Not too long ago I received some interesting news from one of my blog readers about a new limited edition, custom made watch that’s due to hit the market this coming December. No, it’s not from any of the usual suspects that you’d expect. Not Seiko. Citizen? Uh-huh. Orient? Hardly. Casio? Nope.
No, it’s not from the renowned small scale modders who customize watches using the basic case designs from Seiko either.
Give up? 😉
This new watch sports a rather unusual brand called “Praesto”. Praesto? In case you’re wondering what it means, Praesto is a Latin word describing "to be outstanding, to surpass, to excel".
At first I thought Praesto was one of the forgettable, run-of-the-mill fashion brand watches that pop up from time to time. You know, the obscure kinds that you get from the department store that you’d probably buy as an inexpensive gift for someone but probably not for yourself. Or the forgettable, cheap watches that you see in the mail order and points redemption catalogs.
I was naturally skeptical at first, but I was really amazed when I got these exclusive pictures from my blog reader named Amos Chan, who also became a friend of mine. Amos has a long standing experience in the custom watch manufacturing and has a passion for coming up with challenging watch designs.
Last year he mentioned to me of his involvement in designing and manufacturing a limited edition military-style, automatic watch. He didn’t reveal any further details nor did he elaborate on how the prototype watch would look like. Well, I wished him good luck in his endeavors and didn’t think his pet watch project would become a reality that soon.
In any case I thought this sneak preview of the Praesto Modern Fliegeruhr Aviator would be newsworthy in Quartzimodo’s Time Journal, so here goes!
A Brief History of Praesto watches
The origins of the Praesto brand can be traced to a Hong Kong based manufacturer called the Giovino Watch Company, with an impressive repertoire and expertise of producing OEM branded watches for many other companies.
Now, before anyone starts to dismiss Hong Kong based watch factories as inferior, let it be known that Seiko has been producing countless quality timepieces at its overseas production plant in Hong Kong since the mid 1980s.
That’s right, if you happen to own a vintage Seiko 6309-704x diver without the word “JAPAN” on its dial or caseback, your watch actually rolled out from Seiko’s factory in Hong Kong and not from its Suwa factory in Japan. The same goes for the second generation, slim cased 6309-729x and 7002-700x divers – right to today’s 7s26-002x cased divers for the North American market and any 7s-based automatic watch whose reference number has a “K” suffix, e.g. SKX007K, SKX779K, the Seiko Monster, etc.
Some additional trivia here relating to the watchmaking industry in Hong Kong, courtesy of Amos:
Since the early 80’s, Hong Kong factories of all kinds had moved up to the North – China, mostly within Guangdong province. Today, Hong Kong is a leading exporter of watches and clocks in the world.
According to the latest available statistics, Hong Kong was the world’s second largest exporter of complete watches and complete clocks in terms of both value and quantity.
It has the world’s 2nd largest watch and clock exhibition fair which is usually held in September every year – only second to Switzerland. That’s why it is called the Switzerland of Asia in the industry.
Well, that pretty much sums it up about the Hong Kong horology industry in general. ‘Nuff said.
The Praesto Modern Fliegeruhr-Aviator (for the sake of brevity I’ll refer this watch as the “Presto Aviator”) is the brainchild of the Praesto Watch Team and this unique and attractive military-styled watch was intricately designed by Russ Schwenkler, an American designer. Probably the most unique thing about the Praesto Aviator is that this watch is the result of collaboration between the Praesto Watch Team and watch enthusiasts.
The Praesto Aviator comprises an interesting blend of European and Japanese sources. The Flieger (flyer or pilot in German) dial concept is obviously European, having its origins from timepieces worn by German Luftwaffe pilots during the World War II missions.
OK, how do these photos grab you? I think they’re gorgeous!
Above: Pre-production Praesto Aviator models, offered in blue or dark grey dials
Frankly, I’m rather in awe of the Praesto Aviator. I’ve always admired Flieger designs from the Swiss Fortis brand but they’re unfortunately on the expensive side. The Fortis B42 GMT has always been on my wish list, as far as non-Japanese brands are concerned.
Above: The Fortis B42 GMT chronograph automatic (borrowed image), Not exactly cheap but it’s the best looking Flieger-influenced watch in my book.
