Grand Seiko is an homage to watchmaking’s past
The 1960s were a beautiful time for watches. Horology was in its prime and the great names we know and love today – Rolex, Omega, Cartier – were just one of many watchmakers churning out commodity products to a world that needed to tell the time. Their watches – simple, elegant, and mechanically complex – were the ultimate in mechanical efficiency and design and no one did it quite as well as Seiko. This mechanical golden age ended in the late 1970s with the rise of the quartz watch but Seiko is resurrecting it with their Grand Seiko line of luxury pieces.
Grand Seiko is special for a few reasons. First, it’s Seiko’s haute horlogerie skunkworks, allowing the company to experiment with all the fancy materials and techniques that Swiss watchmakers have worked with for years. The watches are made of precious metals and feature Seiko Hi-Beat movements. These watches “vibrate” 36,000 times an hour or ten times a second. This means that the balance wheel inside the watch is moving back and forth far faster than, say, an Omega Co-Axial 8500/1 series which is clocked at 25,200 vibrations per hour. What this means in practice is that the seconds hand moves with an almost uncanny smoothness.
The rest of the watch I tested, the euphoniously-named SBGH263G, is based on a piece from 1968 that came from Seiko’s mechanical hey-day. The $6,200 watch has a 39mm case and, according to Seiko, is style for maximum elegance. They write:
The dial has elegant and easy-to-see Arabic numeral for the hour mark. The concept color “Shironeri” is a reflection of Japanese tradition. The color and texture of the dial come from the glossy white silk of the outfit worn by the bride in a Japanese wedding. It symbolizes purity and innocence.
This watch is a formal piece for wearing, presumably, to your own wedding. That said, it’s also very reminiscent of 1960s style watches. The size, case shape, and polished hands and numerals all hearken back to a simpler time in watchmaking when everything didn’t have to look like a robot’s goiter or a pie plate.
It is quite small and if you’re used to Panerais or Nixons you’ll definitely notice a grandpa vibe about this piece. Because it is not very complex – that is it does not have any real complications like a stopwatch – it is very pricey. However, knowing Grand Seiko’s dedication to a very lost art of non-Swiss horology, it’s well worth a look.
I’ve been following Grand Seiko for years now and the quality and care the company has been putting into these watches is palpable. This watch is no commodity product. The case is polished to a high sheen and everything – from the screws to the beautiful domed sapphire crystal – is put together with great care. Seiko also makes lower end pieces – my favorite is the Orange Monster – but this is far above that in terms of build quality and price.
Pieces like this Grand Seiko remind us that, before Apple Watches and Fitbits, there was an entire universe of truly striking timepieces made for the absolutely sole purpose of telling the time. I love pieces like this one because they are no frills and yet they are full of frills. The watch is as simple as can be – three hands and a date window without any lume or extraneous buttons – and yet it shows amazing technical skill. It is expensive but this is a handmade watch by a storied manufacturer and it’s well worth the price of admission if you’re a lover of the elegantly antiquated.
Bag Week 2018: Why I still love the Peak Design Everyday Backpack
Welcome to Bag Week 2018. Every year your faithful friends at TechCrunch spend an entire week looking at bags. Why? Because bags — often ignored but full of our important electronics — are the outward representations of our techie styles, and we put far too little thought into where we keep our most prized possessions.
A few months back I declared the Peak Design Everyday Backpack the best thing at CES 2018. It was a silly comment since the bag was released a couple of years back but it was new to me. I had purchased the bag from Best Buy a few days prior and was in love with the bag and had to tell the world. I’m happy to report that after carrying the bag around several more conferences and a family trip to Disney World, I’m comfortable declaring it the best backpack I’ve ever used.
The company recently released a black version and sent me one to test. It looks mean. It’s the backpack Darth Vader would carry if he needed to tout around a full frame DSLR, a couple of lenses and a MacBook Pro.
The bag’s main clasp is wonderful. It’s designed in such a way that the wearer can quickly open and securely close it. Just pull down and away to open the bag. To close it, pull down so the top is tight, place the clasp next to the metal rungs and let go. Magnets hold the clasp next to the bag and the tension on the top causes the clasp to find the next available rung. Try it and you’ll love it. I do.
