It is often said that things work in seven year cycles. In late 2001 I reviewed the first of the PRS line of watches – namely the PRS1 Speedbird. Readers of my reviews will have noted just how impressed I was with this watch and how I felt that it truly captured the spirit of an age gone by in terms of the romanticism of civil air travel – when things weren’t computerised and a journey of two or three thousand miles was still something of an adventure. Of course, the first Speedbird paid homage to a watch which was used by both civil and military operators. The second Speedbird was a development of the first with the addition of a date and modified handset – the casework was as the first. The Speedbird III (PRS-22) is an all new watch.
Before I sat to write this review I pondered the approach which it should take – in most cases I review a watch based on its associations and the ‘effect’ it has on me. There was no doubt that the original Speedbird was a pioneer in many ways and fully deserved the review which I wrote; surely then it would be easy enough to copy and paste my original review with a few amendments in order to review the latest Speedbird! Here is an extract from my original review:
“ But even greater excitement ensued when via the internet I discovered that BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) had at some point issued pilots with the legendary IWC Mark XI. This was a watch which appealed to me mainly in terms of its design: simple and clean with Arabic numerals. Of course it was a military issue watch first and foremost but the fact that my childhood heroes (airline pilots) may have been wearing it was the icing on the cake. I am the first to admit that many watch enthusiasts take pleasure in wearing a watch that has a ‘history’ – perhaps the most notable being the Omega Speedmaster; others are ‘weekend’ warriors and feel good wearing a military watch; others are keen to wear the watch that James Bond wears. And all this surely relates to that warm, sepia toned feel to the whole mechanical watch scene which fascinates us, which George Daniels described as ‘…living in a romantic era…’ when I met him earlier this year. All wonderful but unfortunately for me I have never been able to afford an IWC Mark XI.”
The concept of the Speedbird III is the same as that of the original as far as I am concerned – the watch allows access to a style/specification that may not normally be affordable for many. In my ponderings it struck me that the original Speedbird was a true pathfinder or pioneer in the online watch world so to speak and perhaps that should be the tack that should be taken in this review; the paragraph quoted above should give the reader a flavour of the requirements I often set in acquiring a watch – indeed, readers should take the time to read the opening paragraphs of other reviews I have authored whereupon such will become even more obvious. Thus, I felt that the Speedbird III should be reviewed in the context of its own origins and against the backdrop of an online watch scene that has developed and changed somewhat since Christmas of 2001.
In the online world of watches, much has happened in the seven years since the original Speedbird – countless internet based suppliers have brought homage watches to the market, others have specialised in modifying existing watches and others have simply ‘copied’ some the new creations from the online only sellers such as Timefactors; one or two online only watch companies have ‘gone retail’ by doubling or tripling prices and putting product into bricks and mortar stores. Interestingly enough, many of the new breed of online watch sellers/manufacturers have not been shy in terms of pricing – to me this defeats the object of the exercise and apart from making the sellers look greedy is in complete contradiction the ‘we have low overheads’ rhetoric often displayed on websites. More recently, Chinese movements have made a not inconsiderable inroad into becoming standard fare and there has been an amusing amount of ‘old’ German watch companies with very traditional names suddenly appearing – albeit supplying watches with Chinese movements. It would seem in some cases (notably the USA) that ‘manufacturers’ have simply rebranded Chinese watches worth no more than a couple of hundred Dollars at best and applied retail prices of many thousands. News spreads quickly over the internet and in most cases it does not take long for anything untoward to become common knowledge. I feel that there has been ‘a lot of the same’ available for some time now with prices rising way above normal inflation. I was excited at the introduction of the original Speedbird as I felt that it offered true value for money combined with accessibility to a design that was out of my reach. At the time I hoped that future offerings from Timefactors would continue in this vein and indeed that was the case. There have been varied offerings from Timefactors but the concept of value for money has not been strayed from at any point – indeed there have been notable bargains. The PRS-2 Dreadnought has become a classic, risen in value, sought after, copied even. As far as I am aware, this is the only watch designed and executed by an internet only seller that has achieved such status.
