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Seiko Astron Chronograph SSE031



Today we look at a very cool new addition to Seiko's popular Astron collection, the SSE031. Like some other new Astron chronographs, it features a ceramic bezel and ceramic center links, but what really sets the SSE031 apart is how it looks. It's probably the closest thing the Astron collection has to a "tactical" watch, with its black coating and bright red accents. Cool looks aside, alongside the other Astron chronographs, it's still arguably the most technologically sophisticated analog watch in the world and, surprisingly, both affordable and practical.

The Introduction



I would argue that the Seiko Astron is, without a doubt, the most important watch of the 20th century. The original Astron was the vessel for the first quartz wristwatch movement available to the public and ushered in the quartz crisis (or revolution, if you like Seiko), an innovation that would permanently alter the landscape of horology. It even had serious ramifications at Seiko and ultimate led to the hibernation of the brand's top line of watches, Grand Seiko. It's no surprise that Seiko chose to bring back the Astron to reveal their newest time keeping innovation.



That innovation is, of course, GPS time keeping and time zone syncing. The Astron (the predecessor model to this chronograph) was the first analog watch to be able to figure out your time zone via information from multiple GPS satellites. That means that by holding down a single button, anywhere in the world, not only will your time be made perfect to the second, but your time zone and date will change as needed as well. This is very interesting because unlike most horological innovations, it's not merely a gizmo--it may not be the total game changer that quartz was back in '69, but it can actually make life a little easier for frequent travelers.



The Astron chronograph we're looking at today is the second generation of contemporary Astrons. They're smaller in every dimension than their rather large predecessors and they add chronograph functionality making for an overall improvement in both functionality and wearability. For ease of reference, Astrons whose names start with SSE are Astron chronographs and Astrons whose names start with SAS are the original non-chronograph model. There's a wide variety of each available but the SSE031 is one of my new favorites, along with my favorites from the last big Astron comparison. Its black dial, black everything really, combined with the bold red accents just make it pop.

The Face



The face is that of a very contemporary sports watch--which is to say, very complex, but it's not lacking in the fine details you've come to expect from higher-end Seikos. A fine guilloche texture covers everything but the subdials, a subtly that is often lost in the complexity of its chronograph layout, but it's appreciated nonetheless.



One thing I often appreciate about Seiko is their thoughtful hand design on chronographs. Whether it's this SSE031 or the Grand Seiko SBGC001, you'll notice that the chronograph hands are all in a matching color, distinct from any of the other hands. This makes it very easy to either ignore or focus on the chronograph functionality of the watch.



Although it's difficult to tell, thanks to the reflection of my camera, the main hands are stainless and have a surprisingly substantial amount of lume on them.



Each individual subdial's frame also has its own guilloche finishing although the inside of the subdials are matte--they're likely more efficient surfaces for the solar cells underneath. Here we see the seconds subdial, the hand again matching the main hands. The Y and N indicate whether a successful satellite sync was accomplished.



I really like the matching date window and black coated frame. The white numerals are really bold and legible, and I appreciate that although few will even see the frame, they didn't cut costs by just dropping it and leaving a rough hole in the dial. The date looks off centered here, but that's just the angle of the camera, and at any rate, the position of the date is adjustable.



The lume is also excellent. I wouldn't characterize it as a diver, but it's definitely enough to be useful. Also note that the lume for the chronograph seconds hand is actually on the bottom of the seconds hand. I've never much cared for this design, but it's apparently useful for allowing a seconds hand to carry more lume on a quartz movement and you often see this on quartz divers.



The chapter ring displays UTC or time zone. The face has a ton of depth to it thanks to that chapter ring, the subdials and the date.



All in all, it's just a very, very cool watch. It's easily the coolest Astron--not necessarily the most versatile, but definitely the most awesome. If you happen to be a member of the Navy SEALs or Army Rangers and are in the market for an Astron, get this one.

The Case



The case is impressive too. Let's start with the important part--it's substantially smaller and thinner than its predecessor. It's still a big watch at 44.6mm, but it's no longer abnormally large, at least not by contemporary standards. It also has some great features, like the black hard coating and ceramic bezel.



