The “Baby” Dreadnought PRS-52: The Toughest Tool Watch You’d Never Heard of

The year was 2016 and I was stationed somewhere in Honduras aboard an air station we referred to as SCAB, short for Soto Cano Air Base. Along with some other teams rotating through for deployments, my command was among the red-headed step children to be put up in some decaying structures at the outskirts of its edge, not unlike the elephant graveyard from Lion King, “Down there? Pay no mind to that place, Simba. It’s not for our kind.”

The Taj Mahal of my neighborhood aboard SCAB.

It smelled of wet boots and termite turds that would drop from the ceiling like a pepper shaker every time the door would slam shut. Rumor had it the place was supposed to be torn down years before our arrival but to do so would’ve meant there’d be no place to stick the Marines.

It was an opportune time for retail therapy.

It was here that I’d first crossed paths with the Dreadnought PRS-2. Not only had it stuck out like a sore thumb due to the nature of being surrounded by a sea of Casios, but the wrist on which it was prominently displayed was that of our Commanding Officer. It was matte-gray, no-frills, and, although partially-inspired by past divers over the years, was unlike anything I’d ever seen. At 44mm in case size, it was also huge.

“It’s a Dreadnought,” he said. “And if you ever see another one, you let me know.”

Eclipsing the size concern was their availability—the internet had none to offer. With the limited number of 200 produced, they sold out in hours, destined to be flipped for four times the price. In this sense, I was spared the dilemma of wondering if I’d ever, “grow into it someday.”

Since its release in 2003 the Dreadnought PRS-2 has achieved an ultra-cult status, its radical owners going as far as posting an online directory to share with each other their locations around the world. If one were to compare the Doxa 300 to underground fanfare of The Big Lebowski, think of the Dreadnought as a floating copy of the Winnebago Man tape—college campus candy of a different flavor but treasured in equal measure.

One Dreadnought owner, Peter Miller, has posted a page totally dedicated to the PRS-2 phenomenon, to include the thought process behind its engineering. Without diving too deep in its backstory, the biggest takeaway was that it was conceived by the UK’s Timefactors mastermind, Eddie Platts (of Smiths fame) who wanted to design an original, value-driven diver based off the direct feedback of the microbrand’s forum participants. It was, in essence, a dive watch of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Since then, Eddie has released a GMT version—the Voyager PRS-21, a smaller 42.5mm-sized (but comparably priced) watch that is still in production. While I can appreciate why this was made, there were probably more of us out there who would’ve been just as happy with something similar to the original but tweaked in another direction. In August, we got just that—in the shape of a 38mm-sized “Baby” Dreadnought PRS-52.

Case

Milled from a single block of 316L stainless steel, the PRS-52’s case is completely bead blasted, but with a deliberate, sharp edge spanning across the side profile. Folks will inevitably try to compare it to the texture seen with Sinn’s EZM lineup, but it’s here where the similarities end. The finish continues around the numbered bezel which rotates to the left 120 clicks. The decision to omit a bezel insert entirely seems to lend more to its rugged design. The angular, drilled lugs will be appreciated be many for making strap changing easier.

The case measures out to 13mm tall, 38 mm across, and 41mm including the beefy crown guard. The lug to lug height extends to 45mm. Is it “baby-sized” as Timefactors’ official name would suggest? Maybe so compared to its counterparts, but “mid-size” feels more appropriate. It’s telling of Eddie’s personality that he would beat the nickname to the punch, embracing what he knows his backyard forum is already prepared to swap out for “PRS-52.”

Like most other dive watches, the case back and signed crown are screw-down to ensure an effective waterproofness (in this case, 300m). The back features a crest typical of what you’d expect of the British, a gauntlet gripping a key as it emerges from the water, encircled with nautical rope and topped off with a coronet. The case lines it’s interior with an anti-magnetic cover that helps achieve a resistance rating of 20,000A/m.

Despite its unassuming dimensions, the watch has heft. With the bracelet, it weighs-in at 165 grams, 25% heavier than the comparably-sized Seiko SKX013. It only adds to the sense of durability that continues through the bracelet.

Bracelet

Unlike the SKX013, this Dreadnought is thinner—18 mm in lug width to accommodate the aesthetics for smaller-scaled case size. Make no mistake; there’s nothing dainty about the bracelet.

The solid end links fit snug with the case, allowing no give for cracking an edge to the side regardless of the direction torqued. The same bead-blasted finish continues through the solid links, engineer-style in pattern. The sizing ends are held together with screwed pins (which I’m ashamed to say I was unable to remove by myself). As with most traditional watches, here there’s about 15mm of play in micro-adjustments located at the fold-over push-button deployant clasp.