It would seem that there is a real passion to get things right and make things affordable when it comes to any Timefactors watch. A busy online forum gives members the opportunity to contribute within reason to the design and tweaking of upcoming watches. Other online ventures have emulated this approach with varying degrees of success and some ‘interesting’ results. In my mind, the original Speedbird was the start of the ‘internet watch’ phenomenon and I find it hard to believe that its introduction was way back in 2001.
Seven years on and the (much anticipated by many) all new Speedbird III has been launched by Timefactors. Let it be said again at this stage that this watch is all new in terms of design and execution. The questions are of course whether Timefactors has remained true to its core ethos of value for money and whether the Speedbird III is a worthy successor to the much loved Speedbird PRS-1.
Long established watch brands often have a model or line which is developed (successfully or unsuccessfully) over the course of time, be it years or decades. Two such examples are the Omega Seamaster and the IWC ‘Mark’ line. The former being a series of dive watches (though the name was used on other styles) and the latter being military/navigator watches. With regard to the IWC then this line has always been of extremely high quality – a legible, military dialled, robust timepiece in proportions which one could argue have bucked the trends in size and design which so many manufacturers have followed. Development of the line has been gradual to say the least with the introduction of the Mark XII in the 1990s which itself stemmed from a design dating back to 1936 – this Mark IX led to the Mark X, Mark XI, the modern Mark XII referred to above, the Mark XV and finally the current Mark XVI.
The IWC design is regarded by many as an absolute classic in many respects although modern versions have not been without their problems; the Mark XII utilised a Jaeger Le Coultre movement which although a superb calibre, was deemed to be too fragile for a ‘toolwatch’ and there were numerous reports of poor running.
For some, the current Mark XVI has become a little too developed or restyled in terms of its dial and for many, the Mark XV was (it was discontinued around 2006) perhaps the finest modern interpretation of the design:
Whilst the Speedbird PRS-1 was strongly influenced by the IWC Mark XI then it can be reasonably argued that the Mark XV shown above was indeed the inspiration for the Speedbird III but importantly not only in looks, as shall become apparent. Whilst available, the Mark XV was obtainable at around £1600 and was equipped with a modified ETA 2892 movement, 60m water resistance and both a soft iron anti-magnetic dial and soft iron movement shield. Indeed a good specification with dimensions (38mm diameter) that hadn’t succumbed to the fashion for ever larger watches. Of course, one has to like the military look in the first instance to even consider such a watch but in my case the overall package represents just about everything I would look for in a watch. Furthermore, the IWC bracelet design and execution was and is considered by many to be a work of art.
No doubt the popularity of the IWC Mark XV was in no small part due to its simplicity, functionality and quality. Back in 2001 when the Speedbird PRS-1 was introduced, Timefactors made no attempt to deny the influences that went to create the watch; likewise here in 2008 the case remains the same with the new Speedbird. What purpose might then there be with the Speedbird III? Many of the watches from Timefactors allow the purchaser access to a design and functionality that was only available many years ago and often then on a limited basis – for example the PRS-5 chronograph; such watches are definite homages to military watches of the past and serve their purpose well in many respects. However, the IWC Mark XV was itself a nod to (or progression from) a watch from the past (albeit from the same company). Thus, can the Speedbird III simply be considered homage to an homage? Is it simply a watch that looks very similar to the IWC? Whilst it is an early stage in a review to draw conclusions I am happy to state a firm NO.
It would seem that the Speedbird III serves two purposes (if not more): firstly it provides timekeeping with classic simplicity and functionality and secondly it serves to demonstrate (yet again by Timefactors) that quality and specification need not come at an insulting price. In many ways the Speedbird III is a logical progression from Speedbirds I and II and arguably the finest watch yet from Timefactors. The watch shipped from Timefactors on 8 October 2008 and serial number 34 was with me shortly afterward.
