Garret Davis immersed himself in the watch industry as a boarding school student in Switzerland. Fascinated by the country’s historic watch-making tradition, the Santa Barbara native began searching for American-made luxury timepieces.
“It was always kind of perturbing to me that there was no great American watch company left,” Davis said. “After reading into it, [I learned that] American companies used to be the standard and basically Swiss companies were doing everything they could to replicate what American watch companies were doing.”
Inspired by his findings, Davis decided to create a watch of his own during the summer before his sophomore year at USC. He learned basic structural mechanics and ordered parts from a manufacturer in Washington. The result was a unique mix of industrial materials and traditional design.
“I wanted it to be a really tool-feeling watch, not anything like jewelry,” Davis said. “It ended up working very well because when I had these parts done by a non-watch manufacturer, the parts were really rough and unfinished, and that’s what I wanted.”
Davis wore the watch and received compliments from numerous people interested in buying the handcrafted timepiece. A few months later, he launched Refined Hardware, a luxury watch and accessories company based out of downtown Los Angeles.
“I’ve always been pretty creatively inclined, drawing, art and so forth,” Davis said. “I challenged myself to see if I could make something out of the norm and thought that a watch would be pretty cool.”
A senior majoring in social sciences (psychology), Davis now oversees a thriving e-commerce enterprise and a pop-up boutique in Beverly Hills with footwear brand the Left Shoe Company and suit tailor Elevee. He said he never imagined transforming his hobby into a business.
“I had a passion for watches. I had a passion for design, and specifically industrial design, so I guess it checked all of the boxes of what I would’ve wanted for a dream job,” Davis said. “But at the time it wasn’t really something I thought about.”
Davis and two other craftsmen assemble the custom, limited edition watches by hand. Refined Hardware works with customers to accommodate specific design requests and offers consistent clients membership to an exclusive owner’s circle.
“Our mission goes back to the nostalgic motif of what watches used to be, the real artisan aspect to timepieces,” Davis said.
The models run from about $1,500 to $3,000; each piece comes individually numbered with an owner’s manual signed by the artisan who made it. Davis acknowledged the challenges he encountered while trying to penetrate an industry dominated by iconic and established brands.
He said Refined Hardware’s unique aesthetic distinguishes it from other high-end watch companies. The unconventional materials and design attract an adventurous and fashion-forward demographic.
“I think that taking the time to understand who your buyer potentially could be and positioning your product within that aesthetic is really important,” Davis said. “People really love the raw, industrial nature of the pieces and like the story of them being built in downtown L.A.”
As Refined Hardware has grown rapidly, Davis has learned to balance academics with business. His days are tightly organized between classes, meetings and production, leaving little time for socializing and getting together with friends.
Though he has relished the process of starting a business, Davis said that popular media over-glamourizes the notion of being an entrepreneur in college.
“It’s manageable by all means ,but you just end up cutting out everything that isn’t 100 percent constructive,” Davis said.
Despite the long hours he dedicates to Refined Hardware every week, Davis said it has never felt like a chore. He advised student entrepreneurs to follow their passion rather than focus on making money right away.
Approaching watch-making as a creative pursuit allowed Davis to hone his vision without the pressure of pleasing customers.
“The money really far more follows the passion than vice versa,” Davis said. “If you are trying to create this artistic endeavor to solely make money, then your vision of it is going to be kind of skewed.”
In the coming months, Refined Hardware will launch its fifth collection of watches, introduce an innovative online ordering system for custom designs and unveil a holiday retail location in New York City.
“The entrepreneurial journey is always amazing and it’s going to have its highs, it’s going to have it’s lows, but either way you are never going to feel more alive,” Davis said.