The tachymeter, with its red self-proclamation, contributes to the sporty character, but more important is the ceramic composition. Bezels have long been one of the main, if not the main, recipients of scratches. By making it ceramic, this problem is now a non-issue.



The black appearance comes from what Seiko bluntly calls the "black hard coating." I'm not going to test it out, but the "hard" nomenclature does give me some more confidence that this black coating will hold up better than the competition and keep the watch looking new for longer.



One of the nice things about the Astron chronograph is that the chronograph functionality is immediately available. You don't need to be in a special mode to use it and the chronograph pushers don't pull double duty to perform other functions.



Instead, additional pushers are placed on the other side to handle the GPS functionality. The 10:00 pusher, when held for a few seconds, will look for GPS signals in order to set the time and/or time zone. It can also be used (when the crown is out) to adjust for DST. The 8:00 pusher, conversely, is primarily used to activate airplane mode. For such a complex watch, it's very simple to use. Essentially you'll only ever need the 10:00 pusher to set the time and time zone, and then the chronograph pushers whenever you want to use the chronograph--aside from that, it's a set it and forget it watch. It even has a perpetual calendar.

The Bracelet



The bracelet continues the black coated steel and ceramic look.



The black hard coating ought to provide at least some protection to the steel, but the large links in the middle are ceramic. They're polished differently than the steel components, which adds a cool contrast while also being super tough.



Unlike most of the Astrons with ceramic accents, the ceramic links are quite large, not the two small alternating links. I think this bracelet looks a lot better personally--much less is going on.

The Movement



The SSE031, like all Astron chronographs, is powered by the all-new 8X82, a movement that I would argue is the most sophisticated analog quartz movement ever made, even over champions like the A010 and 9F. Of course, its internal accuracy is no where near those, but due to the GPS syncing, nothing can really compete. Radio synced watches, like the Seiko SAGA for instance, can achieve some of these results, but only if you're within range of the signal, and it certainly can't change your time zone automatically.



Unfortunately, I have no photos of the 8X82--and I'm not sure anyone else does either. But I can tell you about some of its numerous features, in addition to its impressive GPS abilities, of course. First off, it has a perpetual calendar--you will never have to set the date again (at least not until the year 2100) and it doesn't need to be GPS synced to do its trick. Another nice feature is the chronograph, which actually beats 5 times per second, or 18,000 BPH in mechanical movement terminology. So you actually do have a rather precise sweep hand if you run the chronograph. Finally, I love that the watch is solar powered. This may be the ultimate maintenance free watch--battery changes will be incredibly infrequent (we're probably talking decades), it has a perpetual calendar, it can set the time and time zone by itself--it's a great watch on every functional level.

The Video

See the high resolution video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ns_XBaNKIj8

The Conclusion



The Astron chronograph has, from a practicality perspective, the potential to be the best watch ever made. It's almost certainly the smartest analog watch in existence today. And this new version, the chronograph, has much better dimensions than the original Astron GPS.



The SSE031 is definitely the boldest of the collection. The blacked out case and dial, coupled with the bright red hands, reminds me of something like a black Ferrari with red brake calipers. There's no sophisticated way to say it--it just looks awesome.



Is it my favorite Astron chronograph? No, but it's up there. I think the SSE011 and SSE015 are my top two, perhaps because they're more versatile, but the SSE031 is likely #3 on my list. I do expect it to be a big hit, however, just because it's the coolest looking of all the Astrons. Of course, if it doesn't do it for you, there's pretty much a version for everybody right here.​
 

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Awesome! The date has adjustment to line up with the window, how cool is that? Seems insignificant compared to the main functions of this watch, but nice detail.
 

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Timeless, Wow, this is one of the Best Seiko Review's I have ever seen and read.Nice Job and your photos and video are 1st class.Thank You!-Wow, this one and the Seiko Spring drive and the GS Watches are to me the real, 'les Grand Complications'-Well Done Seiko !
Eli-
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Awesome! The date has adjustment to line up with the window, how cool is that? Seems insignificant compared to the main functions of this watch, but nice detail.
Yes, manual adjusts are always handy on these watches. Not only can you manually center the date, but you can also manually center the hands if they ever become misaligned.
 
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