As is usual from Timefactors, the outer packaging within which the watch arrived was faultless; it is worth noting that over the many years that I have been buying watches from this company, nothing has changed in this respect and attention to detail of this sort does indeed give one confidence at the outset. All too often I have received packages from overseas with packaging that has bordered on the ridiculous given the nature of the contents within. Thus, for those people living many timezones away from Sheffield, rest assured that your watch will be extremely well protected for its journey to you. As well as a sturdy outer box then the inner airbags give good cushioning whilst allowing some movement should the parcel take a knock.
Timefactors continues to use the two watch ‘Banda’ padded case with the Speedbird III. This is a perfect match for this watch as it is of super quality and does give that little ‘extra’ to the whole package which many people do appreciate. Furthermore, the case has its uses over and above being a receptacle for the Speedbird – one can of course use it to hold other watches when travelling and so on. The original Speedbird of course came in a hardwood box which was fine for those who consider such to be important. I feel that the Banda padded case is a more practical solution to watch presentation as it can actually be used on an ongoing basis.
On opening the travel pouch, the ‘wow’ factor made itself present as always seems to be the case with watches I buy from Timefactors. I remember when first opening the box of the original Speedbird and there was most certainly a double-take. Even more so this time with the Speedbird III and the watch has a presence which almost says ‘I am too good to wear’. When I first saw the watch on its bracelet I truly though to myself that it belongs on a watch stand to be admired! Included with the watch were a Timefactors guarantee card, business card, yellow cloth and a bracelet changing tool. But the watch definitely does the talking in this case and before even picking it up to check it over, I was wondering how Timefactors could ever better this one.
At this point then, it appeared that the Speedbird III was all that I had expected and more. Yet again, the watch spoke for itself and there would have been no need to dress this one up with expensive and unnecessary packaging. One overriding feeling I had when admiring the watch for the first time was that it appeared somewhat larger than the quoted 39mm would suggest. 39mm it is however so it should be noted at this point that for those that prefer watches of 40mm or so then the Speedbird III should suit – it has the feel of a 40mm watch. The Speedbird III in more detail:
Case and Crystal
It is immediately obvious when handling the Speedbird III that the casework is of extreme quality. As is par for the course with Timefactors watches (including Precista) the case was commissioned by the company, original drawings prepared and manufacture contracted to a German organisation. It would I am sure have been easier to use one of many ‘off the shelf’ cases in the pilot style; however, aspects of the specification would have possibly precluded this and it would seem that Timefactors never likes to take the easy option when bringing a new watch to market.
The drawing at left illustrates how importance was attached to the internals of the case as well as the externals; thus, the section shows a soft iron anti-magnetic dial of 1.3mm thickness along with anti-magnetic movement holder and finally a movement cover with the same anti-magnetic properties. Obviously, such attention to specification would not have been bestowed upon a simple ‘lookalike’ watch.
What also might not be obvious from the illustration are two other design features which are to say the least unusual these days: the first is the setting of the crystal which is secured to ensure that it does not ‘pop’ if the watch is subjected to reduced air pressure and the second is the securing of the screw down winding crown which itself is screwed into the case as opposed to the more common press fit.
Concerning the winding crown, it is the likes of Rolex who use such methods of construction to ensure that the crown does not detach itself from the case. To find such a feature on a sub-£1000 watch, let alone a sub-£500 watch is practically unheard of; this attention to detail certainly allows the Speedbird III to stand out from other watches of similar ilk.
