It is not very often that I write a review out of curiosity about rather than enthusiasm for a particular watch. This review falls firmly in the former category given that the introduction of the watch in question has raised the eyebrows of many watch aficionados and enthusiasts of the Precista brand alike. Indeed, the introduction of this watch has perhaps more than raised the eyebrows of some, it has caused indignation amongst those who have followed the resurrection of the Precista brand within the UK over the last few years. Why should this be so? In simple terms, this is not a Precista as many readers will know it; this watch has been conceived and manufactured by a company other than Timefactors (who of course own the rights to the Precista brand in the UK). This is not a Sheffield Precista.
Whatever the legal implications of the introduction of this watch, if indeed there are such, no doubt the reader can make up his or her own mind as to the moral aspect of things. From my perspective the word that comes to mind is ‘why?’
The title of this review will give a clue to many as to the nature of the watch in question. GTLS of course stands for Gaseous Tritium Light Source (s). Followers of the Precista watches devised in Sheffield, UK will of course be familiar with the Precista Commander Titan that was produced some years ago and did indeed feature Tritium Tubes for dial and hand illumination. This watch is now sold out and when available represented pretty good value for money at GBP £195.00 given that it featured a jewelled Ronda movement, sapphire crystal and arguably the best tritium tubes (from mb-Microtec in Switzerland). Indeed, Timefactors made no secret of the fact that the watches themselves were produced by mb-Microtec and branded Precista.
The company that has produced the watch under review is Swiss Military Watch Co. S.A. who is also responsible for the TawaTec line of GTLS equipped timepieces. Over recent years, various companies have jumped on to the GTLS bandwagon so to speak as there is undeniably a healthy market for watches so equipped given the theoretically superb low light performance of such. Over those years, various brands have cropped up, some remaining, some disappearing; all of them majoring on the advantages of the GTLS system and some making great use of evocative words such as ‘tactical’, ‘special forces’, ‘special ops’ and so on and so forth. It would seem that if we were to believe what we read then most members of the world’s more well known Special Forces units would each own or have been issued with ten to fifteen timepieces each – at the same time.
Personally, I have learned to ignore such verbose marketing copy, concentrate on the merits of the watch itself and take it at face value. What actually is beyond me is what actually constitutes a genuine Swiss military watch. The ‘Precista’ of Switzerland who sell the watch under review are themselves obviously no stranger to the use of some quite clever wordage; indeed, their ‘OFFFICIAL (sic) PRECISTA SWISS MADE WATCHES WEBSITE’ states that the company ‘ …is continuing to reinforce its role in the development of watch making for military purposes by devoting very significant investments to research and innovation…’ As far as I am aware, as was the case in the UK and Timefactors, the Precista brand lay dormant in Switzerland until bought by SMW.
Readers of previous reviews I have written about UK Precistas will possibly have noted my enthusiasm for them and indeed, admiration for Timefactors for not simply buying a brand and cashing in, but for producing up to date watches most worthy of the name and military heritage from which they were derived.
What then of the Swiss ‘Precista’?
The watch comes in a black leatherette covered hardboard box with outer white slip cover. Nothing exceptional, but fully functional and hard enough to protect the contents whilst in transit. What is notable of course is the ‘Swiss Military Watch’ branding on the box itself; I feel that in this case at least the letter ‘P’ of Precista would have been a nice touch. Moving to the inside then the box is lined in a combination of black velvet and satin material. The watch itself came secured to a removable black velvet covered pillow which sits centrally in the lower part of the box.
I am never one to place particular importance on packaging; in this case I feel that this is a good thing given the generic nature of such in this case and the price tag of the watch in question. This of course leads me to the warranty/instruction booklet. Again, a generic SMW item which is comprehensive in terms of its crown unscrewing and date/time setting instructions both for quartz and automatic watches, but with the omission of any reference to the GMT function of the movement which this watch utilises. To be fair, SMW is not the only manufacturer guilty of this but it is possible that those who are not conversant with wristwatches as a collector might be, could be a little confused at first as to what the GMT function actually is, let alone how to set and use it!
