Hands-On With The New Schofield Light — A Thoroughly Modern Field Watch
Many brands have a certain style or genre, while some get stuck in a favorite period, like the ’60s. But in a time when even smaller brands are diversifying and offering different takes on horology, the pure focus of Schofield’s Giles Ellis is brave. He has stuck to the big case design, clean lines, and graphic focus of his first watch, offering a plethora of delightful variations. But by introducing the Light, Ellis and Schofield take a smaller-cased step into the future, and we’re all for it.
I will add a disclaimer here: I owned one of the first examples of Ellis’s wrist art, the Signalman GMT, my odd-chosen first expensive watch. And though that is no longer with me, I got tempted again last year after having the Schofield Bronze Beater B3 for a long-term review. What struck me was how big a difference the material and dial finishing can make to a same-size watch. And while big on the wrist, it remains a charmer with some ergonomic witchcraft, ensuring comfort. The Light, however, is brand new in every way (take notes, Panerai) and all the more fascinating for it.
A smaller, big change
Diameter shrinkage is nothing new these days, but I bet it took some thinking for Giles Ellis, Schofield’s owner and designer, to make the change. Through the years, the Schofield case has gone from polished steel to carbon fiber and blasted, patinated bronze, all while keeping its instantly recognizable form and size. Inspired by the lens of old lighthouses, hence the debut Signalman nomenclature, it’s a deceptively ergonomic 44.5mm wide. With the new Schofield Light, nothing has been carried over except for the absence of a separate bezel. Is that a good thing?
There is a flow to the design of the Light. The bezel that meets the box-style crystal is exquisitely brushed, but it is still part of the case, which curves softly upwards from the sides. This watch has now been released in two 150-piece limited versions, The Dark One and The Light One, and I have the dark gray PVD version on my wrist.
The indefinable case shape of the Schofield Light
No, that is not criticism. It is a big compliment. We’ve all seen iterations of sharp-angled lugs on pilot’s watches, Calatrava cases, and skin divers, right? Here, the case shape is organic and close to lug-less, with a smooth transition from the main body to the strap-meeting point. The strong effect of compactness is only underlined by the seemingly odd choice of a padded and wide 22mm strap. Its non-tapering design makes the 40mm field watch feel and look more compact. The lugs could do with a slight touch of downward curve, but with its strap combo, the case design works a treat.
The cuff-like vibe of a broad strap, usually seen on a bigger watch, will confound you initially, but it works with this concept. It’s another studied piece of a modern design puzzle — a field-watch concept for the future, perhaps? With so many 38–40mm retro versions out there, the field watch was due for a rethink, and that’s what the Light provides. Turn it over, and you’ll find a crystal printed with Schofield artwork hiding a Seiko NH34 GMT movement. Knowing Seiko’s caliber architecture might have inspired the crown-at-4 design, making it wear even better.
All about the graphics
Giles Ellis has a past as a non-watch designer, and it shows throughout his Sussex-based world. The Light is free of applied, polished details, and, like the case, the crisp print on it has an indefinable, modern feel that sets it apart. As expected, this also applies to the unusual design of the case back. It has an inset mineral crystal, rear-printed in a gray color with a twist. Giles included small apertures in the crystal, like a few evening stars and the lighthouse lamp. This will create a twinkle from the movement within if you get the right light hitting the back, as I am trying to illustrate in my shot above. Do you see the lighthouse?
The Light has a tool-watch-appropriate 200m depth rating and screw-down crown, but the juxtaposition with the crisp, detailed graphics makes it utilitarian in an elegant way if that makes sense. Like a Leica, it is a clean-cut, instrument-like, and balanced object, with small pops of red in the GMT and seconds hand. A step in the dial matches the silver rim on the outer black chapter ring, encircling a clean gray inner dial. The off-centered text at about 4 o’clock is in a clean, modern font that riffs quietly on the military vibe of a field watch. But while the inspiration is recognizable, the Light isn’t easy to categorize, and for that, it ticks quite a few boxes for me, the contrarian. This is simply a Schofield.
Two straps and a studied buckle design
As mentioned, a 22mm non-tapered strap might seem odd for a 40mm watch, dictating a rather big buckle. But this works surprisingly well by adding comfort. Both versions of the Light come with two straps — one in black India rubber with a matching lining and the other in gray leather with a red leather lining. Sure, they’re Stiff (with a capital S) at first. However, just like firm German car seats and quality shoes, there’s a reason for this. The straps will become ever more comfortable while outlasting “insta-soft” ones through the years. In fact, even on day two, the black strap already felt perfectly molded to my wrist. The 22mm angular buckle looks large at first, but its long, curved stretch makes for great comfort.
Going for a nondescript catalog job with an engraved logo would be easy, but that isn’t how Mr. Ellis rolls. I love the over-engineered choice of a recessed, screw-in buckle pin. Not to mention, the dramatic angle of the flush-fit tang is exquisite. This is simply one for all the buckle nerds out there. I see you, and I understand where you’re coming from.
Above is Schofield’s press image of the other version of the Light, featuring a crisp arctic-looking dial and matte steel case. Again, as mentioned, two choices are available, with 150 in each colorway. Is this release a big step for Sussex-based British watchmaker Schofield? Yes, and it feels like the right one as we are nearing retro overload. With what seems like an almost monthly drop of small field watches with mid-century demeanors, only companies like Unimatic do things differently while staying minimalist. And just as we’ve seen with that brand, there will be those who harrumph over the choice of a Seiko NH34 movement in the Light. I understand the skepticism at this £2K price point, but this watch is about a lot more. It is about a thoughtful, modern design ethos and nonconformity with material quality in the details. If you get it, you get it.
Sure, the minimalist focus made Giles Ellis omit a 24-hour scale for the GMT hand. So yes, you will have to engage your brain cogs for that one. For me, though, the clean dial is worth the extra 5–10 seconds of thought. This is about designing outside the box and staying resolutely modern in a world of gleaming vintage love. That is a big plus, and combined with a soft case design and sharp execution of the details, it makes the Light a unique proposition. Both versions are available from the Schofield Watch Company for £2,195 in the UK or £1,825 (excluding VAT and shipping) for other countries.
What about you, Fratelli? Are you ready to shake up your notions of the field watch? Or do you see the Schofield Light as a great modern travel companion with its GMT functionality? Let me know in the comments. I’ll be waiting.