This review concerns the Smiths PRS-68 Diver from Timefactors. It isn’t a review of the Seiko 6105 as made famous by Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now nor a direct comparison. But the fact of the matter is that the two are inextricably linked in many ways (apart from the obvious looks). New watches come, and new watches go – but there are those that as a watch lover, actually mean something on a personal level because they take me back to times long gone. The PRS-1 meant something to me, the PRS-14 likewise, the PRS-29 even more so…and now comes along the PRS-68. No doubt all of us can look back on certain periods of our lives with great affection; perhaps times when things were more simple, times when we had adventure or simply times that just bring a smile and a warm feeling inside…
During the hot summer of 1976 I spent an even hotter summer working on a boat in Malta. This was the time when my interest in watches was just emerging and oh how I wish I had been that little bit older and that little bit wiser and that little bit richer! The watches that we covet nowadays were run of the mill then! But that summer was a magical time for me in many ways (I wonder if I felt that at the time?!) – here I was out every day on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea, meeting interesting people, learning to swim and to dive. The skipper of the boat wore a battered Rolex GMT Master, the bezel bleached by the sun…and that was the watch that I truly lusted after. Indeed, many of the people I met, including other boat owners, wore some exotic looking timepieces (I remember catching my first sight of an 18k Submariner); one of my everyday acquaintances was a big and burly Maltese gent, affectionately known on the island as ‘Big bad John’ – an outgoing, larger than life, lovable rogue shall we say – and he wore a Seiko; I recall noting what an unusual looking watch it was – big and round and saucer shaped with a case protrusion and crown at 4, I recall noting that the seconds hand had a double ‘blob’ on its end; just as notable was the fact that the bezel insert looked as if it had spent its life in the very close company of a box of nails; it would seem therefore that John just wore this big Seiko day in, day out, wherever and whatever he was doing (he was a diver and boat skipper amongst other things). It must have been a Seiko 6105 and it almost looked as good as the skipper’s Rolex. It was bought and used for what it was intended.
At the time, I was enamoured with the emerging quartz timepieces – here were these amazing digital devices from Casio, Citizen, and Seiko et al which seemed to put traditional watches well and truly in the shade. On some evenings, I would take myself on the bus into Valletta and have a wander round the ancient city, buy myself a ‘Granita’ and stare into the shop windows. The 1970s were a period of many bizarre chrome plated, pin palleted, faux suede strapped watch designs marketed under equally bizarre names (some of which are now collectible) and the shops were full of them. They were also becoming more populated with the quartz affairs referred to above. Now, as well as the those quartz offerings (of which there were many), those shop windows were replete with standard fare from the likes of Seiko – 6138 and 6139 chronographs, Seiko 5 Actus, Lord Matic and the list goes on. Malta being an island, a small one at that, then the market for sports or dive watches was I assume quite healthy given that there was always a dive watch or three featured in the window displays. And I’m sure that some of those displays included the inspiration for the PRS-68.
I collected watch catalogues, mainly Rolex and Seiko I might add; I would flick through those catalogues quite regularly and was always totally absorbed with all the latest offerings from Seiko – however the dive/sports watches didn’t interest me (though they looked good, if a little odd) because they weren’t Rolex – (thus, a perfect demonstration of how a time machine might one day come in very useful!). I suppose that the point I am making here is that (and apologies for stating the obvious) things we have discounted in the past can rear up and perhaps have more significance at a later date. But back to 1976 and latter days of the working summer holiday of a privileged young man; after my few weeks on the boat was over, my father arrived in Malta and off we went to stay at a grandiose hotel aptly named The Grand Hotel Verdala; this hotel is where I met quite a few famous people over the years and in 1976, it was where I met Roger Moore and Richard Harris.
They were heady days and life was good, and my true interest in watches had started, and all around me were timepieces I discounted because they weren’t a Rolex GMT! No doubt then as now, many people aspired to a Rolex watch but in the meantime, made do with ‘lesser’ mainstream brands – Seiko, Citizen and the list could go on.
Those mainstream brands were everyday fodder so to speak, and that everyday fodder would develop and evolve over the forthcoming years with one or two models quietly building a pedestal upon which they would sit many years later – unfortunately, many years after the last of any brand new stock had been sold (and used) for their intended purpose – Big bad John’s Seiko 6105 Diver being a good example.
Over the following years, my interest in watches grew (I got the GMT Master) and I would buy the odd Seiko LCD as they were released; I bought a first generation G-Shock in the 1980s – wore it when I was bored of my Rolex and if my memory serves me correctly, I actually threw that one away – literally! During those following years, product placement grew (viz Seiko and James Bond) but some product placement was perhaps more accidental – it was use of a readily available item because it was just apt to use it. I was oblivious to the fact that the Seiko 6105 150m Diver had been the staple of many US Service personnel deployed to South East Asia and by the time I collected Seiko catalogues in earnest, the dive watch section of such featured the 6105′s replacement (the 6306) and on to the first quartz divers (e.g. the 7548). Thus, the watch that had been Seiko’s everyday dive watch offering during my horological awakening was already discontinued by the time I was getting up to full steam. That watch, was the aforementioned Seiko 6105-811* – the watch that the inadvertent product placement would make extremely desirable many years later.
So, is the 6105′s popularity due to it appearing in one iconic film (and a couple less so) or because in itself it is a fine timepiece? The psychology behind all this would relate to product placement as mentioned above; however, as also mentioned above, I would suggest that the Seiko 6105 was most certainly not placed for commercial purposes in any way (as per the Speedmaster Professional!). Thus, forgetting deliberate placement, the psychology that we are perhaps still dealing with is that of association and experience. Psychologist Ian Zimmerman, Ph.D sums it up perfectly in one sentence:
“When we watch a liked character use a brand, we can start to automatically identify with the brand as a way to vicariously experience that character’s life.”
In the instance of a wristwatch, we can have access to a specific, very personal everyday product in order to achieve that vicarious experience. Bizarrely, this extends to screen characters massively removed from everyday/real life (James Bond?) but when the product itself is changed to further perpetrate matters, then certainly from my perspective, things move from the bizarre to the absurd – I would never dream of wearing an Omega Seamaster with ’007′ on the dial for example.
Again from my perspective, I will fully admit to the desire of owning or wearing wristwatches that perhaps define, or I can associate with a period of personal experience (I tend to live in the past) or that personify a particular period of history (i.e. that were there); and in that regard and in the case of the Seiko 6105, this watch, since my rediscovery of it, fascinated me as it ticked both boxes. That being said, I have only ever owned one, albeit briefly – and that is another story.
It wasn’t until perhaps 1988 or 1989 that I first woke up so to speak and took a real interest in the Seiko watches from the previous decade, those watches which I had overlooked as a youngster because they weren’t a Rolex.
I didn’t see Apocalypse Now until early 1988 and yes, I noticed the watch worn by Martin Sheen – and it dawned upon me that this was the watch that my old Maltese friend John had worn, and just a minute – this was the watch that Richard Harris looks to have worn in ‘The Wild Geese’ (which I had seen countless times since its release). And thus it sort of all came together – the 6105 defined the long hot summers I had enjoyed in Malta, it had been worn by someone I had met who starred in a favourite film and it was (both in real life and on acetate) associated with the long conflict in South East Asia – on the latter note, in 1988 I visited the former Saigon for the first time and subsequently spent years in that part of the world.
My interest was piqued. My old catalogues were long gone (and there was no internet); so what was this saucer shaped Seiko that seemed to define battlefields of the 1970s and took me back to the searing heat of mid ’70s Malta?
Let us have a look at the inspiration behind the Smiths PRS-68.
The Seiko 6105-8110 (or 8119) is the inspiration behind the Smiths PRS-68 Diver. The basic Seiko Dive watch as a genre is quite possibly the most celebrated sports watch of recent years; equally so, perhaps, as the Rolex Submariner. It possesses a history, it has been developed over the years and throughout this it has retained its identity without straying too far from the first iterations of the mid to late 1960s. Such is the interest in Seiko Dive watches that whole websites are now dedicated to the species and much research has taken place (and continues) into the history and evolvement of the same. Therefore it is beyond the scope of this review to attempt a full and thorough history of the Seiko Diver line but it is worth at least giving it some consideration.
Until the mid 1960s, Seiko’s forays into sports watches were limited to models such as the Seikomatic Silverwave, proudly marked ‘Water 50 Proof’ on the dial. Replete with an internal rotating bezel and a crown at 4, this watch, whilst ‘sporty’ wasn’t a diver’s watch in the true sense of the word. It was, however, well made with a 20 jewel 62SW movement and a screw down back, helping to afford the 50m water resistance. Notable was that crown at ’4′ which would become a signature as the years progressed. Examples of this model date back to 1961 or so but it wasn’t until after Seiko gained real international exposure at the 1964 Olympic Games that a serious dive watch was put on the market. Thus, the timeline of what might be termed the everyman’s Seiko Dive watch begins in 1965 and this timeline continues to this day.
The term ‘everyman’s’ used above might be misconstrued as ‘cheap’ – by no means were the first Seiko Dive watches cheap; the 62MAS discussed below was Yen 13000 when released – this represented almost half the monthly salary of a newly graduated student starting work for the first time. This fraction of monthly pay actually increased somewhat over the years in terms of it being able to purchase a Seiko Dive watch. For domestic customers, the early watches were not cheap to buy in any respect; and they were not ‘cheap’ in the quality sense either – at a time when Seiko were striving to become a force to be reckoned with worldwide then continual development and improvement were a given; the improvements in quality of the Seiko products from say the early 1960s to the mid 1970s is surely demonstrated by the simple fact that there are so many still around today that are still ticking! Thus, high quality Seiko watches were however cheap to buy for the thousands upon thousands of US service personnel passing through Asia - simply due to a strong US currency. I digress.
As with many species, sub-species evolve and in the instance of the Seiko Diver, then this happened quite quickly in the form of the Professional range, the first example of which appeared as early as 1967 in the form of the 6215-7000 300m monobloc. As per the more everyday range, the Professionals too developed over the years and as their name implies, were a cut above the former in terms of specification and construction. Suffice to say, we are dealing with the staple Seiko Diver within this review and as such the story begins in 1965 and continues to this day.
1965 – 1968: The 62MAS and the beginnings
Seiko’s first ‘proper’ dive watch, introduced in early 1965 is known as the ’62MAS’ with the 62 referring to the calibre used within. Characterised by its bold dial markers with very deep luminous fill, the 62MAS is interesting because of its case design; there is a debate as to whether Seiko ‘borrowed’ this design from Europe or vice versa following the introduction of the watch. The Smiths Astral Diver for example, would appear to use exactly the same case as the Seiko; indeed, so would watches from the likes of Ulysse Nardin, Jaquet-Girard, Rodania and others. All these watches are I believe post 1965 and I have even postulated that Seiko sold a large stock of raw cases into Europe early after the introduction of the 62MAS – I assume that there is some chance of this for the following reason: within two months or so of production, the crown tube and crown of the 62MAS were changed and replaced with much beefier affairs (certainly, most images you will see of the 62MAS show the big crown model) – could Seiko have had a large stockpile of small crown tube cases to dispose of?
The 62MAS (6217-8000 / 8001) specification:
- Water resist 150m
- All stainless steel case with bidirectional, friction bezel
- Screw down case back
- Non screw down crown
- Domed plexi crystal
- 37mm diameter
- 19mm lug width
- 6217A automatic calibre with 17 jewels; 18,000bph; quickset date; non-hacking, non-handwinding
Thus, the 62MAS (about which a lot has been written elsewhere) was the start of Seiko’s true dive watch odyssey. Functional, bold and strong, this early model was produced for three years or so during which time the Vietnam war was reaching its height and I’m assuming the various PX stocked it for sale to GIs looking for something a little better than issue watches. The following online quotation from September 2013 starts to build the picture for us:
“I just realized that I purchased a historic watch in Viet Nam early in 1968! I still have my Seiko 6127 [sic] 62mas diver’s watch, and despite going through a year of hell with me as a member of the 1st infantry division, it is still in good shape and keeping time. The bezel is almost unmarked and all of the letters/numbers and dolphin symbol on the back are clear and easy to read. Somehow, I managed to get a small dent in the original crown, but that is the ONLY issue! It looks much better than almost all of these watches I’ve seen recently on my web search. I think I paid about $30 for it at a PX near a base camp we stayed in…”
Prior to the above writer purchasing his watch ‘in country’ the 62MAS had proven itself by being deployed by the crew of the 1966 8th Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition (JARE-8), led by Dr. Tetsuya Torri. Thus the watch (presumably) performed well under extremely arduous conditions from the 1st December 1966 though to early March of the following year. Since then, Seiko have continued the tradition of sending specialist watches on arduous expeditions, the Land Master being one such example.
The 62MAS certainly had a lot going for it as Seiko’s first effort so to speak but was arguably quite run of the mill – that is to say, there was nothing particularly distinctive about it save for the oversized hour markers perhaps; but in the spirit of the manufacturer then change and development was par for the course and so by the early days of 1968 the chrysalis appeared of what would become perhaps the most iconic Seiko Diver of all time.
1968 – 1970: The First 6105
Production of the successor to the 62MAS spanned the three years which began with the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, saw man orbit the moon (and subsequently land upon) it and end with the demise of The Beatles.
The first 6105 was suffixed 8000 or 8009 (dependent on intended market) and was a different kettle of fish to the watch it replaced. In fact, almost everything about it was different and the basic format would represent the basis of Seiko Dive watches from that day until this.
