Sunday, March 24, 2013

Review of Precista PRS-9 Czech Air Force Manual Wind

Model # PRS-9
Brand/Model:  Precista PRS-9 Czech Air Force Manual Wind
Movement:  New Old Stock Swiss manual wind
Material:  stainless steel case, leather strap
Complications:  none
Price:  MSRP £385 British Pounds/approx. $580 USD

Plenty of photos follow the review.  Click on the pictures to enlarge.

Precista is one of the brands of Timefactors, run by Eddie Platts in the UK.  Since 1996, Timefactors has been selling watches strictly on-line and currently, the company produces a nice range of unique, small production-run watches, many of which are homages to famous watches of the past. 

You may also be familiar with Timefactors when they introduced the now iconic ‘Dreadnought’ diver about ten years ago.  While I tend to eschew most homage watches because I always prefer to own the real thing if I can, this homage to the fabled Longines Czech Air Force watch from 1938 caught my eye and looked intriguing.  I also took the plunge because the real Longines Czech Air Force watches are very rare and quite pricey.
What Timefactors does and does extremely well is take their time in producing a new model.  It doesn’t matter if it takes Eddie a year or more working with detailed construction drawings and interfacing closely with his manufacturers and suppliers to make sure a Timefactors watch is a top-quality, well-designed and durable timepiece.  Hats off to this philosophy.  
It took some time to properly engineer the PRS-9, mainly because Timefactors wanted to ensure at least a modicum of real water resistance (the original had no real water resistance) and still have the crystal rotate when the bezel is turned ala the original, which rotates the red pointer around the dial for timing purposes.  Even though the PRS-9 has only a 30 meter water resistance, the company achieved their goal and the result is quite a special watch.
Ordering from Timefactors through their web site was a breeze.  Eddie responded to my inquiry about availability before ordering and once the trigger was pulled, the watch shipped out promptly and showed up from the UK to the U.S. in a few days.  Shipping, foreign transaction fees and brokerage fees added to the total cost, so bear this in mind if you are planning to purchase one.
The PRS-9 starts with a mirror finish high polish 316L all stainless steel case in a unique squared off shape that is somewhat cushion-like.  The case measures 41mm without the signed winding crown; 44mm crown inclusive. 

What immediately impressed me about this watch was the quality look and feel and great fit and finish of the case, which is crafted in Germany, along with the rest of the watch.  This being my first experience with a Timefactors watch, I was wondering how the quality would be.  Trust me, it’s superb.
The PRS-9 has a polished and very nicely engraved caseback, detailing the Czech Air Force heritage this watch pays homage to.  The caseback is held in place by four screws, one at each corner.  Case thickness is 13.7mm, lug spacing is 24mm.  The lugs are drilled for easier strap changes.

It might seem odd to have a 24mm lug spacing on a watch that’s only 41mm in diameter, but due to the squareish shape of the case and the way the lugs angle off downwards rather sharply from the case, the 24mm spacing works and doesn’t make the watch look weird.  Lug-tip to lug-tip measures 51.6mm.
Timefactors lists the weight of the PRS-9 at 95 grams including the strap.  As previously stated, the watch is factory rated at a modest 30 meters of water resistance.
The dial is very legible on this watch, being a matte black with SuperLuminova C3 luminous material for the arabics that encircle dial.  The hands are silver with inset lume and both the dial and hands glow brightly. 

The hand style is referred to as ‘squelette’ style or in more general parlance, ‘vintage’ style.  Either way, they look great.  The seconds hand is in the subdial at the 6 position, which consists of a simple 60-second track and a straight silver stick for the seconds hand.
The bezel is a fluted, coin-edge style design that rotates in either direction along with the high dome acrylic crystal and red pointer below the crystal.  The bezel rotates with the perfect amount of friction, not too hard, not too easy, which makes sense given the water resistance capabilities of the bezel/crystal design.
The dial has the ‘Precista’ brand name below the 12 position and ‘Great Britain’ at the bottom edge of the dial.  Even though the watch is manufactured in Germany, having Great Britain on the dial pays homage to its design birth in the UK.
One nifty element of the PRS-9 is that given it is an homage to a watch that existed 75 years ago, Timefactors puts a new-old-stock (NOS) movement inside, which gives this piece an unmistakable vintage feel.  A great move on Timefactor’s part.
The movement inside the PRS-9 is a Swiss Made AS-1130 ‘Wehrmacht’ caliber, with 17 jewels, manual winding and beating at a durable 18,000 bph.  Power reserve is listed by Timefactors at 41 hours; during my testing, I clocked the power reserve a bit shorter at 39 hours. 

