- The top Seiko series
- Timeless, simple design
- In-house movements
- Mechanical power
- Quartz accuracy
- Smooth-sweep seconds
- Waterproof to 1,000 m
- Automatic movements
Above all else, Seiko has succeeded in finding innovative ways to power watches. Producing a mechanical quartz movement was long considered as difficult as squaring a circle. However, the Tokyo-based company has successfully solved the problem in two different ways: They produce watches not only with solar power, but also with traditional mechanical calibers and battery-run quartz movements, resulting in their extensive product palette.
The Grand Seiko: Solid Competition for Swiss Rivals
In the luxury watch world, Seiko is best known for their Grand Seiko series, which was introduced in 1960. The watches in this series are equipped with mechanical calibers and on par with watches from Swiss manufacturers. They are also just as expensive: A Grand Seiko 9S can cost upwards of 6,000 euros. The watches in the 9S series feature a simple, streamlined design with tapered hands, indices instead of numerals, and a 40 mm stainless steel case. This is a watch that is perfect for almost every occasion and, thanks to its mid-sized case, it finds a home on wrists of all sizes.
The top 9S models are those with automatic movements. They vibrate at an incredibly high rate: While normal calibers vibrate at 21,600 or 28,800 alternations per hour, a 9S85 or 9S86 movement in a Grand Seiko ticks away at 36,600 A/h, or 5 Hz. The higher the number, the more accurate the watch. If you're looking for even more precision, however, the quartz movement 9F is the answer. Over the course of a year it only deviates from the official time by 10 seconds. Two watches from this 9F series were designed as diving watches. They have a unidirectional bezel, luminous numerals, and are waterproof up to 200 m (20 bar). The models distinguish themselves from each other by their either black or white dials.
The most technically impressive Grand Seiko models are the 9R watches. Seiko equipped these watches with their newest movement technology, the Spring Drive caliber. A spring serves as the energy source and is wound manually or by the movement of the wearer's arm. The spring releases its tension gradually in a controlled manner to move the hands. This follows in the footsteps of how automatic watches have been manufactured for nearly a century.
Spring Drive with Quartz Accuracy
Spring Drive technology combines the charm of mechanical movements with the precision of quartz movements. The mainspring is wound manually via the crown or by the natural movement of the wearer's wrist. When the mainspring is fully wound, it powers gears which in turn power a glide wheel. The rapid rotation of the glide wheel excites its attached magnet and delivers electrical power to the other parts of the spring drive: the integrated circuit, quartz oscillator, and electromagnetic break. The integrated circuit is able to detect the speed of the glide wheel, compare it to the quartz oscillator, and control the electromagnetic break. This allows the glide wheel to be slowed down if necessary, keeping it accurate. This technology replaces a mechanical movement's escapement and increases precision. According to Seiko, a Spring Drive watch deviates from the exact time by only one second a day, though users report a deviation of only 1-2 seconds a week. When fully wound, the watch's power reserve lasts 72 hours.
Seiko patented their Spring Drive technology in 1982 and introduced it in 1998 at the watch fair in Basel. They produced a few Spring Drive watches in limited number. These watches with their revolutionary movements have been available on a wider basis internationally since 2005. They possess the typical mechanical watch characteristic: a second hand gliding smoothly instead of ticking once per second like quartz watches.
Kinetic: Power Through Movement
However, the Spring Drive wasn't the first time Seiko created excitement with new technology. Their Kinetic watches convert kinetic movement into energy in a simpler manner than the complicated Spring Drive mechanism. Essentially, watches powered by Kinetic technology are equipped with a quartz movement. However, the necessary energy doesn't come from a regular battery, but rather a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. The rotor charges the battery as it rotates due to the natural movements of the wearer. Seiko presented a prototype of this new type of movement in 1986 at the watch fair in Basel and officially dubbed them Kinetic watches in 1991. Since then, they have been improved upon multiple times and millions of watches have been sold. In 2007, Seiko added a new function to the technology called Direct Drive. Now, the movements can be powered not only by arm movements, but also by turning the crown. Seiko offers an entire Kinetic collection of watches with this technology, but utilizes it in the Sportura and Premier series as well.
