Two former UConn students launch new business

Former UConn students Brian Dunnigan and Jeremy Crossgrove are starting a new watch business together called Hawthorn Watch Co. (Courtesy/Hawthorn Watch Co.)

For a school as big and diverse as UConn, it’s no surprise to find graduates in every corner of Connecticut and beyond. One such Husky who’s all grown up and out in the real world is Brian Dunnigan.

Dunnigan graduated from UConn in 2009 and spent time as an adjunct professor of web design in the School of Fine Arts. Now he works as a web designer for UConn, but web design is not his only interest. Dunnigan and his friend Jeremy Crossgrove are starting a new business together – they’re going to be selling watches.

With their Kickstarter campaign complete and Hawthorn Watch Co. just about to launch, we spoke to Dunnigan to find out what sparked his new venture.

Daily Campus: What inspired you to start this new line of watches?

Brian Dunnigan: The entire project began from a literal dream. I woke up in the middle of the night, having dreamt about creating a watch. I sketched it down, fell back asleep and rediscovered the sketch in the morning.

I thought it could be a fun side project or design exercise, so I began more sketches. Eventually I got to the point where I needed to design and model the case and that's when I reached out to my college friend and industrial designer, Jeremy Crossgrove, for help. 

I think the love of watches, however, began when I was very young. My grandfather, Bernard Brown, was a watchmaker. After serving in WWII and receiving a purple heart from being injured in a German air raid, Bernie used the GI Bill to study watchmaking at the Waltham Watch Co. in Waltham, Mass.

He took those skills back to Conn. where he worked in New Haven as a watchmaker. He also had a watchmaker's desk in his basement where I used to see him work on all the tiny gears and pieces that make up (now) vintage watches.

The idea to make a watch was probably buried in the back of my head for decades and that dream 17 months ago shed light upon it.

DC: How did you and your business partner Jeremy Crossgrove meet while at UConn?

BD: Jeremy and I met while taking some core art classes at UConn. I believe in the first class we had together we were learning how to use Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. We were sitting next to each other, goofing off and just seem to hit it off. At some point during the class we also changed the backgrounds of the lab computers to us jokingly punching each other in the face.

Jeremy and I both lived in McMahon, in opposite towers, and one of his good friends at the time lived on my floor so we became close through that connection. Jeremy left UConn's art program, however, to study industrial design at MassArt.

Sadly we didn't keep in touch as much as we should have but the watch project brought us back together and the industrial design skills he learned at MassArt perfectly complimented the graphic design skills I learned at UConn.

DC: How have the things you learned while in the design program at UConn helped you to launch your new business?

BD: I can say for a fact that without the UConn design program, I would not be where I am today. The expert guidance and keen design eyes of Edvin Yegir, Mark Zurolo and Randall Hoyt helped expand my knowledge and skill set and laid the foundation for the formation of Hawthorn Watch Co. The UConn design program refined my attention to detail and sharpened my design senses through group critiques, lectures and projects.

The Design Center, a student run design studio tackling real world clients, gave me a taste of what designing would be like outside the classroom and prepared me for life after graduation. I remember my design professor Mark Zurolo saying, "You should be able to work (on a computer) as fast as you think."

That always stuck with me and drove me to become a faster and more efficient designer. Gone are the days where I need to think about which key command does what or how to make a vector version of the sketch I just drew.

To the design students reading this, strive to "work as fast as you think" and you'll become even more valuable to the company, agency or studio you'll eventually work for, and yourself.

DC: What do the watches look like – what are they made of?

BD: We like to say that our watches are vintage-inspired, heritage timepieces. That means we take inspiration from vintage watches, those from the 50's, 60's and 70’s, the era of Bernie's watchmaking and modernize them.

The goal was to make our first line of watches sleek, slim, and able to dress up or down. We're using the highest quality materials so our watches can withstand the test of time and be passed down through generations. Our cases are made of 316L surgical grade stainless steel and are water resistant to 50 m. The crystal is double domed, anti-reflected, coated sapphire (the second hardest material to diamond), our straps are made of Maine-tanned leather and the watch is powered by a precision Swiss quartz movement.

These materials are usually found in luxury watches but we are selling these watches for a fraction of our competitor’s cost but cutting out middlemen and selling directly to the consumer. Why pay extra for our competitor's inefficiencies?

DC: What are your goals for Hawthorn Watch Co.?

BD: We want our watches on as many wrists as possible and the ultimate goal for Hawthorn Watch Co. is to become a household name. We want to create something that people can enjoy, talk about and take on their journey through life.

We'll be there for your milestones, the highs and the lows, the exciting adventures, silently keeping time on your wrist. That's why we've adopted the slogan, "Time Worth Telling." A Hawthorn watch not only tells the time but reminds you to live and make the most of the time you have.

Jeremy and I are overflowing with watch design ideas and we hope people continue to support us so we can keep doing what we love. 

DC: Is there anything else you’d like UConn students to know about your watches?

BD: UConn will always have a special place in my heart and starting this company with a friend I made while in college helps keep that connection to the school alive. You'll find after you've graduated your connection to UConn and the friends you've made can help you grow personally and professionally.

Hawthorn watches are made by two friends who met at the same school you're attending right now. We made our dreams a reality with the skills learned at UConn and we implore you to do the same.

If you're interested in purchasing one of our watches and supporting UConn alum, our pre-order store will be live in less than 2 weeks at hawthornwatchco.com and follow our journey at facebook.com/hawthornwatchco.


Brian Roach is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus.  He can be reached via email at brian.roach@uconn.edu.