53 years in the making: Seiko's Diver's watches and the brilliance behind them.
Far from the notion of past generations where Seiko watches were perceived to be that of well, nothing out of the ordinary; a good mainstream watch ideal if you wanted to know the time and not a great deal more. Seiko have worked tirelessly to improve their brand and of course the watches in which they create. Though in the UK Seiko watches are relatively limited in their ranges, across the world and especially in their home of Japan; Seiko have created a vast expanse of timepieces from your classic Quartz analogue to the highest of quality and each hand-made in Japan by three master craftsman, Credor watches. Seiko have proven that from humble beginnings greatness can be born and show no signs of slowing down.
The perfect example of how Seiko has proven that they will stop at nothing to provide only the highest quality of watches no matter what is required, comes in the 1960’s where upon receiving a letter from a frustrated professional scuba diver; Seiko took it upon themselves to research and create their now revered diver’s watches. Who would have thought that one letter would have been the explosive catalyst Seiko used to fuel their limitless curiosity and unrelenting desire to create excellence.
Years of research, trials and errors married with unwavering dedication led to the creation of the world’s first Professional Diver’s watch released in 1965 skilfully crafted from robust but weighty stainless steel and able to withstand depths of up to 150 meters, a measurement previously impossible to endure and thus fortifying Seiko as the epitome of Diver’s watch manufacture, unparalleled by any other brand.
Striving for perfection, Seiko continued to research and develop their range of diver’s watches; working closely with diving experts and in 2016 formed a partnership with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (P.A.D.I.) they have continually shown innovation and expertise in their ever expanding collect of watches, including their Prospex collection.
In 1967 Grand Seiko released the 44GS, which at the time was the most accurate 5 beat movement watch in the world. The design of the Grand Seiko and the continual improvement of movement calibre is still seen today in the modern day Grand Seiko releases.
In order to meet the challenge of creating a more accurate high-beat watch the Grand Seiko craftsman developed a new type of movement, harnessing the torque and durability of the mainsprings and increasing the oscillation capabilities of the balance wheel to an impressive 10 beats per minute. These adaptations firmly cemented Seiko as the watchmakers to well, watch. Continual research and development lead to the Grand Seiko watches being among the most accurate in the world; with precision and accuracy of +/- 2 seconds per day, it is easy to see why the Grand Seiko’s are still revered and highly sought after.
1968 saw the release of the Seiko 6159-7001 Diver’s watch; an Automatic masterpiece with a high-beat movement and an impressive 300-meter water resistance; even by today’s standards the watch is a remarkable piece of technology. Specifically designed with an inclusive monocoque stainless steel case; this watch featured state of the art luminous hour markers that allow divers to read the watch dial underwater and provided legibility for up to 6 hours. It would be easy to say, what else could Seiko need to do? Here they have a watch which can be worn 300 meters below the surface of the ocean and still be legible some 6 hours after exposure to light but true to form, Seiko continued to experiment with new designs and technical advances leading to releases such as the much revered Grand Seiko 6159-022.
This outstanding watch is cherished by Seiko fans for a myriad of reasons; a world first in diver’s watches this model featured a lightweight Titanium case, stronger than steel and highly resistant to corrosion, it was little wonder that Seiko opted to construct their newest Diver’s watch from this metal. With its front loading monocoque construction; the Grand Seiko was specifically designed to tackle head on, the well-known issue of Helium saturating into the watch, by stopping it entering in the first place. This then eliminates the need for a complicated Helium release valve that are readily seen on Swiss brands counterparts. The directional bezel and protective shroud enhanced the durability of this watch, a feature revered at the time and which has continued to be used on modern day releases. The oversized arrow hands and bold hour markers allowed for a higher percentage of visibility whilst diving and added to the overall aesthetic of this already arresting timepiece.
The Grand Seiko was also set upon a robust black rubber strap with Seiko’s new concertina design; a clever feature in which allowed for subtle expansion on the wrist making the watch breathable and easier to wear over a wet-suit without sacrificing the security of a well-fitting strap.
As time and technology has progressed Seiko have explored the use of solar energy within their Basic, Prospex and many other ranges. By opting for this mechanism, the need for daily use or battery changes is eliminated, making the watch more economical and easier to wear intermittently.
Seiko's new limited edition 'The Black Series' diving watches features two models SSC673P1 and SNE493P1 which harness solar power; these retail for significantly less than their Automatic SRPC49K1 counterpart. However there is a certain charm to having a mechanical watch; the beauty of the complex movement speaks volume and the knowledge that the watch will keep running for as long as it is wound means that these are ideal for heirlooms and extensive collections. The Automatic Turtle features a 4R36, 23 Jewel movement with a power reserve of up to 41 hours once fully wound; this is the ideal movement for the given price range and fan base, however Seiko are well aware that the higher calibre movements are more highly revered by their collectors.
Combining the success of their original diver’s watches and the advances in calibre Seiko are releasing in mid-2018 a new range of divers watches based upon the 6159 model.
Destined to be sought after by die-hard collectors and released on the 50th anniversary of the original Professional divers watch; the SLA025J1 will be released in an extremely limited run, of only 1500 world-wide though 500 of these watches will be exclusive to the Japanese market. Aesthetically modelled on the original 6159 case, dial and strap; the re-release will feature a monocoque construction, protected by curved Sapphire glass and a screw down crown. Beating at 36,000 times per hour the 8L55 Calibre movement with 37 Jewels will only be accessible from the front of the watch, a deliberate architectural choice chosen to limit the risk of water inlay.