On actually opening the box then what struck me at first glance was the size of the dial. In addition of course, the unusual ‘Precista’ logo, more of which later. I didn’t expect to be wowed as I have been before by a Sheffield Precista re-edition and I wasn’t. I have owned tritium tubed watches before and they all have a similar look given the limitations of what can be done with the glass vials. Thus, by this point the experience had been nothing out of the ordinary but of course the subject matter is the watch itself which we can now visit in more detail. Before we do so, the official factory specification:
- Case: stainless steel
- Diameter: 40mm
- Height: 13mm
- Water Resistance: to 10 atm / 100 meters / 330 ft
- Crystal: scratch resistant sapphire glass
- Crown: double o-ring gasket
- Dial: black
- Strap: NATO strap 22mm black
- Movement: Swiss RONDA 515.24D quartz movement
- Functions: 3 hands, Date, GMT
- Date Window in black with white numbers
The Case and Crystal
The case of the Precista GMT GTLS is of all stainless steel construction in a generically lugged design. There is a ‘chunkiness’ to the feel of it with the lugs themselves being stubby and not following the contours of the case sides as per something traditional (such as a Rolex Oyster case for example). The bezel is formed as part of the case, thus this is a two piece affair consisting of the case itself and of course the case back. In terms of this design, there is nothing particularly pleasing or indeed non-pleasing about it. From my perspective, I prefer something which perhaps flows a little more; but this is what it is and there is plenty of steel to protect the innards without doubt. As can be seen, the crown is protected to a degree by the guards which provide a sporty look for the watch.
The cut of the case leaves me a little puzzled. Whilst the outer edges and facets are quite smooth and less defined, the inner areas between the 22mm lugs are crudely finished with cut lines being visible. I can’t decide just how this case has been made; it does not appear that a lot of work has gone into it prior to the finish being applied. That is not to say that the case is ‘bad’, just that for me anyway, there is something about it that whispers the word ‘budget’.
The case itself is finished in what I would describe as a frosted look. It does not come over as what many readers will understand as bead blasted – take a CWC G10 for example and look at the case finish under a loupe; you will see how the case has been given its (superb) finish with the many small indentations of true blasting being seen. Such a finish is undeniably long lasting if the condition of many twenty plus year old CWC on E-Bay are anything to go by. The Precista GMT GTLS, although stainless steel, looks to be frosted chrome with a surface finish that will scratch quite easily. I would surmise that even a few months of everyday wear could see this watch looking quite scarred which may of course even suit it given its tool watch premise.
Having mentioned the 22mm lug width, consideration must be given to straps. Logic might dictate that the choice of strap for this watch is a NATO or some such; from the factory, the watch is indeed available on a NATO or on a rubber dive type strap. The problem arises if one is to examine the clearance between the springbars and the case; clearly, there is little such clearance and threading even a standard NATO strap through is at best nearly impossible and at worst requires removal of the springbar with subsequent replacement whilst the strap is in situ. The springbar holes are poorly positioned and need moving down the lugs a good 0.5mm or more in order to be able to fit a NATO easily. Once a NATO is fitted then I fear that the springbars will be under a constant pulling force which can only be detrimental given of course that they are not solid. As the watch stands, should a buyer wish to use a thicker strap variant such as a Rhino or Zulu as examples then this will likely be impossible to achieve.