With regard to dimensions and specification then we have:
- Overall case diameter: 39mm
- Lug to lug: 46mm
- Lug width: 20mm
- Thickness: 11.9mm actual (12.55mm spec. changed from original drawing)
- Winding Crown Diameter: 7mm
- Antimagnetic: 80,000 A/m (soft iron dial, antimagnetic movement holder and cover)
- Water resist: 100m
In terms of diameter the Speedbird III sits plumb between ‘small’ and ‘large’ watches and might be considered to be classically sized. Larger than the ever popular Rolex Explorer for example yet smaller than the likes of the recent spate of ‘Flieger’ watches at 42mm plus. For those who do prefer a larger watch then I would venture that the Speedbird will satisfy; it certainly appears larger than 39mm, no doubt due to the large dial and minimal bezel intrusion. I have compared it side by side with a 40mm watch of very similar design and the Speedbird does look larger. The lug to lug dimension I am especially pleased with – there have been other watches of this style on the market recently with this dimension approaching 50mm plus which certainly in my case makes them un-wearable with any degree of comfort. The Speedbird does not ‘overhang’ my wrist and sits comfortably. This is achieved of course by the use of shorter rather than longer lugs. The lugs of the Speedbird III look perfectly in proportion to the rest of the case though I would venture to say that any shorter and the watch would take on a different look altogether – possibly that of the ‘all dial’ style Flieger watches so common these days. Timefactors has achieved a classically styled case of above average proportions which is wearable.
The case is of a two piece design and consists of the case top and case back. Thus, the bezel is machined from the same metal as the case itself so eliminating one potential source of water ingression. All curves and angles are excellently machined and the case feels strong and of extremely high quality.
As I have come to expect from Timefactors, the cut and finish of the case is superb. The whole is of a brushed finish with the case sides being worthy of particular note: the finish is of an extremely fine brushed grain, so much so that it appears satin with almost a ‘glow’ to it. It is extremely attractive indeed and almost captivating when handling the watch. The lug tops and bezel would appear to have a slightly coarser finish to them but remain perfectly in keeping with the rest of the case. On handling the watch, all the cuts of the case feel crisp and well executed; there are no rough spots and the whole case is beautifully symmetrical. The underside of the curved lugs are as well finished as the tops, adding to the overall feel of completeness of finish; the lugs have had their ends flattened off which is fine though I personally prefer the sharpness of say the lugs of a Rolex Oyster case. This is of course a personal preference (and I am not certain why I have such) and from experience it would seem that most wearers prefer lug ends to be smoothed off. Whatever one’s preferences, the case of the Speedbird III is a pleasing combination of curves and cuts that work to endow the watch with a feeling of solidity coupled with quality.
My dislike of text on a watch dial has certainly been answered in the Speedbird III, as it was with the original Speedbird. What Timefactors has elected to do in this case is take everything that could have been printed on the dial and engrave it on the caseback. In this case however, the information has been presented in a table as can be seen below:
The caseback itself is beautifully machined with keyslots which are typically German in their design. The specification table is engraved as opposed to laser etched and a nice touch. It can be seen that each watch has an individual serial number à la Seiko/Citizen with 08050034 corresponding to the year (08) the month (05) and the individual number of the watch (0034). The back of the watch is as well manufactured and finished as the top which again reinforces the feeling that Timefactors have left no part of the project to afterthought. All cutting and machining is beautifully achieved.
Whilst I have already mentioned the fact that the crystal is affixed within the case to ensure no loss should the watch experience a drop in pressure, the crystal itself is of a specification in keeping with the rest of the watch. It is of 1.6mm thick sapphire, very slightly domed and with an anti-reflective coating to the underside only. I am perfectly at home with the antireflective coating to the underside only simply because such coatings when applied to the top of a crystal can and do get damaged. In such an instance then the options are of course to have the coating reapplied or indeed to remove the coating altogether. Thus, having the coating to one side only seems a good compromise between dial clarity and durability which I find perfectly acceptable. The single coating gives a very slight purple tinge in bright light and goes a good way to reducing some of the reflection to which domed sapphire can be subject. The crystal itself is fitted almost flush to the top of the bezel with the tiniest fraction of a millimetre protruding above; it would be very difficult to chip the edge of the crystal in this case which is a good thing for obvious reasons.
