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Seiko: Grand Seiko Spring Drive 8 Day Power Reserve and others

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Since its establishment in 1881, Seiko has become an instantly recognizable name in the watchmaking world, and its contributions have helped to propel timekeeping technology into the modern era. Among Seiko’s numerous innovations, in this article we will look at two which have had huge implications in the modern era of timekeeping: firstly, the world’s first quartz watch, Astron, which sparked the Quartz Crisis and ultimately revolutionized the world’s watch manufacturing industry; and secondly, the Spring Drive mechanism which the company often refers to as “the third mechanism”, having been developed after mechanical and quartz watch movement technologies. On many occasions, Seiko has been named the Official Timer all over the world—including the Olympics and the IAAF World Championships—and its products are widely renowned for their precision, the defining quality of a watch.

A New Hybrid Mechanism: Spring Drive

The quartz mechanism powers most watches in use today. Quartz watches quickly became the dominant market technology after Seiko developed the Astron in the 1970s, but prior to this, almost all watches operated mechanically by using the energy of a wound spring (which required regular manual winding) and the vibration of a balance wheel or pendulum to control timekeeping. Mechanical watches are still popular in the luxury watch market.
Seiko’s third method combines these two technologies to create the hybrid Spring Drive mechanism. In short, Spring Drive uses the wound spring found in mechanical watches, and controls timekeeping using a quartz pendulum (quartz crystal unit). This combination of mechanical and quartz technologies has led to the development of a battery-free, high torque, and high accuracy watch (error of ±15 seconds per month).
In 1999, Seiko released the world’s first Spring Drive watch, named 7R68. Since then, it has introduced other models based on this technology, mainly in the luxury Grand Seiko product line. It has also created products featuring more complex functions, such as GMT (dual timezone) watches and chronographs.
The SBGD001 Spring Drive 8 Day Power Reserve watch is Seiko’s new flagship model for 2016. It is the culmination of their experience in watch design with a focus on durability, practicality, and prestige, and of their drive to produce the ultimate watch that can be made only in Japan, only by Seiko. The watch features the following.

  • Up to 8 days of continuous operation, owing to its three mainspring barrels.
  • Energy loss minimized through the removal of an intermediator, and the use of ruby-supported mainspring barrels to reduce friction between parts. This also allows the watch to be reduced in size.
  • Exceptionally thick main plate and bridge, similar to those found in pocket watches. Use of a single (rather than multiple) layer for the bridge increases rigidity. A single-piece bridge also greatly increases manufacturing accuracy.
  • The metal case is constructed from a unique metal alloy containing 95 % platinum, which is easier to machine and harden.
  • Although platinum is a soft metal in its pure state, the SBGD001 is extremely resistant to wear due to alloying with other metals, and due to the cold forging process used to increase the alloy’s destiny.
  • The casing is processed using the zaratsu polishing method, developed by Seiko specifically for platinum, which gives it an extremely smooth finish.
  • The appearance of dial is designed to resemble diamond dust. This is achieved by using a unique technique developed by Seiko which involves coating and plating of the materials. This technique produces an extremely smooth surface, maximizing visibility, and at the same time, lends depth and sophistication to the watch for a luxurious feel.
  • The rear of the watch is finished with a sapphire window in order to showcase the mechanism design and further add luxury; here, the bridge is visible, along with the rubies and tempered blue screws. The outline of the bridge and the placement of the rubies and screws represent the view of Mount Fuji, Lake Suwa, and the city lights of Suwa, as seen from the manufacturing studio located in Shiojiri.

The SBGD001 is manufactured at the Micro Artist Studio, a facility specializing in luxury watches, which was founded by Seiko so that the advanced skills of mechanical watchmaking can be handed down from generation to generation. This product has been born from the combination of the company’s best technologies and the unrestrained talent of their most elite watchmakers. At first glance, this watch carries a veneer of simplicity which, with extended use, gives way to a greater sense of appreciation for its elegance.

Developing One Step Ahead

Seiko started life in 1881 as K. Hattori & Co., a company dealing in the import and repair of watches, as opposed to an établisseur (watch assembler) or a manufacture (watch component manufacturer) as it is today. At the time, Japan was striving to catch up with the advanced industrialization of the West and acquire their products and technologies. When Kintaro Hattori established K. Hattori & Co., the notion of high quality, advanced, Japanese-made products was little more than a dream; however, he was one of many Japanese engineers who aspired to design and produce such a product. Within eleven years of its founding, K. Hattori & Co. made its first step towards Seiko’s current status as a world-class manufacture d'horlogerie. In 1892, it established Seikosha Factory, a manufacturing branch of the company, and began the production of wall clocks, and shortly after in 1895, they started to make pocket watches.  Despite the watch market being dominated by foreign imports, these products started to gain popularity. By 1913, they had produced the first Japanese watch, named Laurel. By this time, Seiko products enjoyed a 60 % share in the market for Japan-made clocks, and demand in China had created an export market.

As the Japanese watchmaking industry did not evolve around horizontal specialization—in contrast, many Western watchmakers of the time assembled their products using components mostly or entirely manufactured by third party companies—the company strove to design and manufacture their products in their entirety, thus allowing for continuous improvement and refinement of their designs. Seiko has succeeded in claiming the status of manufacture d'horlogerie , a term which can only be bestowed on a company if it makes the vast majority or all of its timepieces’ components. However, Seiko goes one step further in that the entire watchmaking process is conducted in-house, including R&D, planning, parts manufacturing, assembling, adjustment, and quality control.
The company expresses a strong commitment to “Seiko”, meaning exquisiteness, the name given to its first factory. The company’s core motivation is to provide high quality products and to earn the trust of its customers: to achieve this, Seiko strives to develop one step ahead of the present time. This attitude has helped Seiko to grow from a small, Far East clock shop into a globally renowned company which produces timepieces with the quality to match those made by more traditional high-class watchmakers.

