WATCH REVIEW: Schofield Signalman DLC

The Signalman DLC is the second watch from Sussex-based brand Schofield. It is identical in design and function to their first timepiece, but coated with DLC, improving hardness, longevity and, in this writer’s opinion, appearance of the inaugural model. Schofield is an English brand, with a proud sense of nationalism woven into the watch’s DNA. It is all but impossible to separate the image of the brand from that of its founder, the handsome and enigmatic Giles Ellis, who seems adept at designing anything to which he turns his hand. The brand does little in the way of traditional ‘watchmaking’, but have succeeded in turning out four show-stopping watches thus far. The canniness of Ellis and the sharpness of his design, the company’s insistence of making a valid contribution to the industry with their revolutionary new case material Morta (featured on their third watch, the Black Lamp Carbon), and the modest run size make the watches collectible and the brand sustainable. I have chosen to review the DLC and not the original Signalman, because I believe it to be a significant upgrade in quality and style, perfectly capturing the Zeitgeist while losing none of its forebear’s unique selling points or DNA.

Schofield Signalman DLC

How true is this watch to the brand’s ideologies?
This watch is the brand. The case takes its inspiration from a lighthouse lamp, around which the whole brand’s identity revolves. Even the logo conjures the image of light being cast in two triangular shafts from a central source. Each case back in engraved with the image of a lighthouse. The dial is big, clear and simple. It is uncluttered and precise. The only slight drawback of the Signalman DLC is the fact that the dial still says ‘made in Germany’ as the first two watches had to be for logistical reasons. The watch benefits from German experience and quality, it is just a bit of a shame that a watch that is otherwise entirely English in design and inspiration is thusly signed. Still, it should do little but add to the watch’s collectibility in years to come should Schofield continue to produce watches which will in future bear an English stamp.

What are its unique selling points?
The case silhouette is unique, extremely well constructed and the DLC coating well-applied. The unique case back of every single signalman is a huge selling point – your name will forever be associated with the lighthouse you choose to have immortalised on your wrist. We’re all searching for a watch that can provide us with that kind of individuality and the Signalman DLC delivers in spades. The crown features a tritium valve which emits a low-level glow at all times. Having a tiny shaft of light emanating from beneath your cuff (if you have a cuff big enough to cover the watch) is a cool quirk and one I cannot find fault with. Unless you are a ninja/assassin. In which case, I would recommend a Casio FW19 and not a huge mechanical ticker.

Schofield Signalman DLC

The straps
I could write a whole review about the straps available for the Signalman DLC. Granted, it comes on a standard leather strap, but a whole host of additional materials (with alternate pin and tang buckles too) can be purchased in the online shop. Ellis has gone to great lengths to dabble in every designable facet of the watch and it is refreshing to see such care and craftsmanship taken with the strap. A lot of brands make the mistake of treating the strap as an afterthought, possibly due to the seriousness with which they take the actual internal mechanisms of the watch, but maybe also because its lifespan is considerably shorter than any other component. Schofield understands that quality endures where materials may fade and fail. The tweed straps in a range of beautifully bizarre colours make any fan of design froth at the mouth. Tweed. On your wrist. English? Sounds like it…

Function
The Signalman uses the Soprod A-10. It’s basically an ETA 2892 clone, but and has received rave reviews for the improved standard of finish and its excellent time-keeping capabilities. The A-10 is identical in dimensions to the 2892 save for the fact it is one whole millimetre thicker. This added robustness has been credited with the movement’s superior performance. Given that the Signalman and the DLC were only available in runs of CHECK NUMBER, the presence of the A-10, reputedly no longer directly supplied to brands in batches less than 1,000 units, is a real boon. The closest the watch comes to a complication is the going-seconds sub-dial at 6 o’clock. The most interesting thing about which is the counterpoise of the hand, which, like all other details, has been designed with care.

Negatives
At a stretch I will refer again to the German signature on the dial. The closed case back might annoy some who would like to see the Soprod A-10 doing its thing, but the engraved case back is integral to this range’s DNA and is its uniqueness is a greater selling point by far than just another crystal back.

How could this watch be improved?
A small improvement might be made by coating the crown in DLC too. I am not sure exactly why the crown avoided the blacking that the case and lug screws received. It might simply be a cost cutting measure, but more likely to tie the case in which the stainless steel back, with which I have no problem given the neutral background it provides for the essential engraving. To satisfy the open case back brigade while maintaining the medallion style back, Schofield might consider adding a hinged back that flipped up to reveal the inner workings of the watch. Aside from the increased manufacturing costs though, this would make it very clear that the watch utilises a movement, however revered, that is much small than the mammoth case in which it is housed. It would be nice to have the option of a different strap at the time of purchase, rather than having to take the standard black option and buy a replacement from the enticing range. I would take the grey tweed if anyone was wondering. It looks just about as refined as any watch I’ve ever seen with that British beast between the lugs.

