12 March 2012

Parnis Portuguese Power Reserve watch review

Not quite an IWC Portuguese, but not a bad looker.

By In Gear, Style 10 min read

Parnis started life as one of the many Panerai homage brands, springing up after Panerai’s crackdown on any watches that had the text Marina Militare (the Italian for navy) on its dial. Turned out to be a Panerai trademark, who would’ve guessed? At first we thought the Parnis name had merely been introduced to get around the legalities, but were pleasantly surprised to find Parnis introduce more and more non-Panerai homage models as time went on. An interesting homage line was introduced with a series of watches that closely mimicked design elements of the popular IWC Portuguese line. This model, usually referred to as simply the Parnis Power Reserve (though ironically several of its brethren have Power Reserve indicators too), is the prettiest of the bunch.

Parnis Portuguese homage #2
The Parnis Portuguese Power Reserve Automatic

According to lore IWC was visited in 1936 by two Portuguese traders, Rodrigues and Teixeira, who desired a wristwatch with the same accuracy as a ships on-board chronometer. The resulting watch was referred to as the Portuguese watch in the workshop and the name stuck. A variety of models, all referring to the original design in some way, have been released since. IWC keeps several of these models in their current line-up but the Parnis reviewed here is actually a mix between two separate Portuguese models, the Portuguese Chrono-Automatic (ref 3714) and the Portuguese Automatic (ref 5001).

The Portuguese Automatic started as a special limited edition in 2000 that featured a 7-days movement, giving this Portuguese an impressively extended power reserve. In 2004 the watch was re-released as a regular part of the IWC line-up. It retains the typical Portuguese elements like the embossed numerals, tapering swallow-style hands and the recessed subdials but adds the railway track that was popular in a previous generation Portuguese.

IWC Portuguese Automatic (ref 5001), via Google

The Portuguese Chrono-Automatic in white with blued hands and numerals is my personal grail. Some day I will own this watch, even if I have to rob a bank or come up with an incredible Ponzi scheme to do it. Anyway… The dial is based on the original Portuguese dial with dots for minute markers, but a more detailed chapter ring has been added for use with the chronograph. It too has retained the Portuguese design elements.

IWC Portuguese Chrono-Automatic (ref 3714), via Google

Parnis is an eBay-only homage brand that is offered by various sellers, none of which is assumed to be the actual source of the watches. Prices vary though the Buy-It-Now option for this model is usually around $80. Apart from this specific homage Parnis also has some watches that retain the same numerals, hands and railway track but remove or change the sub-dials and add a date. These are not specifically based on a current existing Portuguese model. Also available from Parnis sellers (though not marked as Parnis watches) are models that mimic the Portuguese F.A. Jones and Vintage Hand-Wound limited editions, which have different vintage style dials. Parnis offers most of their Portuguese homages in two colour combinations: White with blued hands and numerals (reviewed here) or black with gold hands and numerals. The homage is not sterile but signed Parnis on the dial. I bought my Parnis Power Reserve on eBay for about 55 euro’s at the end of May 2009.
As you can see the Parnis takes the details of the embossed numerals, railway track and case of the ref 5001 Portuguese, but changes the bicompax horizontal subdial layout to a vertical one more reminiscent of the ref 3714, losing the date window in the process. It also copies the text placement of the ref 3714, but has no actual chronograph movement. Instead the upper sub-dial is a 40 hour power reserve meter, while the lower sub-dial is the small running seconds.

The Parnis is powered by the hacking automatic Sea-Gull ST25 movement, a 38 jewel open-heart design Sea-Gull refers to as a premium movement. The Swiss open-heart watches are usually based on regular movements, with a porthole made in the dial and bridge plate to display moving parts. Sea-Gull has instead taken to purposefully designing new movements with a large, double bridged visible balance moved to the front side. From various tests on the internet the ST25 appears to have come out of this design process with flying colours as its accuracy has not been compromised to beautify the movement. In fact the ST25 performs well enough that it’s now being used in non open-heart watches, with the closed dial covering up the balance wheel – as is the case in this Parnis. You can still see the windmill decorations on the balance wheel when you look at the movement through the display caseback, whirling away unseen underneath the dial.

Sea-Gull ST25 movement, via Google

Sea-Gull ST2509 diagram, via Martin_B

The specific ST25 variant has been tentatively identified as the ST2509 by Martin_B, with an open heart balance with windmill decorations and power reserve at 12 ‘o clock. Technically the ST25 beats at 21600 bph and is a unidirectional winding automatic. It winds when the rotor spins clockwise when seen from the front and can also be hand-wound with the crown, the rotor spins freely in the other direction. A negative point here is that this rotor is noisy, especially when it’s spinning freely. Very, very loud for what Sea-Gull calls a ‘premium’ movement. When you move your arms around and get the rotor spinning the swooshing sound will certainly attract attention. On the other hand, there is almost no audible ticking sound coming from the watch unless you hold it to your ear. Quite refreshing when you’ve become used to the 6497 based homages, which sound like grandfather clocks at times. Optically there’s not much to see in the ST25 as the rotor covers half the movement, which is not particularly interesting to look at. Still Sea-Gull has added Geneva stripes and pearlage on the visible plates and a sunburst and pearlage pattern on the unsigned rotor.