Since the watch doesn’t hack, accuracy checking is a bit more difficult, but I have seen about +30 over a 24-hour period.  And just to ease your mind, since ‘NOS’ and ‘Swiss movement’ many times means servicing prior to reliability, Timefactors has stripped, cleaned, inspected, oiled and regulated all the movements placed in the PRS-9, so they are good to go and work perfectly.  A manual wind, slower beat movement in an homage watch just seems so right.
The strap on the PRS-9 is another highlight of this intriguing watch.  Crafted by long-time English leather artisans Pittards, the strap is butter soft glove leather, mildly padded and is a pleasing shade of dark brown bordering on burgundy.  The strap was designed to reflect the straps originally fitted to the Czech Air Force watches and features copper colored/bronzed screwed rivets at the lugs, a roller style buckle and fixed metal keeper, plus a floating leather keeper.  The strap measures 24mm at the lugs and tapers to 21.5mm at the buckle.
The only problem I have with this wonderful strap is that it is almost too long for my smaller wrist.  I have to have the buckle on the last hole in the strap to achieve a good fit and that tends to offset the buckle from the bottom center of the wrist and shifts it to the left.  This makes wearing the watch a bit ungainly but not enough to be a deal breaker.  Since the strap is such a beauty, I could not bear to put a different strap on the watch, so I have learned to live with this anomaly.  If you have an average size or larger wrist, you should have no trouble getting a near perfect fit.
The presentation for the PRS-9 is as unique as the watch itself.  The outer box is an unfinished wooden crate that has Czech printing on the lid that opens to reveal a dark brown ‘aero’ leather pouch that holds the watch.  Additional goodies include a strap changing tool, a Timefactors pen, and two cleaning cloths (one cloth being extra large.)  A simple color sheet has the instructions and a signed warranty card complete the PRS-9 presentation.  The watch also came amply packed and padded to prevent any damage during the overseas shipping.

You have to admire the time and care that only a small company like Timefactors can put into a project like the PRS-9 watch.  It’s top quality from the case to the strap and everything in-between.  And given the fact that the production volume on this watch is not real high, the price puts it within reach of many a WIS and much less than the real thing from 1938. 

Congrats to Eddie Platts and Timefactors for producing a thoroughly engaging and modern watch that doesn’t lose sight of the original.  The Timefactors Precista PRS-9 Czech Air Force homage is a winner.
Pros:  top quality fit and finish, superb case, thoroughly serviced NOS Swiss movement, high quality strap, unique looks, easy-to-read
Cons:  still has a modest water resistance rating, strap a bit too long for smaller wrists, accuracy of manual wind movement could be better
Verdict:  a superb homage to the fabled Czech Air Force watch by Longines, the Precista PRS-9 fills the bill with its high quality, good looks and unique style from boutique company Timefactors. ‘Smashing!’ as they say in England

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Review of Steinhart Marine Officer Automatic Chronograph

Model # C0410
Brand/Model:  Steinhart Marine Officer Automatic Chronograph
Movement:  Swiss automatic w/ chronograph module
Material:  stainless steel case, leather strap
Complications:  chronograph timing in one-second increments up to 30 minutes
Price:  810 Euro (includes VAT)/(approx. $1,050 USD);
681 Euro without VAT/(approx. $885 USD)

Plenty of photos follow the review.  Click on the pictures to enlarge.

Steinhart is an independent watch company based in Germany that was founded by and currently led by Günter Steinhart.  Steinhart has its watches made in the Jura region of Switzerland.  The company produces a wide array of pilot, diver, GMT, chronograph and special edition watches, all of which have Swiss made automatic or manual wind movements. 

