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Authored by 124spider

I have long been a clock-lover, having collected a variety of mechanical clocks which serenade us every 15 minutes. Beautiful watches have also attracted me, but I have not worn (or owned) a watch in over 35 years.

I have been looking for a very accurate, reasonably portable, clock as a convenient way to keep all the clocks in the house synchronized. I also have been thinking that it's time that I owned a nice watch. Since I’m not interested in electric-powered clocks, a bit of research narrowed the choices down to two possibilities—old-time marine chronometers, or Seiko Spring Drive watches. Marine chronometers have to be wound every day to remain consistent, so I started looking at Spring Drive watches.

First, I’d like to say a bit about the Spring Drive movement (you can learn more about it here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbmKZ5JXyjo)
. The movement is entirely mechanical, in the sense that it doesn’t use batteries or capacitors. It is an automatic watch, with the vast majority of the force of the mainspring used to spin a wheel eight times per second (no reciprocal motion); a small portion of the mainspring’s energy is used to generate electricity to power a quartz mechanism to regulate the wheel. The result is a movement which is extremely accurate; spec’d at +/- one second a day, but reportedly much more accurate than that in practice. Some folks deride it as a “hybrid” movement, of little more interest to them than a battery-powered quartz movement; I find it to be a remarkable achievement in mechanical movements.

Although there seem to be few brick-and-mortar ADs of the Spring Drive watches, one of them—World Lux—happens to be a few blocks from my office. So, I went to look.

They had several of the models in stock—SNR001, SNR007, SNR013, and the SPS003 (Chronograph). They said that they would have a Moon Phase Spring Drive watch in a few days, but I wasn't interested in that watch.



In person, they all are quite beautiful to me. Large, yes, but somehow it works. I liked them all, but would have left without one, for now, had they not had the Seiko Spring Drive Chronograph (SPS003) in stock. This is a limited edition (300) watch (yes, I know that this is a game, as Seiko doubtless will use this caliber (5R86) in another chronograph design as soon as they sell out this one).

It is a massive watch, 45mm in diameter and 16mm thick, made from stainless steel. It is, to my taste, far prettier than its predecessor, the SPS001, using red and black on the face to give it a lovely appearance. It has a GMT hand (a thin, black hand with a red triangle point), which is so different from the hour and minute hand that there’s no chance of confusing them. The shape and size of the hour and minute hands are proportional to the face, and quite attractive. Because it’s a chronograph, the second hand is in a small gauge on the face; the large second hand is for the chronograph function.



There are three small circular gauges on the face: At 9 o’clock is the second hand; at 1:30 is the minute counter for the chronograph, and at 4:30 is the hour counter for the chronograph. In addition, there is the power reserve gauge, quite attractive in this watch (72 hours of power reserve; Seiko has managed to squeeze something like 30% more time out of a mainspring).

The red second hand glides around without any hesitation; it is a true continuous motion, and quite compelling. However, this raises what, to me, is perhaps the most significant flaw in this watch—given that the continuous motion of the second hand is a big marketing point for these watches, it seems silly to consign it to the tiny gauge. I’ve worked around that by just running the chronograph, synchronized to the minute hand, all the time, but I’m not convinced that this should be necessary in a $5000 watch.

The hour and minute hands are luminous, along with 11 of the 12 hour markers (3 o’clock is used for the calendar). It is very easy to see in the dark, and to tell time in the dark.



The watch has flat sapphire front and rear crystals.

The bracelet is, to me, quite satisfactory, also made of stainless steel, with a double clasp, which closes without pinching me.

The bezel does not rotate.

Seiko touts the fact that the continuous minute hand results in the chronograph stopping at the precise moment it is told to stop, rather than the next tick. While this is perhaps true, it seems kind of silly to talk about this, when the best resolution you can get out of the dial is 1/5 of a second or so, and there’s so much error in the start/stop of the finger into the button that it’s, at best, accurate to a quarter of a second or so anyway. That said, the buttons are well placed, large, and easy to use. I will enjoy the chronograph feature from time to time (aside from the beauty of the watch), but I will not be expecting spectacular accuracy.

