Brands so often try to sell you a bill of revolutionary innovation or the ultimate this or that, that when a brand comes along with a seemingly modest goal, it’s quite refreshing. For Elliot Brown, a new UK based watch brand, “It’s about doing things just a little better”. Founded by Ian Elliot and Alex Brown, both veterans of the affordable watch industry, Elliot Brown is not trying to reinvent the wheel, nor are they trying to prove every other watch brand wrong. Their goal is simply to take their cumulative watch industry experience and make functional time pieces that can be worn and enjoyed for “…years, not fashion seasons.”
Elliot Brown’s current line up consists of two watches, the Canford and the the Bloxworth, both available in various colors and finishes. We had the pleasure of spending some time with the Canford, EB’s take on a modern pilot watch. With aggressive, but subdued styling and a dual crown design the Canford immediately stands out from the crowd. It’s familiar, hitting on various trends past and present, but has a unique character and is undeniably appealing.
Elliot Brown’s philosophy is immediately present in the aesthetics of the watch, appearing higher end than its price suggests and a touch more original than competitors in the price range, but it’s also present in the build quality and engineering of the watch. Swiss made through and through, triple sealed crowns for 200m water resistance without being screw-down, shock-resistant to ISO1413 standards and more make for a serious watch. The model we had on hand, PVD with tan leather strap, goes for £312 (about $500). Inside, the Canford features a 3-had ISA Quartz movement, so the overall price of the watch is on the higher side for a standard Quartz watch. The question is, do the looks, build and detailing make it worth it?..
Elliot Brown Canford Review
Case: PVD 316L Steel
Movement: ISA Swiss 331-103
Lens: Mineral Crystal
Water Res.: 200M
Dimensions: 44 x 54mm
Thickness: 13.5 mm
Lug Width: 22 mm
Crown: 6 x 4 mm
Price: £312 (~ $500)
The Canford has a fairly classic pilot’s watch design with proportions that give it a sturdy appearance. The 316L PVD case measures 44 x 54 x 13.5 (to the top of the domed mineral crystal) making this a large watch, though it neither looks or feels as large as it technically is. From above, the lines are as expected, a circular center is flanked by long tapering lugs. From the side, the lugs are taller than typical, allowing for formed leather straps and bracelet end-links. The lugs are drilled, exposing the end of the screw-bars used for securing the strap. The screw-head itself is fairly large, turning it into an aesthetic detail of its own that works well with the design, adding a bit of an industrial edge.
On the right side of the case, at 2 and 4, are the crowns for the internal bezel and time-setting, respectively. One of the more stand-out design features of the watch, the dual-crown design (sometimes referred as ‘super-compressor’, though that’s a bit misleading) gives the Canford a very cool look. In the price range, it’s a pretty unique feature for a pilot watch, the next closest thing being the Bremont MBII, which starts above $5k. The crowns themselves are 6 x 4mm and feature an easily graspable knurled finish. A detail I particularly liked was that each crown had it’s own logo, likely to indicate the function. The time-setting crown has the brand’s shield logo, while the internal bezel crown features an outline of a triangle.
Quality can be seen, but it also can be felt. Turning the internal bezel of the Canford is a wonderful experience. It has just the right amount of stiffness and tension to feel secure and strong, yet is silky smooth. Sometimes internal bezels are too stiff, or too loose, or worst of all have a bit of a crunchy feel. Luckily none of those apply here. The mechanism is as nice as you’d expect on a watch 10x the price.
The PVD finish on the watch is clean an dark. It’s applied over a brushed finish, giving the watch a nice satin sheen. Though there is no special finishing to speak of, the execution overall is good. The PVD finish also extends to the case-back, which has a very cool design. Held down by 6 hex bolts, the back features an incredibly deep relief of the brand’s shield logo. It’s a nice detail that one only appreciates when the watch is off, making it for you rather than something to show off.
Lastly, and perhaps the only controversial detail, is the domed mineral crystal lens. Featuring an anti-reflective coating, this large crystal is visually well executed. At $500, sapphire crystals are fairly common, though I don’t personally have issue with mineral. Though easier to scratch, it’s also easier to buff, cheaper to replace and harder to shatter than sapphire. Sapphire is simply harder to scratch, but if you do, then you’ll likely have to replace it rather than get it buffed. Either way, it’s in your best interest not to smack your watch into things (duh).
The Canford takes elements of modern aviator and pilot watches and mixes them up just enough to feel original, yet make sense within the genre. The first thing I immediately noticed when first seeing the watch, is that they applied circular graining to nearly the entire black surface. This gives the watch a lot of texture and depth. The way that light hits the graining is similar to a sunburst effect, but more dynamic. It also makes the various markers that are within in pop out all the more.
The primary index of the watch consists of thin, long rectangles in a tan color, one per hour. At 12, 3, 6 and 9 are very large numerals, presented in an elongated, angular font. I quite like the choice of font used as it is a bit different than the more rounded fonts used by other brands. The layout of the numbers is curious as well. The 3 and 9 numerals appear close to the center given their widths. Typically, a brand might have shortened the rectangles on either side of 3 and 9, and moved the numerals out towards the edge to create a more even circle around the center. By not doing this, the balance is interesting, putting more of a focus on the center of the dial.
