The watch industry, and the bulk of the design within its scope, is controlled by trends. We see adverts and celebrities sporting the latest in ceramic, vintage, over-sized, liquid-filled, tourbillon equipped, slim cased watches but that “next big thing” is often not so new. It is often then that when we see a new model we use other models or established trends to frame this newcomer and understand it in a more comfortable context. When I first saw the Schofield Signalman GMT PR I had to reach for a familiar concept, eventually thanks to its large crown, sparse dial design and polished finish, my brain settled on the Panerai form. The Panerai Luminor 321, for example, has a power reserve and a GMT hand, a sparse dial, high contrast design and plenty of polished metal on its case. It seemed reasonable to compare this British designed, German built, and Swiss powered timepiece with the well known and easily digestible Panerai, right? Upon receiving the review unit from Giles at Schofield and lifting the Signalman GMT PR from its case, I realized the inaccuracy of my assumption. The Signalman does not feel, or impress, like any Panerai I’ve ever experienced and I found myself wearing a watch which felt completely unfamiliar.
- 44 x 15 mm
- 52 mm lug to lug
- Polished stainless steel case
- Soprod 9335 movement
- GMT display
- Power reserve complication
- Date display
- 500m Water resistance
- Anti-magnetic casing
- Screw down crown
- Double domed sapphire crystal with internal AR
- German made
It’s not especially surprising that the Signalman feels so focused and fresh, it was not designed by a committee or by a brand that needed to observe any previous “brand DNA” in their styling. The Signalman is the product of one detail-driven man named Giles Ellis. Giles started designing the Signalman as a watch for himself and the Schofield brand came along with the realization that one cannot have a single watch manufactured. The realities of production scale mean there will be 300 Signalman GMT PR and a further 100 DLC (diamond like carbon) treated models which will carry a black scratch resistant coating on its case.
While speaking with Giles you get the distinct impression that the Signalman was made to his most exacting and detail driven demands, no element was spared his scrutiny. Not only was he capable of designing the watch and seeing the Signalman evolve through prototypes and design changes, Giles also handled creating the entire Schofield brand, the website and even all of the underlying photography.
Giles and his one-man-brand are based near the south coast of the UK in a small rural Sussex Village. Giles has drawn upon his surroundings in the design elements seen on the Signalman as much of the styling is based upon elements of lighthouses. The caseback is adorned with Smeaton’s tower, the hands are based on the shape of a beam of light and the complex shape of the case mimics the expanding base of a lighthouse.
The Signalman is absolutely gorgeous and feels much like a fine piece of nautical equipment mixed with a modern watch design. It exudes class and feels very special, just wearing it will make you smile. The 44 mm stainless steel case is flanked by strong lugs that give the Signalman a distinct presence. The over sized, rock-solid crown fits beautifully into the flanked shape of the case and tucks slightly into the curve for additional protection.
The shape of the case must be fantastically difficult to manufacture and there is no dive bezel or additional parts to distract from its shape and bright polished finish. The double domed sapphire crystal has an anti-reflective treatment on the inside of the crystal and does a fair job of minimizing the bulk of reflections.
The dial has two levels, a higher outer range which displays the minute scale, markers, and chrome numerals for 0, 3, 6 and 9. The center of the dial is slightly recessed and cleanly integrates both a simple but practical power reserve indicator and a separate sub-dial for GMT hours. The dial is made from brass plates and is beautifully finished in grey/black with inlaid markers, minimal text and beautiful proportions.
The GMT function is locked with the hour hand so if you advance the main time measurement, the GMT hand advances accordingly (see video). To move this hand separately, you must depress a flush mounted button fitted neatly into the side of the four o’clock lug. The GMT, power reserve, and date features do not compromise the overall aesthetic of the Signalman. Where as some designs would seek to integrate traditional three hand timekeeping into a design with other complications, the Signalman has done the opposite. The GMT sub-dial does not eat into the seconds measure, instead its scale routes underneath minutes scale. While this may make the GMT slightly harder to read, it preserves the balance and simplicity of a standard three hand design. The date display on the Signalman is quite small and nearly impossible to read at an an angle. I suppose this could bother some owners, but I did not have any problem viewing the date directly and the smaller aperture has been used to preserve the balance of the dial. I certainly prefer reading the date at a direct angle than seeing the design spoiled by a larger display or an ugly cyclops magnifier.
While the design could be considered fairly simple, especially given the complexity seen in some modern watch designs, the Schofield Signalman has some lovely fine elements like the use of a stylized zero at twelve o’clock or the small loop in the tail of the GMT hand. The hands are one of the best shapes I’ve seen of late. The cropped hour hand and long minute hand are well proportioned, carry a fair amount of luminous paint and provide a strong contrast against the black dial.
The Signalman’s luminosity is good for hands and markers of this size. I found it to be fairly bright and last long enough to be used at the movies or on a night’s drive. To achieve a greater brightness, more space would have to be allotted for the luminous material, which would have a profound effect on the Signalman’s designs. The matching shape of the hands and markers becomes more pronounced under the soft glow of the lume.
The case is heavy and, having a wider base than its bezel, sits nicely on your wrist. The wide lugs and their downward shape hold the Signalman securely and the green nylon-style strap bestows a certain military feel to its presence. The pictured strap has a comfortable leather liner and came fitted with a low-profile signed steel tang buckle. Owners will have the option of a black shark skin strap once the Signalman starts shipping in June and July of this year.
The Signalman is being sold exclusively through Schofield’s website and there is pre-order pricing in effect until June 2012. The Signalman GMT PR, as seen in this review, has a pre-order price of £2958 including VAT (~$4680 USD at time of publishing). If you miss out on the pre-order, expect to see pricing climb to £3549 (~$5600 USD) for whatever remains of the 300 piece limited production. The DLC model (which looks stunning, see Schofield’s photo below) has a pre-order price of £3342 including VAT (~$5300 USD) and will eventually carry a retail price of £4010 (~$6350 USD).
So, not a cheap watch, but then again it’s not cheaply made nor does it feel cheap in person. Quite the opposite as the Signalman has the build quality, technology, and exclusivity to demand such a price point. The pre-order pricing lines up nicely to complete with a base model Panerai Luminor PAM00000 “Logo” which features a Panerai prepared ETA hand-wound movement which lacks the Signalman’s GMT, power reserve, date and even seconds hand. The Schofield, when compared with much of the competition, is excellent value and offers practical complications backed up by solid German construction and the exclusivity of a very limited production.
Ultimately, there is little to be displeased with concerning the Schofield Signalman GMT PR. During my stint with the Signalman it kept accurate time and its additional features were easy to use and it’s a very fun watch to wear. Quality and technology aside, the Signalman is absolutely gorgeous and it made me smile whenever I checked the time. Even as I write this I am unsure of how to categorize the Signalman, in a world of Sub clones and re-hashed designs, the Signalman stands as one of the more refreshing and pleasing new watches we have seen in a long time.
We would like to thanks Giles and Schofield Watches for loaning us a Signalman GMT PR for review.