Thus, the case took on a distinctive, symmetrical cushion shape, evolved out of the 62MAS I surmise, the crown was moved to the 4 o’clock position and given some protection. Subtle curves appeared although the watch was still very much slab sided. The dial became a deep matt black with bold, stubby applied markers, each deep filled with luminous compound. The hands remained the same as per the 62MAS – long, discreetly facetted, with a good expanse of lume but with the exception of the seconds hand – this took on an elongated shape at its tip which contained the red and lumed ‘traffic light’.
The 6105 could I suppose have been described as the epitome of a no frills, go anywhere, do anything dive / sports watch. The new 6105 calibre promised to be rugged and reliable and the watch was not extravagantly priced. In the North American market it is interesting to note that around 1970, the 6105 (USA model number 55023) was listed at $75.00, with the blue dialled ‘Pogue’ 6139 chronograph coming in at $95.00.
A basic Seiko automatic was around $40.00 and leaving the (extreme value for money) chronograph aside, the price differential would be about what it is now between a basic Seiko 5 and current Dive watch (e.g. SKX007).
The Seiko 6105-8000 / 8009 specification:
- Water resist 150m
- All stainless steel case with bidirectional, friction bezel
- Screw down case back
- Non screw down crown
- Domed Hardlex crystal
- 39mm diameter across bezel
- 41mm diameter across case
- 41mm lug to lug
- 19mm lug width
- 6105A automatic calibre with 17 jewels; 21600 bph; quickset date; non-hacking, non-handwinding
It could be argued that at the time of the introduction of the 6105-8000x then Seiko was going through its first bout of prolific product development and model introduction – the range was becoming large and it catered for all tastes.
Toward the latter days of the first 6105′s production it was sold alongside the likes of the Navigator Timer, the DX, the 70m Sports and the 6139 chronographs to name a few.
Whilst without doubt (and this is one thing I love about Seiko) the range contained some pretty racy designs to say the least, the 6105 was the antithesis of anything outrageous, practical and plain but with a dash of Seiko eccentricity perhaps in the form of the ‘traffic light’ seconds hand. For the time, the watch was generously proportioned with the 41mm case diameter being accentuated by the retention of the 19mm lug width.
From a collector’s standpoint, for some time this first generation 6105 was overlooked to quite a degree, being overshadowed by its replacement. That situation has changed somewhat now with original, non modified examples being very sought after. On the question of ‘modified’ then that is a whole subject in itself – as production of the first generation was nearing its end, dials were changed to read ‘water150resist’ instead of ‘water150proof’ and Seiko were rolling out the 6105B movement with hacking facility. Some aficionados argue that a pure first generation would never hack (i.e. they were all fitted with 6105A) but might have the ‘resist’ dial, others argue that they might have a hacking movement; and then there is the subject of the case backs.
Many hundreds of words could be spent on this subject alone; my only observation on the matter is that the first generation 6105 appeared (and was illustrated) in the US market catalogue of c1970 with a ‘resist’ dial and with the description mentioning ‘Synchronized second setting.’ This would surely denote the use of the 6105B? Whatever the ins and outs and rights and wrongs of a watch that was last retailed over forty years ago, the 6105-800x series was a relatively short-lived stepping stone between the 1960s and the 1970s. Once again, Seiko sought to develop, redesign and improve. In doing so, the metamorphosis took place and an icon was born.
1970 – 1977: The Seiko 6105
For approximately seven years, Seiko produced its most talked about, researched, coveted dive watch. That is quite a short run if we compare it to that of the current Diver – the SKX series (in production for 17 years); but long enough for the watch to make its mark back then and ever since. I would argue that as of yet, no single everyday dive watch has been produced that matches the style, charisma and presence of the Seiko 6105-811x. Any manufacturer attempting to capture the essence of this watch would surely have quite some task on their hands and the PRS-68 from Timefactors has been brave enough to try – whether it has succeeded we shall see later on. But back to 1970 and the introduction of ‘Willard’s Watch’.
The Seiko 6105-8110 / 8119 specification:
- Water resist 150m
- All stainless steel case with bidirectional, click ball bezel
- Screw down case back
- Turn and lock crown (non screw down)
- Domed Hardlex crystal
- 39mm diameter across bezel
- 44mm diameter across case
- 48mm lug to lug
- 19mm lug width
- 6105B automatic calibre with 17 jewels; 21600 bph; quickset date; hacking, non-handwinding
The obvious difference over the first generation 6105 when looking at the watch is the case. Any conformity to the typical designs of the era were well and truly consigned to the smelter and Seiko came up with something that as well as being functional, was replete with a myriad of elements which despite perhaps contradicting themselves in some ways, also resulted in a design which if not beautiful, was certainly fascinating for some reason. Closer inspection of the case reveals why it remains fascinating and in my opinion, is beautiful.
One thing Seiko didn’t change was the 19mm lug width that had been used since 1967; what this effectively did was further accentuate the very distinctive case shape; looking in plan form, this 6105 had expanded in all directions over its predecessor; it became a good 44mm in diameter and this sheer expanse meant that there was certainly no missing it! That retention of the 19mm lug width meant that one might question if the watch had ‘lugs’ at all – rather it had huge lobes of steel at each corner – almost a by product of the necessity of mounting a strap. But this huge disc of steel wasn’t just a flat, soulless hockey puck, quite the contrary – as the curve of the case (in plan form) reached the 7, 11 and 1 areas then it was ever so slightly ‘flatted off’ – almost unnoticeably so but the discrete change in arc was there and added yet another dimension to this most interesting of watch cases – in addition, such flatting off served the purpose of reducing the lug to lug length slightly (although it had increased by 7mm or so) thus aiding wearability.
The asymmetric design of the 6105 case is perhaps what it is most noted for but it was a very clever and discrete implementation of such. As we moved past 3 o’clock then the case swept smartly out and formed the top most crown protector; beyond the crown then there would appear to be another of those huge lobes posing as a lug – both this lug and the top crown protector did exactly as their description implied; the crown was fully nestled between two thick masses of steel which extended beyond the full width of the crown itself. Back to that lower right lug for a moment (and working anti-clockwise) – this element constituted the real asymmetric measurement of the case – thicker than the lower left lug, its arc allowed the crown to be buried deep into the case with the aforementioned top protector finishing the job before itself kicking back in for the normal outline to continue.
But the perplexing thing is that at first sight, that lower right lug seemed to be the same as the one on the left! Of course it wasn’t but just a couple of millimetres of extra case diameter at that point served to protect the crown perfectly and to give the 6105 a character of its own. It almost looked like some sort of optical illusion!
Not only were there a variety of curves in plan form, the brushed top of the watch was itself fractionally ‘domed’ from 9 to 3 and then there was the matter of the downward and outward swoop to form those distinctive lugs! It is hard to put the form into words – each curve, downward and outward flowed to give the case a softness which belied its sheer strength and fitness for purpose. It just didn’t seem the hulk that it should have been. There was however, another reason for such: the slab sides of older models had been substituted for graceful inward curves; when one viewed the watch in section from 6 or 12 (i.e. at a lug end) then what was seen was reminiscent of the hull of a boat, the sides swooping down and round – coupled with a polished finish, this really was a beautiful design and as a bonus, it served to visually reduce the thickness of the watch as a whole (though at around 12mm it wasn’t overly thick anyway). It must have been a relatively complex shape to engineer; making some vastly more expensive watches look simple by comparison.
Seiko chose to remain with a non screw down crown but decided to incorporate a locking device. This comprised a pin protruding from the case which would slot into one of the channels in the distinctively styled crown. Thus, after setting the time or changing the date, one would push the crown in and turn it gently until it clicked back into the case, the pin having found a channel in which to sit. This device simply prevented the crown from being turned. Unfortunately, in introducing this feature, the ‘Seiko’ signed crowns of the two previous dive watches gave way to a crown signed ‘Lock’ with a circular arrow!
Dial and hands wise, the second generation 6105 remained exactly as the first, though the enlarged case and slightly larger diameter bezel perhaps accentuated the stubby nature of the luminous markers a little more. The minute track of the dial was applied in silver (as has always been the case) with the bevel of the domed Hardlex crystal causing a repeat of the hashes depending on the angle at which the watch was held; an interesting effect but one I do find a little bit distracting.
The only real change to the second generation 6105 during its relatively short production span was the case back; during 1974, it was simplified and the classic Seiko ‘horseshoe’ engraving/text design was substituted with lines of straight text for all case back information. Most people find the former the more attractive and undeniably, it does (for me anyway) represent a classic era for Seiko, no matter which watch carries it. A final note on the case back – despite production of the 6105-811x ceasing in 1977, new old stock ‘service’ cases with backs dated as late as October 1979 have been found.
Most images one will see of the 6105 (both first and second generation) will feature the watch on what has become known as the ‘waffle’ strap model no. (ZLM01). Very distinctive in design, this strap featured rows of ‘pyramids’ in addition to ribbed sections at each end; the 6105 was also available (usually illustrated in Japanese market catalogues) with a plainer and rarer strap in the guise of the model no. XGL731; an even less familiar strap can be seen on Martin Sheen’s 6105 in Apocalypse Now – it was a Seiko strap but little information is available. The watch was never available on a bracelet and the standard straps were constructed in a way to allow pressure venting at depth.
Thus was the second generation 6105. Despite its relatively large dimensions, there was a grace and beauty about it which, as I am sure I have proven above, is hard to put into words. There was just something about it; so many different design elements incorporated into a single watch could have resulted into a design disaster but it seems with the 6105 the opposite took place. As would be the case with its replacement, the 6105 represented a watch that was available to the masses and was suitable for wear under all conditions but I would argue that of the models before it, and those following it, this watch was the pinnacle of the concept in terms of its execution.
1977 – 1988: The 6105 Turns Turtle – Enter the 6309
In the latter part of 1976, production started of the 6105′s replacement. This model would remain in production for almost twelve years and would, during that time, transmogrify into the dive watch design from Seiko that is current today. For the first four years or so, a separate model was produced for the Japanese market which featured a ‘better’ movement than the export watch – this was the 6306 calibre which gained 4 jewels and was capable of being hacked. The more common 6309 proved to be a great success and perhaps was intended improve over the 6105, as had been the case with product development over the preceding decade.
It may however have also been an opportunity to cut costs a little by virtue of the application of the 6309 movement, simplification of the case design and simplification of dial construction.
The Seiko 6309 – 7040 / 7049 specification:
- Water resist 150m
- All stainless steel case with bidirectional, click ball bezel
- Screw down case back
- Screw down crown
- Flat Hardlex crystal
- 39mm diameter across bezel
- 44mm diameter across case
- 48mm lug to lug
- 22mm lug width
- 6309 automatic calibre with 17 jewels; 21600 bph; quickset day/date; non-hacking, non-handwinding
At first glance the 6309 used the same basic case shape as the 6105 but things were simplified; gone was the asymmetric aspect – instead of the curves and facets of the 6105′s crown protector was a cruder approach in the form of a relatively simple cut out to enclose the crown; as a result, the crown was not now fully protected as before, though it had itself been changed to a screw down affair (unsigned). Any attempt at elegance in this area had vanished and the Seiko Diver would appear to have gone fully functional so to speak. I can only assume that producing the 6309′s case was easier and/or cheaper than that of the 6105.
In a similar vein, the brushed, engineered look of the back of the 6105′s case body gave way to an (arguably) cursory polish. Thankfully, the hull like downward sweep of the case sides remained, giving the 6309 a beauty, but not that of the 6105 in my opinion.
A quick note on the crown: the 6309 crown is notable for its design due to it having the threads within a tube forming part of the crown as opposed to the threads being within the crown head itself. This allowed the sealing ‘o’ ring to be around the outside of the case tube as opposed to the inside as per more usual designs. The construction also allowed certain crown / stem parts to be replaced individually if necessary. The design was well thought out, robust, and looked great from the underside of the watch!
For the first time on a standard Seiko Diver, the The Great Wave of Kanagawa logo featured at the centre of the case back with related nomenclature surrounding it. Turning the watch over and viewing the now symmetrical case from above and then perhaps the reason why it seemed so different from the 6105 became apparent – the lug width had been increased by 3mm to 22mm; this made a huge difference to the overall feel and look of the watch. Perhaps it looked more purposeful, but this change dispensed with the character of the 6105 at a stroke. Visual focus was now drawn to the newly designed, dished bezel (which remained bidirectional) and the dial which it surrounded; that dial had too changed – the markers were now a combination of circles and trapezoids, white painted with luminous compound applied directly to them.
To match the dial, the hands were beefed up with a style introduced that has become a Seiko signature and remains in use today, lots of luminous within very distinctive frames. Undoubtedly, the hands / dial combination worked very well and the 6309 became the epitome of legibility. The watch had become more serious looking in the sense that touches of ‘style’ such as applied dial markers and silvered date surround had been dispensed with – wearers were given a bonus in the form of a day display as well as the date for the first time, this being quickset as was the date. The domed Hardlex crystal of the 6105 was replaced with a flat Hardlex, the outer bevel of which was frosted, thus negating any chance of distortion or reflections at the outer edge.
For me, the one feature of the 6309 that set it apart and perhaps defined it was the dished bezel insert – it always looked so right on this model and gave the watch a purposeful, rugged look; aiding and abetting this was the bezel itself – vertical machined serrations had given way to two rows of easily gripped protrusions, resembling gears on a bicycle almost. No doubt about it, the 6309 was a rugged looking beast and its turtle like cushion shape very apt for the environments for which it was intended.