What constitutes a classic "Flieger" watch?
Basically, Flieger timepieces are designed for ease of telling the time for pilots. Although one could argue that many "pilot’s watches" should have a slide rule computer, dual time, world time, chronograph, timer and all sorts of bells and whistles, from what I’ve read most commercial pilots don’t really require such functions in a watch. They wear whatever they like, whether it’s a swanky Rolex GMT, a Breitling Avenger or an inexpensive Citizen Skyhawk.
Modern aircraft are equipped with in-flight computers and they are certainly equipped with precision world time clocks on board. In small planes, e.g. a single-engined Cessna the airplane the pilot would find it difficult to read the tiny E6B flight rule bezel in a bouncing cockpit in turbulent weather.
So what you see on manufacturer’s websites and catalogs showcasing their "aviation", "sky", "pilot’s" range of watches are mostly from advertising and marketing perspective.
I admit that I have rather limited knowledge relating to what defines a classic Flieger watch but basically I’ve observed Flieger-look watches sharing these common traits:
A triangle at the uppermost part of the dial denoting 12 o’clock on the dial or supplementing the "12" numeral.
Arabic numbers representing (often) minutes or hours, or both
High contrast, often white text against black background for easy and quick telling of the time.
A long second hand sweeping across the dial
Lumed, broad swoard shaped hands and index markers
I don’t suppose there are any hard-and-fast rules in designing a Flieger-look timepiece. Watch manufacturers have their own interpretations of what constitutes a Flieger watch. You can find Flieger watch models in European brands like Fortis, Tutima, IWC, Sinn and many others, each with their own unique design.
There are also chronograph equipped versions, models with an additional GMT hand, some with full day/date calendars and some with a small seconds hand instead of a long, sweep second hand (as with the case of the Praesto Flieger).
Top: Two examples of Fortis Fleiger automatics (borrowed images)
Even Seiko itself didn’t want to be left out. Sometime in late 2004, the Japanese watchmaker released their version of Flieger influenced watches. For some reason, instead of designing "generic" Flieger styled models, Seiko injected its Flieger designs into the entry level Seiko 5 family – the SNK803/805/807/809/811K. They were available in a variety of dial colors: black, dark blue, green, cream white and a fully lumed dial. These watches were dubbed the Seiko "Flieger 5" by Seiko fans.
I once owned a blue SNK807K and also the fully luminous dial model, the SNK811K. Unfortunately the Seiko "Flieger 5’s" were rather too small for my taste and I ended up selling them to my friends. While the original Seiko "Flieger 5s" were not too popular with myriad Seiko collectors, some have succeeded in transplanting the Flieger dials into their SKX007J divers for that special military-dive watch look.
Above: The lumed dial, Seiko 5 SNK811K and the dark blue SNK807K (both discontinued by Seiko)
In retrospective, had the Seiko SNK80x/811 models been at least the size of an SKX007J diver (which I consider not overly large), I would have kept my Seiko Flieger 5’s. The diminutive minute markings on the Seiko Fliger 5 are rather hard to read, especially in low lighting conditions.
That said, I’m certain if Seiko had chosen a case diameter as large as the SNKF05K and marketed it as a non-Seiko 5, the watch would have fared better commercially.
Designing the Praesto Aviator
When the earliest draft designs of the Praesto Aviator were initially conceived, the Praesto Watch Team considered several sources for its automatic movement. The designers had toyed with possibilities of Chinese, Russian, Swiss and Japan made movements powering the Aviator. The Swiss ETA Group also makes low cost OEM movements for many famous brand Swiss brands while Citizen, through its own Citizen Miyota company also supplies watch movements for third party brands.
As a side note, the Seiko Epson Instruments subsidiary, which manufacturers in-house movements for Seiko watches, exercises more restrictions in supplying movements to non-Seiko brands. To my best knowledge, Seiko movements are also used in Alba, Pulsar, Lorus, Orient (quartz models only, as Orient has its own in-house mechanical movements) brands and to a much smaller extent, third party manufacturers like Yema and J. Springs. However, I wouldn’t rule out Seiko selling its movements to third party manufacturers in the future.
So, what’s inside the Praesto Aviator? After much deliberation in choosing the right movement, the Praesto Design Team finally selected the Citizen-sourced, Miyota Caliber 8245 for its reliability and low cost, to keep the price of the watch down without sacrificing quality.