Speaking of accuracy, I would be remiss not mentioning the accuracy of the watch. As mentioned, Seiko specs the movement as +/- one second per day, but real-world reports suggest it’s much more accurate. I have only owned the watch for four days; all I can add to that at this point is that, after four days, I cannot yet tell whether the watch runs fast or slow, since the uncertainty in my measuring (inexactness in synching the watch to time.gov in the first place, combined with inaccuracy in measuring it against time.gov later) swamps any error the watch has yet shown. I suspect it’s running a bit fast, perhaps a second a week or less; but for all I can tell now, it is exactly on after four days. If the software of this forum allows, I'll update this over the next few months.

In summary, the watch is, to me, spectacular. Far from having any post-purchase second thoughts, it grows on me every day.

April 4, 2009 update:

After loving my watch for a week, I decided that two tiny flaws were not acceptable in a $5000 watch: (i) the bezel (which doesn't move) was installed wrong, having been set about 3% clockwise rotation from correct; (ii) the GMT hand was consistently about 3 minutes ahead of where it should have been.

So, on February 6 (one week after buying it), I dropped it off at the AD for return to Japan. Eight weeks later, on April 3, I got it back. And remembered, upon seeing it, why I had bought it so impulsively when I first saw it, despite its painful price tag--it's just gorgeous. Both flaws have been corrected, and it's happily on my wrist again.

In the week I had it before returning it, it gained about a second. Now that I expect to have it for a long time, I'll be able to start keeping track over a period of time. I'll report those results, and any other things of note, over time.

Finally, I note in passing that Seiko has used the same caliber that's in my watch in two new watches in their newly-announced Ananta line. Fortunately, I find the SPS003 far more attractive than either of the two new ones.

April 10, 2009 update:

I just noticed that the list price of this watch has recently increased by $500; still a bargain, IMO, compared to any truly comparable watch, but it only makes me feel all the better for my impulsiveness in buying this beautiful watch in the first place.

In the week I have had the watch back, the watch has gained about one second (more or less; it's hard to tell when it's this close).

May 1 update:

I continue to just love the watch, which I wear every day. It has gained about 7 seconds in the four weeks since I got it back.

June 3 update:

The watch continues to give lots of pleasure, and work beautifully. It consistently gains just under two seconds per week.

August 12 update:

More of the same: It's lovely; has a great presence; doesn't attract unwanted attention; still gains 1/4 second per day; indeed does have a 72 hour power reserve (I can go away for almost three days, leave it off the winder, and it's still running when I get back). I couldn't be happier.

September 15 update:

I wanted to call attention to some of the wonderful attention to detail I've noticed in the watch, now that we've had some sun in Seattle for a couple of months. The reflection off of the crystal remains a tight circle even when it's on the ceiling, or a wall far away (indicating just how flat it is); the reflections off the hour markers remain in a circle, all reflections the same, for long distances. The chronograph (which I use quite a bit, for a wide variety of purposes) is a joy to use, engaging with a positive snap. The bracelet is built to tight tolerances, with little play in it, but with easy movement in the joints. I travel a lot, and it's really nice that I can change the hour hand without stopping the seconds hand, or changing the minute hand.

When you spend this much on a watch, you should get pleasure from the watch on a number of levels, and this watch never ceases to please. I bought a used Oris TT1 Titan Diver Chronograph 1000m last month, as a tool watch, and it has been interesting to compare the two for the last month or so. The Oris is a very fine watch, and I'm very pleased with it. But (as I expected from the fact that I paid about 25% as much for the Oris as for the Seiko), it doesn't have the subtle quality that the Seiko has, and which I'm learning to appreciate very much.

One year update, February 2010:

I've had the watch for a year now, wearing it almost every day, and it still pleases me immensely. It still gains about 1/4 second per day, it's beautiful and functional. I couldn't be happier.
 
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