New Wave

On the rich history (and promising future) of Seiko dive watches.

By Jack Baruth

Ku areba raku ari. This Japanese proverb is often equated to the English speaker’s “Every cloud has a silver lining,” but a more literal translation might be: “If you struggle through bitter effort, you will have ease.” In 1953, as Blancpain was fusing high style and high function to produce the Fifty Fathoms for recreational diving, then a burgeoning leisure activity, Seiko was still wading through the bitterness. It was the first year in which the company would match its prewar annual production record of 2.3 million clocks and watches—more than half of Japan’s entire output. This strong footing would leave Seiko free to reach for the stars. It did just that.

In short order, the brand developed an in-house standard for chronometer certification and, in 1960, a Grand Seiko luxury watch to meet that standard. When the Summer Olympics came to Tokyo, four years later, Seiko produced more than 1,000 precision timepieces for the event. It was, in many ways, a coming-out party for Japan in general and Seiko in particular—one in which all parties demonstrated not just a willingness, but an eagerness to compete on the global stage.

Seiko tapped conservationist Fabien Cousteau, grandson of legendary underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau, as a partner for its latest collection, called Prospex. Cousteau and other marine specialists will document their activities, adventures, and discoveries by way of a dedicated Instagram account @seiko_prospex) this year.

The “62MAS” 150m Diver of 1965 was Japan’s first dive watch. Its bidirectional rotating bezel and non-screw-down crown, placed at the three o’clock position, serve as proof that there was not yet an agreed-upon feature set for this category. Yet it proved to be a commercially successful timepiece, rugged enough for use in Japan’s 8th Antarctic Research Expedition. Early examples are, of course, must-have items for committed collectors of the brand. So, too, is the Model 6159 300m Diver, powered by the 36,000 vph “Hi-Beat” Grand Seiko movement, released in 1968.

Shortly thereafter, the company received a letter from a Hiroshima-area professional “saturation diver.” Seiko watch crystals, he complained, were prone to cracking during ascent, due to accumulation of the helium gas used in SAT diving. (He also pointed out their inability to endure accidental strikes on rocks and other underwater objects.) Seiko’s response was to devote seven years of research and development to one goal: Create a nearly indestructible diver’s watch.

When the Professional 600m appeared, in 1975, it featured a variety of cost-is-no-object solutions to that lofty challenge. It was antimagnetic, shock-resistant, and highly luminous. The case was made of titanium, a material that at the time was sourced primarily from the Soviet Union and was far more expensive than it is today. And while Swiss competitors of the era used helium relief valves to address the problem of cracking crystals, Seiko chose the more difficult and elaborate route of preventing helium entry in the first place, scrutinizing everything from case design to gasket compound. More research. More development.

Soon, the dive watch became Seiko’s showcase for technological advancements. Quartz movements arrived in 1978, followed by special ceramic coatings, a low-battery warning feature, and a 1000m rating for new variants of the Professional. When dive computers replaced wristwatches for most commercial and deep-water divers, Seiko responded by creating function-over-form quartz watches, which incorporated all the features of a dive computer (including depth sensors).

At the same time, the firm continued developing its everyday-use dive watches by fielding variants with Kinetic and, eventually, Spring Drive movements. Today, there are Seiko dive watches for nearly every taste and budget, including the SNZH55 and its sibling variants of the Seiko 5, which are often modified in the aftermarket to create “Fifty-Five Fathoms” tributes to the Blancpain original.

The Prospex SLA019 is a modernized mean, green machine.

This year, Seiko is releasing a collection of six Prospex-branded divers’ watches, an homage to—and developments of—its distinguished lineage in this area. The S23626 and S23627 are recreations of the landmark thousand-meter 1978 quartz Professional, with titanium cases and an optional Cermet ceramic/metal composite coating in violet gold.

The remaining four are derived from the 1968 300m Model 6159, which has maintained an evergreen popularity with collectors. The SLA025 is a highlight. Limited to 1,500 pieces, each priced at $5,400, this piece uses Hi-Beat 36,000 vph movement and, in terms of design language, is the most faithful to the original. (Note the monoblock case and excellent silicone strap.) Customers wanting a more modern interpretation can choose the SLA019, which features a green ceramic bezel, a metal bracelet, and the 28,000 vph Caliber 8L35 which is an undecorated and unregulated variant of a Grand Seiko movement. It retails for $3,250 and, appropriately, is limited to 1,968 pieces.