Peak Design equipped the bag with solid hardware. All the clasps are metal and the zippers are durable. I don’t think there’s plastic anywhere on the bag.
Like I said several months ago, the bag is best described as smart and solid. It’s a confident design with just enough pockets and storage options. The bag features one, large pocket that makes up most of the bag. Foldable dividers allow the wearer to customize the bag as needed. And quickly, too. These dividers fold in several ways, allowing the bag to hold, say, a large telephoto lens or several smaller lens.
The bag is packed full of surprises, too. Straps are hidden throughout allowing it to hold a surprising amount of items even a drone.
Small packing cubes make the Peak Design Everyday Backpack a storage cabinet. This is my bag while traveling overseas.
Peak Design positions this bag as a camera bag, but it can be so much more with some little bags. I use these and they fit perfectly in both the 20L and 30L bag. It lets me keep things organized and separated in a way that I’ve haven’t found possible in other bags. Peak Design should look at making a series of these bags. I would be all over them if they did.
The bag I bought back before CES was the 20L. It’s the smallest option though far from small. My 15-inch MacBook Pro squeezes into the laptop compartment and the bag has yet to feel too small even when it’s holding a camera, a couple of books and a travel pillow.
The new black bag looks amazing but it seems to show scuffs and dirt more than my grey one. That’s a shame, too. I throw my bags around and expect a lot out of them. This black bag looks more dirty after one oversea trip than my grey one does after six months of use.
Just like I said back at CES, I’m not going to run through all the details of this bag. A few more are worth calling out: The sternum strap is fantastic. It uses clips without moving parts so it should last a lifetime. The shoulder straps are attached to the bag with a rivet that allows the straps to swivel as needed — it’s a smart advancement in the design of a backpack. And inside the laptop sleeve is a small pocket that is absolutely perfect to hold a Traveler’s Notebook and a pen.
As backpacks go, the Peak Design Everyday Backpack costs more than most. The smaller 20L is $260 and the 30L is $290. To me, the higher price is justified and if there’s a backpack worth the extra cost, it’s this one. I highly recommend this bag.
Bag design with Peak Design
Folks, it’s Bag Week! Tito Hamze visits Peak Design’s HQ in San Francisco to learn about the company and how they create their bags. From humble beginnings starting with a clip to hold your camera to a full-fledged accessory company, this outfit is growing and creating quality products — all while never having taken any traditional VC funding.
Bag Week 2018: The Nomadic NF-02 keeps everything in its right place
Nomadic, a Japanese brand sold by JetPens in the US, makes some of my favorite bags and backpacks. The Wise Walker Toto was an amazing little bag and I’ve always enjoyed the size, materials, and design. The $89 Nomadic NF-02 is no different.
The best thing about this 15×7 inch backpack is the compact size and internal pouches. The Nomadic can hold multiple pens, notebooks, and accessories, all stuck in their own little cubbies, and you can fit a laptop and a few books in the main compartment. This is, to be clear, not a “school” backpack. It’s quite compact and I doubt it would be very comfortable with a much more than a pair of textbooks and a heavier laptop. It’s definitely a great travel sack, however, and excellent for the trip from home to the office.
The bag comes in a few colors including turquoise and navy and there is a small hidden pouch for important papers and passports. There is a reflective strip on the body and it is water-repellent so it will keep your gear dry.
Again, my favorite part of this bag are the multiple little pockets and spaces. It’s an organizer’s dream and features so many little spots to hide pens and other gear that it could also make an excellent tourist pack. It is small enough for easy transport but holds almost anything you can throw at it.
Nomadic is a solid backpack. It’s small, light, and still holds up to abuse. I’m a big fan of the entire Nomadic line and it’s great to see this piece available in the US. It’s well worth a look if you’re looking for a compact carrier for your laptop, accessories, and notebooks.
New system connects your mind to a machine to help stop mistakes
How do you tell your robot not do something that could be catastrophic? You could give it a verbal or programmatic command or you could have it watch your brain for signs of distress and have it stop itself. That’s what researchers at MIT’s robotics research lab have done with a system that is wired to your brain and tells robots how to do their job.
