Seiko 9ct Gold Dress Watch, 1990

Simply Beautiful

This is as simple and as beautiful as it gets. It tells the time and that’s it. No date, no second hand. Just two, highly polished, pencil style hands indicating the hour and minutes. This watch is all gold in colour. There is very little contrast on the dial. Gold finish with simple, highly polished, raised index markers that match the hands perfectly. Only “SEIKO QUARTZ” is printed on the dial….that’s it.

The case has two stand out features: firstly, 9ct solid gold, very rare in a Seiko. And secondly, wafer thin, only 4.5mm thick with a flat hardlex crystal glass. It has a classic shape with fine lugs that curve into the case integrating perfectly. A nice touch is the sapphire set into the crown, following the Swiss tradition of dress watches.

The movement is the rare 5E20A, the nicest Seiko quartz that I know of, jeweled and finished like the Seiko mechanicals of old. I love seeing my eyeglass in the mirror like finish of the screw heads! The modern mechanicals with exhibition backs don’t have the same standard of finish. Sometime between this model (1990) and now, Seiko has lost the art of fine finishing movements.

This watch is personal. It sits on the wrist so nicely that it is unnoticeable. It becomes part of the body.

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The “Arnie”, It’s Back!

In 1982. Seiko released the divers’ version into the cutting edge, “Duo” range. The Duo combined analogue style and practicality with the multi functionality of digital technology.

This divers’, rated to 150meters was the first to feature chronograph and alarm. It was also very distinctive with a large black shroud around the case. No other divers’ looked like it or functioned like it.  

Arnold Schwarzenegger wore this model in several movies of the mid 80’s and so, the nickname, “Arnie” for this watch seems natural. And Arnie said “I’ll be back”. True to his word, the Seiko “Arnie” is back!

The original featured the cutting edge movement, the H558 and here, in my collection, I have a near mint example from 1984.

Apart from the oversized push buttons and the whole watch being beefier, the new release “Arnie” looks almost identical.

Let’s look at the differences:             H558 (1984)                         H851 (2019)

Case size                                                         45mm                                   48mm
Thickness                                                      12mm                                   15mm
Lug to Lug                                                     46mm                                   50mm
Dial Diameter                                               39mm                                   49mm
Water Resistance                                         150m                                     200m
Movement                                              Battery Quartz                    Solar Quartz
Strap                                                  Silicon/Silicon keeper      Silicon/Metal keeper
Bezel                                                         Bi Directional                   Uni Directional
Functions                            Both feature Calendar, chronograph, alarm and dual time

Seiko have done a fabulous job at re creating classic designs, the re invention of the “Turtle” design of the 70’s divers’ is an example and now, with this, the “Arnie”, they have excelled in reproducing one of their most distinctive and iconic creations using modern technology while staying faithful to the original style.

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TIME, SPACE and WATCHES

Four Important Watches in Space History

On the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century, the Apollo 11 moon landing, I present four watches (part of my collection) that played an important part in history.

As far as I know, there are only two items used in space exploration that is commercially available: the space pen and the various watches used.

The space pen was commissioned by NASA to be able to operate under various conditions including zero gravity. Interestingly, the Soviets didn’t worry about an expensive high tech pen; they decided a crayon would do the job!

It is fascinating to think that this story is a marriage between mechanical timepieces that had their geneses over a century prior, and the space program’s then cutting edge technology. There were no timepieces designed for the job, all that was available was the same as what the public could buy.

Poljot Sturmanski

The first watch in Space was the Pojot Sturmanski, worn by the first man in space, Uri Gagarin.

This was a basic, robust, hand wind watch that was a standard issue to Soviet pilots, presented to them on their graduation.

Visually, I love this watch.  The dial is what really makes this otherwise ordinary looking watch stand out; large full figure numerals with black outline, long Cyrillic character branding stretching from the 10 to the 2, beautiful sword shaped hands tapering to long pointed sticks paired with a nice red sweep second hand and, best of all, an emblem of a winged bomb with a red Soviet star over it leaves us in no doubt of this watch’s military heritage.

Omega Speedmaster

Of all the space watches, the most famous and desirable among collectors, is this, the Omega Speedmaster. It was NASA’s official  astronauts’ issue and the first watch worn on the moon.

This top quality, hand wound chronograph was selected by NASA in the mid sixties after testing several other possibilities.