Turning the watch over and we have perhaps the better executed part of the case – that being the screw in case back. Fine circular machining with six key slots gives the backdrop for the central SMW logo and of course the specification text:
- Swiss Made
- Stainless Steel 316L
Furthermore, in small script beneath the SMW logo we have: mb-Microtec H3, 1 GBq Tritium ( 1 Giga Bequerel of Tritium.). Thus, the watch is 100m water resistant, is constructed of 316L stainless steel, has a sapphire crystal and radiation from the tritium is 25 millicuries. Turning to the water resistance, this is achieved through the screw down case back and use of ‘O’ ring gaskets in the non screw down crown. Many people I predict would prefer the use of a screw down crown but given that this is a quartz watch and little user intervention may be required (unless frequently changing time zones with the GMT function) then I feel a non screw affair should suffice. The crown, as it happens, is a part of this watch which I find quite appealing, it is of good proportions with good cut and pleasing to use.
Aside from the crown, another redeeming feature of the watch is the sapphire crystal. A good choice of material given the expanse of dial to protect on a 40mm watch with minimal bezel area. In this case, the crystal has no anti-reflective coating. Protrusion above the case is minimal at maybe 0.3mm and the crystal is slightly chamfered.
So, how to sum up the case of the Precista GMT GTLS? Certainly functional in terms of looks and appropriate use of a sapphire crystal. The finish would not seem to be particularly hard wearing and I suspect a generic item that has not been selected with care given the default strap choice for a watch with ‘military’ connotations and from a company who devote ‘very significant investments to research and innovation.’ A brushed finish might have given the case a more up market feel.
The Dial and Hands
To see what can be done with tritium tubes then one only has to examine the range of watches available from the Ball Watch Company. Outside of this, things generally to be much of a sameness with little variation available; tritium tubes are of course pretty standard items and there is only so much that can be done with them without investing many man hours per individual watch dial.
The dial of this Precista is of a uniform matt black finish although under a 10x loupe there would appear to be the finest of a starburst pattern. The hour markers are of course signified by tritium tubes; in this case, green tubes from 1 through to 11 and an orange, horizontal tube at the 12 position. Each tube is slightly inset into the dial and bordered in white with the 12 o’clock tube underlined by a tiny ‘SMW’ logo.
Second/minute hashes are separated by 1/5 second hashes, all in gloss white and all well applied. Below the 12 is of course the Precista ‘P’ which buyers of Sheffield Precistas will recognise and ‘PRECISTA’ in a standard uppercase font. I am unsure as to why SMW have chosen to use the ‘P’ as they have; imitation is the sincerest form of flattery I guess.
At the 6 and moving toward the centre we have (in very small lettering) the T Swiss Made T moniker followed by T25, 100M, the GMT disc aperture and indicator arrow above that. Luckily, all of the aforementioned text is small and unobtrusive. This is a relatively large watch dial with a lot of space to utilise. Given the fairly limited options available with tritium tubes I feel that this execution ‘works’ and it is good to see that the script on the dial has been kept to a minimum size. The GMT aperture allows for 4 hours to be viewed as the disc beneath rotates in a clockwise direction. The numbers are white on black which seems correct and appropriate for this dial and this applies too to the date at the 3 position.
The minute and hour hands are an interesting attempt to do something a little different with tritium tubes and thus combine traditional swords with both tritium tubes and Super Luminova. The base of the hands is matt black which is just distinguishable against the dial; the tubes run centrally to outer white framed triangles which have a fill of green Super Luminova. The hands of any watch can be the make or break for many purchasers; it is only fairly recently that those used on tritium tube equipped watches have shown any divergence from the likes of those used for a long time by Luminox et al and in the case of this Precista, I quite like them. Using the combination that SMW has, has allowed the hands to be long (and wide) enough not to look lost on such a large expanse of dial which is a good thing. The non illuminated central seconds hand in red is a take it or leave it thing I feel; it adds a splash of colour to what is essentially a very monochromatic affair (certainly during daylight hours).
What of night time performance? The tubes themselves are stated to come from mb-Microtec who is generally regarded as the world leader in this technology. Theoretically then, this watch should quite literally outshine most. Certainly, the hands perform quite well (including the Super Luminova) but the tubes on the dial are disappointing compared to the likes of Traser and Luminox watches I have experienced in the past.