The loss of the 19mm lugs of the 6105 was accompanied by the loss of the waffle strap, replaced by a ‘flat vent’, rubber compound affair (GL831) which was quite plain and simple but also pressure vented. This design lives on today (although in a harsher material) for USA market dive watches.
Production of the watch in the form discussed above carried on until 1988 but Seiko’s introduction of the quartz 150m diver in 1978 (calibre 7548) using a slimmed down case (derived from the 6309 case) gave the company the opportunity to offer both quartz and automatic versions of the ‘same’ watch. They took this opportunity in 1982 and introduced the 6309-729X series. The case had been slimmed down to a great degree with the distinctive ‘turtle’ shape gone, to be replaced with a design that finally had lugs in the true sense. The trademark hull sides remained but the watch had lost a lot of metal. An amount of that lost metal was between the lugs which meant that years later, this watch could be retro fitted with bracelets from models yet to be introduced.
A little bit of magic appeared again around the crown in order to offer it protection (in fact, better protection than the original 6309) but this design was now poles apart from the 6105, a few of which no doubt languished here and there in shop windows. The 729x series featured an all new dial design with square and rectangular hour markers with the handset remaining as per the 704x series (for the first time, an orange dialled model was made available too).
Curiously, the dial markers of the newcomer were quite reminiscent of those of the 6105 in terms of shape; they consisted of luminous compound applied to a silver painted base. Thus, the two 6309 designs were sold side by side for some six years until retired in 1988. The slimmer case of the 6309-729X series would continue to be used in the quartz models until 1991.
Alongside the 6105-8110/9, the turtle cased 6309 is considered to be a classic and draws almost as much interest from collectors and enthusiasts. In its day, it was a solid and dependable performer, well engineered and with real presence. If you will, it was larger than life. But for the eight years or so after 1988, it would seem that Seiko’s focus was on quartz.
1988 – 1996: Changes and Cost Savings – The 7002 Line
During the eight years from 1988 to 1996 Seiko majored on introducing some interesting and innovative quartz models, particularly chronographs; the 7T32 quartz alarm chrono being a case in question. There were many other calibres that Seiko had developed and improved over the period – the AGS (Kinetic) being another good example.
What this meant perhaps is that some of the automatic designs that we know and love today took something of a back seat. The focus would appear to have been on cost savings and pure commercial decisions (watch enthusiasts are a minority!). Thus, whilst an automatic dive watch was still part of the Seiko range, it almost seemed to be there because it was expected to be. Even the now classic quartz 7548 (and 7C43) divers were deleted in 1991, to be replaced by altogether stranger looking offerings.
So, with the demise of the 6309 models came the 7002 series. The 7002 diver could initially be considered as a direct development of the 6309-729x series; thus, the case looked identical and the dial also so. However, internally, it was different and case wise, gone was the cleverly engineered crown / stem arrangement.
During its lifetime, the 7002 would be upgraded slightly in terms of the depth rating and the bezel (presumably to conform with updated ISO standards); that being said the initial version did continue in production all the way to the end (in Brazil).
The Seiko 7002 – 7000 / 70xx specification:
- Water resist 150m (later 200m)
- All stainless steel case with bidirectional, click ball bezel (later, unidirectional)
- Screw down case back
- Screw down crown
- Flat Hardlex crystal
- 39mm diameter across bezel
- 41mm diameter across case
- 45mm lug to lug
- 22mm lug width
- 7002 automatic calibre with 17 jewels; 21600 bph; quickset date; non-hacking, non-handwinding
Dispensing with the telescopic crown arrangement of the 6309 series allowed for even less machining around the crown area of the case with Seiko adopting a more traditional construction; the crown threads were now within the head itself and the case was equipped with a simple threaded tube. This didn’t affect the water resistance rating in any way but no doubt saved costs on both the case and crown / stem fronts. From above, there was no difference visually and the crown guards remained the same as the 6309-729x series.
Initially, the bezel insert of the 7002 series diver was as per the latter 6309s, with the pleasing dished design but when the time came to update the water resistance rating then the insert was flattened out to a degree though retaining a very slight bevel which has remained the case through to today’s 7S26 models. For the first time, an automatic diver was offered with a choice of bezels, the option being that of a blue and red insert with the 12 – 20 section being red. Prior to the 7002, only quartz models had been equipped with such.
Another change which came about was that of the crystal; the frosted finish to the bevel at the periphery was gone and now it was a simple shiny finish; the method of crystal fixing was simplified greatly too with the securing of such achieved by simply pressing the crystal into a nylon gasket which sat in a case recess. This change was not necessarily a bad one as such; the 6309′s crystal was secured in a more complex manner involving a crystal retaining ring of metal which could become corroded.
Dial wise, two options were available: dial design of the 6309-729x series being the standard (model SDS001) and an applied marker version, replete with all steel bezel being the less common . However, the big change that would seem to have occurred is in the luminous compound used: it is likely that up until the very last of the 6309s, Seiko had used a form of tritium compound which under normal circumstances, ages gracefully across the years (excellent original examples of 6309 dials can still be found today).
The 7002 was a different story. Seiko had started to use promethium within its range in the 1980s and now this was being used for the 7002 dials. Unfortunately, as well as having a very short half life of 2.62 years (to be precise), the mixture that Seiko used was extremely sensitive to any form of moisture and it would seem at the merest hint of such would turn a very dark grey. I owned a later 7002 which I regulated after owning it from new for two months or so; the case back was off for no more than fifteen minutes on a warm summer’s day.
Within another month, the dial markers had taken on the dreaded grey colour with the hands following suit to quite some degree. I was very disappointed. The dial and hands of the 7002s were just not long lasting in either the luminosity sense (the short half life) or aesthetically (sensitivity to water).
In addition, the use of the 7002 movement must have been in itself a cost cutting measure; it was robust enough and simple too given its lower parts count than previous calibres but its overall quality just wasn’t that of the previously utilised dive watch movements. Without going into the technicalities of it all, there was less machining and more stamping of parts, out of the factory accuracy wasn’t a strongpoint and in my experience of the movement, it perhaps wasn’t Seiko’s finest hour. The 17 jewel, date only 7002A was mounted into the case with a plastic ring (previous models used a metal retainer) which could distort over the years though this is probably being a little too picky! I have no issue with plastic movement rings.
It would seem to me therefore that the 7002 was very much a budget affair; probably so because during its tenure, quartz had all the focus. That being said, the watch was upgraded during its lifespan; the bezel became unidirectional with 120 clicks and the depth rating increased to 200 meters – the 7002 became a Diver’s 200m instead of a Water 150m Resist! Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, the bezel insert became flatter with the upgrade and from my viewpoint, lost something of its charm and rugged looks.
As standard, the watch came on the XGL831 style (possibly ZLM29) dive strap which had equipped the 6309s but bracelets did equip some models; intially bracelets were limited to an all folded, flat link jubilee style on a standard folding clasp (mainly for the USA market). Later (200m) models were available on a folded link Oyster style bracelet with the 7002-7020 (the version with steel bezel and applied dial markers) being supplied as standard on an upgraded jubilee style bracelet featuring solid outer links and a double folding safety clasp or on the wave vent strap seen above.
So that, in a very short nutshell was the Seiko 7002 Diver; in it’s purest form (SDS001) it looked like the very last of the 6309s. Under the skin however it was quite different and thankfully, Seiko redeemed themselves somewhat in mid 1996.
1996 – 2013: A New Classic? – The SKX Diver 7S26
In mid-1996 Seiko introduced what has been the current line of dive watches for nearly two decades. Such has been the success of the series that it is now (rightly) considered to be a classic. Given that the 7002 series was perhaps, a little lacklustre, why might its replacement be the opposite? I first set eyes on the SKX007 in September 1996 (in a shopping mall in Thailand) without knowing it had been released. Here was a classic looking Seiko Diver with day and date no less! Furthermore, the dial markers looked familiar for some reason. Without hesitation I bought it.
Whilst the SKX007 was obviously an evolution of all that came before it, it had been given both hidden and visual changes that would cement its popularity.
The Seiko 7S26 – 0020 specification:
- Water resist 200m
- All stainless steel case with unidirectional, 120 click bezel
- Screw down case back
- Screw down crown
- Flat Hardlex crystal
- 39mm diameter across bezel
- 41mm diameter across case
- 45mm lug to lug
- 22mm lug width
- 7S26 automatic calibre with 21 jewels; 21600 bph; quickset day / date; non-hacking, non-handwinding
Externally, the biggest structural change over the 7002 series was the relocation of the crown from the 4 to the 3.45 position. Despite this, the crown protector machining of the case wasn’t changed apart from the obvious but slight elongation of the sculpted lower left lug. The curves and facets of this are, in my opinion beautiful and I have always admired them; particularly on a brand new example where the polished case side is almost mesmerising.
The bezel insert was carried over from the 200m 7002s and thus is only very slightly dished with a relatively small luminous pip (in comparison to the 6309); which leads us to the dial. I knew I had seen this design before and indeed, it was carried over from the quartz diver that shared the same case as the 6309-729X, the most famous wearer of such (the quartz) being ‘Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf of Gulf War fame.
Thus, the SKX series was (is) a true amalgamation of watches that had been produced since the late 1970s – beautifully curved sides from the 6105 (though not as svelte), hands from the first 6309, and a dial design lifted from the initial quartz offering. It could be argued that a jumble of design elements could end up in a jumbled design. No. The SKX007 with black bezel and SKX009 with blue and red bezel look right. The USA model SKX173 uses the dial design of the 6309-729X series which as I have previously mentioned, is a generous nod to the 6105. The SKX has a lot going for it without doubt and its longevity has been ensured by two factors: firstly, the use of the 7S26 movement, and secondly by the use of Lumibrite luminous compound atop and within the markers and hands.
The 7S26 in essence was a development of the 7002 calibre but improved in various ways. It is beyond the scope of this review to detail such but the result was a movement that was more stable, capable of better accuracy and promised to bear the Seiko tradition of longevity. Whilst technically ‘crude’, or ‘agricultural’ it was this attribute that ensured that aforementioned longevity; that being said, the 7S26 has been updated over the years, progressing from the A variant, through B and currently on C. It has also given itself to refinements in the form of hand winding, hacking and long power reserves in the forms of the 4R36 and 4R15 respectively. In short, the 7S26 works. It would appear to be earning the almost clichéd accolade of the ‘you can use it with no intervention for twenty years’ oft spoken of Seiko watches.
In the early 1990s, development of a non radioactive luminous compound by the Nemoto Company (in collaboration with Seiko) led to Lumibrite – a material that would emit light for long periods after itself being exposed to light. The magic chemical compound that achieved this was Strontium Aluminate Oxide; the afterglow from the material was excellent and most importantly, it wouldn’t lose the ability over time to perform its intended task – i.e. it wouldn’t age so to speak. By the mid 1990s all Seiko watches were using the material and the SKX Divers, upon their introduction did the same. What a difference this was over the 7002. Thus, the hands and dials of the SKXs became almost legendary for their luminosity; whereas the buyer of a 7002 could almost be guaranteed an aged, lifeless dial after just a few years, the owner of an SKX173 for example, could feel pretty safe in the knowledge that the dial and hands would look no different in ten years time and still glow as well to boot.
The SKX dive series has always been offered on a choice of a jubilee style bracelet with double locking safety clasp (carried over from the last 7002s) or on the PU wave vented strap also carried over from the final 7002s; the latter, in my opinion is one of the worst offerings ever from Seiko and looks ungainly at best – it just seems overdone and awkward. Thankfully, a flat vent strap styled as per the GL831 (but not the GL831, stiff PU compound is now order of the day), is still standard on one model (the USA market SKX173) and thus can be retrofitted should one wish.
Undoubtedly, the SKX series has been a huge success, some models are more sought after than others, some models are actually quite rare (the SKX399 with applied indices is a good example) but the core SKX007 and SKX009 models continue to sell in huge numbers. So the story of the everyman’s Seiko Dive watch ends (or continues) with the currently available SKX models. Yet, in no way are they the models of 35 years past. Without doubt, the elements are there, the ghosts are there but I argue that the character has gone to a large degree. The ugly beautiful saucer shaped dive watch on the wrist of someone I knew long ago has never been replicated.
Nothing since has captured my imagination as the 6105 did; and in this respect I am confident enough to say that I am not alone. So before we look at the PRS-68, we must revisit the 6105; this watch is now an icon; I have already stated why that should be so in my case and I have tried to excuse myself from the pure and simple ‘I like it because it was in a film’ thing.
That being said, the Seiko 6105 (like other Seikos) became an accidental film star because it was there, in both fact and fiction.
Without doubt, the one film that has thrust the 6105-8000 into the spotlight and assured its iconic status is Apocalypse Now. In some ways the watch has become synonymous with the Vietnam War, undoubtedly in real life it was a trusty companion for many service personnel who had to endure a year or more of the most alien of conditions. Apocalypse Now’s bringing of the 6105 to the forefront was unintended and for this reason, I feel it is fully justified.
Thus, central character Captain Willard is seen wearing a 6105-811X as he travels by river into the depths of the Cambodian jungle to terminate the command of a renegade Colonel.
The making of the film was itself something representing a harsh tour of duty for all concerned, including Martin Sheen who played Willard.
Eagle eyed viewers will notice that Sheen wore a 6105 on the waffle type strap (ZLM01) mentioned earlier; he was also shown wearing the watch on another, less familiar strap.