However, this manufacturer has not ignored other methods of powering watches. Countless Seiko watches run on solar energy. Solar cells in the watch convert a light source, be it sun or other types of light, into energy, which is stored in a rechargeable battery. This battery then powers the watch. Solar energy dominates in the technically-oriented Astron collection, as many of the watches feature power-dependent high-tech features. One prime example of this type of watch is the incredibly precise Astron GPS Solar. This watch can either be manually set to the correct time, or it can independently connect to multiple GPS satellites. The GPS signals transmit the watch's location and therefore, the correct time zone and exact time. This is possible because GPS technology is based on the precise time of an atomic clock. A mini atomic clock, such as those found in satellites, only deviates by one second in 10,000 years. One advantage of this method is that it functions even in the most remote corners of the world, while traditional radio watches are dependent on signals within a 2,000 km radius. Citizen
, Seiko's most significant Japanese competitor, uses similar technology in its Satellite Timekeeping System.
The Astron: Designed by Giorgio Giugiaro
Seiko hired the office of Italian designer Giorgio Giugiaro to design the special Astron GPS Solar watch. Giugiaro is known for designing countless cars, among them the VW Golf I, the Lotus Esprit, and several Alfa Romeos. Even Nikon's professional SLRs were designed by Giugiaro. His Astron is a sport watch with a black titanium case 44.6 mm in diameter. Its stopwatch function can time up to six hours and measure time down to 1/5th of a second. The black band is made of ceramic and titanium and has two silver-gray racing stripes.
The First Market-Ready Quartz Watch
The Astron series is available in multiple versions, some with a second time zone or a chronograph function. The series has always been committed to progress: It made history with the introduction of its first market-ready quartz watch, the Astron 35SQ, on December 25th, 1969. The watch world was never the same again after that day. In the years following, affordable and precise battery-powered watches sold incredibly well, almost eliminating the demand for old-fashioned mechanical watches. At the climax of the quartz crisis, Seiko even temporarily stopped producing their mechanical Grand Seiko models. Battery-powered quartz watches still play an important role at Seiko, and additional models are sold by their subsidiary, Lorus.
In the end, however, mechanical movements managed to survive the quartz crisis, and they have been making an astonishing comeback since the 1990s. In 1998, Seiko introduced their first mechanical watch in years that ran as precisely as a chronometer.
The Prospex: For Recreational and Professional Divers
The Prospex series features high-quality diving watches powered by automatic calibers. Some models are waterproof up to 200 m (20 bar), while the Prospex Marinemaster Professional can be taken to a depth of up to 1,000 m (100 bar). Not many other diving watches can reach these depths, aside from the Rolex Sea Dweller
, Sinn U1
, or certain versions of the Omega Seamaster
. The Prospex Diver's watch is also available in a solar-powered version called the SNE109P1. It features a stainless steel case, orange dial, and black polyurethane strap. Its price lies in the lower three-figure range.
The Seiko 5 series contains more watches with automatic movements. The collection consists of more than 30 models with different designs, from stainless steel watches with a bicolor design to robust, sporty watches with a wide bezel that are waterproof to 10 bar (100 m).
Seiko in the 19th Century
Seiko has had a lot of time to develop their diverse range of watches. In 1877, company founder Kintaro Hattori opened his workshop for watches and jewelry in Tokyo's Ginza neighborhood. In 1881, he founded a used watch repair and sale business under his own name. Eleven years later, Hattori began producing clocks under the name Seikosha, a combination of the Japanese words, seiko and sha, meaning "delicate, exquisite" and "house," respectively. The company grew strongly over the course of the next few decades. In 1965, Seiko exported 1.6 million watches, a number that rose to 11.8 million in 1977, and 21 million in 2001. Seiko produces almost all of their parts themselves, though Epson contributed some pieces for the first quartz watch introduced in 1969. Their involvement was no coincidence seeing as the electronics manufacturer, most well known for their printers and scanners, belongs to the Seiko Group - as do the watch manufacturers Lorus, Orient, and Pulsar.
Seiko in Popular Culture
Seiko was able to take advantage of a special marketing opportunity in the 1970s when James Bond wore a Seiko digital M354 watch as a part of his secret agent suit in the film Moonraker. Steve Jobs also realized the benefits of a Seiko. In a photo shoot from 1984, the Apple founder can be seen with a simple three-hand watch on his wrist. Jobs' watch, reference number 6431-6030, had a black case with a contrasting white dial.
Seiko offers an almost unbeatable range of watches for every person's taste: mechanical movements, Kinetic, Spring Drive, solar, and quartz movements. Time and time again, this Tokyo-based company has been the trailblazer in important technological developments. Seiko has a wide range of watches available: Grand Seiko luxury watches, the high-tech Astron collection, and robust Prospex underwater watches. There's truly a watch for everyone, with affordable quartz watches and automatic models under three figures, as well as Spring Drive chronographs with titanium cases that cost 10,000 euros.