Finally to the part of the case which I truly believe to be beautiful: the winding crown. The 7mm diameter of the crown would appear to be perfect for this watch. It is easily gripped without looking clumsy and unnecessarily oversized. The crown is a combination of polished and circular machined finishes and truly looks of superb quality. The polished knurling is crisply and evenly cut and feels precise under finger. It is of course the end of the crown which has the circular machining and for some reason I find it captivating – it adds a little bit of ‘something’ to the whole watch which finishes it off nicely. It could be said that the crown end is the only part of the watch to have decoration as such and whether by accident or design it seems a perfect complement to the case. As well as looking good, in construction and operation the crown performs just as well. I have already mentioned the fact that the crown tube is screwed into the case; this is a design feature normally reserved for watches costing many times the price of the Speedbird III and for fear of repeating myself, really does add to the pervading feelings of ‘robust’ and ‘complete’ that the watch exudes. The crown itself screws down with four or so complete turns, there being plenty of thread on the tube. The action is not gritty at all, it is smooth and precise. Engaging the crown to the threads is achieved without difficulty but I would always advise a slight backward turn just to ensure that one gets the crown engaged to the top of the tube correctly.
The water resistance rating is quoted at 100 meters which I have no doubt will satisfy those wearers who wish to wear the watch at all times. Certainly the construction and feel of the watch give it the aura of a piece that is hermetically sealed and can be worn whenever and wherever by whomever. Furthermore, the watch is rated anti-magnetic to 80,000 A/m which in practical terms gives the watch more than adequate protection against the everyday and more unusual objects which can be the source of watch-crippling magnetism.
The anti-magnetic dial, movement holder and movement cover combine to form what is known as a Faraday cage, thus bestowing the watch with such high anti-magnetic properties. In this respect, the Speedbird III matches the capabilities of the superb IWC Ingenieur which is often cited as the anti-magnetic watch by which others are judged.
All in all, the Speedbird III case is wonderfully specified, proportioned, manufactured and finished. From a personal perspective I find nothing that I can fault with it. The astounding thing of course is that the specification of the case alone would suggest that the Speedbird III lies in a price bracket far removed from that within which it exists. Examination of the rest of this watch should serve to put this value firmly into context.
Dial and Hands
The dial of the Speedbird III is of course nothing new in its design. The origins of its layout date back as far as the Second World War with the design being military through and through. IWC timepieces issued to the Royal Air Force featured an extremely similar design and indeed, the IWC Mark XV mentioned earlier in this review used a dial of the same layout. It is of course purely down to personal taste as regards the prominent Arabic numerals but for me as I have stated in other reviews, I find it so much easier to read the time at a glance when there is a combination of very legible hands and plain white Arabics. The diameter of 33.8mm (and a good 33mm of this being visible) means that the dial is (obviously) a very prominent feature of the watch. Indeed, I own 40mm watches with smaller dial areas.
With a thickness of 1.3mm and material of soft iron the dial itself is no cheap affair. Indeed, when viewing the date window then the thickness becomes apparent as the date itself appears snugly nestled within the watch. This is not to the degree of it being illegible whatsoever; rather that the date becomes slightly more discrete than it would be given a standard ‘thin’ dial. Whilst on the subject of the date then positioning it at the 6 has retained the overall symmetry of the dial and in this instance I feel that a date at 4 for example would have taken something away from what is one of the most functional designs I have seen. The aforementioned symmetry is of course aided and abetted by the fact that Timefactors has elected to leave the dial text-less in terms of branding or other script. Some have commented online that the dial should have had something on it to identify the watch; I disagree and in the spirit of the original Speedbird, the watch speaks for itself and the wearer can be comfortable in the knowledge that he or she is wearing something rather special.
