In October Anno Domini 2019, we went to Aurochronos, we talked with representatives of the Prim brand, who allowed us to watch and photograph some watches. It seemed to me then that the brand needs no introduction, because it’s known in Poland because of its fairly long history, and because they are our neighbors. As it turned out later, I couldn’t have been more wrong – but more about that in a moment. Because we are closer to the headquarters of Prim from our place of residence than to most Polish watch manufacturers, we decided together with Tomek to visit them for a small visit. I contacted the manager of the brand, which is Jana Purkardová. Jana invited us for a visit to the New Town on the Metuje River in the Czech Republic, where the headquarters and factory of the Prim brand are located.
And so on 07.02.2020 at 6 am Tomek and I left in the direction of the border crossing in Nachod, to arrive at the appointment at 9 am.
Prim in New Town belongs to the company ELTON hodinářská, a.s. , it is very important because, as it turns out, there are 2 Prims … did I know that before leaving? Not at all.
In 1949, the state-owned Chronotechna factory was opened New Town on the Metuje River (then Czechoslovakia). Chronotechna, which has been involved in the production of watches and alarm clocks until now, is to develop and manufacture wristwatches at the New Town factory. The work on creating the movement for the wristwatch lasts 5 years and so in 1954 the first prototypes of the Spartak model are created.
Serial production of wristwatches under the Prim brand has started since 1957 – it is several thousand copies of the Spartak model. The logo that was then placed on all Chronotechna products looks as follows:
In 1969, the factory in New Town was transformed into an independent state company Elton, and thus separated from Chronotechna. Elton employees develop their own Prim logo:
Chronotechna is privatized in 1989, while Elton becomes private only in 1993. The production of own movements is suspended at this time and the watches are equipped with imported movements.
Having a few owners along the way who fail, selling the brand further, finally Chronotechna, in 2001 lands in the hands of the company MPM Quality, which deals with the import and distribution of watches and watchmaking equipment. MPM Quality since then assembles watches from imported components produced mainly in China (or import whole watches) – under the Prim brand, using mainly the logo from the years 57-67.
Their site is https://prim-hodinky.cz/en/
Elton, however, also after turbulent adventures, in 2000 transforms into ELTON Hodinářská and in 2009, based on the old movement, creates its improved version and resumes production at the factory in New Town. Watches from this manufacturer are signed with the Prim logo created in 1969. The ELTON hodinářská website is https://www.prim.cz/
Both companies are in constant litigation over brand rights and model naming.
For my part, I can say that I am extremely happy that we have just arrived at ELTON hodinářská, because it’s a company that independently produces virtually the entire watch from A to Z, which currently puts it very high in the hierarchy of watch manufacturers, much higher than prices for which these watches can be bought. And in my opinion they continue the tradition of Czech watchmaking in the full sense of this word.
ELTON hodinářská belongs to the CSG Czechoslovak Group which is a holding company of the group of industrial and commercial enterprises from the defense and civil industry in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Annually, Elton produces and sells approximately 2,000 watches.
The watches are divided into 3 groups:
1. Prim Manufakture – watches signed with this logo and pictogram are equipped with in-house movements manufactured in the New Town. These are the most expensive and most prestigious models of the watches offered by Prim. Prim has 2 in-house movements, one with manual winding and one with automatic winding, models with these mechanisms are usually simple 3-hand watches; they do not have extensive complications. The most advanced complication of these movements is the additional GMT hand feature.
2. Prim automatik – these are watches with the logo from 1969. These models are equipped with Sellita Swiss movements, and this is the average shelf of products offered by Elton.
3. Prim – watches equipped with Ronda quartz movement. This is an option for less affluent brand enthusiasts.
ELTON hodinářská doesn’t have its own store in Poland. Prims that we can buy in our country are watches produced by MPM Quality. While talking to us, they mentioned that they were planning to expand sales to Poland. We are waiting impatiently 😊
Well, but how does the production of watches look like in the New Town on Metuje?
Already arriving at the place we knew that it would be something more than what we have seen so far, visiting watch manufacturers. ELTON hodinářská is housed in a large building, entirely owned by them. As we learned later, the company employs 60 employees, working 5 days a week, 8 hours a day!