The initial system is fairly simple. A scalp EEG and EMG system is connected to a Baxter work robot and lets a human wave or gesture when the robot is doing something that it shouldn’t be doing. For example, the robot could regularly do a task – drilling holes, for example – but when it approaches an unfamiliar scenario the human can gesture at the task that should be done.
“By looking at both muscle and brain signals, we can start to pick up on a person’s natural gestures along with their snap decisions about whether something is going wrong,” said PhD candidate Joseph DelPreto. “This helps make communicating with a robot more like communicating with another person.”
Because the system uses nuances like gestures and emotional reactions you can train robots to interact with humans with disabilities and even prevent accidents by catching concern or alarm before it is communicated verbally. This lets workers stop a robot before it damages something and even help the robot understand slight changes to its tasks before it begins.
In their tests the team trained Baxter to drill holes in an airplane fuselage. The task changed occasionally and a human standing nearby was able to gesture to the robot to change position before it drilled, essentially training it to do new tasks in the midst of its current task. Further, there was no actual programming involved on the human’s part, just a suggestion that the robot move the drill left or right on the fuselage. The most important thing? Humans don’t have to think in a special way or train themselves to interact with the machine.
“What’s great about this approach is that there’s no need to train users to think in a prescribed way,” said DelPreto. “The machine adapts to you, and not the other way around.”
The team will present their findings at the Robotics: Science and Systems (RSS) conference.
Researchers create a real cloaking device
Researcher Amanda D. Hanford at Pennsylvania State University has created a real cloaking device that can route sound waves around an object, making it invisible to some sensing techniques.
From the report:
Hanford and her team set out to engineer a metamaterial that can allow the sound waves to bend around the object as if it were not there. Metamaterials commonly exhibit extraordinary properties not found in nature, like negative density. To work, the unit cell — the smallest component of the metamaterial — must be smaller than the acoustic wavelength in the study.
Hanford created an acoustic metamaterial that deflected sound waves under water, a difficult feat. In testing she and the team were able to place the material in water and measure sound waves pointed at it. The resulting echoes in the water suggested that the sound waves did not bounce off or around the material. This means the new material would be invisible to sonar.
Obviously this technology is still in its early stages and the material does not make the objects invisible but just very hard to detect in underwater situations. However, the fact ship captains could soon yell “Activate the cloaking device” as evil, laser-toting dolphins appear on the horizon should give everyone a bit of cheer.
Bell & Ross creates a transparent tourbillon
It’s spring and that means it’s time for Basel, the definitive international watch show. Around this time every year all of your favorite brands – and brands you’ve never heard of – launch unique timepieces that cost more than a few dozen Honda Accords and look like something made by Doctor Manhattan during one of his less melancholy moments.
Today’s wild timepiece comes to use from Bell & Ross, makers of big square watches that look like aircraft dials. This new piece, called the BR-X1-Skeleton-Tourbillon-Sapphire, maintains the traditional B&R shape but is almost completely clear with a case made of sapphire and held together by pins and screws. The movement, which comes in three colors, is a complete hand-wound tourbillon system and is beautifully visible from all angles.
A tourbillon, for the uninitiated, is a system for rotating the watch’s balance wheel 360 degrees. This system, originally created by Breguet, ensured that a watch didn’t slow down when subjected to odd gravitational forces. Now, however, it’s a wildly expensive conversation starter.
This is a beautiful update to B&R’s original see-through watch and, while the vast majority of us will never own something like this, it’s nice to know that someone still cares about horological complexity paired with wild design. How much does it cost to own the watch equivalent of Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet? About $500,000. The piece, for those interested in picking one up, will be available online.
The Wave is a ring that controls sound as if by magic
Out in the desolate wastes of deepest Iceland, magic blooms. The Icelandic sagas tell of fairy houses to magical rings that control the world, and now one of those, the Wave, has landed on the internet. The Wave is a ring that controls sound. It is essentially a wearable MIDI controller that lets you play […]