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Benjamin James Scarifour-25

The Scarifour from UK brand Benjamin James is due to launch on Kickstarter soon and something about it strikes me instantly. Unusually for a debut watch the Scarifour is not a diver, or even a GADA (Go Anywhere, Do Anything) watch, but a dress watch!

After working in the industry for several years, brand founder Ben has branched out on his own, driven by a desire to create a watch born out of his obsession with watch sizing, an aspect that he says can make or break a timepiece. So, we’re off to a good start, as he certainly has a kindred spirit in me on that front. The second thing that’s influenced Ben’s design decisions for his first watch was his grandfathers’ love for rectangular watches, which he has inherited. 

The Scarifour is named after Ben’s childhood home and combines timeless looks with a slight nod to the 70s. There’s plenty of choice on offer too. The Scarifour comes in six different dial colours (Orange Sunrise, Smoked Black, Ice Blue, Blue Hour, Classic Silver, Royal Purple), and you can choose between two movements. The more affordable Swiss Ronda 762 quartz movement will launch at £266, whereas the premium manual-wind Sellita SW210-B mechanical movement will be priced at £460. Prices will rise to £380 and £660 respectively once the Kickstarter campaign ends.

The Case, Bracelet and Wearing Experience

If comfort is high on your list of priorities when looking for your next watch, the Scarifour is sure to please you. The case width is 31mm, and the lug-to-lug is just 40mm, increasing to 47mm if you include the non-articulating end links. However, the end links are significantly downturned, so the true perception of the lug-to-lug measurement is more akin something around 44mm. Perhaps even more important is overall thickness (or lack of it) and the Scarifour excels here too, measuring just 8.3mm. The Scarifour is classically proportioned, but never looks dainty, thanks in part to the integrated bracelet design and broad bracelet width of 22mm at the watch head. This could easily be a watch for sharing due to its versatile size.

The case and bracelet offer a nice mix of brushed and high-polish elements, with the polish being in all the right places. What I mean by this is that, bezel aside, high-wear areas such as the tops of the lugs and sides of the mid-case are brushed, but polished bevels flank the mid-case top and bottom, which provide contrast and add a touch of sophistication. The bezel itself is slim and features two debossed circles on each side, somewhat mimicking the functional bezel screws that you’d find on Cartier watches. I would have liked to see these either made bigger to look more purposeful or left out altogether. A custom-shaped, scratch-resistant sapphire crystal helps protect the dial and has an anti-reflective coating.

At a glance the bracelet looks like a three-link design, but it actually comprises single links alternating between H-links and polished ‘connecting’ oval links. It’s a beautiful design and the short links ensure fluidity and class-leading comfort. Each individual H-link is brushed to the top, bottom and outer edges, but bevelled to every side. Not only that, but the inner edges adjacent to the connecting polished oval links are polished, providing additional light play with wrist movement.

The bracelet tapers to 18mm at the clasp and each bracelet link is secured by a pin and collar system. The ‘signed’ milled clasp features a raised, brushed centre section with branding and polished outers. The choice of clasp will probably be controversial as it’s more akin to a diver’s-style with a compact, single-foldover, twin-trigger release system and three holes of micro-adjustment. Some will love it for its ease of adjustment. Others will have hoped for a traditional butterfly-style clasp more befitting of a dress watch. Maybe a choice of clasp could be offered as a stretch goal for Kickstarter?!

The slim stainless steel caseback is brushed horizontally, secured by hex screws at each corner, and engraved with branding and key specifications. The push-pull 7-sided crown doesn’t look like it should be easy to grip, but it’s actually surprisingly easy to use for winding or adjusting the time. The brand’s insignia is embossed onto the side of the crown. Water resistance is 50 metres.

The Swiss Movements

Buyers can choose between two Swiss-made movements; the ultra-reliable Sellita SW210-b or the Ronda 762 quartz. The Standard Grade Sellita is a hand-wound mechanical movement which is visible though an exhibition caseback. This attractive but largely undecorated movement has 19 jewels, beats at 28,600 vph / 4Hz, and has a power reserve of approx. 42 hours. Accuracy is rated at +/- 30 seconds per day. The more affordable quartz version has a 10-year battery life and comes fitted with a solid caseback. The accuracy is rated to -10/+20 seconds per month.

The Heraldry Dial

The Ice Blue dial features a chevron pattern that is inspired by the heraldry of Ben’s hometown of Cheltenham (it’s found on the Cheltenham Coat of Arms). The dial surface is also horizontally brushed. It’s a different take on a dial pattern and works successfully with the rectangular dial shape. However, the dial finish is a bit too metallic and shiny for my liking, or at least it is on my light blue variant.

