Automatic watches were hot in the 1950s, and chronographs were cool in the 1960s. But bringing these technologies together was not at all straightforward! Three different automatic chronograph movements were launched in 1969, and the story of their creation reflects the state of the industry at that time as well as the inevitability of technological progress.
Seiko is the largest producer of watches in the world. Based in Japan, Seiko Group produces a wide range of products, including low-end quartz movements and watches, kinetic and Spring Drive, and mechanical watches under many brand names.
On January 12, 1979, the Swiss watch industry announced the thinnest watch ever made: The Delirium, developed by Ebauches SA for Concord, Eterna, IWC, and Longines, measured just 1.98 mm thick. It wasn’t a big seller, but was a PR exercise to show the world that the Swiss were innovating like the Japanese. And the novel design paved the way for another announcement four years later, the Swatch.
It sounds like a rhetorical question, but the answer isn’t as simple as “because the industry hates them!” Why has the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève never awarded a prize to a smartwatch? After all, smartwatches have officially been eligible for prizes since 2017, over a dozen models have been entered, and the group added a Smartwatch category in 2020. So why was that prize unclaimed? Is it that smartwatches are undeserving of recognition or is there a more prosaic explanation?
On Christmas Day, 1969, the Seiko Astron was launched; this was world’s first quartz wristwatch. Or at least that’s how the story goes. But the truth is much, much more complicated, as I have been researching and writing about for months. Only a few examples of that Cal. 35 SQ Astron were produced, and it was so expensive that not many were ever actually sold. And a raft of other watches (the CEH Beta 1, Longines Ultra-Quartz, various Beta 21 models, and even the Bulova Accuquartz) could make a credible claim. So what was the first?
The 2019 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève features a grail for every price tag, from the affordable Ming 17.06, Tudor Black Bay P01, Seiko Prospex LX and Kudoke 2 to the insane Urwerk AMC with its atomic clock “docking station”. It also heaps praise on the long-running Audemars Piguet Royal Oak line and Chanel’s fantastic J12. Truly something for everyone!
Seiko launched a mechanical Galante line in 2010 as a cheaper alternative to the Spring Drive watches the brand was known for. This SBLL line featured an “open heart” highlighting the ticking balance and the design focused on the city of Tokyo.
Among Japanese watchmaking giant Seiko Group’s vast array of watch lines, perhaps none is as odd as Galante. A high-end brand with a modern, avant garde look that expresses a different face of Japan, Galante features novel construction and high-end finishing. The initial Galante models, from 2005 through 2009, all used Seiko’s Spring Drive movement and were sold with a combination of sex and celebrity.
Seiko has been collaborating with Giugiaro Design since the 1980s. The most famous fruit of this collaboration was the “Aliens” watch line, which have been reissued in recent years. In late 2018, Seiko introduced another reissue: The SBJG multi-function digital models we will discuss today.
When Seiko reissued the 1980s-style “Aliens” Giugiaro watches between 2013 and 2015, collectors were thrilled. But after thoroughly exhausting color combinations on the “Ripley” and “Bishop” watches, where would Seiko go next? They turned to the less well-known 7A28-7A00 SBBJ “Speed Master” series, with angled faces inside a round case.
Despite an amazing history of producing excellent watches and watch movements, Seiko never seems to get the respect it deserves. But perhaps the most curious attempt by Seiko to challenge the Swiss came in the form of the SARA watch and the 4L25 movement inside.