Not long ago while reviewing a certain regulator-style dive watch, I expressed the importance of collecting and experiencing watches outside of your comfort zone as a watch enthusiast. Not only did the watch enable me to discover previously hidden facets of my taste in watch collecting, it also proved to be something that was simply fun to wear. Before getting my hands on the Brew Darkbrew HP-1 watch, I viewed it as a piece that would simply never find its way into my daily rotation and for a lot of collectors, I’m sure the feeling might seem mutual if they haven’t experienced the watch in person. However, this proved to be a watch that, once again, caught me off guard and the experience of unveiling new and untapped preferences as a watch enthusiast was almost more valuable than spending time with the watch in the first place.
For those that aren’t familiar with the brand, Brew Watches was started by Jonathan Ferrer and inspired by the sanctity of everyday coffee breaks, industrial espresso machines (just look at that coffee filter-style crown), and minimalist design philosophy. Back in 2015 he had the stones to launch the brand on Kickstarter and hold back from pushing some kind of fake heritage paired with the typical “go anywhere, do anything” dive watch the community is growing sick of. Unsurprisingly, the designs are polarizing but the fact that he entered the market with something that was 100% his was something I was always attracted to. Now, while Brew has released a number of related watches since the brand’s introduction, the HP-1 still serves as the flagship series and after seeing them first hand in NYC last year, I knew I had to test one out.
I’ll start by saying that I’ve always had a kind of love/hate relationship with PVD-coated watches. If executed improperly or in strange context, it’s easy to find yourself with a really cheap looking product and that’s something I was curious about before test driving the Brew Darkbrew HP-1. Luckily what we have here is a concise and appropriate take on a blacked-out PVD steel case. In fact I’d say that in this context, it even visually augments the theme surrounding the watch and the rest of Brew’s product line.
The proportions were also a real treat and at 38mm, I’m so glad that the watch was kept at such a restrained set of dimensions. Otherwise I feel the that the rounded square case would not have translated well in a larger size. Together with the thick bezel and caseback, the entire case is made from standard 316L stainless steel and provides a very generous 100m of water resistance. That same bezel mentioned previously transitions upward seamlessly and proudly serves as the stage for the watch’s most prominent feature – that massive sapphire crystal dome. It’s almost comical when you initially handle the watch but over time, I found that it really complimented the fluidity of the watch’s entire design, especially the dial.
This is where things got fun for me and you really have to employ a serious “look closer” philosophy if you want to get the most out of this dial. You see, the “HP” in HP-1 actually stands for “high pressure” and the overall dial design was inspired by industrial pressure gauges – almost like what you’d find on an old Unic espresso machine from the 1970s. It’s subtle, but between the 10 and 12 o’clock hour markers, you’ll even find a set of very lightly etched minute markings, which represent the “high pressure” zone. It’s about as nerdy as you can get with a watch like this but above all, the concept is original and that’s becoming increasingly rare in the world of young watch brand start-ups. Contrast is also excellent with elongated, narrow hour indices and a solid black & white color scheme.
The hands were also a perfect fit and the length of each hand was totally on point. At 6 o’clock, Brew integrated a discreet, yet nicely framed date window and sadly, this is where I found my biggest issue with the watch – even if the problem is a little hilarious. The difficulty here is that the curvature of the domed sapphire crystal is so extreme, that the distortion present above the date window almost completely obscures the actual date display at some angles. It’s minor, I know, but with a date display as nice as this, I would have loved for some unhindered utility. Aside from that the dial is just well-balanced, legible, and offers a look that watch lovers really won’t find anywhere else.
The bracelet, while a bit generic, was rather comfortable to wear and came with a nice butterfly clasp mechanism that didn’t feel fussy or cheap. I’d often worry about the integrity of the finishing closer to the clasp, but it seemed to hold up well even after hours of sitting at a desk and pecking away my keyboard. In the photo above you’ll also notice some light scuffs closer to the exterior edges of the links. Whether these were caused by contact with another surface or the links rubbing against each other is something I haven’t been able to figure out. Still, this is the extent of the wear and tear I think most people will experience with this bracelet.
It also didn’t feel like corners were cut. Sure, the watch is cheaper and the bracelet is usually the first area to suffer but everything seemed to fit well, especially where the case met the bracelet. I’d also like to add that this is just one of those watches I’d personally never swap the bracelet on. Brew has released a few versions on leather (I think), but this just feels like a such a complete package that I’d almost feel like I’d have less of a watch if I removed it. When closed, the clasp appears seamless and the bracelet feels balanced overall – even if the watch might appear top heavy at first glance.
Inside the Darkbrew HP-1 is the ever-popular Seiko NH35A automatic movement with hacking and hand-winding. For some reason it seems as if these generic Seiko movements are starting to catch up to the wave of Miyotas micro brands went nuts for a couple years ago. Whatever the reason may be, I’ve never interacted with one that I didn’t enjoy and from my understanding it’s something along the lines of an unbranded Seiko 4R36. I’m also guessing the 27.4mm diameter allowed Jonathan some liberties when experimenting with the smaller, rounded square case. While there is no display caseback, the Darkbrew HP-1 does have a partial opening on the caseback to let you catch a small glimpse at the industrial looking movement within. Like other entry-level mechanical movements, this one is very basic in its operation at 21,600 bph with a 40-hour power reserve.
There’s really no way I could possibly convince a watch enthusiast to fall in love with the Brew Darkbrew HP-1. I think, like many watches, most people will know if the watch is right for them almost immediately. What I really want is for more people to get the chance to handle the HP-1 in person – because it really is unlike anything most “micros” are putting out today, and that’s something we a need a lot more of. Most of all, it’s a watch that might even teach you a thing or two about your own taste in timepieces. The Brew Darkbrew HP-1 is priced at $495. brew-watches.com
>Model: Darkbrew HP-1
>Size: 38mm diameter, 13mm thick
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Someone with micro watch brand fatigue that’s looking for something stylish, yet reserved and thoughtfully designed.
>Best characteristic of watch: The unlikely source material that inspired the watch’s design. Good coffee breaks really are sacred.
>Worst characteristic of watch: The dramatically domed sapphire crystal can sometimes obscure and distort an accurate date readout.