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Seiko is no more just quartz

The Japanese brand also wants to show off its talent for producing mechanical timepieces.
Friday, August 26, 2016 - 05:50
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Front and back view of Credo Fugaku Tourbillon.
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Presage Chronograph.
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Grand Seiko GMT.
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Presage Chronograph.

SEIKO, better known for its quartz watches, now also wants to be known for making mechanical watches. It has unveiled a new line dedicated to fine but affordable mechanical timepieces.

And, in case its message fails to get through, the Japanese watchmaker also at the same time presented its first-ever tourbillon. This, along with the launch of four sleek sports models with a black case in its Grand Seiko mechanical watch collection, should help to bring home the point.

Mechanical watches are not new to Seiko, which produced its first mechanical timepiece 103 years ago. The mechanical watches under the Grand Seiko brand, which started in 1960, are sought after by collectors for their superior accuracy.

Over the years, Seiko has also proved to be innovative in mechanical watchmaking, introducing a lever to improve winding efficiency, a new alloy for balance springs and an automatic chronograph with vertical clutch and column wheel systems.

Seiko raised the bar for timekeeping precision two years ago with its HiBeat mechanical movement, which won a prize at the 2014 Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Geneve - the watch industry's equivalent of the Oscar.

Presage, the mechanical watch line Seiko touted recently as new, is already established in Japan for some time. It has 60 models which are equipped with the full range of Seiko's mechanical movements - from the accessible 4R, through 6R to the exclusive 8R.

Well, nearly the full range. The prestigious 9S is reserved for Grand Seiko watches.

All Presage models have sapphire crystals and 100-metre water resistance. The prices of the watches range from US$500 to US$2,600 (S$675 to S$3,510).

So it's more accurate to say that Presage is now making its debut in the global market. And to pave the way, Seiko is offering two new limited-edition automatic chronographs with dials inspired by the Laurel, its first wristwatch of 1913.

One of the chronographs features a white enamel dial (US$2,300, or S$3,105) and the other a black dial made of urushi lacquer (US$2,600, or S$3,510).

Seiko will produce 1,000 pieces of each watch, which is powered by its 8R48 movement that has a 12-hour chronograph and column wheel and vertical clutch systems. The movement is housed in a 42mm anti-magnetic stainless steel case.

The four new Grand Seiko sports models with a black case, which kicks off a new sports watch series, are also limited editions - 600 pieces in green dial and 500 in black dial.

The black case is new to Grand Seiko and the stylishness of the watches is a big departure from the sober look that has come to characterise Grand Seiko.

Two of the four models are GMTs (US$10,500, or S$14,175 in black or green dial) and two chronograph-GMTs (US$13,000, or S$17,550 in black or green dial). All are equipped with Seiko's Spring Drive movement - a state-of-the-art automatic with manual winding mechanism ticking at a time-accuracy of plus-minus 0.5 seconds per day, almost as precise as a quartz timepiece.

The movement is nestled in a 46mm anti-magnetic, ultra-light black titanium case matched by a super tough black ceramic bezel.

Seiko's new tourbillon, which appears in its top-end Credor label, is the first in its 135-year history. Seiko unveiled a more complicated minute repeater in 2011, but has taken longer to produce the gravity-defying timepiece. It's probably because the tourbillon, while known as "the most revered of watch complications", isn't as hot in Japan as it is in the rest of the watch world.

Still, Seiko's Credor Fugaku Tourbillon (US$462,000 or S$623,700), limited to eight pieces, came as a surprise to many in a subdued market, even if it is in the luxury segment. The complication is impressive from both the technical and design angle.

Technically, the timepiece is driven by an ultra-thin 3.98mm thick movement with a 25.6mm diameter, making it "the world's smallest tourbillon by volume".

Design-wise, the Fugaku (the Japanese name for Mt Fuji) Tourbillon is a work of art that has the touch of every conceivable artisanal technique - marquetry, maki-e (gold lacquer), gem-setting, hand-engraving, skeletonisation.

Engraved on the watch's dial is a striking picture of "The Great Wave of Kanagawa", one of Japan's most famous paintings.