It's no easy feat to stand out among microbrand watch companies today, but New York-based Brew Watch Co. makes it look almost effortless. Its delightfully unique brand concept takes inspiration from coffee culture and mixes it with an expert eye for '60s watch design. The new Retromatic offers Brew's typically playful approach, thoughtful design and affordable pricing, but now adds to its already strong value proposition with automatic movements for under $500.
Case Diameter: 36mm
Case Thickness: 10.5mm
Water Resistance: 50m
Movement: Sellita SW200; Seiko NH35A
Price: $495; $425
Notable: The Retromatic's selling point is its combination of design and price. The uncommon shape grabs attention first, but it's part of a wholistic design, and the watch's interesting dial texture and colors give it a quirky and intriguing look. The bracelet is part of that look — but it does pull some arm hairs. Designed from the ground-up with premium features like sapphire crystal and a Swiss automatic movement, it offers a strong value proposition.
Who It's For: Brew watches display the touch of a real watch enthusiast, and that's who their customers mainly are, also. They'll get the vintage cues, but the Retromatic is also perfectly appropriate for anyone drawn to its design — particularly those who appreciate the aesthetics of '60s and '70s modernism. The price seems aimed at a budget-conscious crowd, but even collectors of higher-end watches are known to appreciate Brew's approachable designs.
Alternatives: For something automatic and affordable, certain models from Seiko's Recraft series offer a comparably squarish case and dial with strong retro cues. Climbing in price, the Zodiac Astrographic also has a similar case and dial shape but adds the effect of "floating hands" for between $1,295 and $1,995. Also check out the French boutique brand March Lab's Am2. If you like the look but can afford something much higher-end, there's the Glashutte Original Seventies Panorama Date for $9,900. (One might also look to actual vintage watches or other collections from Brew itself for more variety.)
The Retromatic's case shape along with its matching dial is uncommon in the modern watch industry, with one major and obvious exception: the Apple Watch. (Which is an alternative in terms of overall silhouette, perhaps, but not much else.)
The 1960s and '70s were full of Space Age, Art Deco and generally experimental design that resulted in some duds alongside some truly captivating creations. While brands across the industry are drawing extensively from these decades for design inspiration, many of the funkier elements are left on the table. You don't often see a modern "TV-dial" watch like the Brew Retromatic on many wrists.
The Retromatic follows Brew's Retrograph. They share some design elements and cut a similar figure, but the Retrograph was a quartz chronograph whereas the Retromatic has three-hand time telling, a cleaner face and an automatic movement. The connection and brand DNA is clear, but the effect is different, with the Retromatic taking on a more subtle charm.
Three-hand watches will almost never have the visual impact of chronographs, but the Retromatic still has a funky presence. The shape and bracelet set the tone and offer a look that's hard to find elsewhere. Satin finishing of the bracelet is matched to the top of the case but the case sides are polished, and this contrast helps define its contours. At 36mm wide and 10.5mm thick, it wears more prominently on the wrist than those measurements suggest thanks to its somewhat blocky shape. A "lugless" design means that the case measures only 10.5mm tall with the bracelet attached directly under it, helping it fit easily even on slimmer wrists.
A bracelet designed for a specific watch model can add a lot of value. In addition to adding a more cohesive feel to the overall design, it means real thought and engineering were put into it — as creating an original bracelet presents challenges of its own. During this review, I experienced hair-pulling from the bracelet (which I'm not accustomed to from other watches), so it's a benefit that the watch can easily accommodate standard strap attachments — and the bracelet even features an appreciated quick-release system.
Though that watch's TV dial and throwback bracelet grab your attention first, every detail has been considered and thoughtfully integrated. The dial is my favorite part: it's got a perforated treatment that the brand says is based on espresso machines' drain grates. This not only gives it a distinct, three-dimensional look, but provides a texture against which the hands can contrast, resulting in excellent legibility. The dial catches the light but isn't shiny, and the yellow seconds hand always pops.
Brew has taken an interesting approach by differentiating the movements offered with different dial colors. A black dial model and the blue one shown here are powered by a Sellita SW200 automatic movement, while the other two models have a green or burgundy dial and use the Seiko NH35A automatic movement. The price difference of only $70 more for the Swiss movement makes it feel like a strong value. The Sellita-powered models offer a full exhibition case back, whereas those with Seiko movements have a smaller window to display only the balance wheel.
The Retromatic won't be for everyone. It doesn't cut a traditional figure on the wrist, but it offers something that stands out as a bit different, and it's chock full of interest and talking points when you look closer. The best part is that it's approachable in personality and price, but still offers the mechanical movement and level of detail that watch nerds value.
Verdict: The Brew Retromatic offers a unique style and set of features that are otherwise hard to find in the watch industry, and more so at its price point. Non-round watches are rare, and those that you actually want to wear are far rarer. With an adroit design and Swiss automatic movement for under $500, the Retromatic is nearly in a class of its own.