The Official Timer, Recording Olympic History

 Many of Seiko’s products carry the distinction of being a first for Japan, or even for the world, and many of their achievements have been recognized internationally. Their most memorable achievement to date remains the miniaturization of the quartz mechanism which would go on to trigger the Quartz Crisis, a development which was closely tied to the company being selected as the Official Timer at the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games in 1964.
In 1959, Japan still bore deep scars from defeat in World War II; however, the country was making a steady recovery and, that year, the decision was made to make Tokyo the host city for the 1964 Summer Olympics. To Japan, the importance of this announcement was not solely down to the prestige associated with hosting the games, but it also signified a welcoming of Japan back into the international community; consequently, the Japanese Olympic Committee created the slogan “the Olympics using Japanese-made products”. True to the spirit of this mantra, the President of Seiko at that time, Shoji Hattori, offered to produce official event timers and other measurement equipment for the competition.
At the time, the company had never even produced stopwatches for sports, and it only had a few years in which to design and manufacture these products from scratch. From 1961 on, three of Seiko’s umbrella companies shared responsibility for various tasks such as overseas visits, consultations with sporting organizations, and research projects into disassembly and reverse engineering of products on the market at the time. Given the company’s lack of specific experience in the area, this process was an intensive one, requiring sustained effort and plenty of trial and error. A meeting with the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Technical Committee in 1962 marked a watershed moment for the company: here, Seiko watches were assessed and passed the trials with flying colors due to their high precision, resulting in them being certified for use as official timers for track and field events at IAAF competitions. With the technology available at the time, it was expected that stopwatches would produce some error; however, during the certification tests, the error built into Seiko’s products was so low that it did not even exceed 0.1 second. Since then, their stopwatches have become a ubiquitous feature at numerous sporting events, and by 1963, the company’s timekeeping products were adopted as the official timers of the Tokyo Olympics. As the title of Official Timer of the Olympics had not been conferred on another company since its introduction for 32 years previously, this event marked an extremely important moment in sport timekeeping history.
For the 1964 Olympics, in addition to stopwatches, Seiko provided a number of other pieces of equipment, notably a portable desktop crystal chronometer, which would later spur in-house development of a new quartz watch, an electronic recording system called a Printing Timer, and large time display devices; overall, they supplied 36 types of equipment amounting to 1278 individual items, and sent a total of 172 staff to oversee their use and maintenance. This Olympics was also the first Olympics to be broadcasted via satellite technology, and the word Seiko was hugely prominent at every turn throughout the games and launched the company on the international stage in an unprecedented fashion.

The Quartz Crisis That Shook the World

The development of quartz watch technology at Seiko began during a period of intense competition among watchmakers all over the world, in which numerous advances in timekeeping technology were made. After two World Wars, the market for watches grew substantially, and watchmakers all over the world faced the two major challenges of improving time precision and reducing the size of the main mechanism. Quartz clocks had already been developed by Bell Labs in the US in 1927 and by this point were used for niche applications, usually at research institutions or broadcasting stations. Seiko had also developed and delivered crystal clocks for broadcasting in 1958, but these were usually the size of a furniture cabinet and impractical for use by the general public in any capacity. In 1959, the company decided to initiate a project focusing on quartz technology development. This coincided with the ambition of being adopted as the Official Timer for the Tokyo Olympics, leading to a marked acceleration in the technology’s development, notably in terms of precision and miniaturization.
After Seiko delivered the portable crystal chronometer for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, it delivered a quartz pocket watch in 1966, completed a crystal watch prototype in 1967, and in 1969, the company released the world’s first quartz watch, the Seiko Quartz Astron 35SQ.
The mechanical watches of the time operated with an error of between few seconds to less than a minute per day. However, quartz watches demonstrated much higher precision—around a few seconds per month. Indeed, theoretical calculations comparing the accuracy of the two mechanisms showed that quartz watches were around 3000 times more accurate* than their mechanical counterparts. Additionally, while mechanical watches required daily winding, quartz watches were somewhat lower maintenance as they used a battery as a power source.
After the patent was released, watchmakers worldwide started production of quartz watches. Competition and the scale of quartz watch production made them more affordable, and their accuracy and low maintenance made them very popular with consumers—in a short space of time the technology started to dominate the market. Mechanical watches quickly fell out of favor, completely changing the landscape of watch manufacture; between 1970 and 1990, the workforce at Swiss watchmaking companies shrank by over two-thirds from 90,000 to 28,000. As such, this period has been termed the Quartz Crisis.

*The precision of a watch is mostly dictated by the pendulum: the higher the frequency, the smaller the error of the final product. When quartz watches first appeared, the state-of-the-art mechanical watches contained pendulums oscillating at ten cycles per second, whereas the pendulum in Seiko’s Quartz Astron oscillated at 8192 cycles per second. Further advances in quartz frequency produced a pendulum oscillation of 32,768 cycles per second, which has become the current standard.


Aug 24, 2016

About the author
Hiromi Jitsukata is a reporter for Japanest NIPPON

REF. SBGD001
Driving system Spring Drive
Caliber No. 9R01
Case Platinum 950 (including
the winding knob)
Band Crocodile
Glass Box-shaped sapphire
crystal
Coating Anti-reflection coating on inner surface
Clasp Three-fold clasp with
push button releas
Accuracy ±10 seconds per month
Water resistance 10 bar

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