The new Prospex SLA025, limited to 1,500 pieces, is a slick (and faithful) tribute to Seiko’s 300m dive watch from 1968.

But most pertinent for the majority of American Seiko fanatics is the “1968 Automatic Diver’s Modern Re-interpretation SPB077 and SPB079.” These are modern watches, powered by the hacking and hand-wound 6R15 caliber, and scaled to current tastes at a 44 mm case diameter. The SPB077 features a metal bracelet and black bezel, but our eyes were drawn to the silicone-strap SPB079 and its steel-blue bezel. It pays honest tribute to the look of the Model 6159 while also providing a few contemporary changes, such as an arrow hour hand and slightly smaller luminous markers. It retails at $850—sound value for a Japanese-made diver’s watch with ties to both past and present.

By providing everything from a by-the-numbers re-creation to a spirit-of-the-thing modern everyday watch, Seiko is displaying its ability to connect with customers and collectors on their own terms. They’re attracted to the brand because of its endearing ability to be both serious and playful, all while maintaining (and growing) what has become an enviable legacy. It has always been a substantial effort. But, in creating these new Prospex pieces, Seiko has never seemed so unencumbered. Ku areba raku ari. If you struggle through bitter effort, you will have ease.

Hit List: Baume & Mercier Clifton Club Indian – Burt Munro Tribute Limited Edition

Speed freaks will appreciate the story behind Baume & Mercier’s Clifton Club Indian model, which pays tribute to Burt Munro, the New Zealander who set—and still holds—the record for the fastest speed reached on an Indian motorcycle, a feat he accomplished in 1967, at age 68, riding across Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. Fifty years later, the watchmaker honors Munro’s daring spirit with this limited-edition automatic chronograph.

Baume & Mercier Clifton Club Indian – Burt Munro Tribute Limited Edition

$3,900; baume-et-mercier.com

Aero-Aesthetics: The Untold Story of the Aviation Watch

By Sam Fritsch

The aesthetics of enlisted men have been kicking off fashion crazes for centuries, often by way of civilian trendsetters. Consider Humphrey Bogart’s trench coat, Tom Cruise’s Ray Bans, Andy Warhol’s camouflage prints. Or, in the case of the pilot’s wristwatch, Charles Lindbergh and Professor Philip Weems.

The evolution of the aviation watch from a practical instrument to modern wardrobe staple is woven into “Time and Navigation,” on display at The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. The exhibit explores how the intersection of time and navigation has changed and shaped our world over the last three centuries. It’s broken up into four sections: seagoing navigation, space navigation, satellite navigation, and air navigation. The latter is of particular interest, as it highlights the unique challenges associated with adapting techniques that worked at sea for use in the air.

Artifacts on show include early chronometers, sextants, and charts used by famous aviators. There’s also interwar flying gear and all types of radio equipment, plus the crystal oscillator of the 1920s, which electrically vibrated a crystal, measured its resonance, and gave the time down to the microsecond. But the real treasure is the 1930s-era Longines’ Lindbergh Hour Angle Watch — and the story behind it.

Navigation during the pioneering days of aviation was a struggle. Airplanes weren’t ideal places to do mathematical calculations: there was an open cockpit, pilots wore thick gloves, and the sky was often obscured, making it difficult to see the horizon. Also, the tools weren’t good. Accuracy suffered; pilots didn’t always end up where they thought they were going.

Roger Connor, curator of the “Time and Navigation” exhibition, says that on Charles Lindbergh’s famous 1927 flight from New York to Paris, he didn’t bring a radio or a sextant because they simply didn’t work very well. These tools were also heavy, and he’d rather carry extra fuel to accommodate for navigational errors. Incredibly, when Lindbergh became the first person to make a nonstop solo transatlantic flight, he did so using a compass and a clock.

Charles A. Lindbergh poses in front of Ryan NYP “Spirit of St. Louis outside a hangar in St. Louis, Missouri, May 11, 1927. Image provided by National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

But he was nicknamed “Lucky Lindy” for a reason: on the day of his historic trip, the net wind drift across the Atlantic was zero, ideal conditions for navigation. After he made headlines, other pilots thought the trip would be equally as easy; many were injured or killed trying to replicate similar flights. Soon, aviators realized the complexities of negotiating long-range flying.

“Lindbergh himself got lost a couple times (while flying) and finally the lightbulb goes on for him that he needs to figure out how to navigate, because no one else had figured out how to navigate well in an airplane,” explains Connor. “He started asking around and finally someone told him, ‘Oh, this P.V.H. Weems guy has been doing a lot of work on this problem and he’s got some pretty good ideas.’”

Celestial navigation innovator and instructor, P.V.H. Weems.
Image provided by National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

Philip Van Horn Weems, an Olympic wrestler and Annapolis graduate, was a decorated veteran of both World Wars and the Godfather of modern avigation. As a US naval officer in the late 1920s and early 1930s, he’d pursued new ways of approaching navigation, ultimately creating a new standard for tabulating Greenwich hour angle to improve accuracy, a technique that the military would use for another three decades. This development earned him a position teaching at the Naval Academy at the dawn of precision flying and, later, early space travel. In 1953, Weems was awarded the Magellanic Premium for his contributions to navigation, an honor that has been given only 33 times since its establishment in 1786.

But as far as his developments have gotten him, Weems had a humble beginning: he started with a simple Waltham torpedo boat wristwatch, which was a standard early 20th century military chronometer. He added a hacking feature to it, meaning he could continually adjust it to the second. This new “hack” watch allowed airplane navigators to set the time on their watches using radio signals, instead of setting their time in port like they did with ships.

“Why is this a big deal? Well, if you can’t adjust it to the second, you might be up to thirty seconds off the minute, even if it’s technically set accurately,” Connor explains. “And that type of inaccuracy could mean you’re flying a few miles off of the equator, so it’s a big error. The ability to set the watch to the second really simplifies the process of calculation, and that’s what it’s all about in the airplane: you have to do it quickly and easily.”

After the two men met in 1928, Weems gave Lindbergh one of these second-setting watches and taught him how to use it. Soon after, the Navy assigned Weems to teach Lindbergh celestial navigation, which differs from traditional navigation because the movement of the stars is slightly different than that of the sun. The two came up with the idea of a watch that measured celestial time, so that airplane navigators didn’t have to work out corrections mathematically. Instead, they’d just check the time on their wrist.

The Lindbergh-Longines Hour-Angle Watch wristwatch, marketed in the mid-1930s, eliminated a simple but troublesome calculation in celestial computations.
Image by Eric Long, provided by National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

Lindbergh and Weems went to Longines with the idea of creating the Hour Angle Watch, which used Weems’s method of calculating the celestial fix. The bezel and dial of the watch would “allow navigators to read off the hour angle of a celestial object at Greenwich, eliminating a simple but troublesome calculation.” Longines was ecstatic at the idea of making a Lindbergh watch, and aggressively marketed the collection in the mid-1930s. Because of Lindbergh’s fame, the watches became wildly popular, and not just among aviators. In doing so, the duo became unlikely sartorial heroes, making the flight-ready aesthetic into a salable item, helping blaze a trail for decades of high-style, aero-inspired timepieces.

“The aviation watch became a fashion accessory and it’s funny because, going back to Lindbergh and Weems, they’re the ones who actually kind of created that fashion craze,” Connor explains. “The practical watches had big knobs so you could adjust them with those thick pilot gloves on, but obviously they were shrunk down for the fashion watch. It wasn’t really for aviators anymore, it was really so you could walk around and say, ‘Oh yeah, I have a Lindbergh watch.’”

Blood Moons & Moon Phases

End of times? Let’s go shopping!

With the so-called “blood moon” happening tonight due to the longest lunar eclipse of the century, prophecies and conspiracy theories are predicting the worst. Now might be the perfect time to arm yourself with an extraordinary moon phase. Lasting an impossible to believe 103 minutes, the next total lunar eclipse of this length won’t occur again until 2123.

Feel the pull and predict your lunar energy within the confines of a dazzling complicated timepiece. Charge it now, enjoy, and wait for a new day to dawn. Visible from every country on earth except the US, at least you’ll be able to gaze upon wristwatch magnificence.