The Speedmaster became nicknamed the “Moon Watch” and was not only the official NASA astronauts’  watch, it also became the official issue for the Soviet Space Agency,

In 1975, during the great diplomatic and scientific achievement of  the rendezvous between the Apollo module and the Soyuz 19, there was only one item of equipment the two missions had in common. When the two modules docked and the two commanders, Tom Stafford and Alexei Leonov met and shook hands, they were both wearing Omega Speedmasters.

Seiko 6139-6002 Chronograph

There were also some unofficial watches worn in space as a result of some astronaut’s personal preferences.

One such was the Seiko self-winding chronograph that was worn by William Pogue in 1973 during the Skylab 4 mission. Pogue wore his official Speedmaster on one wrist and his Seiko chronograph on the other.

Automatic or self-winding watches rely on both gravity and inertia to function. It was unclear whether the lack of gravity in space would prevent the self winding mechanism to function but, by all reports the Seiko “Pogue”, as it was later nicknamed, did function correctly.

Seiko Digital A829 

During the NASA space shuttle flights of the 80’s Sally Ride, the first American woman and the youngest American astronaut, was wearing a Seiko digital as part of the Challenger crew.

This digital was actually released by Seiko as a yacht timer and probably chosen for space because of its ease of operation, unlike all other digitals that were complicated to use.

It is not clear if this watch was an official issue or a personal preference but it is believed that it was a favourite of the shuttle crew members. This watch was also used by the ESA (Europeans Space Agency) by their astronauts and thus nicknamed the “Astronaut”

For a watch enthusiast like me there’s nothing more satisfying than having in my collection watches associated with the historical high points of the 20th century.

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Waltham Traveler 1918

Closing an Era

For the best part of a century the USA dominated world watchmaking and the most dominant USA manufacturer was Waltham.

It seems the Americans mastered mass production and during a period when watchmaking in the rest of the world was a cottage industry, the USA blitzed the world market not only with value for money but also with quality and innovation.

But, as a wise man once told me, “Nothing stays the same” and , after ww1, wristwatches from Switzerland began to wrestle control of the industry away from the USA.

The Traveler was introduced in 1908 and was a step backwards for Waltham, presumably to make their product more  affordable to the working class where it was already very desirable.

The movement is quite sophisticated with a bi-metallic balance wheel (effectively compensating for temperature variations) and breguette type hairspring (helping with consistency of positional changes of the timepiece) but it only has seven jewels meaning the reliable longevity of this  watch is compromised.

The case is a “hunter” type, quality, gold filled, double lid back made by Dennison of England. It’s in excellent condition, all lids snapping tightly.

The dial and hands are certainly worth mentioning. The style of the hands and the roman numeral dial on quality, baked enamel are a delight to the eyes. And, in immaculate condition.

When this watch was produced, in 1918, pocket watches still dominated the marketplace. But the wristwatch from Switzerland was gaining a foothold and within 10 years was to overtake the pocket watch in desirability.

This watch was given to me by my father  several decades ago because I liked it. It went into the sock drawer where it stayed until I started collecting.

 

 

 

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Seiko Prospex Diver

The “Turtle”

Seiko dive watches have a huge reputation. They’re as tough-as, look the part, have a heritage as long and proud as almost any brand and are very wallet friendly.

As a collector, I have never been a huge fan of divers’ watches, there’s not much distinction about them mainly because the criteria required leaves little room for style variations.  There are only three dive watches I can identify with confidence from a distance; the Rolex Submariner, the Omega Planet Ocean and this one; the Seiko “Turtle”.

Prospex “Turtle”, left; original 1976 “Turtle”, right

In 1976 Seiko released its new diver that featured a 150m case, screw down crown and unidirectional bezel with double row of polished grips. The dial had large, round index markers with very generous luminous material. The 12 marker has a subtle sword that matches well with the lines coming out of the 9 and 6 markers.  But the most distinctive feature was its subtly different case shape that made the “Turtle” stand out. Broad and cushion-shaped it inspired the watch’s nickname, because if you look at it from a distance and used a little imagination it resembles the shell of a turtle. The original was in continuous production for about twelve years.

Having described the original turtle in some detail, a ditto will suffice to describe this re-release with the following updates:
The new 4R36 movement can be hand wound and has a hacking function*. Both features lacking in the original.
Water resistance is rated at 200m, the original was 150m.
The luminous “lollipop” on the original second hand has been moved to the counterweight.
The strap has a beautiful, heavy, strong looking buckle. It also has a beautiful stainless steel keeper. Both buckle and keeper are signed “SEIKO”.