There is however one way of identifying the Speedbird III from the front and that of course is the small script around the bottom of the dial which reads: GREAT BRITAIN; a wonderful touch and perfectly apt in my opinion. As someone from Great Britain myself, it does of course feel good to wear a watch bearing the name of my country. Readers will of course note that the great Britain moniker is flanked by the letters ‘SL’ which of course stands for Super Luminova which is utilised to give the hands and dial their luminosity.
Whilst this is ‘officially’ a black dial, to my eyes it is more of a very deep charcoal and perfectly matt in finish. Said finish is without flaw, perfectly applied and even throughout. Such quality of finish applies too to the outer minute/hour markers. The minute hashes are in a satin white which is extremely well applied (even when viewing through a 10x loupe) and there is no evidence at all of thin paint and the like. The hour markers consist of Super Luminova applied to satin white rectangles. This gives a clean, crisp edge to them which is often difficult to obtain by simply applying luminous compound to a dial. My preference for a pillowed effect has been answered when it comes to the luminous fill; thus the compound is thickly applied with the luminous standing proud and affording a nice sheen when the watch is held at an angle. There is no evidence at all of the compound being ‘stamped’ on. As with all other aspects of the watch thus far, the dial has been beautifully achieved. Below the 12 marker of course is the luminous triangle; once again, the light green Super Luminova has been perfectly applied with the pleasing pillowed effect. Such thickness of application helps the dial to glow for longer in periods of darkness and indeed, the glow is perfectly acceptable, lasting long into the night.
Moving inwards, the Arabic numerals are perfectly printed in satin white with no raggedness at all – all edges are crisp and clear and the paint is generously thick without becoming distorted or rippled. There is little else to say about the dial of the Speedbird III apart from the simple fact that as per the rest of the watch, design, materials, manufacture and finish are all of a superb quality. It was of course important that Timefactors got the dial ‘right’ given the fact that the metal surrounding it has been kept to a reasonable minimum – the dial goes a long way to giving this watch the presence which belies its actual diameter.
The hands of the Speedbird III are traditional in design and in the style of the IWC family which dates back many decades. The hour hand may be a ‘love it or hate it’ design given its slab ended shape. There is of course absolutely no way that the hour and minutes hands can be mistaken for each other thus reading the time can be achieved quickly and easily – this would have been a prerequisite for military applications and it so happens in my case that I like the shape of both. With regard to material, the hour and minutes hands are in a frosted white metal as opposed to being polished. In this respect, they become a perfect combination with the matt dial and indeed the frosted finish seems somewhat to blend with the Super Luminova fill which is itself of generous proportion. Under no circumstances at any time or with the watch at any angle is it difficult to read the time. The minutes hand extends to a good 7/8ths length of the minute markers and due to its tapered end then it is perfectly easy to read fractions of a minute. Likewise the seconds hand which is of a gloss white finish. In the case of the latter, it is beautifully thin and refined; a pleasure to watch it traversing the dial.
Overall, the dial and hands combination of the Speedbird III equals the standard set by the rest of the watch thus far. In terms of fit and finish I can’t find fault; all are of a very high quality, are finished impeccably and smack of a wristwatch costing far more than Timefactor’s retail price. Equally important of course is the ‘engine’ that drives this timekeeper.
Earlier in this review I mentioned the fact that Chinese watch movements are making a not inconsiderable inroad into mainstream watch sales. There are I am sure, various reasons for this. One such reason might be the situation that exists whereby ETA automatic movements are becoming harder to source and indeed, more expensive. In this respect, it would seem that it is becoming increasingly difficult for smaller watch commissioners such as Timefactors to equip their watches with movements which are readily accepted by the market yet keep retail prices at a reasonable level. I applauded the use of the Chinese Seagull movement in the PRS-5 Chronograph and have no doubt that as time passes then it will be a perfectly reasonable and accepted practice to equip watches with Asian movements which I wager will increase in quality and specification as the Swiss ETA (though some are already manufactured in China) movements become even harder to source.