The company primarily sells direct (at least in the USA) through their web site, while distributors serve various other parts of the world.  Ordering from the company is a snap and Steinhart is known for their excellent customer service.  More on this in a bit.
According to Steinhart, the Marine Officer Chronograph is styled after watches worn by deck officers of the Italian Navy near the end of World War II.  What attracted me to this model from Steinhart is that it is one of the more original designs that Steinhart produces.  Many of their watches, at least to me, are too derivative of already established designs (do we really need yet another Sub homage?  Seriously?) 

The Marine Officer Chronograph comes in the grey dial reviewed here, as well as a beige dial (with brown strap) and navy dial with dark blue strap.  I love grey dial watches because they are fairly hard to find and the combination of the lighter grey dial with the medium grey leather strap is a winner on this model, so I took the plunge.  I ordered via Steinhart’s web site and my order shipped the next day from Germany and took about four days to arrive in the states.  Impressive.  
If you order from the U.S., you will not pay the European VAT, which reduces the cost of the watch a bit, but you still have to pay shipping, brokerage fees from the shipper and conversion fees via PayPal, so things do add up a bit.  What I’m trying to say is that while they are well-made watches, a Steinhart does not necessarily translate to a strong value to me.  They are competitively priced, but a bit on the high end, considering the brand is not a long-standing Swiss institution.  All the more reason to me to select a model that has a more original look to it.
The Marine Officer Chronograph starts with a rather large 44.4mm stainless steel case which is fully brushed.  Case width including crown is 49.4mm.  The crown is nicely proportioned, signed with the Steinhart ‘S’ and does not screw down.  Lug width is 22mm, case thickness is 16mm.  Steinhart lists the weight at 125 grams.  The caseback is brushed and is now a display type with a mineral crystal.  
When I ordered my Marine Officer, the web site showed (and still shows in at least one photo) a solid, engraved caseback with a tall ship depicted.  When I received my watch, it came with the display back, showing off a mildly decorated movement with an entirely plain rotor (see photo). 

Now, it appears that Steinhart is installing a gold wash rotor with a skeletonized Steinhart crown logo, as this is now shown on their web site.  Not a huge problem, but I really wanted the solid back because I like the way it looks.  I contacted Steinhart through their web site requesting a solid caseback and they sent one out promptly and at no charge.  They also offered to reimburse me for the cost of installation by a watchmaker, which was very generous, but not needed because I had the appropriate tools to make the switch. 

It would have been nice if my watch had the upgraded rotor, but since it is now hidden behind the good-looking solid caseback, it’s a moot point.  So kudos to Steinhart for excellent customer service.
The Marine Officer Chronograph is factory rated for a very modest 3 ATM of water resistance, so best be keeping this one dry.  It’s kind of a conundrum, having a watch with ‘marine’ in its name and having such a low water resistance.  Memo to Steinhart:  a 10 ATM minimum water resistance would be much better on this model.
The case on the Marine Officer Chronograph has a fixed tachymeter bezel, fully brushed with a knurled edge and engraved numbers painted black.  The dial is a light shade of grey with Super Luminova C3 luminous markers and ‘12’ and ‘6’ luminous arabics at the spots you expect to find them at. 

The dial looks a bit plain, primarily because the subdials are merely screened on the dial instead of being inset or otherwise patterned.  The effect is a bit cheap looking, especially at this price point.  But the dial has a nice painted look to it with a slight gloss in the right light and does not look plasticky as so many dials can these days.  So overall, score it a win.
The Steinhart logo and name is positioned below the 12.  An outer chapter ring marks off the seconds for the central chronograph seconds hand, while an inner ring of simple printed black hash marks forms a circle underneath the markers.  The hour and minute hands are black with infill lume and the watch seconds hand (the subdial on the right side) is also black with a pointer end filled with lume.  The black hands are very legible against the grey dial and easy to read at a distance.  Lume quality is average, I expected better with Super Luminova, although the hands do glow brighter than the markers on the dial.  
The central chronograph seconds hand is a simple silver stick.  The chronograph 30-minute totalizer (the subdial on the left) has a similarly simple silver stick hand with a small lumed pointer end.  The silver can be a bit hard to read against the grey dial, but since the chronograph is not in constant use, this usually won’t be a problem.  I do appreciate watch designs like this one that differentiate the chronograph hands from the standard timekeeping hands via a different color, but perhaps some other color than silver would work better.
I do love two-register chronographs and overall, this dial design works well.  Both subdials have white timing tracks and don’t jump out as much as some other two-register designs do.  To each his own.
The chronograph pushers are standard design and have a solid, yet cushioned click about them.  The dial on the Marine Officer Chronograph is capped by a sapphire crystal that is slightly domed and has double anti-reflective coating on the inside.  No distortion has been noticed with the crystal and examination under an 8X loupe shows a clean build on the dial devoid of any dust or imperfections.
Powering the Marine Officer Chronograph is an ETA 2824-2 movement with the often loved and hated Dubois-Dépraz DD 2030 chronograph module, giving the watch an impressive total jewel count of 49. 

