Resurrecting past glories is always a challenge with a tendency to go rather wrong. The modern VW Beetle resembles Ferry Porsche’s design like a bottle of Tesco Value Red resembles Château Cheval Blanc 2000. Citroën’s chief executive should be publicly pickled in LHM fluid for permitting the DS5 – that Picasso-in-a-frock – to use Bertoni’s sacred DS name.
Timefactors’ Eddie Platts has been brave indeed in resurrecting the venerable name of Sewills. Joseph Sewell started making nautical navigation instruments in nineteenth century Liverpool, only ceasing manufacture in 2000. Sewill’s original instruments are things of beauty and function, found on merchantmen and even Cunard liners. His marine chronometers have the easy elegance that nineteenth century craftsmen gave to everything from cast iron railway station pillars to postboxes. Even the engraving on his sextants would make modern typographers weep.
So, does the the Timefactors Ferreira (PRS-39) manage it?
The 316L stainless case holds one of the watch’s chief attractions – the Unitas 6498 hand-winding movement. But this is a Unitas 6498 in the same way that a Mercedes 190 Cosworth Evo 2 is an average ’80s saloon car. The 3/4 top plate and balance cock have blued screws, côtes de Genève (stripes) and anglage (bevelled edges). In other words, they’re beautiful. The movement now has a Nivarox hairspring controlling a Glucydur screwed balance and a swan-neck regulator, so accuracy or fine adjustment shouldn’t be a problem.
The Unitas is renowned as an almost unburstable movement, so the Ferreira could work neatly as an heirloom watch and pass from one generation to the next. All it’ll need is regular servicing and some care.
The case is 42mm (decide for yourself whether it wears smaller) and the movement’s on display through the sapphire, screwed-in back. Look around the caseback’s edges and you’ll see the Sewills name and PRS number, the depth rating (a useful 100m), the movement’s name and, crucially, the series number. Eddie Platts is only having 100 of these watches made and each one is numbered.
The front of the watch shows off a coin-edged bezel, also in stainless, with the flat sapphire crystal sitting very slightly proud. There are two raised bands around the case diameter that echo traditional gimbal-mounted marine chronometers. The horn lugs are a wide 22mm, holding a grained calf leather strap. No fiddling about with buckles either – there’s a simple deployant clasp with the Sewills name. The cog-style crown turns smoothly.
The second attractions have to be the dial and hands. The latter – with their unique skeleton, lozenge-topped design – caused quite a fuss in the office when the watch was handed around. There was an absolute 50:50 split between ‘hell, yes’ and ‘blimey, no’. Interestingly, a week later, most of the ‘no’ camp had shifted. So if you’re not a fan initially, give those carefully blued hands time to grow on you.
The dial has a plain white background, a closed minute track and a six o’clock subsidiary seconds dial. The paint on the crisp Roman numerals is very visibly proud of the dial, adding a real sense of depth and quality. And you’ll have spotted the number ‘4608’ just inside that subsidiary seconds dial. That’s a clear reference to the ship – the Ferreia – from which the watch takes its name. 4608 was the serial number of the Sewills ship’s chronometer that enabled the navigator to calculate longitude. The original is now in Greenwich’s Maritime Museum.
There’s a strong design reference here too; Ferreia’s chronometer carried the words “36 Cornhill, London” in red on its subsidiary seconds dial along with the same closed minute track and Roman numerals. Many Sewills marine chronometers did likewise.
Timefactors’ packaging usually tends towards the functional – and is none the worse for that. The Ferreira arrives in a rather more up-stage piano-black, gloss, wooden box. You’ll also get a booklet explaining the history of the ship that gave the watch its name.
Eddie Platt’s Ferreia raises two questions: has the watch resurrected more than just the Sewills name and is it worth the £980 price tag?
The world of ornate, hand-made marine chronometers has long passed. Functionally, nautical navigation is simpler and more accurate for it. Romantically and horologically, it’s a clear loss. But the PRS-39 carries the same simple elegance and beauty-in-function of those marine watches. The whole watch is an exceptionally high quality piece from the materials to the design and finishing. The significant reworking of the movement alone takes it a long way from being a stock Unitas.
There’s an evolution here – an updating of the Sewills name rather than a simple resurrection. But that’s exactly the issue with the Beetle and the modern DS – they’re evolutionary parodies of the original. Fortunately, it’s not an accusation that can be leveled at the Ferreia.
Is it worth the asking price of nearly £1,000, making it the most expensive Timefactors watch? The answer is a very definite ‘yes’. To explain that comment, imagine the logo of another, more mainstream, maker on the dial. What would the ticket read? For a Unitas 6498, completely reworked, uprated and decorated, a one-off case and dial design, blued hands? You’d be handing over at least £3,000, probably rather more.
With only 100 made, the Ferreira may not be around on the shelves for very long.