Why should you buy this watch
The easy answer is that it looks totally bad-ass. It has an iconic case shape. Getting that for less that five grand, from a brand this small and green is an opportunity not to be missed. The movement is great and should run without issue for years. The time-keeping is as good as you get from other brands at the same price-point. The case coating is in vogue and the watch face is easy to read. It’s a little more subtle than a pilot’s watch, but just as proud and noticeable. You will get a lot of conversation for your money

Why should you support this brand?
I find it very difficult to predict the future of Schofield. If Giles Ellis and his team continue their work then there in no doubt in my mind that the brand will grow and grow, the original models will be regarded as classics and your investment will mature nicely as you do. That said, I struggle to shake the nagging worry that Ellis may not be in it for the long haul. His mind seems too able to turn to other subjects. Already, having released just four watches under the Schofield name, the product range features two knives, a cigar tube, a lapel button and a fountain pen with several specially mixed inks to choose from. Schofield is a great brand, all the products are finely crafted, but right now it looks like it’s growing into a gentlemen’s outfitters rather than a focused maison horlogerie. But does that matter? Some would argue the limited nature of Schofield’s watches increases their collectibility and therefore strengthens the purchase, but it is this writer’s opinion that the value of horological artefacts is reliant on their context. In fifty years time, will people care quite so much if the range ran out of steam after four? I’m not saying that will happen (and I certainly hope it won’t), but it is something to consider. Regardless of the above, the brand whether it focuses its output or not, is absolutely one of the most exciting of recent years and I would suggest we throw our weight behind it by buying everything they produce in the hope they use the resources to give us more beautiful watches in the near future.

Overall build quality
The build quality is very good. The watch is as tough as any in its immediate price bracket and then some. The strap is well made and the dial is absolutely top drawer. I am an enormous fan of the hands – my personal favourite aspect of the watch. It is actually quite rare – and extremely refreshing – to see a start-up get it SO right with hands. Too often – even with watches whose prices run into the tens of thousands – are the hands neglected and traditions too heavily leaned on. In this instance, Ocean Arc smashed it out of the park.

 

Case

Case silhouette, iconography and consistency with brand ideals
This is a very poor part of the watch. The bland lugs and weirdly basic bezel/case sides give you nothing to get excited about. This is no Omega Seamaster, no Cartier Tank Francais, No Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. In short, the silhouette is totally forgettable. For the Ocean Arc, the beautiful details lay elsewhere.

Case construction and durability
Solid and unwavering, the Ocean Arc One is powerfully built. Like a weightlifter that wears shorts to Michelin Star restaurant, the beefy DLC case will be noticed, but not for its cultured appearance. It will, however, win any fight in which it finds itself. You could probably throw this watch out of a plane and find it in decent condition on impact. It is not my cup of tea, but it can not be criticised for its resilience and quality.

Case functionality
The bog-standard 2824 within and the lack of any extraneous complications mean this case has little to do. The bezel is superb, however. It has a lovely solid click and is easily manoeuvred into position. The lugs are big enough for the strap and provide enough distance from the case so that the strap is not under constant strain.

Future refinishing capacity
Practically none. Such a coating means you should never need to have this watch refinished. If you, you’ll probably be looking at a replacement. Touching up coatings is ill-advised unless the entire watch is sandblasted again. This might work, but we’ll have to wait and see how the design fares a few years down the line. The coating looks too thick to make it a simple job.

Water resistance
The watch is water resistant to a pretty massive 500m. Excellent for a watch that doesn’t brag about being dive-specific!
Dial

Dial material, quality and legibility
The dial is made of printed brass in a traditional fashion with the functional components applied vertically. The print quality is good and striking. The lume is absolutely excellent. This watch actually looks relatively better in the dark. It comes alive in deep water. The hands pop and the dial gleams when the light dims.

Dial aesthetics
The design of the dial itself is too busy for my tastes, but it is at least identifiable. The hands are beyond excellent. The design is cool, but the functionality seals it for me. For a watch designed for practical use in the sea, this is an element that can not be overlooked. Ocean Arc have done a brilliant job in ensuring this essential component receives the care it requires.

How well does the dial represent the brand ideology or range themes?
Very well. It is obvious that this watch belongs to these guys. Credit has to be given for the team coming up with a strong first outing with plenty of upside. A little more refinement with watch number two and this brand may just survive. If you buy the Ocean Arc One, your friends may not understand why, but you will certainly get your money’s worth in conversation and you can be sure that your investment is one that will remain recognisable for years to come.

Schofield Signalman DLC

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