Incidentally, Citizen-Miyota also manufactures the Cal 8247, which is similar the Cal 8245 but with a GMT hand complication. I know it’s wishful thinking, but if the Praesto Aviator used the 8247 that would really be a bonus.
Above: Macro photos of the Citizen Miyota 8245 automatic movement. Images courtesy of Praesto Watches.
The Miyota 8245 is a 21 jeweled, unidirectional winding automatic movement and runs at a standard 21,600 beats per second. Despite being a single direction winder, the main spring reaches its maximum power reserve from an unwound state in just 873 rotations of its oscillating weight.
Dial, hands and lume
The Praesto Aviator takes on a balanced approach with regards to its frontal styling. The dial is neither too spartan like simple dress watches nor too busy like E6B flight rule watches, like the Citizen Nighthawk for instance.
The use of skeletal hands with bold white frames showcases the Aviator’s utilitarian theme. This unique frame design means that the hour and minute hands minimally block the background dial while ensuring ample visibility.
Superluminova was originally chosen as the luminous compound but the Praesto Watch Team found a better alternative called "LUM-TEC GX", an improved version of the Superluminova. This lume comes from the LUM-TEC company, which incidentally also manufactures specialized watches for a niche market.. How much brighter and longer visibility in darkness against the legendary LumiBrite® from Seiko is something I’m eager to find out.
Above: Close ups of the dark grey Praesto Aviator dial (left) and a luminous shot (right).
A watch without a calendar display?
The Citizen Miyota 8245 is also a calendar-less movement with a small seconds hand sited on a subdial.
A small seconds hand means that the discrete steps of the tiny second hand aren’t visibly amplified, which also means the second hand will give you an impression that it moves super smoothly across the seconds sub-dial like the sweep second hand of an electric clock.
Personally, I prefer a watch with at least a date display because I often forget what date it is and rely on my watch to tell me the calendar. On the bright side, a calendar-less watch means that setting the time when the watch has stopped for some time would be quicker. You don’t have to worry about the time zone restriction (the forbidden 9pm to 2 am zone) in adjusting the calendar. In this case, the movement doesn’t distinguish between AM or PM, so you only have to move the stopped hands (if the watch is fully unwound) to the nearest current time.
Although Seiko watches usually have at least a date display, there are a few calibers that lack a date window. One well known example is the vintage Seiko 7A28 date-less quartz chronograph from the early 1990s and which is somewhat influenced by the classic Omega Speedmaster. The 7A28 is rather a hard-to-find but collectible watch. More recently, there is also the lesser known, Seiko Spirit SCEA00x series with also a date-less chronograph, based on the V654 quartz movement.
Above: Two examples of calendar-less Seiko chronographs, a 7A28 (left) and a V654 (right)
At 44mm across, the Praesto Aviator appears to be a fairly large watch, with a high grade solid stainless steel case. That should fit in between the dimensions of a Seiko SBDC-series diver and the classic 7s260-002x diver. I’m used to both large and mid-sized timepieces, so the Praesto Aviator shouldn’t pose a problem on my wrist.
The caseback is intricately engraved with fine details, which suggests the designers’ commitment and unparalleled enthusiasm in making a watch for enthusiasts and collectors – not the ordinary consumer. For the same price point, nowadays you’d be hard pressed to find such thoughtful details from a Seiko or Citizen watch.
The dimensions and weight of the Praesto Aviator are:
Case diameter: 44mm
Lug width: 24mm
Weight: 150g (watch head only)
From the dimensions, it looks like the Praesto Aviator is one heck of a hunky looking, rather masculine wristwatch. It’s certainly going to appeal to a broader audience who appreciate appropriately sized timepieces. Size-wise, it’s sure going to be a far cry from Seiko’s rather half-baked attempt at designing Flieger-styled watches.
The Praesto Aviator’s specifications is as follows:
Construction: Stainless steel, 316L grade (bead blasted and PVD finishes), engraved and individually serialized
Crystal: Sapphire glass with anti-reflective coating, flat profile
Strap: Genuine calf leather
W.R. rating: 20 Bars (200m)
Luminous material: LUM-TEC GX
Movement imported from Japan, watch cased in China
Quantity: See table below
Additional pictures and information on the Praesto Aviator
I liked what I saw in the Praesto Aviator. I’m certain if Seiko made a watch like this, it would generate waves of excitement in the various Asian watch forum communities.
