeping with the espresso machine inspiration of the dial. A single crown protrudes from 3 o’clock; large enough to draw attention to itself as the only break in the rectangular case’s plan outline.  The caseback’s machined slots are also carried over to the crown to further express the design theme.

The case quality on my example is impressive given the price of the watch. The bushing is consistent although not particularly well defined. The transition from brushed top to polished side is not perfectly straight but again, the shortcomings are both acceptable and expected at this price point. Overall, I think this is Brew’s most refined and attractive case design to date due to its simplicity and the complementary bracelet design.

We don’t often discuss watches within the context to gender here on Beyond the Dial, but with the Retromatic I think it bears mentioning. The case shape and size in combination with the relatively thin 10mm thickness make this watch eminently unisex; attested to my wife stealing the Retromatic over dinner the first time I wore it.

The Dial

It was the perforated dial of the Retromatic I fell for when I saw it on it’s debut on Brew’s Instagram. A few minutes later, I place an order for the black-dialed watch you see here. Me buying watches on impulse after seeing them on Instagram seems to be a growing trend I may have to curtail before it gets out of hand.

The watch is available with four dial colours: green, burgundy, blue and black. All share the same basic design but looking closely reveals a few subtle differences. While the black dial is completely matte, the others all have a satin sunburst finish. The burgundy dial has a white second hand to match its markers while the other three variants have a yellow second hand. The blue and black dials both have yellow marker details while the green has orange. The date window at 6 reveals the same black on white day wheel for all models. Lume is restricted to just the three hands with none present on the dial.

The relative lack of typography on the dial appeals to my minimalist heart. We have the logo of the company that makes the watch and we have the name of the watch model. That is basically all there is bar the number in the date window. Why don’t more manufacturers just limit it to that? Yes, for the overly myopic, there is also some tiny text at 6 declaring the watch automatic but it is small enough to get a pass in my book.

Immediately after its launch I discussed the watch with our Redbar group and soon heard three different opinions on the preferred dial colour so I suspect Brew have come up with a range for everyone’s taste. I personally know my own taste well enough to acknowledge that while I am instantly drawn to blue dials on watches, after a few days, it is the black dialled variants that end up getting worn day-in, day-out. So while I was lusted after the blue and green sunburst dials on Brew’s website, it was the black matte dial that I ordered.

The Movement

When we investigate the Retromatic’s movements, we find the dial colour differences are more than skin deep. The green and burgundy models contain a Seiko NH35A movement while the black and blue variants contain a standard Sellita SW-200. Including a Swiss automatic movement is a new direction for Brew and the decision to temper the new direction it by also providing a Seiko-powered variant is a deliberate decision by Brew to test the appetite for Swiss movements with their existing fanbase.

The Sellita versions command a $70 premium over the Seiko versions. In terms of performance, there is little to choose between either. The Sellita is rated at +/- 12s to +/- 30s whereas the Seiko is +/- 20s to +/- 30s. The Sellita is rated as having 38 hours of power reserve while the Seiko has 41. The biggest difference you are likely to notice is the smoother sweep of the Sellita’s 28800 vph compared to the Seiko’s 21600. There are more jewels in the Swiss movement but unless they improve accuracy or longevity, that doesn’t count for much.

Shortcomings

With any $400-$500 automatic watch there are going to be things that are less than perfect and with the Retromatic there are a couple. The first and most obvious concession to its price point is the bracelet finishing. I love its design and I appreciate the solid links but the edges of those links are just a little sharp. Occasionally, it would pull a hair or pinch a bit. However, this situation seems to be improving with time.

The choice of a butterfly clasp without micro-adjustment is something I can imagine will draw criticism, however, the links are quite narrow, mitigating the the lack of fine adjustment. Each of the removable links is 6mm wide so the fit is certainly going to be close but perhaps not perfect.

Side release clasps, like the one Brew used for the Retromatic, can be prone to opening when a wrist is flexed back and unfortunately the Retromatic’s clasp suffer from this idiosyncrasy. It opened prematurely on me a couple of times when my flexed wrist squeezed one of the release buttons.

In Summary

The Brew Retromatic represents simply excellent value, especially the Sellita version at $495. The build quality is good and the finishing of the solid case is excellent for this price point. It also comes with sapphire glass and an exhibition case back. The bracelet has an appealing integrated look while still being easily swappable. This is a lot of mechanical watch for less than $500!

The styling is modern, attractive and a little unusual. The Retromatic does not really look like anything else out there and form me that is entirely the point. As with each Brew watch before it, the Retromatic is clearly more than the sum of its parts; it is the embodiment of one man’s creative vision. It is the small coffee-flavoured easter eggs in its design that make it unique and delightful at the same time. Each touch of the crown, look at the dial, or discovery of another coffee detail is accompanied by a small voice in my head… “Ah… I see what you did there, Jonathan”

The fact that the Retromatic looks great, is built well and represents great value just makes it all the better. Brew are sure to sell out of this model quickly and I am not sure there will be any more once these are sold. Next year’s model is probably already being sketched out now as I type this review.

After a week or two on the wrist… where I must say it kept most of my other watches in their watch boxes, the only trouble I had was trying the categorize the Retromatic. It is not a dress watch, even thought it is dressy. It is not a sports watch, even though it is sporty. It’s modern but with some clear vintage inspiration. Ultimately, I have to agree with Jonathan, its designer, when he states “It’s simply something unique”