Jonathan Ferrer sits in a cushy armchair inside the bustling coffee shop on the NJIT campus. The watch designer is in his element, casually scrolling through his phone while sipping a cup of joe amid the harmony of coffee beans grinding and milk gurgling.
“I lived on campus when I was a student here, and it’s a good thing I did,” says the Woodbridge native, who graduated in 2014 from NJIT’s School of Art + Design with a B.S. in industrial design. “If you come to NJIT and leave right after class, you’re just getting your feet wet. Class time is great, but being around other students after hours taught me things that I couldn’t learn in a classroom, and it allowed me to really connect with other students.”
Ferrer’s idea to meet up at Tech Café to chat about his enterprise is no coincidence. Brew Watch Co. offers a luxe line of contemporary watches that are born out of a love of coffee and draw inspiration from espresso machines. “I wanted a watch that would play into the ritual of something that we do every single day,” he says. “And for me, and many others, it’s coffee.”
It took seven months to complete the technical drawings, create the 3D design and prepare Brew’s prototype for manufacturing, and another five months of photography and marketing research to ready the watches for launch. Ferrer says family members — his father works for Tiffany & Co. and his grandfather was a designer for Cartier — influenced his decision to study industrial design and establish a watch brand. “I would see my father working on pieces,” he recalls. “He would give me a piece of blue wax and say, ‘Jonathan, you can carve out a ring or we can go further and actually make this.’ As a child, you don’t realize the significance of it. Little did I know, it was nudging me into this groove indirectly.”
Ferrer cut his teeth in the horology industry, working for premier watchmakers like Movado, designing licensed brand watches and helping smaller firms establish their brand and tighten up their marketing and business plans. When he wasn’t on the clock, Ferrer would use his downtime to sketch, network at biweekly watch events and pick the brains of experienced professionals in the industry to learn the ins and outs of the market.
“After a few years, you start to feel a little arrogant,” admits Ferrer. “I was like, ‘Why can’t I do this for myself?’ So I quit my job and started my own business. I had the connections with manufacturers and people all around the world to help me. So I took my idea and ran with it.”
In early 2015, Ferrer turned to Kickstarter to source money from backers to raise $35,000 for the production and shipment of the watches because, he says, the global crowdfunding platform is the best way to get exposed to the world as a microbrand.
“As one person trying to channel out through every way I know, I’d be cutting myself short to do it all on my own,” he explains. “And I didn’t want to involve investors and split up the company. Kickstarter was the best way to get a large audience in such a short period of time. It shoots across the world. It creates a huge buzz on its own. It quickly communicates who I am and what I’m doing.”
Ferrer managed to surpass his goal. Over 140 backers from around the world pledged nearly $40,000 to help bring Brew to life. He credits the campaign, which was dubbed “Staff Pick,” Kickstarter’s highly sought-after seal of approval, for giving him the opportunity to take the brand to new levels and introduce new designs. “It's a nice feeling that I'm able to put more time into something I really enjoy and that others have shown great interest in as well,” he says.
Independently designed and crafted in New York City, Brew’s latest timepiece collection, HP-1, is water-resistant, encased in surgical grade stainless steel, boasts a scratchproof sapphire crystal cover and automatic mechanical movement, and comes in black (Darkbrew HP-1 and Atom Blue HP-1), steel (Proto HP-1) and rose gold (Joy HP-1). Translating the design of the espresso machine into a watch was a meticulous process that conjured up an understated design.
The nimble cutouts and vented aesthetics found on the caseback are a play on the steam vents found on brewing machines. “It’s minimal enough so that it’s not overbearing, but at the same time you’ll recognize its origin,” he says. “If the design was too literal, I don’t think the watch would be as timeless.”
Ferrer recently diversified Brew’s catalogue by adding sunglasses to the product line. “I thought it would be cool to have a product that’s perfectly timed for a season,” he says. He worked with a manufacturer in Japan to craft the shades, which have polarized UV lenses and high-grade acetate frames — and come in custom packaging with a microfiber carrying pouch.
In fact, Ferrer goes to great lengths to use high-end packaging and customization to treat his buyers like VIPs, creating unique value in the products and a lasting impression of the brand. Brew’s debut watch collection was delivered to customers and backers in a hand-stamped, kraft box with a personalized handwritten note from Ferrer tucked inside. He also modifies watch components and colors, and adds personal engravings for buyers who want to make their ticker just a wee bit more exclusive. “It’s all about the little details,” he insists, “and going the extra mile to add a personal touch.”
Ferrer’s resolve to stand out from the crowd is something he learned from NJIT Industrial Design Lecturer Jose Alcala. “He taught me that design is about telling a story, and you can’t be afraid of going too far to share it,” he recalls. “If you’re going to build a product, you should also instill a certain experience that people can connect with.”
Down the road, Ferrer says he would love to open up a coffee shop as a store: “a café retail shopping experience,” he calls it. “You can sit down and have your latte or espresso while we assemble your watch on the spot.”
For now, the impassioned entrepreneur — who has returned to his alma mater as an adjunct professor — has his hands full with around-the-clock marketing and branding — and the effort is paying off. To date, Brew Watch Co. has been rubber-stamped by Esquire, GQ and New York Magazine, to name a few. And when he needs to shake off the daily grind, you can find Ferrer at one of his favorite coffee haunts in New York City, savoring the moment, treasuring his time and conceptualizing his next big idea.
“Will it stop at just sunglasses and watches? Definitely not,” he declares. “I think the passion to create and design over time is just going to expand…these ideas are going to cultivate so many new things.”