TimeFactors Speedbird III (PRS-22) Hands-On

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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?

PRS22_SPEEDBIRD_III_DIAL1

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.

PRS22_SPEEDBIRD_III_FACE1Case: 316L Brushed Steel
Movement: ETA 2824-2 TOP
Dial: Black Iron
Lume: C3
Lens: Sapphire A/R on Underside
Strap: Steel Bracelet + Nylon NATO
Water Res.: 100M
Dimensions: 39 x 42.6mm
Thickness: 11.9mm
Lug Width: 20 mm
Crown: screw-down
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.

PRS22_SPEEDBIRD_III_NATO1

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.

PRS22_SPEEDBIRD_III_DIAL2

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.

PRS22_SPEEDBIRD_III_BRACELET1

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.

PRS22_WRIST

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

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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.
markchristie mark_mcarthur_christie

9 responses to “TimeFactors Speedbird III (PRS-22) Hands-On”

  1. Josh says:

    Nice review!

    It’s hard to argue with the quality to price ratio of Eddie’s watches. I’ve got the Speedbird 1903 (PRS-12) and the Smiths Radio Room (PRS-28) and they are both well executed, nicely finished examples of what a boutique or micro-brand can accomplish.

    I would welcome the opportunity to pick up another one of his watches and the Speedbird III has been on my radar for a while.

  2. Gavin says:

    Great review of a watch that deserves unlimited praise. I have one that I added to my collection (also have the Precista PRS-18) about two months ago and I’ve been absolutely besotted with it.

    Its understated elegance allows it to be worn for almost occasion and it’s drawn more positive comments than any other watch in my collection. In fact, I’m wearing it today.

  3. Paul says:

    Excellent write up very clear and concise description thanks.
    Paul.

  4. Great read and a really well-made point. Also asks a challenging question of folk: “Why do you buy a watch”. I’m certain there are those who would see this and think it’s lovely but deep down they know they wouldn’t buy one because there’s no brand identity. More of the same please!

  5. H.P.N. says:

    Very nice. Do they deduct VAT for non-EU purchases?

  6. Evan C says:

    I have been drooling over this watch, and their reproduction of the Smiths military watch. It is one of the few date windows I have thought looked good in a while, and I think the blunt hour hand contrasts well with the pointed minute hand. Thanks for the review!

  7. Erik C says:

    This is one of the most entertaining and well written reviews I have read recently. Frankly, I am not too hot about the look of the Pecista, but I was about ready to order one by time I finished reading. Well done, Mr. Christie!

    I am impressed with the quality of the reviews on Worn and Wound and they seem to be getting better all the time. I am always excited to see a new review when I visit.

    Kudos to the crowd at W&W. Keep up the good work!

    Best,
    EC

  8. I would like to know if you would do could reviews of women’s watches or if you could direct me to a sight the does? I’ve read your reviews for a while now and have really enjoyed.

    Thanks

  9. mcsu says:

    Like the look of the PST-22 but check out the GMT version if you want some thing a little different.