The 43mm (without crown) 3 part case is solidly built from 316L stainless steel. It has brushed sides, but the bezel, tops of the lugs and the caseback are finished in a mirror polish. The bezel has a slight upwards curve from the case towards the glass which adds some character to the reflections. It’s obviously designed to mimic the ref 5001 case which is especially apparent when you look at the display caseback: almost the entire caseback is glass and reveals everything that lies inside the watch. In the ref 5001 this would be a huge 38mm Pellaton 7-days movement, but the ST25 is a lot smaller in diameter than this monstrous IWC movement. It fills up the remaining space with a metal movement spacer which is visible through the glass. The spacer is surprisingly nice though, with pearlage on visible parts and even blued screws holding it in, but it would have been better if the caseback had been designed to cover up the spacer and the winding stem. Though the watch is reported to have gaskets on the caseback and crown I wouldn’t trust it to have any water resistance.

The dial is easily the most attractive part of the watch. The pure white combines well with the painted blue hands and embossed arabic numerals, while the black outer railway track visually ties the blue markers together. The text is printed nice and crisply in a black sans serif font on the dial, fitting well with the fairly minimalist style of the dial. This Parnis also calls itself a chronometer, implying COSC certification, though this is obviously not true. It’s a common mistake on homage watches though and we usually let it slide. The recessed sub-dials are slightly silver tinted, with a raised concentric circles design that gives the sub-dials an interesting metallic depth. The text on these sub-dials does look a bit smudged from very up close, probably due to printing on the raised circles.

Parnis Power Reserve vintage look

When making macro photo’s it becomes apparent that the finishing of the numerals still leaves something to be desired. The application to the dial is not perfect – you can see the way the 5 and the 1 lift slightly off the dial in this picture revealing the pins holding them in the dial. It’s a minor QC issue as this is not visible during normal use.

The minute and hour hand are built in the archetypal Portuguese tapering swallow-style, though the subdial hands are wedge shaped. The tapered hands are very elegant and give the watch much of it’s style. Like the numerals they’re painted blue instead of heat or chemically blued, but with the naked eye it’s impossible to see any faults. Only with a macro lens can some inconsistencies in the paintwork be revealed.

The Parnis has lightly domed mineral glass on the front and flat mineral glass on the back, neither of which has any AR coating. Though AR coating adds much to the quality look of a watch I don’t really miss it here, the dial looks just fine in most light.

As with almost every Chinese homage watch the stock strap you get for free is crap. Though the black faux-croc is not as bad as some specimens I’ve seen before, it’s still stiff and uncomfortable to wear. The strap comes with an unsigned buckle that has sharp edges but looks rather cool. I quickly replaced the strap with a blue ostrich leather strap with white stitching to match the dial.

Parnis Power Reserve on blue ostrich wristshot #1
Parnis Portuguese Power Reserve wristshot on a blue ostrich leather strap with white stitching

Wind the crown, wind the watch. Pull out the crown, set the time. Doesn’t really get any simpler than this. Like all auto’s it’s protected from overwinding so there’s really nothing that can go wrong.

Parnis Portuguese homage #3

It’s kind of hard to believe you can get a watch that is this good looking for a mere 55 euro’s. Even people not interested in watches are intrigued by this watch, which has a distinguished and classy appearance compared to the big and brash fashion watches that are all the rage today. Still at 43mm it’s no tiny vintage style watch, pleasing those who prefer the larger sizes that are now in fashion. The vertical bicompax subdials are also not a common appearance on watches anymore and attract quite some attention. Though not a true dress watch (sub-dials are a no-no) it goes well with formal dress and looks a lot more suitable than the divers (think Submariner and Seamaster styles) some people wear with their suits, but still has casual charm when worn with jeans and a polo-shirt. Get a nice leather strap to replace the POS that comes with it and you’ve got a great bang-for-bucks affordable homage.

Still, what I really want is a decent homage to the ref 3714 Chrono-Automatic. Functional vertical bicompax chronograph, chapter ring, the works. Parnis or any other homage maker out there, if you’re reading this: Please make a proper ref 3714 homage with functional chrono? Pretty please?

In the end I just couldn’t make this watch work as a ‘casual dress’ watch on my tiny wrists. 43mm might not sound that big, but it is when your optimal dress watch size is 39mm. Sold it to a new owner with bigger wrists who seems to be quite happy with it 🙂

What do you think?