Reverso, shmeverso. Forget limited editor Jaegers with fake agency logos. If he could, Don Draper would have strapped this Timefactors’ new Smiths PRS-36 to his wrist as he handed Jean his whisky and walked into his next pitch. Slide the ’36 out of its zipped, padded case and this watch looks to have come straight from the era of single-breasted suits, narrow ties and three Martini lunches.
Making a modern watch with vintage style but without vintage schtick is a challenge, and it’s one Timefactors has managed rather well. For a start, there’s none of the modern ‘let’s take a classic design, ram steroids down its neck and and put a strap on it!’ stuff going on (take note, Tudor). The 316L marine-grade stainless case is a distinctly understated 37mm. It’s less of a shrinking violet on the wrist though – it actually feels as though it wears slightly larger than a 40mm Breitling Aerospace. That’s mostly down the way the cushion case shoulders step down to the lugs. It’ll still slip under the cuff of a button-down Oxford happily enough though.
Unlike some of the fashions of the 1950s and 60s, watch dials from the period have a certain delicacy of finish; an understated typestyle for the numerals and maker’s name, spindled hands and hairline minute tracks. The PRS manages a modern take on the package but doesn’t lose the grace.
The dial is silvered and brushed with a circular grained subsidiary seconds at 6 o’clock. Rather than being simply painted, the Arabic numerals are superluminova-filled with hairline black edging. On the single-closed minute track, the second, third and fourth of every five minute group stand clear of the track by a fraction of a millimetre, adding some more lightness to the dial. The Smiths logo just under the 12 o’clock marker stands over the proud proclamation “Sheffield” – the home of Timefactors. Things have moved north; the original Smiths watches from the 1950s and 1960s were made in Cheltenham.
The vintage skeleton hands are, like the numbers on the dial, luminova-filled. They almost seem blued, but they’re more likely lacquered. The thin, needle point of the minute hand reaches precisely to the middle of those floating 2, 3, and 4 markers, so reading the time at a glance – even after one of those three martini agency lunches – is simple.
There’s no clutter or fussiness to the PRS, no complications or frills. If you need a watch that brags the time in Beijing, splits seconds into 100ths or tells you the month in 2045, look elsewhere. As Don said, “You want some respect? Go out and get it for yourself.”
The 1970’s NOS hand-wound Swiss Peseux 7040 movement ticks at 21,600bph under a sapphire back – and well worth worth putting on display with its côtes de Genève and jeweled plate. It’s a reliable, robust calibre as well as being good-looking. And Nomos based their original movements on another Peseux, the 7001, back in 1991 so there’s firm pedigree. On the forums there have been plenty of favourable comments about accuracy too. It winds as smoothly as a well-made Old Fashioned. There was scope for a gag about hacking and 60-a-day adman habits, but it doesn’t hack. Shame. You can achieve the same end with a little bit of back pressure on the winding crown as you’re setting it though.
You can tell when a designer has done their work. A watch you thought was simple has you coming back and seeing something fresh each time. I’ve already mentioned the 2, 3, and 4 minute markers and the hands, but even on the strap, the oversize buckle is signed with a Smiths “S”. As an aside, the ’36 looks even better on a brown W&W Horween. The subsidiary dial’s 30 second marker, the ascender of the B of “Great Britain” and the main dial’s 6 o’clock all line up neatly. The slight dome on the sapphire glass adds some interest too.
The display back is worth a mention from a detail angle. On the review watch the display caseback was screwed on precisely so that the case opener key marks aligned perfectly with the watch’s crown. Neat.
What will a brand new PRS-36 with a vintage heart set you back? All of £395 ($630). Hardly Madison Avenue money. For that sort of outlay, there’s not much else out there with the same level of finish, movement or style. You won’t see UK-based Timefactors with brand ambassadors on the back of the colour supplements but their owner, Eddie Platts, has been putting together splendid watches like this one since 1996. Given the Draperesque styling of the PRS-36, there’s a rather lovely irony here; Timefactors does advertising like Don does bible classes. But they make some very good watches indeed.