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.
LIV is Kickstarting a beefy and bold chronograph for race lovers
LIV Watches is a crowdfunding darling with a number of Kickstarted watches under its belt. Now it’s offering a unique set of watches to backers, including the Liv Genesis GX-AC, an automatic chronograph with date. The watch runs a Sellita Caliber SW500, visible through the see-through back, and features a screw down crown and massive metal pushers.
The company prides itself on the size of its watches and this piece is no exception. The GX-AC isn’t wildly big – at 46mm it’s just a bit bigger than most Android Wear watches – and it fits nicely thanks to a rounded rubber band that hugs the top and bottom of the case. There is a small running seconds hand at nine-o’clock and registers for minutes and hours at noon and six.
If you’ve seen automatic chronographs before you know what you’re in for – a standard movement encased in a special steel case that is designed to appeal to a certain demographic. LIV is also Kickstarting a number of other watches, including a Day-Date chronograph that is flight-inspired and a diver, so check them out. However, if you’re into this piece then you’re in for a treat. It starts at $790, far below most mechanical chronographs I’ve seen, and the workmanship and quality of this piece is quite nice.
I wore it a little over the past few weeks and found it very comfortable and easy to read. The running seconds hand is a bit small and the lume is limited to the pips and hands but as a fashion/everyday wear piece it’s excellent. If you particularly like the style – F1 racing meets Kylo Ren – then you’re probably going to like this thing and since they’ve already surpassed their goal and hit $602,000 you can expect delivery of your perk.
Again, watches like this one require a specific style and taste. The LIV is reminiscent of Alpina and Tissot in its case style and decoration and it pays homage to racing and speed. Grabbing a Swiss made watch for under $1,000 is a treat and this is a good example of the species and well worth a look.
This three-axis tourbillon movement is a 3D printed marvel
The three-axis tourbillon is one of the most complex watch complications in the world. Originally based on a design by watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet, this type of tourbillon – literally “whirlwind” – rotates the balance wheel of a watch in order to ensure that gravity doesn’t adversely affect any part of the watch. It’s a clever, complex, and essentially useless complication in an era of atomic clocks and nano materials but darn if it isn’t cool-looking.
Based on this original, simpler model, this new three-axis tourbillon is available for download here. It consists of 70 potentially fiddly parts and runs using a basic motor.
As you can see, the main component is the balance wheel which flips back and forth to drive the watch. The balance wheel is contained inside a sort of spike-shaped cage that rotates on multiple axes. The balance wheel controls the speed of the spin and often these devices are used as second hands on more complex – and more expensive – tourbillon watches. Tourbillons were originally intended to increase watch accuracy when they were riding in a vest pocket, the thinking being that gravity would pull down a watch’s balance wheel differently when it was vertical as compared to being horizontal. In this case, the wheel takes into account all possible positions leading to a delightful bit of horological overkill.
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.