I’ve decided to try out a non-Seiko/Citizen/Orient/Casio watch for a change and have placed a pre-order for one. According to Amos, the Praesto Aviator watches will only be released in November 2009, which is slightly over two months at the time of writing.
Above: Eye-catching images of the forthcoming Praesto Aviator. Images courtesy of Praesto Watches.
The Praesto Aviator is fully backed by a one-year international warranty against manufacturing and material defects. What I find somewhat interesting is the fact that Praesto actually lets you to inspect the watch for up to 5 days upon receiving it, subject to terms and conditions of course. Now, how many watch manufacturers (not retailers) that you know allow you to return the watch if you didn’t like it? 😉
OK, so how much is the Praesto Aviator? Initially I thought it would be in the region of USD700, given the fact that it’s a custom made, limited edition watch. If Seiko Japan made something exactly like it, the ballpark figure of 700 dollars wouldn’t be far off the mark. If this watch were sold by the likes of IWC or Fortis it would probably be retailing past the USD1,000 price point. I have always been an advocate for value-for-money watches (like most Japanese brand watches) and the Praesto Aviator appears to be one that delivers a lot of bang for the buck.
Here’s the good news: the Praesto Aviator is selling for twenty dollars shy of USD500 for the beadblasted models and just USD27 more for the all-black PVD model.
Praesto offers two pricing options – retail and "Pre-Reserve", which carries a generous 25% off the retail price. On top of that, Pre-Reserve customers will also receive a free-sized Praesto T-shirt. Not a bad gesture from Praesto Watches.
Pre-Reserve Price (2 pcs)
Pre-Reserve Price (3 pcs or more)
Grey dial, beadblasted
Blue dial, beadblasted
Grey dial, PVD black case
Above: A table showing the retail and Pre-Reserve price of the Praesto Aviator (if my math is correct)
That’s not all. Praesto even gives you a further 5% discount if two pieces are pre-ordered, plus an additional 10% off for pre-orders of three watches or more, with free shipping thrown in! You can see that Praesto is obviously encouraging mass orders, which is a rather generous thing.
Every Praesto Aviator watch comes with a leather travel case with a piece of cleaning cloth. Talk about nice freebies!
Where to buy the Praesto Aviator?
Currently Praesto Watches sells its products directly to the buyer, bypassing distributors and retailers, which comprise the "middlemen". Advertising is kept to a bare minimum and Praesto timepieces are spread by word of mouth and of course, in watch forums.
You won’t be able to find the Praesto Aviator in watch stores and the process of buying is by reservation only.
The ordering page for the Praesto Aviator can be found in its official website here. Amos told me that the manufacture of this watch is not going to be a rushed job and the company is making sure that their final production watch complies their highest standards.
Tentatively, the Aviator is scheduled to be release at the end of this year, if everything goes smoothly. With only 900 pieces of this watch to go around, I anticipate a mad rush to get this interesting timepiece.
I’ve always wanted a Flieger-styled automatic watch (the smallish Seiko "Flieger 5" just didn’t cut it for me) that’s also easy on my wallet. Ordinarily my prime choices would be a Seiko, Citizen or Orient but none of the companies have come up with a design like the Praesto Aviator.
I’m excited to receive the Aviator when it’s finally commercially released. It will be my first timepiece that doesn’t say “Seiko”, “Citizen, “Orient” or “Casio” on the dial. Well, truthfully I also have an ultra-thin, gift Swatch chronograph in my drawer, but have never worn it, therefore it doesn’t really count.
A full, in-depth review of the Praesto Aviator will be posted once I receive the watch (probably in December 2009).
Well as they say, “A fool and his money will soon be parted” but I don’t mind being called foolish in this case. This is one watch that’s rather hard for me to resist at its price point. 😉
Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with the Giovino Watch Company or Praesto Watches. Credits go to Mr Amos Chan for providing extensive information and photos of the Praesto Aviator for the use in Quartzimodo’s Time Journal.
You can also find related information on the Praesto Aviator in some selected websites and blogs: