History of Czechoslovakia airforce watches Prim
In about 1975 the supreme commander of the CSSR air force at that time, General Remek (the father of the first and only Czech astronaut) issued instruction for revision of the possibilities for supply of wristwatches for the CSSR air force.
In terms of the tender, tests were carried out on watches by Lemania, Longines, Eterna and TAG Heuer. On the basis of overall evaluation of the qualitative and economic criteria, the project for supply of the air force with Swiss watches was cancelled, above all due to financial reasons. This was because the average price of the watches evaluated was in excess of
CZK 7,000.00 (the wages of a CSLA pilot at that time were around 5,000.00). With a view to the fact that the air force planned to order 2,500 watches, the total level of this investment would have been CZK 17.5 million. A significant role was also played by exchange rate dependency, which subsequently complicated any kind of service base for the watches in question.
It was however necessary to restock the equipment stores and replace the Swiss-made watches, which were coming to the end of their useful life. At that time wristwatches were a compulsory part of the pilot’s equipment as well as being compulsory for all other members of the crew (navigators and gunners etc.). A significant argument for this was preservation of duplicity of time given by the on-board clocks (in the event of their failure) and the possibility to gain orientation in time in the event of ejection. A no-less-important argument was that watches were subject to such mechanical burden in the cabin that the watches manufactured in a regular manner and sold in the CSSR would not have withstood the strain.
In light of the above-mentioned facts, wing commander Forgacs acted on his own initiative. He knew of the existence of waterproof PRIM sports watches. On the basis of visits to ELTON and negotiations with the management at that time, he began to draw up possible specification for watches for the air force.
At that time it was clear that the new technology of quartz, electromechanical clockwork was available as well as the possibility for digital display of the time. Despite this, air force command decided in favour of analogue, mechanical watches, above all due to better readability (intuitive and fast reading off of the time) and independence from a source of electrical energy. Another role was played by the unreliability of these new technologies under combat conditions and their sensitivity to forms of radio electronic combat.
The tried and tested and regularly sold Sport model (the so-called keg) with a rotating bezel became the basis for preparation of aviation watches. These watches were fitted as standard with PRIM calibre 57 clockwork. The 21-stone calibre 96 mechanical clockwork was however used in these watches.
At that time the company was to manufacture similar (almost identical except for the dial) watches for a customer in Holland where 2000 watches were subsequently shipped with the same clockwork. The relation of these two deliveries allowed for utilisation of the same delivery of tungsten material (from China), which was a condition for the functioning of the clockwork rotor.
After several consultation sessions a realistic path leading towards the creation of special watches for the CSSR air force came to light.
In 1976, General Remek decided that future watches for the air force would be Czech-made and wing commander Stanislav Forgacz – the representative of the main navigation officer – was entrusted with drawing up a precise technical submission.
The technical submission read as follows:
Waterproof to a minimum of 30m
Resistance to low air pressure to an equivalent height of 20,000 m
Resistance to dust
Pressurised filling with inert gas
Accuracy 5–15 seconds 24 h
Clock work with automatic winding and reserve operation of at least 24 hours and date dial
Resistant to shock and being dropped (shock-absorbing mechanism)
Temperature resistant from –30 to +50°C
Black dial with yellow illumination
White second hand
When the design was finished, it became clear that the greatest problems were with application of radioactive paints, which were already banned at that time.
A special wooden cabin had to be built for application of these paints, the price of which had to be reflected in the price of the watches. However, application itself also caused problems because the paint had to be applied with a wet brush.
The company tried cooperation in the question of application of radioactive paints with foreign suppliers from England and Sweden but even there the solution seemed problematic.
Reflective paint existed at that time, which was at least able to reflect light when there was a minimum amount of light present and so discussion began about the necessity of using radioactive paints.
The only disadvantage of reflective paint was that it had no residual effect, i.e. the ability to accumulate and then emit light. For economic reasons and also due to dependence on the exchange rates, it was finally decided that this requirement would be dropped. Ultraviolet light was however used in the cabin and this magnified the contrast on the dial sufficiently.
The watches underwent extensive methods of testing. Resistance to low air pressure was tested in the pressure chamber at the Central Military Hospital in Prague – Střešovice and the other parameters (waterproofing, resistance to temperature, vibration and shock) were also tested with the participation of military specialists. The Institute of Aviation Health even assessed the watches from the point of view of resistance to bacteria. They were also tested for any possible allergic reaction.
The watches successfully passed all of these tests, only the accuracy of the lot-manufactured watches was worse than expected. Despite this, the daily deviation still came in at under 15 seconds.
The order was implemented by HTS – Hlavní technická správa (Main Technical Administration) – General Hanzal.
So in 1977 a total of 3,000 watches were manufactured, of which 2,500 were purchased by HTS. Approximately 100 watches were sold off directly to people who knew about the project and the remaining 400 watches were made available for purchase via the Klenoty n.p. Company for approximately CZK 850.00.
Watches intended for the air force had the air force badge on the lower part of the dial and on the base piece was engraved the registration number. Standard versions of the watch for sale were marked as serial watches – with a classic description.
At the beginning, the watches were part of equipment set so when air crews left the service they were supposed to return them.
Watches are still in active military service at present and each air force pilot is entitled to one.
As a pilot of supersonic fighter places, this type of watch was used and is still owned by group captain Jan Novák, representative of the chief of the transportation department in the air force. His watch was used during all active service including piloting helicopters and parachuting. Most of the public will remember him as a long-distance swimmer – a man who swam the English Channel and a world-record-holder in extreme swimming.
On the foto is rare original czechoslovakia airforce watch Prim, evidentiary number 001396.