This wouldn’t appear to be the XGL731 as illustrated in the Japanese market catalogues. There was a third strap available from Seiko in 19mm width, manufactured along very much the same lines (I do not have the model number) as the more common straps but with a slightly more blocky pattern to the top surface. It would seem that this ‘third strap’ is what Sheen is seen wearing in parts of the film:The only explanations that I can come up with for the change of strap on Martin Sheen’s wrist are either that the original (strap) simply broke during filming or that Sheen was wearing a different watch altogether from some point. In the case of the latter explanation, could this have been because he returned to the USA for a period during filming having suffered a heart attack? Whatever, the watch looks just perfect and fitting for his character and the setting within which it was portrayed.
Whilst Apocalypse Now was being shot in the Philippines, I was in Malta working on the boat and had my first real life glimpse at the Seiko 6105; and at the very same time I met Richard Harris who was preparing for his role in an upcoming, star studded film that would also see the 6105 (on Harris’s wrist) in an apt environment.
The Wild Geese
The Wild Geese was one of those films that I went to see over and over when it was first released in 1978 (a year before Apocalypse Now); Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris and Hardy Kruger led a team or mercenaries on a mission to rescue a deposed African leader…
Once ‘in the field’, Harris’s Rolex Datejust was swapped for a 6105-811X and thus, the watch made its debut in the film world of African mercenary activity (which was brought to the forefront some two years previously with the Angolan mercenary trials during the summer of 1976).
The film itself had many connections with mercenary activity in Africa: the cast included ex-SAS member and later mercenary turned actor Ian Yules and technical adviser was non other than Colonel Mike Hoare who had seen extensive action leading mercenary groups in the Congo during the mid-1960s.
Hoare’s 5 Commando unit were known as The Wild Geese as their shoulder patches indicated.
The Seiko’s appearance in this film was very discreet and it did take a little looking for; but it was there, upon the wrist of Captain Rafer Janders, and my discovery of such some years after the film had been released only served to increase my interest in and fascination for the watch.The 6105 has made other appearances: High Velocity (1976), Big Wednesday (1978) and A Soldier’s Sweetheart (1998) to name three; the first two of which featured the watch whilst it was still available to buy out of a watch display. The last of which showed it on a standard US Military strap:
Thus far, we have looked at my early exposure to the 6105, the history of the Seiko Diver line and of course the relevance of the 6105 with regard to the place it has in true life historical events and those fictional stories evolved out of such events. The whole 6105 ‘thing’ could be construed as being quite complex – certainly in my case, or rather within my story. I possibly arrived a little too late to the whole thing in terms of wearing a 6105 on a daily basis – I wore a Rolex for many years and wouldn’t really consider anything else (despite having a long standing interest in Seiko). The facts of the matter are that the Seiko 6105-8110 has become an icon, it is impossible to buy a new one, there are a proliferation of examples that have been ‘restored’ with aftermarket parts of varying quality, quite often the movement itself has been doctored with replacement parts from other calibres and so on and so forth. The closest that I ever came to owning a new example was owning its replacement – a new old stock 6309-7049, boxed with original guarantee, blue film still on the case back, hang tag attached etc; and there in itself was the problem – my beautiful, new 6309 sat in its box and I would lovingly have a look at it once in a while; wearing it would be sacrilege!
Not so long ago, a new old stock 6105 was sold for US$3300 – that price gives us clues as to the watch’s desirability as a collectible and the iconic stature that it has garnered since Janders and Willard wore it in battlefields in far flung parts of the world. Strange to think that what was ‘just a Seiko watch’ (albeit a tough one) during the early-mid 1970s would become what it is today. I realise that this could be applied to many watches but there is something special about the 6105 no matter what. The question at hand is whether, since the 6105, there has been a watch available that captures the feel, the spirit, the looks or the aura of the original? Seiko’s own offerings, as we have seen, have retained elements of the 6105 and the current SKX173 is without doubt a capable and worthy great grandson – but it isn’t a 6105.
Personally, I feel that it would be a dangerous undertaking to attempt a 1:1 replication of the 6105 unless your company name happened to be Seiko. Less dangerous (but still quite a task) would be to produce a watch that pushes things as far as possible in terms of resurrecting the spirit of the original whilst perhaps improving upon it in some ways and adding a dash of originality at the same time. Until 2013 this hadn’t really been attempted; why not? Aftermarket dials, hands and straps are available, why not go the whole way and make a watch? My guess is that the case isn’t the easiest to manufacture; I qualify that supposition by adding the word ‘accurately’. Such are the subtle complexities of the 6105-8110 case that to replicate the ‘ugly beauty’ I have mentioned earlier would surely take quite some dedication (and funds). Get it wrong and excuses would have to be made or arguments put forth that the ‘homage’ was never meant to be that close.
As I write this paragraph an original Seiko 6105-8110 has literally just sold on eBay UK for the sum of GBP £750.00. Not new old stock but in very fine condition. That is now the sort of money that it takes to own a decent example. What choice therefore does a purchaser have? Resurrection of the spirit of the 6105 has finally been attempted in 2013 but only one such watch seems to have made it past the prototype stage and in the process caused a bit of a hullabaloo on various watch forums. That one watch is with me now but the question is: is it enough to capture the something that the 6105 possesses and which I find hard to put into words?
Enter the Smiths PRS-68
On July 29th 2013 Timefactors announced the launch of the Smiths PRS-68 200m Diver, or should I say, Timefactors launched the PRS-68. When the majority of Timefactors projects are in the conceptual stage they are vaunted on the TZ-UK forum with opinions and design input welcomed as the project moves forward. In the case of the PRS-68 things were a little different. It would seem that sometime during 2009 Eddie Platts decided that something akin to the Seiko 6105-8110 would be a viable project having explored the practicalities of reproducing the distinctive case design. It is fairly easy to reproduce a slab sided Rolex Submariner case, not so that of the Seiko it seems.
It would be a further three years or so until anything at all was mentioned on the Timefactors forum and in September 2012 TZ-UK viewers were presented with two case drawings which clearly showed the distinctive style of the Seiko 6105-8110. It was around this time that the hullabaloo mentioned earlier started within the online watch community, with accusations rife and some rather entertaining mudslinging going on! All wonderful stuff with the crux of the matter being that there was another, similar project being undertaken elsewhere with Timefactors being accused of ‘hijacking’ amongst other things. I do find it amazing how wristwatches can stir up such emotion though of course there are the commercial aspects to take into account too. Personally, I have little interest in who the manufacturer is, the questions for me are ‘is the watch available?’ and ‘does it do enough for me to part with my money?’
Nonetheless, I do appreciate why a watch such as the 6105, or rather a tribute to it might conjure up debate, discussion and almost pubescent-like emotions; after all, the original does sit on the pedestal reserved for such iconic timepieces or indeed toward the top of the mighty ziggurat (as Tom Wolfe might say) of the classic Japanese dive watch. The first person to produce a quality 6105 homage (for want of a better phrase) would surely be doing themselves no harm in the credibility stakes providing that they managed to get such a watch right. But how do we define ‘right’ in this sense, particularly when we are dealing with a watch such as the 6105? Is ‘right’ something that is an absolute 1:1 replica? I say no, unless Seiko were manufacturing it. Is ‘right’ something similar which follows the lines of the original but cautiously so? Maybe. Is ‘right’ something that takes the original and gets as close as it dares and improves on it here and there? Maybe.
I believe that ‘right’ in the case of watch paying tribute to one such as the Seiko 6105 comes from within us, the buyers and wearers; thus, we are all entitled to an opinion and if the watch (in relation to the 6105 in this case) does for us, what we want it to do, then surely it is right? Some might simply want a good dive watch, others might want something they might customise as part of the purchasing process, yet others might want a watch that captures the spirit and the feel of wearing the original and / or captures time and place. I fall very firmly into the latter category. Previous Timefactors watches have certainly met my requirements in the sense of capturing my personal, private ‘spirit of the age’ of my times gone by – the previously reviewed Smiths Military PRS-29A is one such (almost perfect) example of this and the watch really did take me on a journey back in time. That is what I want and that is what I would expect of a watch (the inspiration for which) I associate with times so distant past.
The Seiko 6105, for me, represents an eclectic spider web of association and meaning (factual, fictional, experiential) that is almost psychedelic – whilst the design of the watch seems to manage coherence out of arguably conflicting elements, its association and meaning have for me become a criss-cross of the same out of which none rises above the other – a bubbling cauldron into which I cannot stop staring, if you will. For these reasons I will always love it and yet it is very doubtful that I shall own an original; even more doubtful that I would be able to wear an original on a daily basis. Thus, as for many admirers of the 6105, the actual watch may remain something just that little bit out of reach, a watch surrounded in mystique and lore. Maybe it is better that way? After all, many of us enjoy that lore and perhaps just enjoy seeing the object from the outside, be it through our own memories or through a television screen. Personally, I think I am content with not owning an original example; that being said, the announcement of what appeared to be a serious contender for the title of first homage caught my attention and I waited patiently to see how it looked. Timefactors quietly progressed with the PRS-68 project and then the watch was launched – once again, it seemed that Sheffield had gone The Full Monty.
I saw the images of the PRS-68 and I waited…just to make sure that it didn’t disappoint on screen. What did the initial images from Timefactors and those of initial purchasers tell me? In short, they appeared to show a watch that might just fall into the ‘a watch that captures the spirit and the feel of wearing the original’ category. I was beginning to understand why forum input into this one wasn’t really necessary – Timefactors knew what its mission was and took on the mission like Willard going upriver. But I waited a little longer…just to make sure.
Despite my exposure to the 6105 having been very European and despite the watch being very Japanese, subconsciously I almost always associate it with the USA, in fact for some reason I seem to associate Seiko Dive watches in general with the USA. In fact, of the current Seiko Dive watch range my favourite is the USA model! I am assuming that the latter statement is due to the current SKX173’s nods to its forebears in the dial design. The associations with the USA must be due to the Vietnam ‘thing’. Now along came Timefactors with a Smiths dialled tribute which from what I could see, looked jolly close. My mind made the necessary connections and I came to the conclusion that given this was the first time a Smiths Diver had appeared alongside a Smiths Military since the 1969 catalogue and given that the 1969 Smiths Diver was jolly close to a discontinued Seiko Diver (the 62MAS) all was well. Time to let Great Britain have a slice of the action again!
The screen images looked good, the branding seemed apt – perhaps at long last the hole left by the 6105 that I had never properly owned could be filled. My Smiths Diver arrived in mid-October 2013.
The postman knocked at my door and handed over what can only be described as quite a heavy parcel. It was here! Timefactors is well known for robust packaging shall we say, and predictably, I wasn’t disappointed. That being that, it is what was included within the package that is of interest; thus, the watch itself came in a ‘Peli’ plastic case, there was an envelope containing a PRS-68 specific instruction leaflet, a large polishing cloth and to top things off – a Timefactors branded carbon fibre effect pen!
Let’s start with those peripherals. Not every Timefactors customer is a watch enthusiast and as such this is taken into consideration in terms of the instruction leaflet that is included with the PRS-68; the front of the tri-fold A4 sheet is replete with an image of the watch under which there are detailed General Care points which cover the important factors including correct operation of the crown, rinsing off a salt water soaked watch and a warning on date setting during the ‘prohibited hours’. It is doubtful that any watch enthusiast will actually read this but I do hope that those new to a mechanical watch take the time to do so. It can be quite amusing to see some online ‘complaints’ about mechanical watches from those who have arrived from the quartz era! It is always worth reading the manual!
Turning to the inside of the leaflet we are met with a crown position diagram and an ‘IMPORTANT’ notice which is screw down crown specific, basically telling the wearer to have a little mechanical sympathy when operating such. It is most certainly not necessary to screw a crown down with all one’s might in order to render a watch water resistant – there are usually enough gaskets in there to ensure water tightness by screwing the crown down firmly but not excessively. Lesson over! The remainder of the inside of the leaflet concerns specification of the watch including case drawings in plan and cross-section and an image of the PRS-68 with the case back removed. Again, I feel that this all good material for the uninitiated and can only serve to increase their knowledge and perhaps appreciation of something that isn’t exactly a mass market, quartz powered disposable. Finally to the remaining two sides of the leaflet and here we find a watch glossary, fittingly in this case starting at ‘D’ and Diver’s Watch! Good reading for those not familiar with information that many readers of this review could no doubt recite from memory. So, there we have the PRS-68 guidance leaflet. Not over the top, not glossy or pretentious – in fact very ‘Sheffield’ – down to earth and much to the point.
For one moment I thought I had been sent Bill Kilgore’s Cavalry scarf when I came upon the microfibre cloth thoughtfully included with the PRS-68 (I am slightly colour-blind I would add!). A beautifully soft material and eminently useful for all sorts of things; I have a black one from a previous Timefactors purchase and it serves very well to line a drawer where I store unboxed watches. Of very generous proportions (16” x 16”), the cloth can also be used to give the watch a wipe down, covering all quarters at once.
This time it is a light beige colour, replete with the Timefactors logo and brand names embossed into the lower right corner. Whilst I am generally averse to ‘extras’ with watches I have to concede that I am gradually coming round to the idea slowly – I do love this cloth though and it does add a little value for me because it is actually useful. This would also apply to the Timefactors pen which as per previous examples, includes the web url and telephone number of the company. It seems that Timefactors has a gone a bit trendy with this one – it now has real carbon fibre effect finish! Suffice to say, the pen works and it is another thoughtful extra.
