Manufacture PRIM 1949 ORLIK II watch review

Published on 24 January 2022 at 18:00

My beginnings of the watch collector are far far away and interesting thing is that I have started building my collection with the focus on all ex. eastern (socialist) block watch production, but not for a long time. I soon realized that just USSR watch production is (was) so vast and interesting that I focused rather only to USSR watches. Nevertheless, from that beginnings Prim company is known to me. And to add even more, my best friend once told me, that Prim has been one of his first watches. So Prim has always had a kind of positive sentiment for me. But to be quite honest, my knowledge about Prim and it's destiny stopped there. I never paid any attention to Prim anymore. Until recently...

I play tennis occasionally and a manager of the tennis court happens to be from Czech republic. Since he knows I am a watch fan, he once started a discussion about Czech watch company Prim and he proudly claimed that Prim is today one of only eight watch companies that produce their watches only by themselves, what of course means that they also have their own inhouse movement and that all watch parts are "home made". I must say that number eight seems much too low for me, but that is not the point here. I must admit I was surprised that Prim still exist, I thought that Prim's destiny was similar to majority of ex. socialist watch companies and of course I was intrigued to investigate what Prim has to offer today. So I start investigating...

First, I have to worn you. It seems that Prim's legacy has the problems similar to ex. USSR companies - there is a dispute about the right of the use of the brand name. As I can see there are at least two companies that uses the Prim brand, and they both uses one of the versions of original Prim's logo. The first one is company ELTON from Nove Mesto which uses "Manufacture Prim 1949" sign (their web page is www.prim.cz). The second one is MPM-quality, which uses "loaf" Prim logo (their web page is www.prim-hodinky.cz). The first company claims that the production of Prim watches in Nove Mesto never stopped and that ELTON is original survivor of the Prim, while the second one claims that original company went bankrupt in 1994, that MPM-Quality bought the Prim trademark in 2001 and that this is now the official Prim trademark owner.

To make confusion even worse, ELTON itself confuses additionally. Namely, even ELTON does not use just one logo. For watches that use any of the inhouse movement, ELTON uses "Manufacture PRIM 1949". For watches, that use swiss automatic movements, they use "PRIM automatic" logo. For quartz watches they use just "PRIM". That is in theory or what they claim on their web site. BUT, when listing their collection one can notice a lot of watches without any of the stated logo! The only thing that can really be always found on their watches is the pictogram of Nove Mesto arches (see their web page). 

I am for sure not the one who will decide, who is right here. I can only say that MPM-Quality watches are - for me - not interesting at all. Their collection consist of watches made God knows where, inside are mainly Japanese or Chinese movements. On the other hand ELTON company really produces own movements, hand winding and automatic ones. And this is what interests me.

So, from now on I will focus on ELTON and again without prejudices that this is "true" PRIM. After checking its entire collection I realized, that there are very few watches that intrigued me. Either I don't like the design of the watch, either watches are too small, either they are very limited and sold out immediately. The most interesting one was Mig15 watch, released just recently but already sold out. The only remaining candidates for my taste was watch Orlik II. So, from the title you can guess that Orlik II is the watch that I bought.

After this very long introduction now it is finally time to start with the Orlik II review.

Orlik watch is a reissue of the CSSR military watch from 1960's. Orlik I version is similar to original Orlik, it is also relatively small (38mm), whereas Orlik II is quite different watch, it is more a tribute to the original one than the reissue. But as I said, I was not buying this watch as an Orlik or Prim fan in general, I decided for Orlik II simply because it is big enough and since it looks decent.

Orlik II comes in three versions, stainless steel, PVD black and bronze. My first pick was bronze which really looks great. But then I realized that the bronze version is the only version which does not have open case back. But I wanted a watch where the inhouse Prim movement is seen!! So, bronze was out and next the standard steel got into the game. Cheapest, easy to maintain. BUT - hands on the steel version are not the same as in PVD or bronze version!  They are simple plain hands, which are OK but I was already hot for the hands from the bronze version and hands on steel version were a disappointment. So the trigger was released on black PVD version at the end. This version has the hands that I like the most, backplate is glass, so the movement is seen. The funny thing is that even movements are not the same in those three models. OK, they are all 98.01 family movements, but the materials used and decorations are different. In steel version there is standard rhodium movement, in bronze it is gold plated and in PVD it is PVD plated.

If you are not from Czech republic then getting Prim watch is not a simple task. I don't know why but ELTON does not have it's own web shop. Even worse! There is no ELTON representative out of Czech republic. There is one official seller who offers ELTON Prim watches on Chrono24 platform and that is it. But if this seller does not have particular watch on stock, then you have to wait hoping that watch is in stock in factory. I have chosen other way and checked all Czech web shops, which offers PRIM and I was able to find one with black PVD in stock and willing to send it to EU.

