Setting the Record Straight on Tissot’s Powermatic 80



Watchmaking brands typically do not require anyone to stand up for them. In the old days, and right up until the 1990s probably, this was obvious and did not need to be spelled out. Even in other segments, this writer assumes that various published defences of Tesla, for example, are more statements of support for Elon Musk than they are for the EV firm. In this specific kind of case, said defences are no doubt useful to The NeXt Martian.

Tissot PRX Powermatic 80

On that perhaps relevant note, social media being the charmingly vile cesspool of bad behaviour that it is, one is sometimes tempted to intervene. This is almost always a bad idea – only governments typically attempt to police the Internet and that goes about as well as hugging a hippopotamus might. In a niche area such as watch collecting, there is relatively less of a need to set the record straight – watch brands themselves are hardly able to keep things straight. Less is not zero though which is why I find myself inclined to ride to Tissot’s defence with regards to several spurious charges laid against it. These have been disappointing, although some issues are more understandable than others.

Tissot PRX Powermatic 80

I will begin with the most egregious nothing-burger about something Tissot-related, and that has to do with the Powermatic 80 variant used in the hugely successful PRX. The claim here is that fine adjustment by an independent watchmaker or by an intrepid enthusiast is not possible. The claim goes even further to note that adjustment is all but impossible so if you send your watch for a repair and the issue is the regulating organ, it might be swapped out for a new one because that is just how it is built. These are the claims. The short response is already in the press materials for the movement, which specifically spell out that the balance is free-sprung.

The tl;dr here is that traditional regulating organs will have a couple of levers on the balance cock. Manipulating these is how you adjust the rate, with the most obvious lever being the one that has the + and – indicators. In newer movement architecture, these might be entirely absent because the hairspring is never to be directly meddled with. Instead, one adjusts the rate based on the large screws on the balance wheel. The advantage of this second system is that the manufacturer can better set the watch up to be as accurate as possible. In the simplest terms possible, and this is already very simplified, being able to adjust the rate without touching the hairspring is ideal. Adjustments are possible, just not by the average hobbyist. Perhaps the PRX is not the sort of watch you buy so you can tinker with it. If you do not like free-sprung balances, then there will be many watches that are not for you.

The Powermatic 80

This leads directly into the next couple of points, which relate to price. The PRX is a relatively inexpensive watch, the operative word there being “relatively”. If you enjoy the look of the watch and feel it sits comfortably with your Royal Oak and Nautilus tickers, then it is indeed an accessibly priced watch. On the other hand, if shelling out for a four-figure watch gives you pause, then it is not that accessible. When it comes to taking a watch apart on your watchmaking bench, it is probably best to work with the most standard-issue models, with standard-issue parts. This would be the sort of watch where the cost to service it might well exceed what you paid for it at retail; this is not the PRX.

Somewhat hidden in the above passages is the concern about price, and it will be referenced again when we look at the matter of plastic parts in the movement. Before we get to the substance there, we should note again that price is relative and it goes a lot further than whether you should tinker with the watch or not. I think the PRX is aspirational for some, perhaps even independent of what that watch might reference. That is perfectly fine and really does not require the caveats I just deployed. If the watch makes you feel good and you feel good about it, keep on keeping on then. However, if this is you, the news about plastic parts might be a shock.

This brings us to the kicker, which is the use of a poorly perceived material that literally does not shine in a traditional movement. Tissot is one of very few brands that can claim legitimacy in the use of some kind of polymer in any form because it was the first watchmaker to build a movement out of plastic in 1971. From “Tissot: 150 Years of History,” we know Tissot was actively trying to build a movement out of plastic from the 1950s – we can say that this endeavour culminated in the Tissot Astrolon of 1971, but it actually continued outside the brand and found expression in the Swatch System 51. This might actually be part of the problem for Tissot, but Swatch Group has not asserted that the Powermatic 80 movement cannot be repaired (as it has with System 51).

At issue are the escape wheel and pallet fork (pictured opposite), which are made of a high-tech polymer, although details are unavailable and thus we will call this plastic. Anonymous experts agree that the plastic in use has advantages in being low-friction and thus, potentially able to outlast the same components in metal. With the advent of 3D printing, said parts can probably be produced relatively easily. Those who object to the idea of replacing parts are barking up the wrong tree. If that is a concern for you, then the PRX (or any watch using similar materials) is not for you.

The short of it is this: buying a mechanical watch is not an impulse decision, no matter the price. You should always consider very carefully what you are getting into because waiting to get it right will save you tears down the line.

This article was first published in WOW’s 2024 Spring Issue

For more on the latest, click here.

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