In 2003, a UK watchseller named Eddie Platts conceived a heavyweight new diver's wristwatch that became known as the PRS-2 Dreadnought. Eddie had masterminded some custom wristwatches before, but the Dreadnought was his masterpiece. Designed by Eddie in the UK with input from worldwide watch fans, assembled and calibrated by famed watchmaker Dirk Dornblueth of Germany, using a Swiss ETA movement, the Dreadnought was truly an international effort.
Sold in an edition of only 200, at a stunningly reasonable price, the Dreadnought now fetches more than twice its original cost in watch sales forums or eBay auctions.
Dreadnought specifications courtesy of Timefactors:
Since the Dreadnought's introduction, it has been nearly unmatched in size, weight, and pure visual impact, but in early 2005, it gained some significant competition in the form of the Kobold SEAL. Designed by 29-year-old Michael Kobold and produced by undisclosed manufacturing partners, the SEAL must certainly have been influenced by the Dreadnought; if not in design, certainly in philosophy and presence. The SEAL is not a limited edition, and is accompanied by a breakthrough advertising campaign featuring macho actor James Gandolfini of HBO's long running series The Sopranos (as well as a new campaign highlighting Ranulph Fiennes, "the greatest living explorer").
SEAL specifications courtesy of Kobold:
As you can see the specifications are very similar, with an identical 44mm diameter, and similar weight, the Dreadnought a hefty 265 grams and the SEAL 243 (although the SEAL bracelet was made more durable immediately before shipment, and may tilt its weight higher than the original published specifications).
Let's see how the two watches stack up in the various categories.
Box and Presentation
I'll skip the photograph in this category, because Kobold unashamedly decided to not compete. The SEAL is delivered in a small cardboard box with the Kobold logo, on a jewelry pillow. The Dreadnought comes in a magnificent hardwood display box, with technical drawings of the watch concept and other neat extras. While I don't much care for excess money spent on watch boxes that are destined to sit in my storage room for years, the Dreadnought packaging is extra special and more than merits the:
Both watches ship with a screwdriver set, but the screwdrivers supplied with the SEAL fit only the case-lug screws that secure the bracelet, and not the bracelet screws themselves. So, they're useless for sizing the bracelet. Luckily many watch enthusiasts such as myself have various jewelers' screwdrivers on hand for just such an occasion. I'm sure this was due to the last-minute bracelet change, and Kobold will undoubtedly include proper screwdrivers in later shipments.
The Dreadnought comes with a Rhino strap in addition to the bracelet. The SEAL includes a NATO-style strap (I say "style" because the metal bars are polished, which would not be the case on an issue strap) and, in my case, light- & dark-brown medium-quality leather straps. The leather straps were added as a compensation for the delay in the SEAL shipping, originally scheduled for Dec. 14th, 2004, but pushed out until January 11th, 2005. Later shipments of SEALs may not include these extra straps, which aren't bad quality, but are not something in the quality range of a Jurgens, Bros, or Sirtoli.
Dial & Crystal
The domed sapphire crystals used on both watches are quite similar. The dial of each watch is quite clear and easy to read; the Dreadnought owing much of its dial design to the famous Omega Seamaster "Ploprof" and the SEAL reminiscent of a Sinn EZM. Personally, I like the bit of red on the Kobold dial from the "Soarway Diver" text. Without that bit of red text it would have been too sterile. I wonder if it would have looked even better with a red, or red-tipped, second hand.
While the dials are very similar in diameter, the Dreadnought's appears larger due to the bezel design. Kobold describes the SEAL as "a minimalist's watch" as it does not display the date. The Dreadnought includes a small yet readable date window that hides at the 6 o'clock position, and in my opinion does not detract from the similar minimalism of that watch's design. Due to the date feature and the larger dial appearance, I'll have to say:
The broad bezel of the SEAL is dramatic in appearance and very easy to turn over its 60 clicks despite its edge being thinner than the Dreadnought's. The Dreadnought's markings are much easier to read, especially since the SEAL bezel -- which is in the cross-section of an imaginary cone with its tip above the center of the dial -- tends to catch reflections as seen in the photograph.
The arrow on the SEAL bezel doesn't line up properly at 12 o'clock, in fact, it's not just the bezel alignment but the arrow on the bezel itself is engraved improperly, with a left-hand tilt. Kobold says this will be resolved at a later date. I'm not sure whether I'll have to send in the watch to have it fixed, or if they can send me a bezel for replacement by myself or a local watchmaker.