One criticism that I have of this watch is the action of the bezel. Like the big Swiss brands it’s a 120 click to one rotation and is rather firm. But it lacks a certain profound click and accuracy when compared to the Rolex Submariner or the Omega Planet Ocean.  But then, this watch costs a fraction of these elite brands.

The Seiko “Turtle” is faithful to its heritage, looks great and, without doubt, the best value divers’ watch on the market.

*Hacking means the watch is stopped when the crown is in the hand set position. This allows for accurate time setting

 

 

 

 

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Omega Digital 1978

 

Panic in an uncertain future

In the middle seventies, the traditional Swiss watchmakers saw their one hundred or so years of dominance threatened by quartz technology that came in two forms and from two directions, analogue from Japan and digital from the USA.

Seiko was first with the analogue Astron, launched in the last 6 days of the seventh decade of the 20th century(25th December 1969). The Hamilton Watch Company released the first LED digital in 1972. Both these releases where available for about the price of a small car. Prices soon began to tumble, but the shortcomings of the LED meant that the LCD (Liquid crystal display)  took control and several serious watchmakers, not knowing where this new technology was headed, decided to play safe and follow what seemed to be the trend.

This example, from 1978 is quite basic. Omega trumpeted that the “Omega Quartz Digital: Style, precision, reliability” I agree with the latter two comments, but I don’t agree that it contributes much to style. It was also quite basic, having only day and date function, in addition the full time display, and a light to illuminate the screen.

Omega also claimed that the Omega Quartz Digital “is one of the most technologically advanced watches in the world”. I also disagree with this claim. In 1978, Seiko, and others, already had more advanced digitals with features such as chronograph, alarm, countdown functions as well as being programmed for leap years.

Let us have no doubt that quartz digital technology was a giant leap forward. Quartz was to mechanical watches what light bulbs were to candles. It’s not surprising that Omega executives thought that the digital was to be embraced for the future. Facts were, quartz digital technology offered stunning and unprecedented accuracy, reliability, had no moving parts, it can feature a multitude of functions and it was cutting edge technology.  It was a logical business decision to go in that direction.

They were wrong! Over the next few years, LCD prices dropped and the digital watch cheapened in both price and image. By the mid-eighties just about every big watchmaker had dropped all digitals from their respective ranges.

Back to this watch; while most digitals focused on the sports watch market, this one is more on the dressy side. Being only 8mm thick it sits very nicely on the wrist and has a fine stainless steel mesh bracelet. It is water resistant to 30m and has only three buttons. It is signed four times; dial, module, inside the back and the clasp. Missing is a medallion on the case back as you would find on almost all Omegas of era, this back is completely plain.

Roger Moore as James Bond wore a Pulsar Digital in Live and Let Die, 1973

This Omega Digital watch is an important icon in horological history.

 

 

 

 

 

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Omega Speedmaster

First Watch on the Moon

49 years ago today, Apollo 11 was whizzing through space and, in three days time, the landing module, Eagle, touched down on the Sea of Tranquility.

As Neil Armstrong took the small step for a man, on his wrist was this Omega Speedmaster, known ever since by its nickname “The Moon Watch”

The first Speedmaster, Chronograph, was released by Omega as a sports timer in 1957 to compliment Omega’s appointment as the official timer for the Olympic Games.

In 1965 Omega upgraded the Speedmaster with a new movement. This was about the time that NASA was testing watches to be used in their space programme.

Of the six chronographs that NASA tested, the Speedmaster was the only one to withstand all of the severe tests under conditions of zero gravity and magnetic fields, extreme shocks, vibrations and temperatures ranging from -18 to +93 degrees Celsius.

So as the astronauts’ official watch this lead to the most memorable moment in the Speedmaster’s history; 21 July 1969 at 02:56 GMT, when it became the first watch worn on the Moon’s surface.

In another historical event, the Speedmaster was worn on the wrists of both the American astronaut Tom Stafford and the Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov during the historic Apollo-Soyuz space rendezvous. This was the first time the cosmonauts also wore the Omega Speedmaster. Ever since, the Speedmaster has been the official chronograph of all Russian manned space missions.

The Speedmaster, along with the space pen (zero gravity pen) are the only two items of the Apollo 11 astronauts’ equipment that is available to the general public.

So this is what I have in common with Neil Armstrong. Actually, I was one up on Neil when he was still with us (RIP). I’ve got one, Neil lost his years before!

I love this watch!

 

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Omega Seamaster De Ville, 1966

A 60’s Masterpiece

This is almost as good as it gets, a near perfect example of a 1966 Omega Seamaster De Ville, the gentlemen’s dress watch of the period.