After entering through the main door, we go to the first floor, where we come across a closed glass door through which you can only get through intercom contact. There is a clear sticker on the door indicating “no photographing” 😊 After a while, we are greeted by representatives of Prim – Ales Vernar and Jan Purkadova.
First, we go to the Main Hall, where all old and new models are shown, and where Customers can buy or pick up a watch previously purchased. This is an opportunity to try on and photograph some of the most interesting Prim models.
Here the Spartak model is landing on my wrist, released on the 70th anniversary of the brand. We can also see how live PRIM manufacture movements look like … They just look great.
Later I try on Orlik in several versions – limited bronze and 38mm version. Interestingly, all Orliks have bezels that can rotate in both directions. The Czechs were one of the few who approached the subject wisely and do not delude themselves that nowadays someone will dive seriously with such a watch.
Ales also shows me a very limited model of the Orlik which is already sold out – a version with an ice-hardened steel case and a whole sandblasted finish.
We are also watching other models, equipped with manufactory movements and Swiss Sellita.
After talking and trying, we go to the floor below, where the production of cases and movements takes place. Already in the corridor I am very impressed, the production hall is really big, there are eight CNC machines. The machines have been specially configured for the production of watches. Unfortunately, we don’t get permission to photograph the entire room, but we can take pictures of individual elements. At the first stand, the machine cuts cases from raw stainless steel discs according to previously entered parameters. Of course, the machine must be operated by an employee who controls whether the entire process is running properly.
At the next station, a separate machine cuts out and immediately mills and engraves the case back.
Then follows the cutting and engraving of the rotors
Parts of the movements and embellishing the bridges.
A special Japanese machine cuts out tiny parts of the movements. The parts are so small that its hard to see them
It is even hard to describe, in the hall you can hear the noise of working machines, people controlling quality and they are moving aroung in work. Every place contains some parts of movements, cases, crowns …
After leaving the hall, we are walking along a corridor full of ready components, unfortunately we cannot photograph this either. We go to the room where the quality control of manufactured parts is carried out using a microscope. Each part separately is subject to quality control, any deviation from the standard automatically disqualifies it from possible assembly.
In the next room, the employee manually polishes the finished cases.
Moving on we get to the next bigger hall. Old Swiss watch machines stand here, they are used for any manual corrections of manufactured parts. We get permission to take pictures of these machines 😊
A few meters away in the same hall, the employee manually brushes the surfaces of the cases, which are to have just such a finish. All around is full of various machines, which unfortunately we can’t show in the pictures.
We move to the next room. Here the crowns are finished.
After a walk full of excitement and raising jaws from the ground, it turns out that this is only half the trip, because we are back again to the floor above, to the corridor full of doors.
On the first floor we enter the room where the hands are finished. There are 10 stands in this room! All the time the number of machines makes an amazing impression on us. Here the hands are also thermally blued.
In the next room, employees print dials and apply luminescent mass.
We go further … now a break, because the room we are to enter needs keys that Ales doesn’t have with him. After a while we are inside. This is room, in which the employee galvanizes parts of the movements, i.e. applies a coating that gives color.
At the end, of course, the room where all of these parts are mounted into watches. We don’t go inside, we look through it through the glass, because we could bring dust with us. The entire room is air-conditioned and has a lot of purifiers and dust collectors.
Eight people work at these positions. One watchmaker puts together one watch in one day … Finally, he leaves his signature inside so that it is clear which employee has made a specific copy.
After folding, the watch is tested for 14 days and only then goes to the customer. You have to wait from 4 to 6 weeks from the time of order to pick up, depending on the parameters of the model.
Until now I am impressed and when I’m thinking about our visit in Prim, my face involuntarily smiles. I am not surprised that the Czechs are crazy about these watches and are eager to buy them – if I were Czech I would only buy Prim watches from the ELTON hodinářská factory, because this brand is their true heritage. No one can accuse Prim that Czech Made is on the dial unfairly. I also saw comments about the price of these watches, but tell yourself which watch brand in this budget can boast of producing the entire watch from start to finish in one building?