The point I am making above is that at this point in time it is proving hard to source ETA movements yet Timefactors has managed to equip the Speedbird III with what could be considered the mainstay of Swiss automatic movements and yet (as will be seen later) managed to keep the watch at a price that would suggest that the watch is fitted with a powerplant from Asia. Furthermore, the initial fifty examples of the watch are fitted with the Chronometer grade of the said movement, being of course the ETA 2824-2. Ongoing production of the Speedbird III will use the standard version of the movement which is itself no slouch. As far as I am aware, the use of the standard over the Chronometer grade version has been necessitated by large increases in the price of movements coupled with exchange rate fluctuations which have further pushed costs to a high level.
Basic specification of the 2824-2 is:
Beats Per Hour: 28,800
Diameter: 25.6 mm
Height: 4.8 mm
Power Reserve: approximately 40 hours
Winding by central rotor in both directions
Incabloc shock resistance (other systems sometimes employed)
Hacking (seconds stop)
Date indication (quickset)
If one is to study the ETA technical details for the range of 2824-2 movements in terms of grades and finishes available then it can become quite confusing. For those who enjoy detail, then see below the ETA Specification sheet which covers various executions of the 2824-2, including both grades utilised by the Speedbird III. It should be noted however that in addition to the versions shown below, there are other iterations around which appear to be combinations of specification.
In my experience, the 2824-2 has always performed well in whatever grade it has come in and is perfectly capable of extreme accuracy no matter what finish is applied, what balance wheel is used or what anti-shock system is used (as examples). I feel that the choice of 2824-2 for the Speedbird III was apt and fitting; the movement is rugged and reliable in addition to the accuracy possibilities already mentioned.
A variation of its cousin, the 2892 was used by IWC in the Mark XV and many consider this to be a superior movement in terms of technical refinement amongst other factors. This may be the case but there is a monetary price to pay for such.
For fear of repeating what may be considered watch circle clichés (and indeed what I have said in other reviews) it is indeed true that the likes of Breitling, Tudor et al have successfully used the 2824 in numerous watches over the years. In the case of the Speedbird III then the movement is cocooned within the Faraday cage mentioned earlier and well protected against shock and magnetism. There is of course only so much one can do to protect what is essentially a micro-mechanical device and the usual caveats apply in terms of treating the timepiece with a degree of care and sympathy to ensure a long and trouble free life. Suffice to say, the Speedbird III goes a long way in terms of affording extra protection to what is already a long-proven workhorse calibre.
Readers of my previous watch reviews will be acutely aware of the fact that I have a preference for straps over bracelets. Apart from the fact that I find the ubiquitous NATO strap comfortable on any watch, so often I have found that standard bracelets are a compromise. For those who may have followed the development of the Speedbird III on the Timefactors forum then they will already be aware of the fact that a bracelet of high quality was always part of the specification. Given that the influence for this wristwatch was the IWC Mark XV then it would seem to follow that the design of the Speedbird bracelet would in someway be influenced by that of the same.
The aspect of the Speedbird III which I gave least attention to whilst waiting for the watch was the bracelet. However, I have to concede that it would appear that Timefactors has given as much attention to the quality, fit and finish of the bracelet as it has to the rest of the watch thus far reviewed. I would further concede that in this case it is highly likely that the watch will remain on the bracelet as opposed to on the usual NATO strap.
The bracelet is of solid link construction throughout and is of 20mm width throughout its length. What is notable however is the wonderful combination of rounded and brick shaped links; there are five rows of links, the outer and central rows being of a gently curved profile whilst the remaining two rows are of a narrower faceted brick design.
All links are separate; turn the bracelet upside down on many supposedly multi link types and one often notices that whilst the topside gives the impression of an intricately put together affair, the truth is however far from this.