During the eminent years of watchmaking, the 60’s, the flagship of the Omega range was the Constellation. But, in its shadow, was the much better value and more popular Seamaster.

But there wasn’t a lot of difference between them, technically or aesthetically. I have, on several occasions mistaken one for the other when viewed from the distance of the wearers’ wrist.

Just like the Constelation, the Seamaster was water resistant, tough, reliable, accurate, durable and, in most cases, beautiful.

The signature “seahorse” medallion

I think the difference is slight. The Constellation is a certified chronometer, which means it complies (and is tested) to a standard of performance and construction. But the movement that was used in all models, the 500 and 700 series were, as far as I know, close to identical. So, performance should be consistent between the two even though the Seamaster was not tested to chronometer standards. But the quality of the entire Omega range was at such a high standard that just about all movements would have passed the chronometer tests.

Back to this watch. I was fortunate to have it kindly gifted to me by a lady who wanted to pass on a prized personal possession of her late husband to where she knew it would be appreciated and looked after. Her wish is and will be respected.

A restoration was required to get it to this near perfect state; an overhaul of the movement, a new crown, glass and hands were fitted, general refurbishment of the case and a quality strap was attached.

The result is a beautiful addition to my collection

 

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Titoni Airmaster 1969

Style with Practicality

The little known Titoni brand was launched in 1952, a Swiss brand aimed at the Asian market. In 1969 they released a line called the Airmaster, (Anything suggesting flying was a buzzword in the year of the moon landing).

This is a minor restoration job, it came to me rather grotty and scratched, but all it really needed was a good clean and polish.

The reasons I like this watch is that it is a good quality commercial watch, signed four times including a beautiful medallion on the back featuring the meihua flower, native to South West China – as its insignia. Its movement is the superb (soon to be superseded) ETA 2452 automatic self-winder  with a date.

The dial is a pleasant iridescent gray with raised, well-polished markers. It has a very fine chapter ring with tiny luminous dots at 5 minute intervals. The hands are a little aged making the contrast between dial and hands poor.

Next year the family company that produces the brand will celebrate its 100th birthday. Before, and overlapping  Titoni, they marketed a rather successful mark, the Felca. Although they never made in house movements, they are legitimate watchmakers with a solid tradition, always based in Grenchen, Switzerland, has been controlled by four generations of the same family and is one of the few independent watchmakers left.

 

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Railway Pocket Watch

This watch is a monster!

When I showed it to a colleague, she broke out into a chant “I’m late! I’m late for a very important date.”  Of course, this evoked images of the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland sporting a ridiculously large watch similar  to the one I was holding.

This watch reminds me of this!

It is an interesting and unique timepiece and it came to me reputed to have been a Scottish stationmaster’s watch. Nothing else is known, it is completely unsigned. It is big, 67mm in diameter and 21mm thick.  I  found a picture of one on the Science Museum Group website and it was said to have come from The London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) which existed from 1923 to 1947.

The tiny pin set which is depressed with a finger nail to change the time

The movement is standard, mid quality early 20th century with a bi metallic balance, timing screws and 15 jewels. Rather than the time being set by pulling the crown out, this watch is set by the pin set system in which the time is set by depressing a tiny button, just left of the crown and then turning the crown while the button is depressed. This button sits in a slot so only a fingernail can press it down. This system was used extensively from the mid to late 1800’s until sometime after the start of the 20th century.

The dial is in mint condition, rare for enamel dials because they often show hair line cracks with age and suffer from chips with shocks. The roman numerals are very heavy and the dial is surrounded by a fine chapter ring. There is a beautifully proportioned sub second dial and the hands a heavy spade style made of blued steel.

There’s no doubt about the purpose of this watch with maximum black/white contrast and large bold markings, it’s designed to be read easily at a glance under even the dimmest conditions, in an intense industrial environment.

The case looks rough, tough and ordinary. It’s made of gunmetal, has a flat bevelled glass. The back is hinged as is the inner dust cover and in addition a further cover made of glass, this I have not seen before in a pocket watch.

Despite this watch’s very rugged case and all-round big, tough appearance, it is very fragile. I have not tested this and I don’t intend to, but I doubt if it would stand a drop of 30cm onto a firm surface. The balance staff and the glass would break and the enamel dial would either chip or crack.

I do like this watch for several reasons, most of all because it is unique and mysterious but also because it is a railway watch and great advances in horology where made during and because of the development of railways. I’ll be writing an article about that soon.

 

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