I’m a fan of the bracelet. At the cost of feeling humbled to have it professionally resized, it’s evident that the quality’s there and its physical appearance is pleasing on the eye. Although I’ve grown accustomed to quality NATO straps (and despite the spring-bar locations accommodating their options here), this bracelet has a ton to offer the discerning critic.

Dial

One can’t help but draw some comparisons between Eddie’s approach to watchmaking and what we’ve seen with Dan Henry. Both have made several models inspired by yesteryear’s classics—some of which are rather obvious homages to what we could never afford. The same can’t be said of Dreadnought lineup. Sure, there are bits and pieces borrowed from other notable divers (the orange Omega Plopof minute-hand, for example), but the dial seen here is very much its own DNA and it works very well as an original design.

Hour markers are marked by lume plot circles, alternating as stripes every three hours across a black dial. The date window is disguised at the six o-clock position retaining the overall balance. The only text we see here is its name, “Dreadnought” in all-caps modern font aggressively leaning on the dial’s upper half and “Great Britain” flanking the date at the bottom—a cool touch to consider considering the uniqueness of its origin.

The pop of the oversized sword hand and orange block at the twelve make the most of its sparing use of color. The seventies-style, black paddle second-and almost fades into obscurity and I think most would be completely okay with that.

The overall look of it is unapologetically modern.

Engine

This smaller Dreadnought is powered by Citizen’s ebauche Miyota 9015, an automatic 24-jewel “workhorse” movement released in 2009 that was conceived with shock-absorption in mind. It features a hacking hand-set, manual winding, date complication, and beats at 28.8k p/h. While they’ll tell you it’s estimated accuracy is +/- 25 seconds per day, this particular example clocked in at +8.

Being Japanese, this movement is a departure from the previous Dreadnoughts released—the original having been a COSC-certified ETA. Really though, the need for the movement to be Swiss is totally unnecessary—what’s the point in pedigree when the watchmaker couldn’t care less about popularity? This translated into huge cost savings which only enhances its identity as a “tool watch,” placing practicality before prestige.

Closing thoughts

This is one of those watches built for any clime or place. It’s also worth mentioning that this latest model is less than half the cost of the previous GMT release—a very bold move. Should you come across any other opinions for this Dreadnought online, you’ll likely see one-liners like “bang for your buck” or “value proposition,” etc. They’re not wrong… but the implication here is that it’s somehow “less-than” as if you were to say, “not bad… for a watch that isn’t Swiss.” But the fact of the matter is, this is not just a very good tool watch for the money; this is a very good tool watch—period.

If you’re thin-wristed, you’ll inevitably want to compare the “Baby” Dreadnought to other <40mm watches of a similar class—there aren’t too many out there below the 1k mark. This needs to come with the disclaimer that reducing watches down to simple depth ratings and cost point is extreme oversimplification because you can’t factor for originality or customer service or any other hundred points for consideration that matter. Still, you’ll probably be tempted to look them up anyway so I went ahead and did it for you.

Watch Size Depth rating Cost ($)
Dreadnought PRS-52 38mm 300m $470
Seiko SKX013 38mm 200m $275
Raven Trekker V2 39mm 300m $700
Baltic Aquascaphe 38mm 200m $774
Marathon GSAR 36mm 200m $945 (no bracelet)
C. Ward Trident Pro 38mm 600m $965

The writing’s on the wall. Also, you probably won’t dive with any of them.

I wish I’d had one with me down in Honduras—not to make small talk with the Colonel while bending elbows, but because I settled for a Zodiac Seawolf which felt like an attempt to recapture what used to be “retro cool.” And it’s a fine watch. But it will never ever be comparably Dreadnought-cool. What’s “Dreadnought-cool?”

Dreadnought-cool is the authenticity you get when some salty British Army vet goes, “Oy, I wonder if I can make a totally badass watch for the fuck of it based off what me mates want” and it ends up being so stupidly-awesome that guys around the world build internet shrines for it. Where despite its underground-nuclear success, you know making more of it would be ethically wrong for “limited edition” so you shrug it off and make other stuff.

Where marketing seems so lame to you, that you’re perfectly content with never peddling your wares beyond city limits or even your garage because “bugger off—I’m happy here” is your mantra. And where your nineties-era website’s “company info” page is just an “about me” profile that credits liking heavy metal, gardening, and MAD Magazines for fun, which—fuck me—is so unapologetically punk it makes me want to jump in a mosh pit and punch some cantankerous fat kid in the face—that! That, my friends…

That is Dreadnought-cool.

Damon Bailey( Contributor )

Damon is based out of the Bay Area, where he’s a black sheep among Apple Watch loyalists. Having served as a Combat Engineer with the USMC, he believes a true field watch’s success is measured by how closely it compares to a “G-Shock.” Nonsensically, a background in design has guided his preference toward higher craft, as he struggles to become the lifestyle his watch tastes more closely reflect.