Unlike most of the current available Seiko Divers watches such as the much loved Samurai SRPC51K1 or the Prospex PADI Pepsi SRPB99K1; SLA025J1 is water resistant up to 300 meters, allowing for scuba diving at greater depths and pressures.
Much like the original 6159 released in 1968, SLA025J1 also presents with a uni-directional black serrated 120-click bezel and a sophisticated jet black dial. A clear date display window is located at the 3 O'clock position and bold white luminous circular hour markers allow for distinct legibility underwater up to 8 hours after exposure to light. Reflecting back on the original 6159 design, this piece also uses luminous 'Plongur hands' much like the original model; each watch features gold gilding on the hands and hour markers. A bold red 'lollipop' second hand adds a sense of contrast to the dial. The Seiko branding is also gilded in gold, a subtle sign of the luxurious design.
In keeping with the monotone palette and of course the intricate details which Seiko has become renowned for; both the original divers and its modern day counterpart are set upon pyramid textured black rubber straps. The use of these rubber straps, reduces the overall weight of the watch, allowing for comfortable long term wear regardless of environment.
With its 8L55 calibre movement, 55 hour power reserve and limited release, it comes as no surprise that the completely Japanese made SLA025J1 will retail at £5,000 gbp; a piece sought after by Seiko fans world-wide but maybe not so much their budgets.
Seiko, well aware of this, are not excluding their audience with a more reasonable budget. To satisfy all their followers Seiko are also releasing two models with a less hefty price tag; SPB077J1 and SPB079J1 will be released at the same time as SLA025J1 and are both still made in Japan.
Both featuring a lower calibre movement than the re-release; SPB077J1 and SPB079J1 are powered by a 6R15 movement, a calibre seen in many Seiko's released in 2017. This movement has a power reserve of up to 50 hours and has a beat per hour rate of 21,600. These models are as traditionally Seiko as their forefather the Grand Seiko and should not be seen as lower in quality; each feature the highest quality Sapphire glass and are water resistant to 200 meters, with screw down crowns and rotational bezels; these watches are expertly crafted and stand alone in their own right.
Aesthetically these two watches do differ from the original 6159 and of course the re-release but this only adds to their uniqueness. Where one features a black dial, suave black ION plated stainless steel bezel and is set upon a sophisticated steel tri link bracelet, with divers expansion and triple clasp closure, the other presents with an inky blue rotating ION plated steel bezel, deep black dial and the much loved smooth black rubber strap with concertina expansion and a stainless steel Seiko embossed buckle.
Luminous arrow hands are used on these two models and the traditional circular hour markers adorn each dial. Both of these models feature a date display window at 3 O'clock, a feature seen on both 6159 and 025J1.
It would be easy to believe that Seiko craft only divers watches given their vast and ever expanding range but this is a company that strives to provide a timepiece for any and every occasion, market and customer.
For those searching for handcrafted exclusive to Japan timepieces, Seiko’s virtuous Credor watches are the ones to look out for. Each watch is designed and handmade by three master Japanese craftsman. Each a master in their own field, these watches are produced in such a limited run that they are only available at Seiko boutiques and retail in the range of £125,000 gbp and more.
In 2016 Credor released 8 exclusive handmade watches 'Fukagu Tourbillon'; designed to honour the traditional Japanese ideals; this watch was expertly designed to utilise the ultra-thin calibre 6830 movement and draws inspiration from the iconic wood block painting 'The Great Wave off Kanagawa' by Katsushika Hokusai. This traditional late Edo period painting has been recreated using delicate hand engraving of precious metals including Gold and Platinum, intricate enamelling and hand painting and meticulous placement of precious blue Sapphires and Mother of Pearl.
With each step taking hours of concentration and surgical precision by three master craftsman, it is little wonder that these are produced in such limited quantities and carry such an exclusive price tag.
In order to cater to all budgets Seiko corporation also produces ranges under the names Lorus and Pulsar; these watches are readily available on the high-street and utilise both solar and quartz movements. These pocket friendly watches use mineral glass and have an optimum water resistance of 100 meters dependent on the model. The beauty of these watches are that as a customer, you know you are wearing a quality Japanese designed watch but do not need to worry about breaking the bank. Available in styles that reflect any attire; both Pulsar and Lorus watches are much loved by those looking for a stylish timepiece with a clear dial and valuable construction.
It seems safe to say that there is no limit to what Seiko as a corporation are able to design and create, no wonder they have such a massive following for their timepieces. They are a true watch manufacturer and not a mere “hollow” designer name. With each new release Seiko cements itself further as a brand capable of ultimate high-quality watch making, loyal to its customers and the Japanese standards and ideals it was once founded upon. Reimagining older models for today’s market is a smart move by Seiko and allows those who missed out on purchasing the original the chance to wear a piece of history and of course excite the newer generations of Seiko fans.
And so, with palpable excitement Seiko fans world-wide will wait to see what the future holds for Seiko.
Of course, only time will tell.
The Seiko 1968 Limited Edition Re-creation Automatic Diver's Watch is available to pre-order. Call 0121 233 1801.