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From family to fit – How Benjamin James is redefining what it means to wear a small watch.

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When seeing the Scarifour for the first time, it feels at once familiar, and fresh.

I lost my grandparents early in my life. With only vague memories of times spent at the ocean and trinkets loose in a shoebox tucked away in my garage.

Their legacy is reduced to fragments of my character and photographs I haven’t looked at in years.

I have a sense that our choices in life are directed by them somehow, influenced by those that came before.

When I met Benjamin James, I could feel this connection to the past as soon as he started talking. His passion for well fitting watches shining through a smile that could only have come from his grandfather, the man who first instilled the love of rectangular pieces in Ben as a young boy.

Ben and his grandfather
Ben and his Grandfather

Launching his Brand ‘Benjamin James’ with his debut piece, The Scarifour (named after his childhood home), Ben is offering this classically size watch on kickstarter at the end of the month. Is this just another crowdfunded watch destined for the bottom drawer, is it an opportunity to be a part of something truly special? Let’s find out.

Who is Benjamin James

Somewhat of a veteran in the industry, Ben has been working with brands as a photographer and designer for over 8 years. Helping to launch multiple successful designs, having led the watch devision of WatchGecko and solidifying himself as an authority in the UK watch industry.  Although humble in his tone, it’s clear that he knows what he’s talking about. So far, so good!

Ben, the man himself
Ben, the man himself

I was lucky enough to have a brief call with Ben and asked him to share a bit about his background and the inspiration behind his new brand. Here’s what he had to say.

You’ve had a lot of experience within the industry working for other brands. Why go out on your own now?

Working for other brands was absolutely invaluable for gaining experience but there’s nothing like doing something for yourself. It makes the creation of the first product so pure as you aren’t designing based on any historical data or targets - just fed on complete passion and inspiration. Also, both my father and grandfather are self employed which was a big influence on me growing up, so I think it was always inevitable that I would go out on my own at some point!

The Scarifour by Benjamin James

What are some of the specific watches that your grandfather had that have inspired you?

He is a massive fan of the Reverso range and my most vivid memories of watches as a kid were always from him talking about them and showing me the intricate details, such as how they flipped over, the pearlage pattern on the underside, and the moon phase complication on one that he owned for a while.

Did you design the Scarifour with an image of him wearing it in mind?

Yes, actually my original plan was to name the brand after him but had to decide against it due to some issues with using the name (There is another person with the same name that is well known for controversial issues). However, he also grew up in the same house and so naming the debut range Scarifour is really dedicated to my family history.

The Scarifour on wrist
The Scarifour on the wrist

Why was your childhood home such an inspiration to you?

I believe the human connection element is such a massive part of why the watch industry is so amazing, and so I wanted to symbolise that through the naming and story of the brand. I’m sure a lot of people who are watch enthusiasts can relate to that shared element of passion, often passed down through family.

The Scarifour by Benjamin James

What do you think he will say when he first puts the Scarifour on, and how will that make you feel?

He’s a bit of a joker, so I’m sure he would say it’s a copy of one of the watches he has owned, haha. In seriousness, though, I’m sure he will love it and be proud to see parts of his own life story reflected in the watch.

Speaking on a more technical note, how did you land on the proportions of the watch? Were there any technical/design principles you leaned on, or was it something that just felt right?

With this watch, I wanted it to lean on the feel of how true classic rectangular watches wear, and blend that into the modern day with some sporty elements. There was heavy inspiration from a lot of 1980s rectangular designs, but in honesty the design process of making a custom case / bracelet is so long that by the time you have reworked the proportions a hundred times, it just comes together when it feels right.

The sizing really followed 2 rules:
1. Take the best of classic inspiration to create a well-balanced product that stands out in the market and offers a fresh choice.
2. Be as thin as possible while balancing the specification for quality and longevity.

8.3 mm thin
8.3 mm thin

A watch for the traditionalists?

When seeing the Scarifour for the first time, it feels at once familiar, and fresh. Not an easy feat in today's world of ‘innovative’ design (that’s sarcasm, by the way). It’s nice to see something truly different.
There’s a hint of nostalgic about rectangular watches, they remind me of another time, but this sense of familiarity can also make a watch feel stale and outdated. It’s a fine line and one that can make or break a brand that draws inspiration from the past.

The Scarifour on the wrist
The Scarifour on the wrist

The Dial

Reminiscent of Ben’s childhood home and inspired by the coat of arms of the town he grew up in, Cheltenham, The dial of the Scarifour features a chevron pattern with a subtle horizontal brushing. It’s called the Heraldry Dial, and it’s detailed without being overly fussy.

The movement

In the search for the ultimate proportions. The Scarifour offers two extremely slim calibres, one mechanical and one quartz.
The mechanical option is a Sellita SW210-1 B, a relatively simple hand wound movement that is only 3.35 mm thick.
The Quartz option, on the other hand, is the Rhonda 762 Swiss made. It’s a four jewel, gold-plated movement that claims to have a ten-year battery life. Not bad! And at only 2.5 mm thick, it’s a perfect for a watch like this.

The Benjamin James Scarifour

When thinking about what movement I would go for, my immediate thought as a  watch snob was the Sellita. But then I got to thinking, maybe a watch like this works better as a quartz. It’s more accurate, you don’t have to set it and with no running seconds hand, you won’t be able to tell its battery powered anyway.

It’s the quartz movement for me. Did a shiver just go down your spine?

The case and Bracelet

Inextricably linked like any good integrated bracelet watch, the case, and the bracelet flow into one another with a sharp curve at the corners. The bezel and the centre links are bumping up onto the limit of how much exposed mirror polish is appropriate for a watch that is meant to be worn every day. But the inclusion of a largely brushed bracelet, brings it down a few notches. The bezel in particular reminds me of the Cartier Santos, and that thing scratches if you breathe on it too hard… It’s yet to be seen if the Scarifour fares any better.

The Benjamin James Scarifour
The Benjamin James Scarifour

I’m looking forward to getting to try one of these in the metal, and I’ll be sure to update you when I do. But first impressions are positive and if the images are anything to go off, I think Ben is onto a winner.

The Benjamin James Scarifour

I get a little nervous when I hear of new kickstarter watch projects. How many have come and gone, been funded and failed? There's a view that crowdfunding a product like this will decrease its credibility somehow. Like it would be more legitimate if it was bootstrapped, had outside investment or was kept off a platform that has seen its fair share of cash grabs. Maybe I’m just jaded.

In any case, this one feels different.

Benjamin James the brand feels authentic, well-thought-out and optimistic. Benjamin James the man, on the other hand, seems intelligent, nostalgic, and down to earth. He’s stately but approachable. And this is why I think his watch, The Scarifour, will be a hit. It doesn’t hide behind size or flashy details, it’s just a well-designed, well sized watch.

I’m in.

So let’s pay homage to our collective grandfathers, embrace the small watch revolution and support a man who’s doing things his way, with a little help from his past.

Check out the website HERE, and make sure you follow the brand on Instagram HERE

*UPDATE* After fully finding in under an hour, Ben cancelled his kickstarter. Read about what happened next HERE

Cya in the next one.

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