Hands-On With The Smiths NATO PRS-40

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“Hello. Mad Max props department here. May we have our watch back please?”

It seems they’ve put something in the water up in Sheffield.  Timefactors have been happily selling their splendid PRS series of fliegers for a few years.  Things have ticked along nicely.  Then, in the space of the last few months,  we’ve had a GMT version of the Speedbird, a PVD Smiths Seafire (review to follow – we hope), the new-old-stock Peseux 7040 movement PRS-36 (reviewed here) the PRS-35 and now the PRS-40.  Of all the new releases, the PRS-40 is certainly the most visually striking.

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If the PRS-36 is Mad Men, the PRS-40 is pure Mad Max.  This is the sort of watch that will – without doubt – survive pretty much whatever you throw at it, throw it into or even if you just plain throw it.  This seems to have been Eddie Platts’ (Timefactors’ founder and owner) thinking too.  He’s applied to the UK Ministry of Defence and got a NATO stock number for the watch.  So, presumably, the Ministry can order a few boxes direct along with their next aircraft carrier.  If you’re interested, it’s 6645-99-994-7232.  We’ll just call it the Mad Max for short.

Case: Steel
Movement: ISA 331.103
Dial: Black
Lume: C3
Lens: Sapphire
Strap: Nylon NATO
Water Res.: 100m
Dimensions: 40 x 53 mm
Thickness: 8.4 mm
Lug Width: 22 mm
Price: $247 w/o VAT

Eddie takes up the story… “Earlier this year I was contacted by the Italian designer Giovanni Moro who said he had an idea for a new watch and he sent me some design pictures. I initially thought it was interesting but not for me. Over the next few weeks I kept returning to the pictures and began to like it more and more which led me to discussing the watch with the designer and reaching an agreement whereby I could licence his design and manufacture the watch under my own brand name.”  Eddie’s changed the movement for a larger one and Moro’s design became the latest Smiths (at least it was until the PRS-37 Seafire popped up).

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This isn’t a watch with pretentions or to wear to the opera if you want to impress with a bit of bling.  It tells you the time.  That’s it.  No fuss, no frills.  It’ll tell it in the dark (SuperLuminova C3 hands and dial five minute markings), and down to 330 feet under whatever liquid you choose.  And it’ll crack on doing it for five years too before the battery end-of-life indicator lets you know it’s time for a change.  That’s assuming you’ve not used it for repairing the tracks on your tank or plugging a leak in your submarine’s nuclear reactor in the meantime.

The whole ‘robust’ thing extends to the two-piece case design.  You get a case and a recessed screw-back with conventional slots for a case opener and engraved with the watch’s details.  Apart from that, there’s a coated sapphire crystal and that’s it.  The lugs cut down sharply from the slab-sided case to keep the whole plot secure on your wrist.  The case itself is angular (although the well-finished edges aren’t sharp at all) and flat in profile.

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Clearly, the most vulnerable part of a conventional watch is the crown.  It’s far too easy to catch it on the magazine of your AK47, the hatch release on the turret of your APC or even your aluminium PowerBook’s case as you’re putting your cappuccino down.  A little like the Seiko SBDB005 Landmaster, the Mad Max has a 12 o’clock crown to keep it out of harm’s way.  Handily, it also means you can adjust the time without having to take your Max off.  Unlike the Seiko, the Max’s crown is partly protected by the bead-blasted, matt case and marked with an engraved Smiths “S”.

The Mad Max’s motive power comes from an ISA 331.103, a robust, 5 jewel movement – enlarged and uprated by Eddie from Moro’s smaller original.  It’s a solid, reliable Swiss motor and should be able to take pretty much anything you dish out.

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Pick up a historical military watch – a Seiko 7a28 or even a Milsub – and you’ll find that the springbars holding the strap are soldered to the case.  This is so you can fit a NATO webbing strap.  Today you’re more likely to see one on a wrist holding a pint of IPA than gripping a Glock, but NATO straps were designed so you didn’t lose your watch if you knocked out a spring bar.  The Mad Max takes this a stage further and integrates the spring bars into the case.  Pretty substantial they are too.  In fact, they’re much more like strap slots milled in the side of the case.  So no matter what you do, you won’t lose your Mad Max because you’ve broken one.  In fact, if you’re in a situation extreme enough to break a Max integrated strap bar, losing your watch is probably the least of your worries.

Appropriately then, the Mad Max comes on a wider-than-usual 22mm grey NATO strap.  It makes sense; the original NATO, snappily named “Defence Standard 66-47 Issue 2”, was grey too.  Like the Max’s case, PRS-40 NATO comes with bead-blasted, matt hardware.  No need to give your position away to the enemy across a darkened meeting room with a stray glint from your strap.

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The dial and hands are wonderfully unambiguous.  The Luminova makes them clear to see at night, and by day just a glance gives you the time.  On the dial, each five minute ticker is slightly extended to make reading simpler.  The lume on the hands is marked half way along so it’s easy to see which is which.  And the second hand has its own lume-filled arrow point.

The obvious market for the Mad Max will be with people who want a beater that’s different from the usual G-Shocks, Ironmen and Seikos.  Clearly, it’s built to stand in line for beater duty.  But to use it only as a watch to save your ‘nice’ watches from getting a hammering would be a shame.  This is proper design in action.  Everything’s been thought about – ease of setting, clarity of reading, protection from the elements and damage – and form simply follows function.  There’s almost something of a Dieter Rams aesthetic going on and a Braun logo wouldn’t look out of place on the dial.

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So while it may be more Mad Max than Mad Men, it certainly won’t be out of place when you’ve hung up your helmet and have a martini waiting on the bar.  $247 w/o VAT at Timefactors.com

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Mark developed a passion for watches at a young age. At 9, he was gifted an Omega Time Computer manual from a local watch maker and he finagled Rolex brochures from a local dealer. Today, residing in the Oxfordshire village of Bampton, Mark brings his technical expertise and robust watch knowledge to worn&wound.
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