Now we get the hermetic device used to encase and protect what is hopefully a gem within. I had heard the term ‘Peli case’ bandied around here and there but such is my lack of interest in boxes and cases that I have never paid such chat much attention. The PRS-68 comes in a Peli 1060 to be precise. What a wonderful little piece of kit this is! Instead of glossing over this aspect as I am often inclined to do, it is worth giving the Peli 1060 the attention it deserves both as a watch case and as something one can use for years for a variety of objects. Let’s start with a bit of marketing blurb:
“Peli Micro Cases are designed for active lifestyles and are built to perform in the most extreme conditions. Peli Micro Cases are crushproof and feature a special seal that water, sand, snow or dust cannot penetrate. The Micro Case has been designed to protect products such as digital and compact cameras, mobile phones, PDAs, binoculars and other sensitive and portable equipment. Anything that can be damaged by everyday hazards is safe in a Peli Micro Case which is why a LIFETIME WARRANTY is standard on the entire Peli case range. The 1060 Solid Micro case has a matching speed lock and a black liner. It comes with a ring and a lanyard for easy attachment. Features • Unbreakable, watertight, airtight, dustproof, chemical resistant and corrosion proof case. • Made of copolymer • Speed lock • Clear purge cap • Temperature Rating -10 to Plus 200 degrees • Submersible to 91.44 cm”
A beautifully lacquered wooden box is always a pleasure to behold when it contains a quality wristwatch but equally is almost always lost on me. But this Peli affair is a different story – it is obviously very well made, it looks tough and promises to be so if the specification is anything to go by:
Excellent specification for what is at first sight a ‘plastic box’ and I have to say that the choice of the Peli for the Smiths Diver seems very fitting. Wisely, a black colour was chosen for the PRS-68 and Timefactors has applied its own name to the top with a silver on black sticker. Internally, the Peli 1060 has a foam lined lid and the actual storage area has a core lining of soft rubber. Into this rubber is fitted a bespoke foam insert with a cut out for the watch (with foam pad) and at a right angle to this, a further cut out for ‘bits’. The foam insert can be removed easily and I believe that replacements can be purchased for one to modify according to requirements. As I said earlier, what a useful thing it is and I am actually very taken with the box the Smiths Diver comes in. It all looks very ‘tactical’ (apologies) and suits perfectly; oh, and I love the little valve on the front!
Christmas 1977 saw me achieving ownership of the watch that I truly lusted after during those hot summers in Malta. On the morning of December 25th I awoke to find a smallish package under the Christmas tree; unwrapping it revealed the distinctive design of the outer Rolex box – within that, the green leatherette affair with the golden crown. I distinctly remember the awe I felt when I lifted the lid of that box – a pristine, unmarked, brand new GMT Master I; just like the one my boat skipper had worn; however, the bezel wasn’t faded, the markers weren’t yellowed, the bracelet wasn’t stretched or scratched – it was beautiful and all the waiting, looking at catalogues and imagining it on my wrist were worth it. It didn’t disappoint. Equal awe has happened with the unveiling of one or two watches since I might add, but not quite in the way it did on the morning of October 18th 2013…
Unclipping the catch of the Peli case and gently lifting the lid would reveal all. I have to admit that is was with some trepidation that I did so; I was truly worried that on seeing the Smiths Diver for the first time I would have that slightly deflated feeling when things don’t live up to expectations. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Without doubt, this was a sight to behold and I was truly and utterly awestruck. Well, this wasn’t a Seiko 6105, but on seeing the Smiths peering out at me from within its cocoon, it was as if I was back at Christmas 1977 and I had been given something just as special as the Rolex GMT Master. I just stood and stared. I really couldn’t believe my eyes and unusually for me, beckoned my wife over and said ‘look at this, this isn’t going anywhere’ – I knew immediately that this watch would remain with me for all time, never to be swapped or sold or whatever. I felt like a child at Christmas.
In many ways, it was like having found something that one has been seeking for a long time. A quick glance at the guarantee card and I smiled – the serial number of my example ends 110 – the last three numbers of the 6105 model number no less! I didn’t actually touch the watch for a few hours, I just looked. This is however a brand new watch; and as such is meant to be used and enjoyed. Hopefully, close examination would only serve to reinforce my initial feelings, so close examination is in order. Official full specification of the Smiths Diver:
Never before has it been so critical to get a case ‘right’ in my opinion; I have already alluded to the bravery of Timefactors in releasing the PRS-68, given that to get this critical element wrong would make a mockery of the whole project. Many readers will be aware of the proliferation of Rolex homages in one form or another; the slab sided oyster case is I assume fairly easy to reproduce, certainly in plan form – the ‘look’ can be achieved fairly easily. Seiko Dive watch cases are another matter, none more so than the 6105-8110. Apologies for the repetition but the myriad of curves give it possibly the most distinctive design I have ever seen in a dive watch – and thus its beauty.
Where can we start to analyse the case of the PRS-68? I feel it necessary to consider the watch on its own merits for a moment – we can draw our conclusions regarding the inevitable comparison with the 6105 at a later point.
Firstly, the important dimensions:
- Diameter top 9 – 3: 44.5mm
- Diameter underside 9 – 3: 39mm
- Bezel ring diameter max: 41mm
- Lug end to lug end: 47mm
- Lug cut to lug cut: 39mm
- Lug width: 20mm
- Case band depth: 5.8mm (excluding bezel mount)
- Case height to top of crystal: 12.4mm
The case is without doubt very generously proportioned; 44mm diameter would suggest quite a large timepiece (certainly much larger than I would normally wear) but this is where the clever elements of the case design come into play, effectively reducing the perceived size of the watch.
Thus, viewing the PRS-68 from above – if we start at the 9 o’clock edge of the case and move toward the dial then we have perhaps 1.5mm of actual case before meeting the bezel ring which itself is slightly conical; thus, we can see both the lower plane of the bezel ring and the upper – the vertical serrations guide our eyes to the top of the same with therefore maybe another 1mm accounted for before we meet up with the bezel insert (which measures in at 38mm diameter) – in total, some 2.5mm is divided into three visually distinct elements. If we repeat the exercise from the 3 o’clock edge inward then our total diameter ‘saving’ is around 5mm. A Panerai sized watch seems to become a Submariner sized watch! Believe me, I could never wear a 44mm Panerai, it would look ridiculous on me, but somehow the Smiths Diver is perfect and it is 44mm.
Furthermore in this regard is the nature of the case in terms of the lug to lug dimension. The sides of the case (in plan again) are gently curved until (using the 12 end as an example) we reach the 11 and 1 areas, where a ‘flatting off’ (sound familiar?) occurs to the top of the case band; this visually ‘pulls’ the lugs in a little and throws into shadow (almost hides) the downward curvature which also takes place at this point. So, whilst the true lug to lug distance is 47.5mm, some 6mm of this is accounted for by changes in plan and sectional radii. The effect is not easy (as may be apparent) to describe but the net result is a perceived reduction in lug to lug distance.
What I haven’t mentioned thus far is that there isn’t one flat surface to be seen. The top of the case is curved every which way one looks at it. This can be likened to a discreet domed effect with the brushed surfaces ‘falling away’ slightly as we move away from the bezel and further contributing to the visual reduction in the size of the watch as a whole. Why am I putting so much emphasis on this perceived size reduction? Well, potential purchasers of the Smiths Diver could perhaps be put off by the stated 44mm diameter; there is no need for such reservation – this watch wears smaller than the specifications would suggest; bizarrely, it can be a 40mm watch if one wants it to be, yet it can be all of its 44mm if one prefers. If I can (thankfully) get away with it, believe me, anyone can.
The distinctive and signature crown area of the case features the fatter 5 o’clock lug / crown protector I would expect with the tell-tale upper protector having the pleasing swoop back, arcing perfectly and gracefully back into the case as it should. The actual cut-out in which the crown sits has it seems, had the necessary attention paid to it – the sides (or cuts) are curved when viewed in plan; I am certain it would have been easier to make these straight but no. Certainly from the top, the critical crown protector is aesthetically perfect and gives the case its expected asymmetric look.
So to the finish of the case top – it is, as mentioned, brushed concentrically in all planes. The brushing is almost satin like in its execution, giving a pleasing sheen as the light plays upon it. There is nothing coarse about it at all and under a 10x loupe everything is as I would expect; the brushing is even, uniform and beautifully applied to boot. Where a brushed surface ends and a polished surface begins then the distinction between such is clear and precise with no extraneous brush lines straying into prohibited areas. Where the lugs curve down and thus planes change, the brushing remains constant and in keeping with that of the lesser curved areas. I have no fault to find with this all important aspect of the PRS-68.
Another area where I can’t find fault is that of the lug width. At 20mm this is a 1mm increase over that of the Seiko 6105 and the character with which such a width endears the watch has not been lost at all; what has been gained however is choice for the wearer in what strap might be fitted – 20mm straps are far more abundant than 19mm. The relatively large ratio of lug width to case size accentuates the shape of the case and serves to draw attention away from the strap / bracelet itself; a not insignificant aspect of the 6105’s character and an instant identifier was the narrowish strap sandwiched between the burly lugs (along with the distinctive crown guard). The Smiths Diver has carried this aspect over well – I actually had to measure the lug width just to make sure – I almost convinced myself that it was 18mm!
For standard automatic dive watches, Seiko has used a 22mm lug width since the 6309 and I feel that as a result, more than just metal has been lost, particularly in terms of current models with lesser diameters. Thankfully, Timefactors hasn’t tried to be ‘clever’ or follow strap width trends – 1mm extra lug width was a generous enough gesture, 3mm would have destroyed the PRS-68.
The shape, cuts, the curves and brushing of the Smiths Diver thus far all look beautiful from where I am sat looking straight at the watch. But that is far from the end of the story regarding the case. We need to look below the 44mm waistline where hopefully further charms await. From above, the 44mm diameter hides a reduction in such to 39mm as we move down toward the case back.
Thus, at each side of the case, within the space of about 5mm vertically and 2.5mm horizontally it is in some ways make or break as there is a job to be done. Well, I can report that the seductive curvature which gave the 6105 much of its beauty is there in all its glory with the sides of the case flowing downward in a graceful, polished arc from the pronounced edge at the top to the equally pronounced edge hidden from prying eyes at the bottom. The PRS-68 has captured this element perfectly as it has too the north to south curvature of the case when viewing side on from 9 o’clock. It is, as they say, ‘spot on’ – even down to the exaggerated down sweep of the lugs.
If any readers are wondering – yes, the polished areas are all polished to perfection and throw reflections and light wonderfully.
The attention to detail is just as evident when we move to the crown side of the case and view in profile from 3 o’clock.
The overall (beautiful) curvature is there as it is on the other side but as we enter the crown area then things start to happen – not too early and not too late, the case begins its outward flick in order to provide the northerly line of defence; too early and the top shoulder would have looked too stubby, too late and it would have resulted in something akin to that of a current SKX, effective but a little anorexic. The Smiths Diver, once again, gets it just right. Equally correct is the 5 o’clock lobe, its curves and line following on perfectly from its little brother the other side of the crown. I just can’t fault the PRS-68 in this area and equally find it hard to put the curves and line into words. They just work, as they did on the Seiko 6105.
The complexities in this area have been captured so very well and no compromises taken – tilting the watch slightly and peeking underneath the crown reveals the carved recess which as well as allowing the case to follow its own lines, allows the wearer to access the crown itself. Sharply cut, and keenly polished and yet unlikely to be seen. That is attention to detail.
Whilst we are at this point, we mustn’t forget the crown itself, which due to the excellent case design and cut is afforded total protection. Comprising six groups of six teeth, interspersed with semi circular channels, the crown is of all polished finish with both the teeth and channels being very well cut with good edges.
The overall design is obviously taken from the Seiko 6105 with the channels in this case having no operational use as they did back in the 1970s. It would have been wrong to use any other style in my opinion, with the teeth and channel design giving the watch the identity it should have.
Theoretically, one shouldn’t have to use the crown that often anyway but when it is necessary to do so, it is a pleasure; it is sizeable enough to be gripped easily and should remain in pristine condition given the ‘cave’ it lives in when not in use. The polished outer face of the crown is etched with a simple ‘S’ for Smiths.
In order to put it to use, it must be unscrewed from the case; it takes a good three turns or so for it to become unscrewed (and vice versa) and in the winding position there is little, if any wobble. The tube threads look substantial enough to withstand a great deal of use and I suspect that there are three gaskets in use to aid sealing – one in the head of the crown itself, one around the stem and finally, one that sits in a channel at the case end of the threaded tube and which can be seen when the crown is unscrewed.
Engaging and screwing the crown down is easily achieved and in my short experience with the Smiths I haven’t come across any issues with accidental cross threading or problems with thread engagement. It all feels very substantial and makes a pleasing contribution to the 200 meter water resistance of the watch. On the latter note, this could be considered an upgrade over that of the original which relied on gaskets only for sealing, with the ‘Lock’ mechanism purely to stop the crown turning once pushed into the case. As with the rest of the case thus far, the winding crown of the PRS-68 looks correct, is engineered well and most importantly, operates excellently. It is ‘right’. On a final note, the Seiko 6105 crown usually had seven teeth per section, the Smiths has six – I am assuming the loss of a tooth is down to age!
Normally when I write about the back of a watch, it is literally the detachable case back.
The back of the Smiths Diver deserves a little extra attention because of its attention to detail; and I am referring to the watch case here. As with the top the underside has not been neglected in terms of its profiles, cuts and finish. Running from 12 o’clock to 6, the rear of the case is concave, thus following the curve of the sides wonderfully; when the lugs are reached at either end then there is the slightest flattening out. But there is more, the case is also concave when we run across from 9 o’ clock to 3. What we have is a very pleasing overall dished effect which whilst it can’t be seen, serves to keep the watch flat when it is worn – the watch feels snug and almost moulded to the wrist. Finish wise, the back is vertically brushed with an authentic grain perhaps just a little coarser than that of the top surfaces.