When I opened the package, there was no "wough" effect, to be honest. I was not particularly impressed at all. Nothing special would be the best description. Then I started my investigation of the watch. When setting the time and date I noticed, that watch stops when pulling the crown out, so you are able to set time to the second. Good. Crown is screwed in. Good again. Setting the date? No quick set! I checked the instruction manual (which is only in Czech language, BTW), and date can be quick set on a way, that I call "russian approach" - passing midnight to 00:30 than getting back to 22:30, passing midnight again and so on. 

Watch is packed nice. I appreciate wooden box, which is not too big. In the envelope you receive three documents. First one is of course the warranty certificate, second one is the already mentioned instruction manual in only Czech language, and the third one is a certificate of authenticity. This certificate is rather unusual part and is for sure related to the fight for the Prim trademark. But it is a nice and added value to the package since in this certificate there is a detailed description of all technical details about your watch - producer, reference number, details about movement, complications, all the details about the materials used for each part of the watch. Again, all in Czech, but still of great help. Even though all technical details are shown in the picture, let me briefly comment them.

Diameter of the watch is officially 42mm BUT, that is not true! Watch is bigger. It is 43-44mm, depends on where you measure it. Just the dial itself has almost 36mm, so quite big dial. Thickness is 14,5mm, again, I measured almost 14,9mm. Lugs are 22mm, and L2L is officially huge 54,3, but I measured 49mm. I think 54,3 is the measure from one end of the case to another. But lugs are not placed in the end, they are moved more to the inside of the case. So, hmmm, strange certificate, right? 

Other declaration says that crown, case, backplate, buckle are all made of DLC stainless steel, glass is sapphire with anti reflex coating, hands are stainless steel with Luminova, dial is - hmm - galvanized plastic with white printing and Luminova indexes. I can't find what is the bezel material, by the feeling I can assume that at least external grip is also galvanized plastic.

Strap is rubber with pin buckle. Buckle is stainless steel PVD coated and with factory pictogram. Dimension of the strap is 22/20.

Watch has a declared waterproof of 10 ATM, I have of course not tested this information.

Now, let's go to the most important thing - movement 98.01. Movement was developed in 2010. By the Prim technical specifications it is relatively big (29,6mm) and thick (6,8mm). It is the biggest among all Prim movements. It has 22 jewels, it bits with 21.600 A/h. Power reserve is in some documents declared as 45h, on the certificate for this version it is declared to be 48h. Second hand moves very smooth, movement is also very quiet. I tried to find what is the expected declared daily +- difference, but that information is not revealed nor in certificate nor anywhere on the internet. So, I paid special attention to this indicator. I winded it by hand, then set up the watch to the second exactly with my phone. I wore watch 7 days consecutively, day and night. Did not take it of the wrist at all, never hand winded it in between. Results were constantly +10 sec/daily without any declination. 

So I called my watchmaker and asked him to try to slow down movement for just a bit. He was quite keen on doing is since he also has never seen this movement and wanted to investigate the movement. So for the next few lines about movement review I need to thank him. 

With his help I can share to you the pictures of the "naked" movement, without rotor. At once we can notice, and we also measured it, that movement in fact is only 25,6mm wide but it has 2mm steel ring around. So - 98.01 movement is THE SAME movement as basic 98.00, but only with the steel ring added. This ring fills the gap between movement ant the case when putting the movement into the bigger cases. Even the movement itself is stamped with just cal. 98.

Setting the speed of the watch is done on a very orthodox and old fashioned way with the lever above the balance wheel. No micro regulator. Setting is quite tricky, lever is VERY sensitive, even the smallest change can have a big impact on the running speed.

What is even more tricky, movement is very unstable or better say sensitive in which position you are setting the speed. It has a huge positional error. There is a drastic difference in running speed if movement is turned on the dial side, on the crown side or on the backplate. And movement  also behaves differently "naked" compared to the speed of the movement with the dial and crown on the movement. The positional difference is almost 20 sec all in all! So, setting the running speed was - even though using all needed measurements - more or less method of try and repair - since it depends on the users habit and way of wearing the watch. So watchmaker slowed down the watch by the feeling, first day it was -11, then -10, now it is settled at -7 sec daily. I noticed that it looses less during the night than during the day, seems that during the sleep I often have watch turned on the dial what is the fastest position.

We decided not to change the speed again...

My watchmaker was quite unpleasantly surprised that rotor powers the watch only in one direction, on the way back it has an empty walk. The general impression was that movement really seems to be different to anything what was seen, but on the other hand similar to many others. No improvements anywhere.

Let's go back to the general impression of the watch. There is nothing particularly bad or good what needs to be pointed out. But let me try.

