Flying watches nearly always have some heritage behind them. The Bremont MB series, for example. You’ll only get your mitts on an MB I (the rare one with the red knurled barrel) if you’re ‘fortunate’ enough to eject from your aircraft in a Martin Baker ejector seat. That’s impressive enough, but how about a watch that was worn by members of THE most successful WWII RAF squadron, 312 – the ‘Czech Squadron’? We’re measuring success by flying ability here; there are still seven Spitfires in existence today that were flown by 312. That’s the most from any one WWII squadron.
Strangely, the watch associated with 312 is rather less well known than most historical aviation watches. It’s the Longines Czech Air Force (CAF) 3582.
The Longines CAF was originally manufactured in 1935 and used the pocketwatch cal.15.94 movement. Marked on the caseback were the unambiguous words “MAJETEK VOJENSKÉ SPRÁVY” or “Property of Military Affairs”. Longines supplied three dial and movement variations of the watch to the Czech Air Force from 1935 until 1947.
You’ll pay a premium for one of these historic timepieces today. And they aren’t the most wearable of everyday tickers either – so if you want some history AND something you can wear, where do you look? How about UK watch company Timefactors and their Precista brand?
The TimeFactors PRS-9 (full title “Precista Czech Air Force – PRS-9”) draws its inspiration from the Longines CAF 3582. And it’s that RAF Czech squadron – No. 312 – that this watch remembers. (http://www.raf.mod.uk/history/312squadron.cfm)
Originally, you would have needed wings on your tunic and significant self-sacrifice to own a Longines CAF. To strap one to your wrist today you’d need around £2,000, more for one of the rarer models. Timefactors’ PRS-9, is yours for a rather easier £385. What do you get for your money? And how similar are the original and the new?
First up, the case is different. Turn an original CAF over and you can see how its stainless steel case has been folded to make the seamed lugs. You’ll see typical military fixed spring bars too, and a back that pops off to allow you to remove the movement and dial complete. That means an original CAF is as waterproof as the average RAF Nissen hut. The PRS-9 is still stainless, but it’s milled from 316L grade in Germany, the lugs are machined and the case is water-resistant to 30m.
The caseback deserves a special mention. Not only is it held on with four stainless, flathead screws, it is engraved with the squadron crest of 312 in the sort of fine, precision detail that has you reaching for a loupe.
The PRS-9 is an homage that is, in several ways, far more wearable than the original. The Longines’ acrylic crystal was never watertight, simply because it was designed to rotate. Turning the crystal moved a small pointer. The pilot could use it as a primitive GMT marker or to record elapsed flight time. The PRS-9 does likewise, but manages to retain its water resistance. So you turn the plexi crystal – not the bezel – to move the marker. As the PRS’ maker, Eddie Platts, explains, “The fact that the PRS-9 is water resistant to 30 metres is no small design achievement.”
The stainless, coin-edged bezel frames the slightly matte classical black dial. Originally, Longines enamelled their dials. The PRS is rather less fragile but not much less elegant. The fine, squelette hands are filled with bright C3 Super Luminova and run around a closed minute track. 6 o’clock seconds and lumed arabic numerals – no date. Who needs a date in a Spitfire anyway?
The movement, a little ironically, is a new, old stock,17 jewel AS1130 “Wehrmacht” movement, made in Switzerland. It’s hand-wound, solid and – on my watch – accurate. It’s a calibre with some heritage too, dating back to the early 1930s. I suspect it would also prove robust; large gear wheels, heavy plates and plenty of metal involved in construction. It certainly doesn’t wind with the sometimes characterless smoothness of a modern watch. Instead, there’s much more directness and personality when you turn the crown. And, at 18,000bph it also matches the beat of the original Longines calibre. A neat touch.
Straps often seem to end up as a bit of an afterthought. Not here. The PRS-9 runs a 24mm handmade leather strap sourced from the Somerset firm of tanners, Pittards. Somerset is an agricultural county through and through and the PRS’ strap would happily double as a horse bridle – it’s that thick and well made. It softens over time to give a smooth, warm leather. Hardware is bronzed steel and the strap ends are solidly riveted.
The Longines CAF wasn’t a small watch. Neither is the PRS. It weighs in at just over 3 1/2 ounces and measures 44mm including crown. The downswept lugs make sure it doesn’t wear like an alarm clock though, and it’ll easily fit under a shirt cuff, regulation issue or not. And, in fact, the 24mm lug width adds balance to the case.
As ever, Timefactors have thought about their packaging. No plain, cardboard boxes here. Instead, you’ll find a wooden box with a leather pouch inside. The famed Aero Leathers make the pouch and, in it, you’ll find your PRS. There’s also a wooden pen, a large polishing cloth and a serious, no-messing-about springbar tool. You could probably get a cylinder head off a Spitfire using it.
You could put the two watches side by side and although they wouldn’t quite be twins, the heritage and influence are clear.
But historical looks and DNA aren’t all the PRS is about. It’s a proper, practical watch. Let’s face it, you’d be unlikely to wear an original Longines CAF every day. Even just the lack of water resistance counts it out for normal wrist-time. But there’s the historical significance of the original. That may well be the biggest barrier to many people deciding to buckle it on. It’s not a watch for wearing, it’s for examining, thinking on and learning about. It’s really a piece of military history.
In contrast, the PRS is definitely not an artefact. It’s a genuinely robust daily wearer. It’ll do everything a modern watch will do but with rather more character. And that wonderful, new-old-stock 18,000bph movement too.
by Mark McArthur-Christie