The icing on the cake in terms of design authenticity to the rear of the watch has to be the accentuation of the concavity by virtue of the bore hole like recess for the screw in case back. Whilst looking good and ‘engineered’, this design further aids wearing comfort and perceptual reduction in the watch’s overall depth.
The removable, screw in case back is of all polished finish and would represent the first iteration of the Seiko 6105 back. Thus, it comprises six key slots to the periphery, set within an outer bevel which rises to the flat central sector; and this is where is gets interesting – here we find the familiar horseshoe frame, deeply engraved into the 2mm steel. Within such, the circular text gives us the essentials:
STAINLESS STEEL – PRS-68 – WR 200 METRES
Simple, to the point – very ‘Sheffield’! The Smiths branding is saved for the very centre of the back and is, as is the horseshoe text, engraved deeply, evenly and very legibly. Finally, the unique serial number runs horizontally across the open end of the horseshoe. Timefactors system for this denotes year, month and four digit watch number. My example is numbered 13060110, denoting 2013, June, watch number 0110.
From the cut of the key slots, to the engraving of the text, to the gloss of the polished finish – the case back is as good as everything else considered thus far. When it is screwed in, the back seal is gained through use of a Viton O ring which sits in a machined channel – as a quick aside, the advantage of Viton seals over traditional materials is that of greater resistance to heat, cold and chemical attack. Viton will not degrade anywhere near as readily as do standard case back seals. This I trust, speaks for itself.
Whilst we are considering the case of the Smiths Diver, there are two further aspects of such which I held in equal anticipation before I received my example – the bezel and the crystal. In many ways, a dive watch is very much about its bezel; the Seiko 6309 was a good example of this, the aggressive styling of the steel ring and the dished nature of the insert really captured my attention. It seemed perfectly fit for purpose and exuded an air of rugged masculinity – it was in my opinion, the perfect dive watch bezel with later versions becoming slightly diluted. It has to be said that when it comes to dive bezels, Seiko take some beating (in design and action).
In the bezel department, the PRS-68 has gone back to basics and cast itself back to the late 1960s; this approach allows us, the wearers to actually feel what it was like to use the timing device so long ago retired – or that is the theory. In short, the Smiths features a bidirectional count up dive bezel with ball bearing click mechanism. From a design aspect, the bezel ring itself is constructed from stainless steel with vertical teeth, and as previously touched upon, is slightly conical vertically.
I haven’t taken the time to count the teeth (!) but all are cut evenly with the outer edges being very slightly flattened off and a bevel to both top and bottom. As with the rest of the watch metalwork, the bezel has been engineered beautifully – it is not a cheap cast affair in any manner; thus, it is cut, machined and finished. Under a loupe, the vertical machining can be seen between the teeth and it is as fine as to be considered a brushed finish; moving to the outer circumference of the bezel and this time the steel has been machined horizontally, again the finish (by virtue of the machining) could be described as a relatively coarse brushing and this extends to the lip at top (which is around 0.25mm in width).
If it looks good under a loupe, it looks even better at normal sight and smacks of the highest attention to detail. As we move to the bottom edge of the ring, then in profile, the lower bevel of the teeth lead us in to the vertical section which has enough height to allow the tell-tale click channels to be cut radially.
This raises the subject of the bezel action – die hard dive watch enthusiasts might shudder at the thought of a bezel that turns both ways! I don’t. In reality, there are very few, if any of us that will be entrusting our lives to the bezel of the Smiths Diver whilst many metres under water; rather, we may be using the bezel for timing rather less critical endeavours. In this respect, I rather like the idea that I can turn the bezel both ways and as it so happens this is the way it was done for many years. The Smiths bezel, as per the Seiko 6105 utilises a click ball system for its 60 clicks. Basically, a sprung loaded (small) ball bearing is set into the flat surface of the watch case and said ball bearing engages into one of the 60 channels cut into the bottom surface of the bezel ring. As one turns the bezel then the spring assisted upward pressure put on the bearing ensures that as the bezel is turned, the little ball is eagerly awaiting the next channel into which it can rest, thus giving the ‘clicks’ and given a strong enough spring (which the PRS-68 has), ensuring that the bezel isn’t shifted inadvertently. It is a simple and very effective system though not perhaps as simple (and economical) as the oft used method for unidirectional bezels – a flat metal plate with bent tabs.
The action of the PRS-68’s bezel is a delight with just the right amount of resistance between clicks to let you know that things have been thought out and engineered with somewhat more than cursory attention. The feel of the teeth within thumb and forefinger is pleasing and there is no doubt that this is a very solid piece of steel as opposed to butter soft aluminium. For those of you who might find themselves fifty metres under water wearing gloves then yes, you will be able to grasp the bezel and turn it with no problem and no slippage!
So much for the metalwork of the bezel (which I cannot fault) – what of the all important bezel insert? This, I am assuming is aluminium and would appear to be of around 0.75mm in thickness with a width of circa 3mm – just right visually; the base colour is black with silver markers consisting of a triangle at the 12, dots at the intermediate minutes, batons at the odd 5 minute intervals and numerals at the even 5 minutes. In very simple terms, the bezel insert is virtually indistinguishable (including the font) from Seiko designs stretching back all the way to the first generation 6105.
The surface is very slightly grained thus giving both the background and markings a pleasing and apt satin finish as opposed to the gloss I have noted on lesser dive watches (and which I personally don’t care for). All application of the markers is achieved precisely with well defined edges and no sloppiness evident at all. So far so good.
The insert fits perfectly into the recess within the bezel itself and doesn’t stand proud of such at all; in fact, it sits fractionally below the top lip of the metalwork which gives a satisfying and well built feel and a sense of security – it doesn’t look like it will pop out shall we say! The final consideration here needs to be given to the luminous dot at the 12 position. The Smiths bezel features a spherical dot which stands proud of the insert slightly – if I had any concern about the watch when looking at images then it was this, given that I am used to a recessed luminous dot with a flat clear cover. On screen, its protrusion is perhaps exaggerated somewhat, in the metal it looks fine and by no means seems as prominent as might be expected. The luminous dot, by the way, glows like a beacon.
I believe that Timefactors briefly considered using a 6309 style bezel with the double row of ‘pimples’ – thankfully they didn’t. In remaining very much with the design of the 6105 bezel, the Smiths Diver gives us that vintage look, feel and operation that surely is so apt for the watch given the icon which it celebrates. In its totality, the bezel has been superbly engineered and finished – if a dive watch really is about its bezel, then the PRS-68 scores top marks from me – it is excellent.
To dome, or not to dome? The answer for Timefactors was crystal clear. In short, the Smiths Diver features an inner domed sapphire crystal with bevelled outer edge and anti-reflective coating to the underside.
The choice of sapphire was I feel perfect – after all, the Seiko 6105 itself used a Hardlex crystal which was arguably one step above the acrylic used on the 62MAS. So, the choice for a homage would therefore by definition be mineral or sapphire; mineral, whilst historically accurate could have certainly seemed to be scrimping perhaps and in my experience, wearing any wristwatch with a mineral crystal never imparts the sense of security that a sapphire gives. Scratch a mineral and it is effectively scratched for good, scratch a sapphire and the same applies but the chances of the latter are immensely remote, particularly for someone such as me who doesn’t come into contact with diamonds regularly!
A character trait of the Seiko 6105 was the bevelled edge to the crystal which allowed it to rise from under the bezel and up to the top surface – as I have mentioned, the bevel, whilst looking attractive also served to reflect the (relatively inboard) minute hashes of the dial at many viewing angles; as I have also mentioned, I always found this a little distracting, if not distinctive. Later Seikos such as the 6309 would see the bevel frosted (and the minute markers moved to a separate rehaut) – gone were those reflections. The PRS-68 sees the bevel where we would expect it, rising from under the bezel and progressing up a fraction above the bezel insert before being sliced flat. It looks exactly as it should in my opinion and retains the character of the original but the minute hash reflections have disappeared; all that remains in this regard are reflections of the hour markers (which I rather enjoy) which dart back and forth as the watch is tilted here and there. As a quick aside, the bevel plays a small role in the perceived reduction in diameter of the whole watch.
Where the PRS-68’s crystal scores beautifully is in its combination of the inner dome and the anti-reflective coating. This teamwork turns what could have been a relatively nondescript area of the watch into something which captures one’s attention whenever the time is viewed. In bright light, depending on which way the watch is tilted then you are greeted with the illusion that the top surface is domed as the light plays upon the inner surface, gently curving reflected straight lines as they appear to slip casually from one side of the crystal to the other.
In itself, this is quite mesmerising – but then the blue tint of the anti-reflective coating makes itself known, adding its dash of subdued colour to the whole affair, taking the harshness out of any reflections and thus making those reflections a visual pleasure as opposed to an annoying distraction. The coating is in fact, very effective and in any light situation, reading the time is a breeze (a pleasure in fact) with the hands and dial perfectly visible through any reflections that might be cast by outside objects.
If we tilt the watch to a very acute angle then the PRS-68’s inspiration becomes very apparent; the underside curvature of the crystal steals the scene with the distinctive multi-arc like mirroring effect capturing our attention. Here again, character has been captured – I don’t know if intentionally or not, but either way it is a joy to see, but only there when we go looking for it.
In terms of dimensions, the sapphire is 3.2mm at its thickest, reducing to 1.8mm in thickness at its centre; total diameter is 32mm at case insertion point (sealed with a nylon ‘I’ ring) reduced by the bevel to a 30mm flat (which resides 0.4mm above the bezel insert). All the proportions work (particularly that bevel) and the crystal is adequately thick to give the satisfying ‘thud’ one would expect when giving it a fingernail tap.
The Smiths Diver has been equipped with a crystal which has taken the original, upgraded it in terms of material, adapted it as befitting the rest of the new watch and at the same time managed to retain the majority of the character that we might expect – it could even be argued that it has somehow upgraded the character too. However I look at it (through it?), I don’t think I would change anything about it. Perhaps with the predictability of a Japanese watch movement, I have to say it is ‘right’.
Thus far, the outer shell of the Smiths has not failed to catch my attention and praise for that matter; but we have reached the point where we must delve beneath that blue tinged sapphire and start to drill down into the depths of the watch – initially by considering the British interpretation of a classic Japanese watch dial.
The Dial and Hands
If there was any one aspect of the PRS-68’s dial that might cause controversy then that would be the actual brand name of the watch. This is a Smiths Diver PRS-68, not a Seiko 6105-8110. Theoretically, that should be the end of the matter! I am content, no, pleased with the branding because I am British and Smiths is British. In addition, I have childhood and beyond connections with the factory in England where the 1969 Smiths Astral Diver CM.4501 was manufactured alongside the Smiths Military GS. It would be easy to make spurious connections between Seiko and Smiths (they both begin with S) but as I mentioned earlier in the review, there was more than a passing resemblance between the Astral Diver and the Seiko 62MAS. We would need to have both watches in hand to confirm the theory that the Smiths actually used redundant 62MAS cases but the fact remains that the similarity is enough for further investigation to be made if possible.
What we do know for sure is that in 1969, Smiths marketed a high quality watch that bore great similarity to a discontinued Seiko model. In 2013, Smiths once again adorns the dial of a high quality watch that bears great similarity to a discontinued Seiko model. ‘Precista’ would have been wrong, ‘Sewills’ would have been wrong, a strange concocted logo would have been wrong as equally as a sterile dial; the way I see it, Smiths was the obvious choice for this watch – my opinion of course, but I am content with the way I interpret history!
The dial is set below a matt black 2.1mm high bevelled rehaut which is actually part of the case. The dial too is matt black and as such is actually black as opposed to the dark charcoal grey sometimes seen on purportedly black dials. Under a loupe, the finish is even with no paint pimples or imperfections and blends in nicely to that of the rehaut. No doubt the clarity of the excellent sapphire crystal above contributes to the depth of black that is achieved short of using a glossy, inky black dial; so far, so good.
In terms of text, Timefactors has thankfully kept things simple (simpler in fact than the 6105). Below the 12 o’clock marker therefore we find the Smiths name in all its glory; but perhaps ‘glory’ is the wrong way to describe it – the Smiths logo is certainly there but has been applied very discreetly, with traditional British reserve perhaps. Thus, the letters are applied individually in relief and are uniformly polished silver in finish. Cleverly, the letters are convex in nature and as well as only fractionally standing out above the dial surface, do not overly try and grab one’s attention. The convex profile means that the text flows down onto the dial with only the peaks catching the light when viewed straight on – as the watch is tilted then so the reflected areas of the logo change, throwing others into shadow. The overall effect of this is that the Smiths logo seems to come and go – it is most certainly there but only just enough to let us know that this is a Smiths and not some reproduction Seiko dial from an online auction. The polished finish is excellent and the fact that the brand begins and finishes with a letter ‘S’ gives it the pleasing symmetry which Seiko managed with their elongated ‘O’.