Case & Case Back
The bead-blasted finish of the Dreadnought is impervious to fingerprints. In contrast, the semi-matte SEAL seems to pick up fingerprints as much as a fully-polished case, or more so. Note the obvious prints in the photo above, even though I tried to wipe the watch before the photo. This is a slight disadvantage, but it also makes the SEAL flashier on the wrist than the Dreadnought, so if you can remember to keep it fingerprint-free, it will catch more eyes with its brighter finish.
Otherwise, the cases are very similar in bulk. The SEAL's main case section is thicker but the Dreadnought has a thicker bezel so their overall height appears similar even though the SEAL is actually a couple of mm thicker. Obviously the SEAL is more angular in design, which is really a matter of taste. The bevel of the SEAL's crown protector makes the crown easier to unscrew than the Dreadnought's.
The SEAL crown is actually signed with a "K" for Kobold, but I needed a magnifying glass to see it. The SEAL case has some obvious brush-marks, but of course the Dreadnought has a built-in advantage in finish quality because bead-blasting is automatically uniform in texture.
I'm just going to come out and say it: The SEAL has a silly-looking cartoon seal on the back. It looks like a character from an old Filmation animated TV series, possibly Sealab 2020. Honestly this is my least-favorite design feature of the Kobold, and this sentiment is echoed by other owners on the Kobold Forum, many of which have stated an intention to have the back refinished to remove the cartoon seal. Otherwise the back is very well done, with deep cuts for a case-back wrench, and very nice engraving on the angled edges -- an unusual and special feature.
The Dreadnought's engraving, no pun intended, is a cut above. The coat of arms is tasteful and magnificent with extreme detail. Casebacks hardly get any better than this.
Bracelet and Clasp
The two bracelets are virtually identical.
As are the clasps, both of which include a diver's wet-suit extension. The Kobold logo on the SEAL clasp is a bit roughly finished.
Wrist Feel & Appearance
Please forgive the big yellow bruise on my hand from moving furniture around earlier this week :)
The Dreadnought is very comfortable on the wrist despite its size. Since I prefer to keep a watch snug up to my hand, the Dreadnought crown sometimes makes a divot in the back of my hand, especially when I lean on a desk with my left hand. Overall, it doesn't look too big, and the tapering of the case to the bezel help to make it appear very natural on the wrist.
As it looks "different" from most other watches, I think the SEAL is more noticeable, especially with its brighter (fingerprint-attracting) finish. Both watches have an equal problem with the very first links of the bracelet next to the case being a bit sticky in movement, and tending to point "downwards" towards the wrist as seen below:
That's quite a stack of SEAL to have on the wrist, but then, that's the whole point, isn't it? I'd say the winner is the Dreadnought if you're wearing the watch for yourself or a group of WIS (watch fanatics), but the SEAL is the winner if you want to attract attention from the general public. Since it's built for that purpose, I'll have to give the nod to:
This is a really tough review to call from the perspective of crowning an overall winner. While the Dreadnought takes the majority of the individual categories, these two watches are very close competitors. One sense in which the two are not competing, is that you can buy the SEAL today, but you'd have to search long and hard for someone willing to part with their Dreadnought. That alone will make the decision moot for most enthusiasts.
The Kobold Soarway SEAL is an incredible watch and I hope that the well-designed and amusing ad campaign featuring Gandolfini & Fiennes brings Kobold some deserved publicity and sales. Even an amazing piece like the SEAL has room for improvement, and I have the following recommendations to Michael Kobold to make this watch a really world-class piece:
Photos of SEAL, Dreadnought and Other Models
From left to right:
Kobod Soarway SEAL, Timefactors PRS-2 Dreadnought, Marathon SAR 2003
From left to right:
Sinn Einsatzzeitmesser (EZM3), Kobold Soarway SEAL, Timefactors PRS-2 Dreadnought, Marathon SAR 2003, Oris TT1 Diver's Regulator, Breitling Chrono Avenger
Relative case sizes, From left to right:
Oris TT1 Diver's Regulator, Marathon SAR 2003, Kobold Soarway SEAL, Breitling Chrono Avenger, Sinn Einsatzzeitmesser (EZM3), Timefactors PRS-2 Dreadnought
While the Breitling Chrono Avenger is as large as the SEAL, its titanium case and bracelet weigh far less, and its dial is much larger in diameter.
All photos copyright 2005, KCComp (firstname.lastname@example.org. Linking pictures to auctions, etc. prohibited and will result in the picture link being modified to something that tells your potential customers that you're a fake and a fraud, so just don't do it. All terms and specifications copyright of their respective manufacturers.