A few weeks ago, the Smiths Everest ‘Expedition’ PRS-25W was released and showed me a new side to a watch which I had long liked. The Smiths PRS-25 will be familiar to those in search of a good quality homage to the legendary Rolex ref. 1016 Explorer. However, whilst the Smiths Everest was an homage to the Rolex Explorer, it did have a lot of untapped heritage in its name: something which this new version puts front and centre.
“For the Antarctic crossing, he selected the Smiths A454…”
On Friday the 29th of May in 1953, Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary summited Mount Everest for the first time. This ascent was hardly the first attempt; George Mallory famously disappeared on Everest in 1924 only to be found mummified in 1999. The climb took Hillary and Tenzing beyond the realms of what had been previously achieved and to an altitude of 8,848 metres. Unsurprisingly for an explorer like Hillary, this was not his only achievement as he became the first man to stand on each of the Earth’s poles. Whilst his arrival at the North Pole was conducted by ski plane with none other than Neil Armstrong, his journey to the South Pole was far more gruelling. Undertaken between 1955 and 1958, this expedition to cross the South Pole was the first successful crossing since Roald Amundsen’s original expedition in 1911.
For his ascent of Everest, Hillary was equipped with two watches. The first was a Rolex Oyster Perpetual on a long leather strap to fit over his clothing and with low-temperature resistant oils. It was this watch which inspired the Rolex Explorer’s 1953 release. The second was the Smiths De Luxe from the aforementioned English brand. Whilst it remains unclear which was worn, we do know that both were used. For the Antarctic crossing, he selected the Smiths A454 with central seconds instead of the small seconds of the Everest watch. Ultimately, Smiths went out of business in 1979, but the story of this watch remains.
As a result, you may now see why the prospect of a Smiths Everest which pays homage to the original watch of Edmund Hillard is so appealing to me. This is still the case even if the modern-day Smiths, whilst still being based in Sheffield, is not affiliated with the original. Nowadays, Smiths is owned by Timefactors, a small operation which sells small-run watches of exceptional quality in England.
“…the quality is immediately clear upon handling the watch.”
The watch in question is unapologetically vintage in its design, yet sacrifices no functionality for this goal. The case is 316L stainless steel and is polished and brushed in much the same way as the Rolex Explorer which inspired it. Of course, Timefactors could have recreated the case of the original Smiths A454, but I can understand the commercial choice to take inspiration from Rolex’s technically-superior design. The bezel is flat and polished whilst the lugs are brushed with circular graining. The sides of the case are gently curved and polished to evoke ‘50s charm, yet are drilled and less pointed than an Oyster case. As a consequence, the watch’s 36mm diameter and 43.5mm lug-to-lug width feels substantial but not overbearing. To add to this astute construction, the quality is immediately clear upon handling the watch. The finishing is crisp and there are absolutely no irregularities of note. Even the deeply engraved ‘S’ on the screw-down crown aligns vertically.
An aspect of this watch which is immediately apparent is that in unseen areas, Timefactors have increased functionality by simplifying the aesthetics. For example, there is no exhibition caseback and, aside from deeply engraved text, we seen a polished surface in its place. Whilst this is clearly a money-saving exercise, the result is aesthetically very pleasing. The technical results are also beneficial by giving a 100m water resistance with a thickness of only 11.3mm despite using a domed sapphire crystal. Whilst addressing the crystal, it would be a crime to neglect presenting the care exercised. Here we seen a highly domed 2.5mm thick sapphire crystal of the most impeccable quality with an internal anti-reflective coating — a choice the rarity of which I cannot exaggerate at this price.
“…takes a utilitarian design and refines it to the point of beauty.”
Logically, the next aspect of the watch to present is the dial — perhaps the most characterful aspect of the watch. Where former variants of PRS-25 have shared their printed dial design with the Rolex Explorer, this watch stands alone. The dial surface is painted a rich and smooth semi-matte clotted cream and is stepped to separate text from markers. In many ways the dial follows the same philosophy as the case: it takes a utilitarian design and refines it to the point of beauty. All dial markings are painted, not applied; the result of this is a very delicate look as Super-Luminova X1-C3 is painted over black Arabic numerals. The product is a very fine black contour which vastly enhances legibility without adding visual weight.
The printing on the dial is another exercise in delicacy and mimics the original A454. The Smiths logo features the original curvature which follows the line of the second hand’s counterweight and incorporates the ‘De Luxe’ designation of the famous explorer’s model. Below the centre we are simply given ‘Everest Expedition’ and ’24 jewels’ in smaller print. This number of lines does not strike me as excessive for the design and is nicely picked out with red accents. The choice of phrasing refers to both the climbing of Everest by Sir Hillary and to his subsequent Antarctic expedition. Visible only upon close inspection, the print is not actually black but rather a dusty grey-blue reminiscent of the naval camouflage used during the second world war. It is also impeccably clean and, unlike a lot of dials for this price, faultlessly printed.