I mentioned bezel, which feels very plastic. It turns in both directions with 60 clicks per circle. Even though one my say that bezel has an "ex. USSR feeling", that is true, but the clicks are among the best I have ever had! Stiff but not to stiff. You can turn bezel easily but on the same time you can feel every move. Perfect!

I like the hands design, all three of them. Date is big and easy readable. To be honest, that can be said for the entire dial. Watch in total really fulfils the main purpose of the watch - in every moment with just glimpse of an eye you know what time is it. Even in the night! For the whole night luminova is bright and shows time well.

Even though I received some positive feedback about the general look of the watch, at least for me the watch is for sure not an eye catcher and it does not attracts attention all around. Shame, since with just few upgrades watch might become highly attractive without loosing it's value in visibility and without additional costs. For example - Orlik I models have orange indexes and numbers instead of white and that looks MUCH better. Pity Orlik is just 38mm watch... Also one Orlik I model uses movement with the small second complication and that again changes the outlook of the watch. So this "boringness" could be improved easily. The bronze Orlik II is much more attractive as well, I still can't get over the fact that they decided to close the back case...

But, this is just my very subjective view. You can easily disagree with it.

In general, watch is well built, fits on the wrist very nice and it's easy to wear. As I mentioned, it was on my wrist for the whole time for more than a two weeks in a role and the whole experience and rating is - very comfortable. I like that rubber strap is equipped with pin buckle and not with clasp, since pin buckle allows to change the tightness of the strap during the day - if needed. Rubber strap itself is not the best but far from being bad. It is maybe just a bit too stiff, I prefer softer rubber. Maybe I am too spoiled by my sports watch which has very soft rubber strap.

So, all in all the best description for this watch would be that it is an allrounder watch. It is a kind of mixture of dress, sport, diver, pilot, a bit of everything is there. And know what - I like it every day more. I have much better opinion about the general look of the watch now then on day one.

And then we come to the price. Take a deeeep breath! Price for this model was 3200 EUR! I said "was" since after the new year price has increased to 3400 EUR!! I really appreciate independent watch producers with inhouse movements, respect for that. I think that I showed that respect by buying this watch. But to be quite honest, this price is exaggeration. And - this is one of the cheapest watches with the inhouse movement in the entire collection! Since company is very Czech market oriented I can only guess that either production capacities are so low, that company can not afford itself expansion to other markets and that production costs due to the low capacity are so high that price has to be so high, either Czech people are so proud on their watch company, that they simply buy all production even with this price. Listening my tennis court manager suggests the second but I believe first one is more realistic.

This price just calls for some comparison. If you have read some of my previous blogs you have for sure run into some of my new Raketa watches reviews. Raketa is also a company, that from 2015 on again produces new watches, where all parts are "home made", movement is inhouse "new" 2615 automatic movement. I owe Raketa Amfibija with black DLC coating and 42mm size. Raketa movement does not have the datecomplication, it is slower (1800 A/h) but has more jewels (24), powers bi-direction. Stainless steel case, sapphire glass, 200m waterproof, rubber strap with pin buckle. Price - 1100 EUR.

Then another example. Let's take one of the best p/q companies Mido. I used to have their Multifort watch, again DLC coating steel case, sapphire glass, 42mm, rubber strap with the clasp. Powered by Powermatic 80 (so 80h power reserve), ETA C07.621 (aka 2836-2), 21600 A/h, 25jewels movement with day/date complication. No bezel here. Not an in house movement of course, cheaper production costs. Full price for this watch is 900 EUR, but it can easily be found for less.

Mido is the thinnest among those three, Prim is the thickest. Prim has the biggest dial, Raketa has the smallest one. Raketa has the most beautiful decoration of the movement, Mido the worst. Etc... I have compared a lot of things but maybe I will do a separate article for this comparison one day. The main question here is - WHO BUYS PRIM?? Movement is far from being the best among this three (I can dare to say it is the worst), watch construction and materials are here here, price is three times higher. So buying the Prim for this price is not a rational decision! Far, far, from that. There are tons of watches which are cheaper and I can dare to say better or at least of a similar quality. We all know what can be bought for 3200 EUR, right? If you really want good inhouse stuff, buy not one but three Raketa's (or at least two) for this price. Suddenly Raketa watches are not expensive but cheap! I am sure some perfect Seiko or even Grand Seiko is within this price range. Etc., etc.

So, again, who buys Prim for this price? Who buys other Prim models with prices 5000 EUR and more? Hmm, who am I to blame others, it's me - for example. And probably some other watch freaks which want to and can afford to show their respect to the company which is trying to do it's own movements in today's copycat world. Some Czech patriots probably. If you fit to any of the stated categories, go for it, watch is good and company deserves your support. If you are just a rational watch lover, wait for the time, when Prim will be mass producer what will allow lower production costs and better price for the final customer. Until then, stick for other watches with Miyota, Seiko, Selitta, ETA, Seagull,... movements. 


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