Thus, whilst such bracelets look ‘supple’ and flexible they do not hug the wrist and provide the comfort that one might think they do. In practical terms the Speedbird II bracelet is eminently comfortable to wear.
The bracelet has a finely brushed finish as that applied to the sides of the watch case and as such, refinishing should it become scratched should not be difficult using any of the commonly available refinishing pads. The underside of this bracelet is perfectly smooth thus giving the comfort in wear previously mentioned.
For many watch enthusiasts the preferred method of link removal is that of screws. Omega still prefers the use of somewhat difficult to remove pins and collars, Rolex has maintained its use of screwed links for some time now, whilst others such as IWC have introduced some superb link removal systems. The Speedbird III employs screwed links with a difference, in this case the threaded shaft does not screw in directly to a bracelet link rather into a threaded tube which must be held steady by another screwdriver whilst one is unscrewing from the other side. Thus, it would appear when looking at the sides of the bracelet links that there are in fact two screw heads. The good news is that it is impossible to damage any thread in any link and a small amount of blue Loctite will ensure that once screwed together there is little chance of the bracelet inadvertently separating.
With regard to the clasp, Timefactors has elected to use a hidden butterfly (others may call this a deployant) type. This is a very elegant solution and befits the beauty of the bracelet; The clasp is opened through use of twin push buttons which are semi-hidden, the springs of which feel strong and on closing the clasp one hears a satisfying click; it would appear there is very little chance of accidental opening.
The bracelet cannot for example be opened by inadvertently pressing just one of the buttons. All in all this is a superb accompaniment to the Speedbird III and it is patently obvious the same attention has been given to it as been given to the watch.
An end link is obviously required to attach the bracelet to the watch head. This is another area where many watch manufacturers get things wrong. The preference of most watch wearers is for solid end links (which fit correctly) and Timefactors has answered this preference with end links which perfectly match the profile of the watch lugs and which in addition fit perfectly. There are no unsightly gaps, there is no unwanted lateral play and as should be the case the end links look as if they were designed to match both the bracelet and the watch head perfectly – they fulfil their purpose without question and there is no doubt that for once I will be leaving a watch on the bracelet with which it was supplied.
The NATO strap has to take a back seat vis-à-vis the Speedbird III. Timefactors has however left no gaps in its desire to fulfil all tastes and in the spirit of the original Speedbird has supplied a bespoke NATO strap, the colour pattern of which is of course the same as that supplied in late 2001. In this case of course the strap width is 20mm (as per the lug width of the watch) and the hardware is of frosted stainless steel.
There is little else to say about this, only to reiterate that once again the complete package from Timefactors is almost too good to be true. However there is no catch, with regard to the whole experience I truly cannot find compromise. It is a rare occasion when a watch would appear to be more than the sum of its parts; there is however a synergy here which completely belies what is stated in the final section of this review.
The Speedbird III costs £325.00.
Quite simply I believe this to be possibly the best value for money that I have ever experienced in this price bracket. What price bracket does the watch belong in however? I would have reasonably expected the Speedbird III to be pitched at around £475.00-£495.00. Were the dial adorned with a mainstream brand name then it would be at least double that I am sure. The IWC alluded to throughout this review would set a purchaser back close on £2000 yet the Speedbird III comes extremely close in specification.
I feel that the conclusion to this review might have already been predicted by many readers. In my opinion the Speedbird III is the finest watch yet produced by Timefactors. It is most certainly a worthy successor to the original Speedbird of 2001 and in its own right is a superbly specified and executed wristwatch.
This is a piece that one could buy as that ‘one watch’. It has everything one could expect in terms of classic styling and use of high quality materials encapsulated within a specification that puts far higher priced watches to shame. Timefactors has excelled in this instance and the Speedbird III comes highly recommended from my quarter.
Available exclusively from TIMEFACTORS (www.timefactors.com)
A big thanks to Ronald Lares, Reece Peacock and Simon Jones for providing some wonderful images for this review.