“…adds style with syringe hands.”
The hands chosen for this watch reflect the mix of function and vintage charm. Where the original watch used pencil hands, this watch adds style with syringe hands. Their sizing is also carefully considered as the minute hand has a slimmer frame than the hour hand. The second hand, the slimmest of all, is adorned with a glowing pip the width of the hour hand. The results are quietly satisfying proportions. The hands themselves are also some of the best available at this price as, rather than being blued with chemicals or paint, they are heated to allow the steel to change colour. Paired with a red second hand, the combination is effortlessly charming and legible. All of the hands are given the same luminous treatment as the dial, giving about 8 hours of low-light legibility.
A British Watch?
As we pass over the dial, I would like to address one aspect of this watch which is the ‘Great Britain’ designation at 6 o’clock. In recent years, the watchmaking circle has seen a significant amount of debate over the phrase ‘Swiss Made’. However, where this Smiths in concerned, there is no pretence. Having enquired of Eddie Platts, the owner of Timefactors, as to the exact meaning of the phrase, he was very clear in explaining that this watch is not made in Great Britain, but is designed and conceived here. Whilst I can see this marking as puzzling to some, I think that this total openness removes any doubt or concern. It is also understandable that the parts are sourced elsewhere since, frankly, it would be impossible to produce the Everest in England for this price and to this quality.
“…a modern movement designed to take on the ETA equivalent.”
The movement is another aspect of the watch which was chosen with knowledge and experience. For its list price of £325 or a little bit more, the choice could have been made to give this watch an ETA 2824. However, it would not have been an example of the highest quality nor would it have been cost-effective to service. Instead, Mr Platts selected the Miyota 9039: a modern movement designed to take on the ETA equivalent. Where specifications are concerned, it matches the Swiss competitor with a beat rate of 4Hz, a 42-hour power reserve and the smoothest hacking and hand-winding functions at this price. Furthermore, whilst you can’t see it through the caseback, the movement is pleasantly decorated: another uncommon attribute to a base movement. Accuracy is one area where the Miyota movement suffers as standard, but I’m unable to complain about the model now on my wrist which keeps a steady +6 seconds per day. As a closing remark about the movement, Mr Platts explained to me that, where ETA movements have a fail rate of 2-3%, he has seen less than 1% fail from Miyota — certainly food for thought.
Straps & Bracelet Options
“In spite of the vintage masquerade, the bracelet is thoroughly modern…”
Out of the box, the watch is offered with an Oyster-style bracelet which responds to former complaints. Previously, the PRS-25 was given a modern bracelet with a complex deployant clasp. The issue was that, whilst practical on the 40mm variant, the 36mm model was left feeling unbalanced and heavy. I am delighted to say that this has been rectified with a bracelet of delicious simplicity. The links are given CNC machined rivets and taper in steps from 20mm to 16mm at the clasp. Furthermore, the clasp itself is a simple friction fit which enhances the vintage feel and basic durability of the design. In spite of the vintage masquerade, the bracelet is thoroughly modern: solid links and endlinks prevent stretching, screws allow easy resizing, and the clasp is given a solid, machined elbow joint and superb brushing and polishing. Alongside the bracelet and, I believe, for the first time for a PRS-25, the watch ships with a tan nubuck-like leather strap which feels of excellent quality and which features a rolling buckle. This is very much for the purist who, as was the case with the original, wishes to wear the watch on a leather strap. I will also add that the strap does not increase the price over other models.
Wear on the Wrist
On my 7-inch wrist, this watch sits perfectly. The gently curved lugs angle down with the curvature of the wrist and the conical bezel and domed crystal slip easily under any cuff. Likewise, the bracelet is well proportioned and balanced whilst not pinching hairs: a risk often encountered with this style. What is perhaps most curious about the wear on the wrist is that, for the most part, we would expect a 100m water resistant field watch to be a far more technical affair. Instead, this gives the modesty and comfort of a 1950s dress watch with brilliant practicality behind the scenes.
As a package, complete with a 2-watch zip case, I have been extremely impressed by this watch. Of course, it does suffer from only being available to order every few weeks due to the one-man nature of its creator yet this guarantees the best possible value. In any case, its far less of a wait than that experienced for a conventional luxury timepiece. Where quality is concerned, this is a watch far beyond its price bracket. Quite honestly, it blows Seiko or Spinnaker watches out of the water at the same price range. Even Steinhart struggles by comparison, making the only equivalent in finishing and design NTH. In any case, if you enjoy field watches or watchmaking history and you get the chance to buy one of these, you would be a wise to give it serious consideration.