Moving down the dial and just above the 6 o’clock marker we find ‘200 metres’ in red; this contrasts the northbound logo well and is, as per the latter, very discreet; so much so, in fact, that despite its colour, and because of the small font size, it takes a little looking for – it is definitely there, but not to the extent that it causes any distraction at all. Printing of the text is thick and even under a loupe so I have no complaints there. Why is it red? I don’t know the reasoning behind this choice but it works to let us quietly know of the depth rating and as bonus, it sits nicely alongside the signature red circle which circumnavigates the dial once a minute. Thus to the final dial text, nestled at the bottom of the dial, just above the minute hashes – Great Britain. This is obviously referring to the home of Smiths. I will say no more on this as I don’t feel I need to! The text is in silver using a very small font and follows the discretion of all other text dialogue. The printing has excellent depth and definition which also applies to the minute hashes which are of the same painted silver finish.
So we move to the dial markers. It would seem that Timefactors chose to take the Seiko 6105 dial and reinterpret it; but reinterpret it closely enough that we know just exactly its origins. But then maybe the word is refine? Or should it be update? I’d like to stick with refine. So, for those who might expect a 1:1 Seiko 6105 dial but with Smiths at the top then I can say at the outset, that this is not such. Therefore, Timefactors would have appeared to have refined the Seiko 6105 dial just ever so slightly.
Starting at the periphery, the minute markers are, as mentioned above applied in silver paint and finished excellently; at each five minute interval then a hash becomes a rectangle with equal depth and definition. There is little else to say about the silver paint (apart from it being the ‘right’ colour) but those little hashes denote the start of the refinement that comes to mind when we look at the dial in its entirety.
As such, they are perhaps just a little less prominent than those of the Seiko 6105, a little shorter, a little thinner; not as ‘blunt’. They are there, but they are not shouting about it – given that they are not reflected in the bevel of the crystal then they leave any shouting to be done by the hour markers.
As one might expect from a watch that celebrates the Seiko 6105, the hour markers feature the distinctive divided shield at 12, rectangles at 9 and 6, with squares accounting for all other hours. What Timefactors appears to have done is to follow the same approach as per the Smiths logo – thus, literally taking the edge off things a little. The markers are all of a highly polished silver finish, with the framework of each standing in relief above the dial, but not to the extent that they feel ‘blocky’ – actually, all the bright work of the markers has a slightly curved profile, just a little bit convex (as opposed to the Seiko’s square cut) – what this does is visually reduce the size of the markers just a touch and afford them the same play of light demonstrated by the Smiths logo.
Whilst they are very prominent on the dial (as they should be), the markers are not overbearing, nor do they create glare when under bright light – they are, as intended I assume, refined. They have also been moved outboard a little, leaving slightly more breathing space to the central area which they border. By no means does this make the dial look sparse, if anything it perhaps looks a little less crowded than that of the Seiko 6105. Aesthetically, the design, size, spacing and finish of the applied markers works very well, it is instantly recognisable yet obviously not intended to be a replica of the Seiko dial. It is an interpretation and refinement of such. It is a Smiths dial. What I would say is that the Smiths markers possess a finesse which the 6105’s didn’t and yet at the same time they are just as effective – the square jawed approach has gone, to be replaced by a quietly confident one.
Given that the days of tritium and promethium are now gone, we are assured of long lasting luminosity by virtue of the Super Luminova C3 fill which in this case, really is a fill – each and every marker has been a healthy dose of the compound with a slightly coarse texture which is discernable under a loupe. The Luminova is thick and evenly applied; just as importantly, it is accurately applied within each polished marker which is very evident in the dark – all the edges are crisp and the dial glows beautifully for long stretches at a time, still being readable into the early hours of the morning. The daylight colour of the Luminova is an off white, which as well as looking correct, correlates with the excellent night time performance I have experienced with the Smiths (off white C3 is the brightest Super Luminova).
At the 3 o’clock position the date window takes the place of, or serves as, an hour marker. Rather than simply a dial cut out, the window features a silvered metallic frame which consists of a squared cornered rectangle which descends through the dial via a bevel. The uppermost surface of the frame is polished to match the hour markers and reflects any light in equal fashion. The inner bevelled surfaces feature a frosted finish which gives some contrast to the polished edges above it and serve to accentuate the thickness of the dial itself. Finish to all areas of the date window are executed very well with the only other comment to make at this point being that I am pleased to see an apt black on white date wheel in use.
In its entirety, the dial of the Smiths Diver looks beautiful. There is no doubt that it is of quality manufacture using quality materials. It most certainly isn’t a copycat 6105 dial yet it is unmistakably a superbly executed tribute to such. The combination of all its elements works together excellently, nothing out of proportion, nothing looking ‘odd’. Timefactors has given a classic dial design a dash of well implemented refinement and into the bargain, given it another identity – Smiths. But of what use is a dial without hands? This brings us to the very last visual element of the PRS-68 and one where as with many other aspects, it could have gone horribly wrong – the hands.
The Seiko 6105 was well known for its traffic light seconds hand which disappeared with the 6105 itself (it actually lived on for two years or so on a Silver Wave sports model) with the hours and minutes hands being relatively standard, though having large luminous areas.
If there was anything distinctive about the latter two hands then it was the three plane aspect – a flat top with bevelled sides; nothing too distinctive but nonetheless a feature. In addition, they were not square tipped – each corner was trimmed off across the bevel thus giving the ends of the hands a little interest.
One concern I held upon learning of the PRS-68 project was that of the bevelled hands – were they not carried over from the 6105 design then I would have been very disappointed. I need not have been. The hours and minutes pointers of the Smiths Diver carry over the design of the Seiko’s very very closely; cut from steel, they are of polished finish and possess the bevelled design along with the cut corners.
The minutes hand is marginally narrower than the hours but only to the degree necessary to maintain their tribute status – this reduction in width is carried over to the central elongated luminous area and again, this is how it should be. I feel that anything other than hands in the original style would have been a mistake. Where Timefactors did decide to make one change was in the length of the minutes hand; it has been extended slightly and now reaches out some three quarters of the way into the minute hashes – this would seem to be in keeping with the dial’s slightly less ‘stubby’ look and doesn’t affect time reading in any way at all; the minute hashes still making their presence known beyond its tip as the minutes hand passes over them.
There is little to say about the hours hand – proportionally correct in all dimensions and matching the minutes just about sums it up; both hours and minutes are excellently cut and beautifully polished; the bevels and luminous areas ensure that the time can be read with ease under any light conditions and any reflections do not prove to be distractions. The luminous compound is Super Luminova C3 (as used on the dial) and I have no complaints here – the colour match (to dial markers) is excellent, the glow bright and long lasting.
Gliding almost gracefully atop the main hands is the seconds hand. Well, this is all I expected it to be – here is the traffic light! Once again from highly polished steel, the shape is as it was all those years ago and the luminous arrow / circle is there at the end; the smaller red circle is there too, completing the slightly bizarre blob that constitutes a small but defining factor of the whole time telling process. As with the minutes hand, Timefactors have decided to lengthen the seconds hand so that it extends well across the silver hashes at the dial’s extremity; once again, this appears to be in keeping with the overall interpretation of the dial / hands combination and for those so inclined, reading precise seconds is a tad easier than it might have been with the Seiko 6105. Night time? No problem – both traffic lights glow thanks to Super Luminova.
As a brief aside, online research shows original Seiko 6105s with what appear to be varying seconds hand lengths – catalogue images show the hand extending almost to the hashes, other images a much shorter hand – it would seem that first generation (6105-800x) had the longer, whilst second (6105-811x) had the shorter – in the case of the latter, early examples (as illustrated in the USA catalogue of 1970) were probably equipped with the longer hand that extended almost to the hashes. Why it was shortened I couldn’t answer. On that basis, the seconds hand of the PRS-68 is a slightly lengthened version of that fitted to late 6105-800Xs and early 6105-811Xs. The 62MAS, where it all started, had a seconds hand that was the longest of all of them, just about on par with that of the PRS-68.
In summation, the dial and hands combination applied to the Smiths Diver is visually superb, it captures the look and old fashioned aesthetics of the Seiko 6105 but refines them and adds its own identity, not least its own name. In terms of the materials and execution involved, then I can’t find fault with such. Just as the casework captures one’s attention, then equally so do the dial and hands; and in order to see the time, we do so through the beautifully cut sapphire crystal. It is a pleasure to view the time on the Smiths Diver. Delving beneath the dial reveals what is powering the gliding seconds hand I referred to a little earlier.
Normally, we don’t get sight of the movement beating inside a dive watch; a dive watch with a display back is rare (I’m not sure that I have seen one). However, that doesn’t stop the more curious of us taking an interest in what is going on inside our prized timepiece. Just as a 200 meter water resistant watch gives the wearer a sense of security even though the watch might never venture further than a swimming pool; an equal sense of contentment possibly arises from the knowledge that there is a ‘good’ movement inside the watch case.
What choices did Timefactors have in terms of a suitable movement for the Smiths Diver? Firstly I would say that to use anything Swiss would have been strange to say the least and the reason for this observation is I am sure obvious. Thus it would seem the appropriate thing to have done would be to look East – rather more apt and exactly what happened. This is where any controversy might start. Let us discount Chinese manufacturers (e.g. Sea Gull), I don’t believe they were considered in this case.
The Smiths Diver is equipped with a Miyota 9015 (read Citizen) movement. Online eyebrows were raised when this choice was announced with opinions voiced that the movement should have been Seiko derived (Seiko Instruments sell NE prefixed versions of 6R and 4R calibres on the open market). I have to admit to wondering why a Seiko movement wasn’t used myself, albeit briefly. Opinions were voiced apparently that a ‘proper’ homage to the 6105 would have a Seiko derived calibre within. I would agree entirely that a proper copy of a 6105 should indeed have a Seiko movement of some sort; but as has become increasingly apparent to me since I have examined the PRS-68, it isn’t a copy of the 6105 – most certainly it is a celebration of it, it pays tribute to it; but it is also a refinement of it in some ways as we have seen. Furthermore, it is a Smiths, not a Seiko. Had a Seiko movement been used, that would have been fine with me; the use of the Miyota is fine with me. The watch doesn’t have Seiko upon its dial thus I wouldn’t particularly expect it to have Seiko anywhere else. I just want it to work properly.
The crux of the matter is that Smiths is a ‘proper’ watch brand, not a name worked out on the back of a cigarette packet. Were I to sit here today, devise a homage watch to a long discontinued Seiko and think up a catchy name to adorn the dial, what would give the watch any credence? - use of a Seiko derived calibre of course. The Smiths didn’t need to do that. What was required was the use of an efficient, quality movement with promised reliability. Many movements have these attributes, both Seiko and Miyota. Where the Miyota used in the Smiths scores over any mainstream Seiko movement is however in the efficiency department, which we will touch upon later. Let’s look at the Miyota 9015 in a little more detail.
- Diameter 11.5 ligne (26.0mm)
- Thickness 3.9mm
- 3 hands with date
- 28,800 bph
- 24 jewels
- Automatic with unidirectional winding rotor
- Hand winding
- Hacking (stop second device)
- Accuracy: -10 / +30 seconds per day, measured in 4 positions
- Power reserve: More than 42 hours
The Miyota 9000 series was announced at Basel 2009 and at the time was welcomed as a viable alternative to the ETA 2824. In my experience of the movement, I would venture as far as to say that it is even an alternative to the ETA 2893. It has had a few years now to prove itself and has done so quite admirably from what I can ascertain, with a very low failure rate. The official accuracy figures from the specification would seem to be very pessimistic given real world performance – many users have reported daily rates within 5 seconds either side of zero which is without doubt excellent and perfectly acceptable.
The combination of a 28,800 bph (i.e. 8 ‘ticks’ per second) specification and directly driven centre seconds hand contribute to a nice sweep with none of the judder sometimes associated with the indirectly driven centre seconds of older Miyota calibres. Thus, the 9015 is very much a modern unit and it would seem that attention has also been given to aesthetics – there is some decoration to the main plate in the form of stripes and everything else seems to be well finished. I must admit that I rather like the use of the three screws to secure the winding rotor – this arrangement reminds me of far more expensive calibres for some reason and although I shall never see it, it is pleasant to know that it is there.
The implementation of the Miyota 9015 within the PRS-68 involves securing the movement via a metal retaining ring and screws – a very solid approach and apt given the attention to detail that has been afforded to all other aspects of the watch.
Manual winding is a pleasure in this case; the feel is smooth, without any coarseness; one click outward on the crown and quick setting of the date can take place, which again, is precise and easy – one doesn’t feel that damage is being done as the date clicks over.
The final outward click of the crown allows the seconds hand to be stopped for to the second setting. All crown operations have a good ‘feel’ to them which I would put down to a combination of the Miyota’s build quality and the solidity of the crown / stem of the PRS-68.
Accuracy? My Smiths Diver has been running at +3 seconds per day off the wrist, dial up. Not too bad at all – in fact, excellent! Power reserve appears to be in the region of 46 hours.
From a technical perspective, the Miyota 9015 is relatively simple and this in itself bodes well for long-term reliability and ease of servicing when the time comes for such. Despite this simplicity it is an extremely competent movement and certainly inspires a feeling of confidence; particularly when surrounded by the quite vast quantities of steel constituting the Smiths case. One aspect of the calibre’s simplicity is the unidirectional winding of the rotor – in layman’s terms, the rotor winds the mainspring when it rotates in one direction; if it rotates in the other then it does not – it freewheels. I always had mixed feelings about this arrangement without really doing any research. Being so impressed with the PRS-68 in all other aspects thus far, I thought I would see if there might be any benefit (apart from mechanical simplicity) of the unidirectional winding system.
I am lazy, without doubt. Or perhaps to be fair, my lifestyle is relatively sedentary. If I am wearing an automatic watch the winding of such needs to be efficient; and to my delight, it appears that with a non complicated automatic movement (e.g. no chronograph) then unidirectional winding is the order of the day. It has been proven to be more efficient than bidirectional winding in many conditions – including those of slouches like me.