I own several DD 2030 equipped watches and have yet to have any trouble with them, but others seem to have problems from time to time and the costs of repairing this complication, as I understand it, can be rather high. 

The movement is mildly decorated (at least to me), although Steinhart refers to the caliber as being ‘elabore.’  Timekeeping has been a consistent +6/24 hours with a shortish power reserve of 39-1/4 hours.  Since this seemed a tad low to me, I checked this power reserve figure against one of my other DD 2030 watches and both power reserves where exactly the same at 39-1/4 hours, so I guess there’s something to be said for consistency.  But it still seems short to me; it should be at least 42 hours in my opinion.
The chronograph starts, stops and resets crisply and operations of the watch, including manual winding, hacking, setting, etc. has been fine, as it should be.  So don’t let the inclusion of the DD chrono module scare you off from this good timepiece.
The Marine Officer Chronograph comes on a very nice quality handmade leather strap (‘vintage leather’ in Steinhart speak) in the perfect shade of medium grey with contrast white stitching. 

The strap is held in place at the lugs with hex-head screws instead of spring bars.  Steinhart supplies the proper strap changing tool with the watch should you wish to change it out at some point.  The strap is continuous width, but as a curiosity, it measures almost 23mm in width from the lugs to the buckle and is also fairly thick.  Two keepers are installed, one fixed and one floating. 

The strap has a smooth, non-glossy finish that both looks and feels good.  The strap edges are sealed and are a glossy grey which looks a bit funky but really isn’t too noticeable while wearing the watch.
A note on the buckle; the Marine Officer Chronograph is supplied with a large signed brushed pre-V style buckle which is fine, but these types of buckles don’t sit well with me due to my smaller wrist size.  They are just too wide and bulky.  Steinhart does sell a slimmer 22mm brushed buckle on their site.  Memo number two to Steinhart:  give the buyer their choice of either the pre-V buckle or the slimmer buckle at no charge. 

I bought an aftermarket slimmer buckle (which is the buckle shown in the photos) and it looks good and functions well and was cheaper than the slimmer buckle Steinhart sells.  Both the pre-V buckle and the slimmer one from Steinhart (as well as the one I purchased) are screw pin style, for an easier swap.
Comfort of this watch is overall pretty good, but be forewarned, this is a big watch.  I have about a 6-3/4 inch wrist and I have the strap set on the last hole to give me the best fit.  I can wear it on the second to last hole, but the watch tends to flop about a bit, as this piece is somewhat top heavy.
Presentation is an outer white two-piece cardboard box (which arrived with a tear down one corner) and a black padded inner box with the instructions, watch and strap changing tool inside.  A fair presentation, but given the price point, it could be a bit sharper.
In summary, the Steinhart Marine Officer Chronograph is an original-looking design that has a purposeful and strong presence about it.  Overall quality is about where it should be for the price point and if customer service matters to you, Steinhart fills the bill on this point.
Pros:  great grey dial/grey leather strap combo, legible main hands, two-register chronograph good looks, Swiss engine, solid caseback looks better than display type
Cons:  very modest water resistance, large size will be too big for some, somewhat pricey, pre-V buckle also too big for some, weakish lume
Verdict:  color, build quality, looks, functionality and original design are the attributes the Marine Officer Chronograph brings to the table.  While not for everybody due to its size or price, you could certainly do a lot worse than this one.  Just ask for the solid caseback.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.