Sit back, pour yourself a drop of your favourite and have a think…
If someone told you that you could get a proper Flieger from a boutique maker, numbered case and dial, in-house design, screwed-in crown tube (none of this pressed-in stuff), 80,000 A/m soft-iron inner case and a top-grade ETA 2824-2 movement, what would you guess the price tag would read? £3,000? Maybe a snip at £2,000?
Now we’ve started, a couple more questions…
Where would you expect this paragon of low-volume horology to come from? La Locle? Geneva? La Chaux-de-Fonds? Glashütte?
And what would the logo on the dial read? Omega, possibly. IWC, perhaps. Breitling or Bremont, maybe?
I’ll bet you a pint in my village local (should you be lucky enough to find yourself in Bampton’s splendid Morris Clown) that your answers are not, respectively, £470, Sheffield and Timefactors.
From South Yorkshire, Eddie Platts, Timefactors’ owner, has been shooting across the bows of the branded Swiss watch industry since 1996. The PRS-22 with its new, upgraded movement is, in my view, his best shot yet. In terms of rapport qualité-prix, they really don’t come any better.
Case: 316L Brushed Steel
Movement: ETA 2824-2 TOP
Dial: Black Iron
Lens: Sapphire A/R on Underside
Strap: Steel Bracelet + Nylon NATO
Water Res.: 100M
Dimensions: 39 x 42.6mm
Lug Width: 20 mm
Warranty: 2 year
Price: £470 (around $760)
If you’re familiar with IWC’s early pilot watches, the PRS-22 may start a few echoes. There’s a resemblance to the smaller MK XII and, more closely, the 38mm Mk XV. To be fair, proper fliegers like the MK XV and PRS-22 will have similar features: soft iron inner case, negative pressure secured crystal, unornamented, clean dial. Here, the similarities run deeper. Both the MkXV and the PRS are powered by ETA movements, modified in the case of the Mk XV. Both have an almost completely plain, brushed (don’t want glare in the cockpit) case and a heavy stainless steel bracelet. In both watches, the craftsmanship focuses on function rather than form.
This means that the PRS-22 is not a watch for blingmeisters. The soft-iron dial (part of the antimagnetic protection) is semi-matte black and doesn’t carry a logo, just numbers, indices picked out in C3 superluminova and “Great Britain”. And it’s a thick, heavy dial too. Telling the time takes no more than a quick flick of the eyes, day or night. Just as it should be.
The 39mm case is plain, milled 316L stainless steel – the same stuff Rolex used for their cases until the early 2000s. The design is slightly reminiscent of the slab-sided Sinn 756; plain, no frills, nothing but a clean, brushed finish. The back and crown are both screwed-down, so you have a useful 100m of water resistance to play with.
Open the outer case and you’ll see the back of the soft iron inner case, helping the PRS towards its 80,000A/m rating. That’s very comfortably within the ISO 764 standard of 4,800 A/m. To be fair, the Glucydur balances and Nivarox hairsprings of most modern watches render them resistant to pretty much any magnetic field you’ll meet, so it’s a tad overkill. But people buy Sea Dwellers with 1220 meters water resistance and never venture further than their local swimming baths, so why not?
This is designed as a practical aviation watch, so the anti-reflective coated sapphire crystal is tested to a negative pressure of 0.4 ATM. That makes sure it won’t come away from the bezel if there’s a fall in cockpit pressure when that pesky Messerschmidt gets on your tail and you have to climb hard left. Although watches in aviation are largely redundant, a watch with this sort of specification is going to be properly robust. You can throw plenty at a PRS-22 and it’ll come back ticking happily. In fact, if you find yourself in need of a heavy (165 grammes), blunt instrument, the PRS could be very handy indeed.
A lot of that watch’s weight is in the stainless steel, close-linked bracelet. And it really is a beauty. If you stamped a serious, Swiss-brand logo on this you could charge twice the price of the PRS-22 and get away with it. The links are solid stainless with tight tolerances, a stainless centre-clasp and screwed adjusters. You’ll just need two, tiny jewellers’ screwdrivers to adjust it to length – and the fiddling is worth it for the security.
If, like me, you like the idea of bracelets but not actually wearing them, Mr Platts has catered for you too. In the useful soft travel case that comes with the PRS-22 is a Speedbird NATO strap. I alternate mine (as in the pictures) between a plain, black NATO and a black, Horween Cordovan band.
So, in my opinion, there isn’t a watch out there to beat the PRS-22 for quality at its current price – or, indeed, even at a rather stiffer pricetag. Its plain lines won’t appeal to everyone, but in my view, it has a simplicity that just works and belies its low cost.
But a watch like this raises some difficult questions. Forgive the philosophizing, but what do you get when you hand over a wedge of cash to buy a watch? Clearly, you get a movement, a case, a varied selection of hands (though only one if you plump for a Meistersinger) and a strap. But what else? You’re buying history too; the history of the brand you choose. The sub-sea, motorsport and mountain-climbing heritage of Rolex. The military flying history of Bremont, IWC and Breitling. And that history and brand come at a price.
The PRS-22 doesn’t offer a delineated and cultivated brand history. So, given that you’ll find the 2824-2 movement (or derivatives of it) and similar case specifications in watches costing at least five times as much, it means you can put a very definite price on the brand and history from other makers. The big question is – are you prepared to pay it?
by Mark McArthur Christie