The new automatic Tissot PRX Powermatic 80 is a bargain. At a hair under $800, the Swatch Group’s 40mm entry into the Gerald Genta-inspired luxury steel sports watch genre has everything you’d want in a mechanical watch: 100m water-resistance, sapphire crystals front and back, an upgraded ETA 2824-2 movement (including an anti-magnetic Nivachron hairspring) and an 80-hour power reserve. There’s only one problem. Well, two . . .
First, the design is unremittingly dull. There is nothing interesting, exciting or dynamic about the Tissot PRX Powermatic 80. It looks like what it is: a dumbed-down distillation of every other Genta-inspired luxury steel sports watch ever made.
While most if not all upmarket manufacturers sell a slew of models conforming to the Audemars Piguet-birthed aesthetic (e.g., the Chopard Alpine Eagle, Bell & Ross BR-05 and Girard Perregaux Laureato), they all bring something new to the game.
At the very least, they play around with the bezel. Oh wait! Tissot does too! (Quartz Powermatic 40 shown above and below.)
Thin, curved and carefully polished, the PRX 40 205’s bezel defines its design as much as the case and bracelet do. It creates a salient, perfect circle at the heart of a watch that’s really oval.
Oval? Who knew? Who cares?
Tissot calls the PRX a “throwback to a flagship design from 1978.” Audemars Piguet unleashed the Royal Oak in 1970. Patek Philippe’s Nautilus hit the streets in 1976. Which makes the Tissot PRX Powermatic 80 a throwback to a Tissot watch that was a downmarket homage from the start.
Clock the comparo above (new left, old right). The only thing that’s really changed in the intervening 43 years: the logo, dial colors and textures, and the technical advancements within. That and the market’s hunger for steel sports watches with an integrated bracelet.
To be fair, the mechanical Tissot PRX Powermatic 80 has a waffle textured dial. The $375 quartz versions do not (the silver gray model adds railroad track minute indices).
Regular readers know I have an aversion to cheap steel bracelets. I don’t know how the Tissot PRX’s satin (outside) and polished (inside) bracelet feels, but the price point does not fill me with hope.
As the proud owner of Rolex, OMEGA and Vacheron luxury steel watches, as someone who’s tried on the aforementioned Genta-a-like trio, I can assure you that the weight, construction and feel of the steel bracelet accounts for a large part of the integrated bracelet genre’s appeal.
Let’s admit it: so does branding. Which brings us to the second problem: Tissot.
Don’t get me wrong. Tissot’s as Swiss as you wanna be. Its history dates back to 1853. In 1903, OMEGA bought Tissot. From that point on, the brand was restricted to mass market, little brother status.
Nothing wrong with that. Except that 118 years after joining OMEGA, the Tissot brand doesn’t carry much weight in the watch collector world (TTAW reader texastimex aside). In fact, I reckon Tissot is the Timex of Swiss watches.
More than that, the day of the mass market three-handed traditional watch is done, staked in the heart by the smartwatch. Tissot’s bottom line might not show it yet, but it will. The only way Tissot, Victorinox, et al. can survive in a rapidly collapsing market: create something visually compelling. Jewelry, if you will.
Not to beat dead horse (much), the Tissot PRX isn’t it. Nor are the Swiss watchmaker’s metric sh*t ton of sub-$1000 quartz models. They’re all very plain indeed, many riffing (as the PRX does) on design cues from upmarket brands, adding zero in the way of panache.
The new $395 Tissot Limited Edition (2500 pieces) Heritage Memphis Gent is the exception that proves the rule. I’m no fan of its brutal demeanor, but it’s different. And, I might add, sold out. Meanwhile, Tissot makes its living selling quality watches for value-minded buyers who can’t afford the “real thing.” And/or don’t know about it.
In that sense, the Tissot PRX Powermatic 80 makes perfect sense. It’s a value-driven integrated bracelet steel watch with an unobjectionable design running a movement that watches at twice the price could harbor with pride. As such, again, the Tissot PRX Powermatic 80 is a bargain.