The dial tubes I would equate to those which are maybe six or seven years old. A bizarre occurrence and one which I could only explain by the use of possibly old stock tubes.
There is no doubt that the hands are far brighter than the dial in this case and I do find that a little off putting given that the illumination of this watch is possibly its top selling point.
Overall, I feel that the dial/hands combination works reasonably well but the low light/night time performance is certainly not up to par with other watches which carry the mb-Microtec badge.
The Precista GMT GTLS utilises a Ronda 515.24D, the basic specification of which is as follows:
- Movement size: 11 1/2 ‘’’
- Jewels: 1
- Battery Life: 45 months
- Hands: 3 – Hours, minutes, seconds
- Other: GMT function by disc
- Rate: -10/+20 secs per month
- Operating temp: 0-50 degrees centigrade
The movement in use therefore is a basic quartz workhorse so to speak with the added benefit of a GMT indicator; thus, one can track two time zones through use of the rotating 24 hour disc visible through the dial aperture above the 6. In order to set the disc to a different time zone then the crown is pulled to the first position and rotated anti-clockwise; rotating the crown clockwise enables quick setting of the date. Pulling the crown to the second position stops the watch, allowing second hand stop and setting of the correct time. When not in use for longer periods, pulling the crown out to the second position (thus stopping the watch) reduces power consumption by 70%.
Making this watch a GMT certainly has added a little something to it and many buyers will appreciate the ability to track two time zones at once, particularly in such a discreet fashion. Quartz is certainly fine by me and no claims are made by SMW that the movement in use is anything other than the basic affair that it indeed is. On my example, there is little backlash in the hands and the seconds hand has no more ‘slop’ than an equivalent ETA calibre. The hour and minute hands align correctly at the hour although the 24 hour disc is about 10 minutes out of synchronisation which is a little annoying.
There is little else to say about the movement choice for this watch. For a basic ‘field’ piece such as this then an appropriate choice I feel. The GMT function is certainly an added benefit and battery life is reasonable at a theoretical 45 months.
As alluded to previously, this watch is available with either a black NATO type strap or a rubber two piece strap. Both are fitting for the watch but again, I refer to the word ‘fitting’ – changing one NATO for another is nigh on impossible without removing the springbars which in many ways defeats the object of the exercise completely. Poor positioning of the bars will preclude wearers from using many types of rugged leather straps (for example ‘aviator’ types) without recourse to very thin springbars or without damaging the strap once it is finally mounted. It would seem that the watch case was designed possibly for use with a bracelet as opposed to use with a strap of any sort.
The Precista GMT GTLS is priced at Euro 279.00 where available or Swiss Francs 370.00 on E-Bay. These amounts equate to GBP £243.00 and £263.00 respectively as of May 2011.
Given my inspection of this timepiece I find it hard to find any justification whatsoever for such a price tag. Value for money is key with any watch purchase from a lesser known manufacturer/assembler and in most cases it is with these smaller concerns that we would expect to experience good value for money. I have always felt that tritium tube equipped watches are ‘expensive’ for what they are but I feel in this case that the Precista GMT GTLS is pushing the bounds of realistic pricing. Why? There are a plethora of tritium tubed watches available now; many with a specification as least as good as the Precista but at a lower price. Whilst most, if not all of these lack the GMT function, they make up for such with better quality of materials (the case in particular) and better detailing (e.g. ability to fit straps). The overall ‘package’ and experience of this watch put it, in my opinion in the GBP £100.00 bracket and no more. At that price it could be forgiven its shortcomings and would represent a reasonable investment.
I cannot recommend the first ‘Precista’ to come to market from other than Timefactors in Sheffield, UK.
The watch is a reasonable attempt at a GTLS equipped timepiece and has, for me, some attractive features. However, those elements which I do like are far outweighed by those which I do not, particularly considering the price tag.