Seiko Presage - YIN or YANG
Gisbert L. Brunner has been writing about wristwatches since 1981.
As you all know, the 1964 Summer Olympic Games were held in Tokyo. It went virtually without saying that local watchmaking giant Seiko would be declared the official timekeeper. Strictly speaking, it was Suwa Seikosha that produced the instruments required to tell the time, and Shinshu Seiki Co., now Seiko Epson, which was set up especially for the purpose, provided the printers.
It is no coincidence that the first Japanese wrist chronograph was launched that same year. The first Seiko pocket watch of its kind, incidentally, dates from 1941, and was, we assume, created with Swiss support. But the wristwatch contained the 5719 calibre, designed and manufactured in-house, with column-wheel control and traditional wheel clutch. The 2.5Hz frequency meant the 12-line calibre was accurate to a fifth of a second. In 1967, they began work on their own automatic chronograph. After two years working on the design, production of the 6139 calibre - 27mm across and 6.65mm thick - began in Suwa in 1969. A central rotor allowed for self-winding, whilst a so-called magic lever polarised the kinetic energy it produced. Traditional design features were classic column-wheel control and a 30-minute counter. The Japanese were forward-thinking in that they used friction for the clutch, that is to say a system that was low on energy consumption. The balance vibrated 21,600 times per hour. And last but not least there was also a date and day of the week display, which it was quick to switch between.
The manufacture delivered the first Seiko 5 Speed Timer to specialist stockists in May 1969. Sales began in June. In 1970, there was the 6138 with additional 12-hour counter. Seiko is thus the World Champion in starting the production of and launching automatic chronographs. In 1973/1974, astronaut William Reid Pogue would look at one of these watches while on the Skylab 4 mission. Seiko thus created the first automatic chronographs to be used in Space.
But now to Baselworld 2016, where the Japanese manufacture was on hand with two limited editions of a Presage automatic chronograph. The 1000 samples of each do not, however, hark back to timekeeping tradition, as you might expect them to, but to 1956, the year Seiko launched the first Japanese wristwatch with self-wind and power-reserve indicator.
Both have the 8R48 automatic calibre – 28.6mm across and 7.6mm thick – with column-wheel control, vertical clutch, a 30-minute and 12-hour counter and date window. The 4Hz frequency means the stopwatch is accurate to an eighth of a second. A three-point hammer perfectly synchronises the chronograph’s three hands’ flyback. The 42mm steel case has a transparent back, thus affording a view of the movement. It is water-resistant to 10 bar.
What makes both watches special is the handmade dial.
The white is an homage to Japanese enamel art. Mitsuru Yokozawa, the head of the design studio, personally supervises the manufacture of each piece the old-fashioned way.
And the Urushi name harbours no lesser a tradition. The roots of Asian lacquer work go back some 6000 years. The raw material comes from the urushi no ki, or East Asian lacquer tree. The jet black dials are created in the workshop of Issyu Tamura, a master of his art with precisely the right experience, who performs his handiwork in Kanazawa on the west coast of Japan’s main island of Honshu. Perfection means that many layers of colour have to be applied and polished, all by hand in a dust-free environment.
Given the amount of time and effort that has gone into these dials, the prices announced for the limited-edition Presage chronographs are extremely reasonable:
- White enamel: €2,500
- Black Urushi: €2,800
As I have discovered that the quantity to be sent to Europe is negligible, interested parties should reserve theirs in good time with a Seiko stockist.