The technical aspects of this (which I shan’t explore in any depth) concern inertia and dead angles – basically, the less mechanical resistance that the winding mechanism has to overcome in order to wind the mainspring then the more quickly the mainspring will become wound. A bidirectional system uses a relatively high proportion of the angle of swing of the rotor when the rotor changes its direction of rotation just to get the reverser mechanism ‘sorted out’ before transmitting energy to the mainspring. This is particularly critical when small movements of the wrist translate into gentle back and forth rocking of the rotor. A good proportion of that gentle rocking is not actually doing anything apart from setting the reverser mechanism (whatever type it might be) ready for further rotation of the rotor which might not actually take place.
A unidirectional winding system on the other hand, has no reverser mechanism. Whilst the rotor is moving in the non winding direction it is doing nothing for the mainspring (and we can hear it freewheeling); but the vast majority of energy from the slightest movement in the winding direction is transmitted efficiently – the dead angle is less and the mainspring is wound more.
For those who are very active this is perhaps rather academic. I have always wanted to feel as confident in something that is purported to be doing ‘half a job’ as one which goes the whole way and Jaeger LeCoultre’s findings have allayed any fears I may have had; as reported in Watchtime Magazine:
“We tested Caliber 899 in two ways, in the standard version with bidirectional winding and in an altered form with unidirectional winding. Unidirectional winding was significantly slower on the Cyclotest machines. But we also asked different people to wear these watches on their wrists. We gave them wristwatches with slack mainsprings and asked them to wear them from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. On average, watches with unidirectional winding were twice as strongly wound as watches with bidirectional winding.”
I decided to conduct my own experiment on the basis of the above. With the PRS-68 absolutely stopped, no power at all, I gently twisted it and tilted it back and forth for precisely three minutes. I didn’t put it on my wrist, just held it and moved it. It took almost all of those three minutes to get up and running but once the seconds hand was scurrying its way along, I set the watch back in the box and waited. From those three minutes of movement the watch ran for no less than 6hr 25min. Thus, it appeared that three minutes of movement gave me about one seventh of total power reserve! Very impressive. Next, I did exactly the same with a brand new Seiko 4R36 (bidirectional winding) equipped watch, moving the watch in very much the same way as the Smiths for the same amount of time – the Seiko ran for 3hr 55min. Whilst my little experiment wasn’t particularly scientific, it seemed to back up JLC’s findings and it has to be said, gives me great confidence in the Miyota 9015. It is more efficient than an equivalent mainstream Seiko movement – for me anyway. For those more active then the chances are that both systems are just about equal.
So there we have the movement within the Smiths Diver. Was it the right choice? From my perspective – without doubt. It is modern, a new design, it is efficient in its winding mechanism, it is well finished and it beats at 28,800 bph – perfect for watching the traffic light seconds hand glide its way around the dial. Is it an improvement over the 6105B of years ago? Possibly, yes.
It would seem at this point that I have considered all aspects of the PRS-68; from the packaging to the case, from the crown to the bezel, from the dial to the hands and down into the heart of the movement. I will leave my conclusion to ‘The Conclusion’ but before venturing there, will revisit the Smiths Diver’s 20mm lug width and specifically what fills the gap.
The Bracelet and Strap
The Seiko 6105 was very distinctive because of its relatively narrow 19mm lug width. As we have seen, the Smiths Diver has enjoyed an increase of 1mm to allow the fitment of a multitude of straps should an owner be so inclined. Again, for fear of repetition, the ‘classic’ 6105 strap was the ‘waffle’ type which appears to have been used for export markets, with an alternatively styled affair advertised within Japan. Since the 6105’s rise to its iconic status, the waffle strap has been replicated 1:1 in order for collectors to be able to replace cracked and broken originals; the 6105 strap was originally manufactured from a ‘plasticky’ material that would break simply with age. One of the replicated straps was as close as actually having ‘Seiko’ moulded into it as per the original but made from a different compound which wouldn’t suffer from the long-term fragilities associated with the original. I believe that this strap, in its latest form (without Seiko branding) is sold for approximately GBP £37.00 at the time of writing – certainly not cheap, but extremely accurate in its detailing.
In addition to aftermarket straps, it has now become possible to buy aftermarket bracelets for many Seiko dive watches, including the 6105. More often than not, these are of the oyster style which suits the watch well and Seiko themselves have offered such styles on watches ranging from humble Seiko 5s to more rugged divers.
The Smiths Diver is supplied as standard on a stainless steel oyster style bracelet with yes, a waffle strap included in the box for those who fancy a change from time to time. What the PRS-68 also comes with is choice – those 20mm lugs mean that within reason, we can pop the watch on whatever we choose; I am certain that it will look good on a variety of straps including, dare I say it, the NATO strap! I would qualify this by saying that personally, I think the watch is best suited on the one piece USA style as opposed to the multi-ringed UK style – and I think it should be black!
But firstly to the PRS-68 bracelet – starting at the end links, these are of solid construction and fit the lug spacing very well in terms of tightness and profile; as one might expect, they have a brushed finish to match the rest of the bracelet with such brushing being applied lengthwise. A quick note: the brushing matches that of the case perfectly in terms of its grain – the end links don’t therefore stand out or disappear; they almost look integral to the case, such is the closeness of match. To remove the bracelet one will need a relatively small spring bar tool to access the bar shoulders, but there is more than adequate room to do so meaning that bracelet removal shouldn’t be too difficult – I would always recommend spring bar pliers (which will grasp both ends of the spring bar) for such a job as the chances of scratching the watch lugs are vastly reduced with use of such.
Just as solid as the end links are the links of the bracelet itself; the oyster style as fitted to the PRS-68 suits the watch well – anything more complicated (e.g. a jubilee style) would have been a distraction in my opinion, drawing attention away from the case and spoiling the lines.
Thus, the bracelet so fitted consists of solid stainless steel links, each in the familiar three parts (no faux joints) with again, an excellently matched brushed finish to the tops and undersides. The brushing is straight, even and uniform with the curved profile of the links allowing any reflected light to flow nicely here and there, as it does across the surface of the case and crystal. The sides of each link are highly polished to an excellent standard and this again, matches the polished sides of the case perfectly.
From the 12 o’clock side of the watch there are 6 full links and 1 half link before the clasp link; from the 6 o’clock side there are 5 full and 1 half link before the same. The use of half links is a boon for fine adjustment and clasp centering when one is adjusting the bracelet. Of all these links, it is possible to remove a total of 5 full links and 2 half links which will allow the bracelet to be sized down to to fit wrists of around 6.5 inches – even I can wear it!
At its largest, the watch will be good for wrists up to 8.5 inches or so. When it comes to sizing the bracelet then link removal is achieved using two screwdrivers (yes, the links are screwed together, not a split pin in sight) and whilst a bit of a fiddle if you don’t have a specialist bracelet tool, it is perfectly achievable with patience and a little easier if you have an assistant to hold the watch. Once the requisite number of links are out then fine adjustment can be achieved by virtue of the adjustment holes in the double folding clasp with safety lock.
The clasp itself is a very solid affair and finished in the same fashion, and to the same standard as the links (brushed top with polished sides); the safety lock clicks in nicely courtesy of a ‘dimple’ either side and takes a good pull with a finger nail to release it. As a final touch, it is signed with an etched ‘S’. The hidden clasp folding mechanism is of very solid brushed steel bar type construction (as opposed to cheaper looking blades) with precise hinges and no sideways slackness at all. For adventurous wearers, hidden within the clasp is a nifty and well executed diver’s extension link which when released and folded out will allow adequate extra length to the bracelet when worn over a wet suit or polar expedition clothing. I might add that it is doubtful that I would ever use such but it is there nonetheless.
Overall, the bracelet as fitted to the Smiths Diver is a very solid, excellently constructed and finished example of this style and it suits the watch perfectly. It imparts a feeling of solidity to match that of the watch itself and the combination of oyster styling and 20mm lug width translate into something that doesn’t overbear the watch head – in fact it complements it perfectly. There is a taper on the bracelet from the 20mm at the lugs to 18mm but it is almost imperceptible and negated to a degree due to the thickness of the clasp steel. More often than not, I automatically remove a watch’s bracelet and dress it with my current favourite NATO strap – I often struggle with bracelets, I can’t get them quite right on my small wrists; the Smiths Diver belongs on this bracelet in my opinion and I shan’t be removing it any hurry, such are the degrees of suitability in style, fit to the watch, and adjustability that it possesses; that being said, many will disagree with me citing that this watch belongs on a waffle strap. I fully understand such sentiment and Timefactors obviously do too given the inclusion in the package of the 20mm waffle strap…
Gone is the semi shiny, plastic waffle strap of the 1970s – the Smiths Diver waffle strap, whilst visually identical to the original is perhaps a smoother, more uniform refinement of it. All the ridges are there as they should be (on the movable loops too) and all the pyramids are there, perhaps more evenly than those of the original Seiko strap; even down to the number and spacing of the holes, the Smiths waffle is what it should be. Turn the strap over and one could be forgiven for thinking that the original was staring one in the face – all the ‘pressure chambers’ are there, just as they should be. I am almost positive that an original Seiko strap was used to create the mould for this – apart from the fact that this strap is 20mm in width and can thus be used on any 20mm lugged watch that you might care for. In this regard I believe that Timefactors make it available for purchase as a standalone item at GBP £18.00.
The shininess of the original strap has disappeared because the strap material is now silicone. It is extremely flexible, it is soft and comfortable and it should last many years without cracking. There is little else to say apart from the fact that this iteration should please those who feel that nothing but a waffle is right for the style of watch in question – yes, silicone seems to attract dust more than other materials but I think its benefits somewhat outweigh this characteristic (which a quick wipe over will take care of anyway). At the buckle end of the strap is..a buckle! This is quite a substantial affair, slightly fish tail in shape and of brushed finish to top surface and sides. A very discreet ‘S’ is etched into the top. The underside is essentially in a semi-polished state with a deeply stamped reminder that it is made from stainless steel. If one prefers a svelter buckle then two seconds with a spring bar tool will see the PRS-68’s removed and any standard 18mm (inside) buckle can be substituted.
And there, at the tail end of that waffle strap ends the examination of the elements that constitute the Smiths Diver PRS-68. As with the Seiko 6105, the Smiths has so many elements, facets, call them what you will, that make up the whole. Defining that whole and putting such into words isn’t easy but before I move to the conclusion of this review, it is worth at least trying.
As was the Seiko 6105-8110 that appeared over forty years ago, the Smiths PRS-68 is a perplexing visual cornucopia of eclectic elements that somehow combine to form an object possessing a strange beauty. It is big, yet doesn’t feel so, it should be thick, but isn’t. The aged design should look aged, but it feels just as modern as something from a Basel 2013 showcase. Put the PRS-68 on your wrist and you will smile – you’ll know it is there, all 113 grams of it plus bracelet. But every gram of the Smiths plays its part in imparting a feel of care, attention to detail and quality. Solid quality.
The PRS-68 is in essence a practical everyday wristwatch with a technical specification (and material application of such) which could see it giving decades of service during which it will no doubt become a cast member in adventures and experiences to be recalled sometime in the future. Sound familiar?
For its design and aesthetics the Smiths has to say a big thank you to Seiko – and this very statement, by definition, means that the PRS-68 has certainly captured that something which the Seiko 6105 had. It is all there when I look at the watch as a whole – the look is there, the feel is there, and the wonder is there – I still can’t put my finger on why this particular design is just so ‘right’. And the Smiths has got it ‘right’. It reminds me of hot summers in Malta.
From the curves of the case, to the milling of the bezel, to the dome of the crystal, to the bevel of the hands and to the teeth of the crown – the Smiths has ventured deep into dangerous territory on the map of homage watches. But it has done so carefully, step by step, and here and there it has placed its own markers – quietly but so effectively. So subtly has Great Britain placed its markers that none of the visual mystique of Willard’s (or Janders’s) watch has been lost; none whatsoever from my quarter.
None of us can go and buy a brand new, factory fresh Seiko 6105-8110. Those days have gone. We can buy old 6105s, we can buy modified 6105s, we can buy 6309s with 6105 style dial and hands. None of them are a brand new 6105 though. They never will be and never can be. Those days have gone.
What however we can now buy is an extremely high quality, beautifully built, very close interpretation of the Seiko 6105, with a respected and contemporary name on the dial and with an upgraded specification as a bonus.
The whole? Superb.
As much as Timefactors took a risk when embarking on the Smiths Diver project, I took a risk when writing this review – I really wasn’t sure how to go about it. During the sixteen days it has taken me to complete it I have become tired of the word ‘homage’. This watch is not homage. Without doubt, it is a superbly built timepiece, the quality of which I hope has become apparent – without doubt it is a timepiece that can be judged on its own merits; it has been built with aforethought, and respect for the Seiko before it which has achieved almost mythical status.
The Smiths Diver is a large (but small), ugly (but beautiful) piece of crafted steel, the likes of which I have not encountered for some 36 years. It is probably the best watch to come from Timefactors as yet all things taken into consideration. Technically is it ‘right’, aesthetically it is ‘right’, visually it is ‘right’. It is a fine wristwatch.
From a personal perspective? It captures a myriad of memories and experiences, mixes them with a dash of history, adds a jot of docudrama – and the name reminds me of home (and far away). And every time I look at it I smile. It is right.
Available exclusively from Timefactors
A big thanks to all who let me use their excellent images, it is very much appreciated.