Seiko is rarely said in the same breath as Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin. The majority of the watch world subscribes to the Swiss philosophy of fine watchmaking. While the Swiss value a high level of finishing, the Japanese favor functionality. But just because Seiko prefers to play in a different ballpark doesn’t mean they can’t compete with the Swiss on their own terms. They’ve proven they can with the Credor Eichi, photographed beautifully by SJX and the Grand Sonnerie.
Back in the 1960’s the Swiss judged precision as one of the defining elements of fine watchmaking. Placing their watches in competition at the Astronomical Observatory Chronometer Concours in Neuchatel, Switzerland, the brands vied for bragging rights. Very few obtained the Official Certificate of the Observatory—and all were Swiss. In 1964, the Japanese got into the game to prove they could be just as good, but the results weren’t stellar. By 1967, the Japanese cracked the top 10 and in 1968 took 2nd and 3rd place. The next year the competition was shut down without explanation. Draw your own conclusions.
Perhaps part of the reason watch aficionados snub Seiko in the watch department is because they have a bit of a brand identity problem. Seiko is comprised of a whole slew of companies that includes Seiko Epson, Seiko Holdings and Seiko Instruments. They manufacture a wide range of electronics including printers, calculators, electronic components like semi-conductors, and, of course, some of the most revered mechanical watches for over 75 years. Seiko also have a high-end range of watches under the Grand Seiko Credor label.
However, take a look at Swatch Group, home of high-end Swiss brand Breguet and Swatch. Just like Seiko they offer watches from a hundred bucks into the high six-figures—same as Seiko. In addition, they also are a diversified holding company with companies making semi-conductors, and are also in a joint venture to produce a fuel cell powered car.
I admit it, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of a Seiko watch is an expensive watch that can be bought a discount store. However, there’s a whole different side of Seiko that some people still don’t realize. With the Spring Drive, they’ve in many ways revamped the game. Is it a better one? Depends whom you ask.
Conceived by Yoshikazu Akahane in 1977, the design was patented in 1982. It took 16 years to get the Spring Drive concept working after that. It was presented at the Basel Faire in 1998, with the first watches sold in the Credor line as a limited edition in 1999.
For hundreds of years the basic mechanics model of a watch hadn’t changed. They were dependent upon an escapement, and despite advances made, like George Daniels did with the co-axial escapement, still didn’t overcome the inherent weaknesses of the system. The Spring Drive removes the problem of the escapement altogether and replaces it with a Tri-synchro Regulator that controls the unwinding of the mainspring.
What gets purists so upset is that the Spring Drive is a hybrid of electronics and mechanics. Like a traditional watch, it uses a mainspring, barrel and gear train but also incorporates an electronic energy harmonizer. Don’t get the wrong idea here. It doesn’t use batteries and requires no external power. Wind it up and you’re ready to go, same as a traditional watch. If you’ve ever seen a Spring Drive flow, it’s a thing of beauty, moving forward through a glide wheel without the jerky movements of a usual seconds hand. Seiko produced a cool video about it seen below. The mechanics on this thing are pretty ingenious. I’ll let expert and watchmaker Ron DeCorte explain in his three-part article.