Between the hour markers are small light gray lines for the individual minutes/seconds and between those are white lines at 1/5th second precision. Though I like the look of the very fine lines, they make more sense on a mechanical watch with sweep seconds. On the outer edge, there are also small white lume dots, one per hour, except at 12, which has three.
The palette of the dial hit the nail on the head. The tan/black trend is fairly popular right now, as it gives watches a bit of a faux-vintage feel. In this instance, I don’t think they were going for an aged effect so much as something earthy and masculine. The tan comes off as a bit like a camouflage tone, emphasizing the military heritage of a pilot’s watch. It’s also more restrained than white, giving the watch a more subdued feeling.
Located at 4.5 is a circular date window. The date wheel is matte black with tan printing that matches the other markings on the dial. The date is also angle corrected to appear up right in the window. As one of those things that is just a little bit better, this makes a huge difference and looks great. I’m frankly quite tired of seeing watches that overlook the date detail. If new brands making watches in this price range (also see the Halios Tropik B) can manage to customize their date wheels to match their dials, then large brands making pricier watches have no excuse anymore. Frankly, no one does. Brands, fix your date wheels, period…
The internal bezel looks great with the dial as well. The deeply angled ring features an index of lines and numerals in matching tan. If you have it aligned to the origin, the numerals can also provide a second reference for the minutes. I mostly really enjoy the added depth and the play with proportions. By having the internal bezel, the main dial shrinks a bit, giving it a nice compact feel. Simply put, everything is in its right place.
The Canford features black roman sword style hour and minute hands with tan lume filling, playing off of the typical aviator style. The seconds hand is a tan colored stick with a diamond shaped lume area towards the tip and a counter weight on the reverse side. Overall, the lume is pretty sparse and underwhelming on the watch. Being left to the small white dots on the dial, and the filling on the hands, it’s not particularly legible. The lume on the hour and minute hands are also a bit spotty. Tan lume seems to always be a bit troublesome.
The Elliot Brown Canford uses an ISA Swiss 331-103 5-jewel quartz movement with 3-hands, date, end of life indicator and 5-year battery life. I inquired about their choice of movement, to which Alex Brown explained that is it “tough, elegant, repairable and allows us to use 4 x dial feet”. A dial foot is the small column that is soldered the bottom of the dial that orients it on the movement and keeps it in position. Many movements, likely more commonly, allow for two dial feet.
Having seen many bent feet, which can interfere with basic functionality, on watches that were used aggressively, the founders of Elliot Brown opted for the 4x version. This likely adds to the overall shock resistance of the watch and certainly its longterm durability.
Straps and Wearability
The Canford model we chose came mounted on a 22mm tan leather strap with formed end pieces, making it fit a bit more like a bracelet. The tan leather perfectly matches the tan elements on the dial, emphasizing them. The strap itself is made of a nice quality leather and has white detail stitching. The coolest detail, however, is the PVD deployment clasp. It’s not the mechanism or shape that is interesting, in fact it seems to be pretty standard. What is interesting is that their shield logo is milled in, and then filled with cream lume. So, yes, the buckle glows.
As I mentioned before, the watch looks and feels a bit smaller than 44 x 54mm, like its a 42mm or so. This could be from the PVD or the proportions, but regardless is welcome. It’s a very wearable large watch that doesn’t seem like it wants to be a part of the large watch trend. Instead, it’s quietly masculine with strong lines and a serious, but not severe look. The formed strap does add some bulk to it though, as the area at the lugs is a bit bloated (an issue that seems common with this variety of strap).
The look really works. It’s sporty and cool, but restrained and even sophisticated. A good sport watch should really fit in both casual and more formal situations, and the Canford seems to have achieved that. The mix of black and tan also makes for a very versatile palette to build off of. This watch looks great with just about any color, and works with anything from a t-shirt to an Oxford and Cardigan, though likely good hard-wearing materials will make the most sense.
There is a lot to like about the Elliot Brown Canford. The looks, build and details all come together for a great whole. I also really liked wearing a pilot/aviator that didn’t feel derivative. This watch has it’s own personality, and it’s one worth getting to know. Elliot Brown lived up to their own philosophy in that the Canford seems like an evolution of the watches that were perhaps starting to seem the same, and blur into each other a bit too much. They didn’t reinvent, they just improved.
In all ways but one: the movement. Quartz has its time and place, they keep great time, are durable and require little to no maintenance. But, they just don’t have the magic of mechanical. The positive qualities of everything that is so successful with the Canford are a bit downplayed by the movement. There is something very material and tactile about the watch that doesn’t translate to the artificial heart within. The price is acceptable because of the quality of the build and elegance of the deisgn, but I’d rather pay more for a mechanical version.
In the end of the day, I do think there is room in everyone’s collection for a quartz or two. One with interesting complications and another that you can wear fearlessly. In that context the Canford is the latter, and makes sense as such. So, you’re not going to be disappointed by this watch at all if you have no issues with quartz or are specifically looking for one. Perhaps the most exciting thing is really just the introduction of a new brand in this market space that is doing exciting things. I really look forward to seeing how Elliot Brown develops.