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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Seiko Looks Back to the Future

Seiko officials at Baselworld press conference.

BASEL, Switzerland - Whether it was a sign of defiance, solidarity or necessity it’s difficult to say. But all 12 Japanese companies scheduled to exhibit at Baselworld made the trip. None of them were as big as or more important to the world of timepieces than Seiko Watch Corp. A packed house of reporters attended Seiko’s press conference on March 24 as the Japanese watch giant honored its 130th anniversary by introducing seven new lines of timepieces for different markets, several of which look back to the company’s rich heritage.

In his opening remarks, Shinji Hattori, Seiko president and CEO and the great-grandfather of the founder of Seiko, Kintaro Hattori, expressed gratitude to the many members of the media who had sent messages of support to Seiko. After that it was all Seiko business until reporters asked about the Japanese crisis  during questioning (read about it, here). The event was largely led by Shu Yoshino, Seiko, general manager of the international advertising. 

Credor Spring Drive Minute Repeater
The one item that received the most positive response from those in the room was the Credor Spring Drive Minute Repeater. It is the first minute repeater watch ever built by Seiko and focuses on what the company calls, “The miracle of sound.” Described as a “lingering, clear and haunting sound” with “Japanese character,” it is enhanced by a totally silent spring drive mechanism made of steel forged by celebrated Japanese steelmaker, Munemichi Myochin, whose family’s blacksmithing heritage dates back 850 years. “Myochin” steel was used for the minute repeater bell gongs, which were calibrated and monitored to create the closest possible replica of the “Myochin wind bell sound,” described as a “clear and pleasing sound” attributed to the steelmaking skills of the Myochin family, which is used for wind chimes created by the company. Hattori said the sound is significant to Japanese heritage.

Seiko says the Spring Drive is the only mechanical movement in the world to measure time silently and continuously with no tick. The “silent governor” uses the viscosity of air to control the speed of the striking gongs. While most minute repeaters follow the traditional hour, quarter and minute system, the Credor Spring Drive Minute Repeater uses a decimal system in which the hammers strike one-hour, ten-minute and one-minute sounds. At 1:59, the hour sound is struck once, the ten-minute sound is struck five times and the one-minute sound is struck nine times.

The watch has no less than 660 components. The high-speed “flight” of the blades of the silent governor is visible from the front, and the striking of the hammers can be seen through the sapphire crystal caseback. The case is 42.8 mm in diameter and has a power reserve of 72 hours when the minute repeater mechanism is not used. Just three pieces will be available in December. 

Grand Seiko
The company also unveiled three limited edition Grand Seiko timepieces. All three models house a newly developed mechanical hand-winding movement, caliber 9S64, which boasts a three-day power reserve. The design pays homage to the original Grand Seiko model from 1960. Until last year, the watch was almost totally exclusive to the Japanese market. It is now available in more than 20 major countries. It comes in hand-polished steel, 18k gold or platinum (the latter two are pictured). The dial and buckle are exactly the same as the original model, the company said. The watch’s iconic “lion” symbol adorns the caseback. The gold and platinum versions of the watch are offered in a limited edition of 130, while the steel edition will be limited to 1,300.

Seiko’s history as a producer of sports watches dates back to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, when the watch company served as the official timekeeper for the event. Touting this tradition, the company introduced new versions of its decade-old Sportura line, the Alarm Chronograph and Kinetic Diver. Precision timing, high durability, security and high legibility are the fundamental qualities of this watch line, the company said. Wide-surface, cone-shaped chronograph buttons provide precise operation. An angled dial edge allows the watch hands and markers to align even when turning the diver’s watch away from one’s eyes. Arabic hour markers arranged as follows: the 2, 4, 8 and 10 numerals are silver, while the 1, 5, 7 and 11 are in pure white. This is done to ensure that the hands contrast sharply with the dial and markers make the watch easier to read.

The company also announced that the Sportura brand is in a three-year joint marketing alliance with FC Barcelona, one of the most successful teams in world soccer. In making the announcement, Yoshino, removed his conservative business attire to expose an FC Barcelona shirt.

Another diver’s watch introduced by the company is the Ananta Automatic Chronograph Diver’s watch, which will be sold in a limited edition of 700 pieces, and again taking a note from its history of building diver’s watches since 1965, creating the first titanium diving watch in 1975 and the world’s first computerized diving watch in 1990.

The company said the redesigned calber 8R39 addresses safety concerns by divers at depth. The new movement uses a balance spring made of Seiko’s proprietary alloy “Spron610” with up-graded shock-resistance and antimagnetism. The watchcase has three clamps, one more than is normally used in other chronographs. Then there’s the jet black lacquer. Seiko commissioned Isshu Tamura, a world-renowned lacquer artist, to create a dial that is truly jet black, so the hands and numbers can be easily seen while diving at great depths. Each dial is painted in layers and polished by hand by Tamura in his studio, the company said. Tamura is a master of “Kaga Makie” which is a traditional style of lacquer. 

Premier Collection
For its dress watches, the company introduced new versions of its Premier watch brand for men and women in traditional mechanical calibers, and in kinetic movements. The company describes the watch as classic and modern. For the new line the cases are slightly more rounded, the dials are little more textured, the crowns are new and the bracelet links are slightly smaller for a softer fit, the company said. For 2011, a new automatic movement was created: a 24-jewel 21,600 vph caliber with a power reserve of 41 hours. The heart of the movement with its gold plated balance wheel is visible through the dial at the nine o’clock position, and the whole movement, with its specially engraved rotor, can be seen through the case back. The three time-of-day hands are complemented by a 24-hour hand set into a subdial at the 11 o’clock position. The movement is both automatic and hand-winding.

The Lorus Collection
Three totally different watches under the Seiko’s Lorus brand were unveiled during the event. 

The official watch of the Blades air display team and the chronograph is built to perform as the U.K. civilian acrobatic air squad pilots spin, loop and fly in close formation. The sub-dial layout of the movement is easy to read. The steel screw caseback, security clasp and 10-bar water resistance of the Lorus Blades Collection is built to withstand harsh treatment. The timepiece carries the Blades insignia on the dial and with the insignia of the air squad’s charity partner, the Royal Air Forces Association, on its caseback. 

The Lorus evening women’s model has a silver sunray dial encased in a bezel with fifty four crystals that add sparkle to the case and white leather strap. The new creation is five bar water resistant and has a full steel case. The company describes it as a “smart dress watch for that special occasion.”

The Lorus Sports Fusion has a VD53 caliber has a new sub-dial layout and a dial that includes a screw-motif surround to the minutes display in the nine o’clock position. The case and bracelet are made of stainless steel, it is 10-bar water resistant, the crown is protected and the clasp has a three-fold structure for additional security.

130th Anniversary Commemorative Clock Collection
Finally, the company unveiled two modern, mechanical decor mantel clocks, which pays homage to the company’s beginnings in 1881, as a clock maker. The mainspring of both clocks delivers consistent torque with no change in output power. The gears are engineered to ensure low friction and the precise engagement of each gear. The clocks will run for 30 days when fully round and delivers an accuracy of plus-minus two seconds per day. 

The hands of “The Samurai in Contemplation” resemble Katana swords. The indicator at the base evokes the Samuri’s fan. The arched shape at the 12 o’clock position represents the helmet and the engraving on the barrel is the armor.

The space around the movement for “At the Tea Ceremony,” highlights the intimacy of the “chashitsu” or tea room and the engraving on the back depicts the gentle flow of water in a stream passing through a Japanese garden.

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