A simple printed minute track, with circles of lume for hours, surrounds the dial on a slightly raised perimeter. Baton-shaped applied indices are placed at every hour marker except the 12 o’clock, which features Roman numerals. Each index has polished, angled sides and brushed tops. This contrasting finishes looks great and helps with legibility. However, whilst legibility is decent for a dress watch, I think it could probably be improved a little more by increasing the size of the batons by a smidgen or applying a stronger application of anti-reflective coating on the sapphire crystal.

The petite ‘Alpha’ hands were chosen to complement the angular nature of the case and their beauty can only truly be appreciated by getting them under a loupe. They are visually split into three sections. The centre section is longitudinally brushed and features small strips of Swiss BGW9 Super Lumi-Nova luminescent compound to help aid low-light legibility. This is flanked by polished, angled outers. The hands culminate in razor sharp points. It’s also really nice to see a capped pinion; a lovely finishing touch that, quite frankly, all watch brands should adopt.

Dial text is kept nice and simple. Just ‘Benjamin James’ and ‘Scarifour’ are printed in black and sit either side of the pinion at 12 and 6 respectively. The font size is tiny though and barely readable (and yes, I did have my glasses on!). Whilst I realise that it’s a difficult balancing act, especially with a long brand name and fairly narrow dial, there must be some way of tackling this. If the size of the printing can’t be increased due to breaching the 11 and 1 confines, maybe the brand name could be split over two lines, redesigned or just picked out in relief/applied for more three-dimensional visibility. Doing so would also help with brand awareness. However, we must remember that this is a dress watch, so ultimate legibility isn’t usually high on the list of priorities when buying a watch such as the Scarifour.

Final Thoughts

The Scarifour is a brave debut release. Why? Simply because dress watches sell far less than dive watches or sports watches. Most brands launch with a sports watch for a reason; they know that there is a persistent appetite among the general public and watch enthusiasts for that kind of watch. Conversely, dress watches are more niche and so it takes a single-minded person like Ben, with a passion for putting a modern spin on vintage style and elegance, to stick their neck out and take on the associated risk. It’s not that dress watches aren’t catered for at all by microbrands, but it’s certainly uncommon to launch with a dress watch. I’m sure the somewhat forgotten minority will welcome the Benjamin James brand into the fold, and there’s a good chance that people who wouldn’t normally think of buying a dress watch may be persuaded over to the dark side too! approach

For me, where the Scarifour really shines is in its case and bracelet. The design is unified and there is a great mix of finishes on show. The watch’s proportions also make it one of the most comfortable watches I’ve ever tried; you honestly barely even notice you’re wearing it. It does most things a dress watch should do very well; it’s refined, looks good, slips under a cuff easily, and whispers rather than shouts.

There are only a few things to take into consideration when deciding whether to buy the Scarifour. If legibility is high on your list of priorities, or your eyesight isn’t what it once was, I’d probably opt for a colour other than light blue or silver, so that there is more contrast on the dial. The logo also needs pimping up somehow to make it more legible as it looks a bit lost on the dial. Finally on legibility, I’d like to see a stronger application of anti-reflective coating applied to the sapphire crystal. In terms of design, it’d be nice to see the outer edges of the applied baton indices cut at an angle parallel to the dial edges. I’d also either do away with the ‘fake’ screw design or make them bigger and/or functional. Finally, you need to decide which side of the fence you sit on regarding the clasp. Do you like the wearability that the adjustable clasp brings, or do you hanker for a butterfly-style clasp on a dress watch?

Most people will be able to find a watch in the Scarifour collection to suit their style and budget thanks to the vast array of different dial colours available and option to choose the movement. The manual-wind option will keep the mechanical purists happy whilst not adding any thickness to the case. The quartz option will appeal to those looking to keep costs down and want the grab-and-go sensibility that it brings. However, even quartz-phobic watch nerds shouldn’t dismiss the quartz version as I think there is a case to be made for it here. Being a dress watch, the need for precise timing will rarely be a thing. Plus, one of the main reasons cited for buying mechanical is that people love to watch the sweep seconds hand glide around the dial. With the Scarifour there is no seconds hand, so it makes no difference which version you buy on that front!

If you get in quick at the Kickstarter launch prices of £266 for quartz and £460 for the Sellita manual-wind), there isn’t much competition to be honest. In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with alternative rectangular watches that are this slim and have Swiss movements. However, once the Kickstarter is over and full retail prices kick in, the stiffest competition for the Scarifour Hand-wound will come from the likes of the MAEN Manhattan 37 or 39 (€680 and £1000 respectively). Whereas competition for the quartz version competition will come from brands like Second Hour (£330) and Vario (£344). However, even then, the Scarifour is a worthy contender. Plus, it will be significantly cheaper for UK buyers who are often put off by frankly extortionate customs and excise costs when buying watches from outside the UK.

With the Scarifour, Benjamin James set out to make a unique but timeless modern rectangular watch that balances restrained proportions with comfort and wrist presence. I think he’s achieved his goal!


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