A round-up of some of our Moon phase favorites:

Patek Philippe Annual Calendar Moon Phase Ref. 5205G
Rolex Cellini Moonphase

A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Moon Phase
IWC Portugieser Perpetual Calendar 
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar 
Vacheron Constantin Overseas Ultra-Thin Perpetual Calendar
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Moon
Panerai L’Astronomo Luminor 1950 Tourbillon Moon Phases Equation of Time GMT

Ancient Artifacts

Bulgari’s new watch pays homage to both the past and the future.

By Emily Selter

Photos by Doug Young

Emperor Caracalla, who ruled the Roman Empire from 211 until 217 A.D., was notorious for his cruelty. After ordering the assassination of his brother Geta, and murdering more than 10,000 of his sibling’s supporters, Caracalla enacted a damnatio memoriae, a “condemnation of memory.” This edict made it a capital offense to even utter Geta’s name. Sculptures that depicted him were destroyed, coins bearing his image were melted, and his moniker was wiped from papyrus records. Caracalla himself was assassinated six years later, but passing a damnatio memoriae on his name would have been futile. His memory will never be expunged from history—one of civilization’s largest and most important ancient monuments bears his name.

New lighting, courtesy of Bulgari, reveals centuries-old interior detailing at Museo di Rome.

The Baths of Caracalla were completed in 217 A.D., and were among the grandest public structures of their type in ancient Rome. The expansive complex encompassed saunas, salons, studios—even athletic facilities. They fell into disuse after the city was sacked but, miraculously, the pozzolana and marble edifice still stand today. The site contains numerous artistic treasures, from elaborate sculptures to ancient mosaics. Scholars and archaeologists have spent almost two centuries excavating and restoring the baths, but the monument remains shrouded in its own unique mythos, holding on tightly to its many secrets.

Treasures like these are what draw people to Rome from near and far; even after centuries, the city’s remarkable ancient ruins are a continual source of fascination. They are especially beloved by the proud Roman luxury goods brand Bulgari. Founded in the Eternal City in 1884, the company has long sponsored cultural conservation in its hometown. Recent endeavors include the painstaking (and dazzling) restoration of the Spanish Steps, the grand staircase between the Piazza di Spagna and Trinità dei Monti church, and, yes, a section of tiles in the famed Baths of Caracalla.

Restoring the mosaic tiling at the Baths of Caracalla in several phases during 2015.

The polychrome-marble mosaic flooring, located in the structure’s western gymnasium, had been in complete disrepair. (It also hadn’t been seen by the public in more than four decades; in an attempt to prevent further degradation, the tiles were covered with fabric and soil.) In 2015, Bulgari helped fund a complex, multiphase restoration effort. The following year, CEO Jean-Christophe Babin joined local officials in revealing the mosaic, a pattern of undulating geometric triangles crafted from brightly saturated tiles. It earned praise in the arts community, and garnered international news coverage.

Still, Bulgari’s investment in preserving Roman relics extends beyond goodwill or recognition. The brand’s designers frequently take inspiration from these monuments, channeling the city’s vibrant past to create some of the world’s most innovative watches and jewelry. Look closely, and you’ll see the shape of sidewalk joints along the glamorous Via dei Condotti reinterpreted as a bracelet link; the Spanish Steps in the arrangement of a diamond necklace; the Baths of Caracalla mosaic pattern in pendants and earrings of the Divas’ Dream Collection. Modern riffs on that rich Roman pedigree that Bulgari continues to protect.

The Octo Carbon’s matte-black finish feels at once antique and futuristic, and jibes with both bright and neutral tones.

Similarly, the new Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon represents a clever (and seamless) blending of classic references with contemporary materials and applications, a striking integration of the past and future, old-world Italian craftsmanship gone high-tech.  

As the name suggests, this new timepiece is made out of an epoxy thermosetting resin called Carbon Thin Ply, or CTP. The material is remarkably strong and incredibly lightweight. But it can be difficult and time-consuming to manufacture, and Bulgari hadn’t worked with the composite before developing this new Octo model.

Both the Octo Finissimo Carbon (above) and Tourbillon Automatic (next image) feature weight-saving techniques and geometric motifs inspired by the coffering on the ceiling of the Basilica of Maxentius from 312 A.D.

“The challenge of using this material was to transform its constraints into an opportunity to develop and propose a stunning timepiece,” says Fabrizio Buonamassa, the director of Bulgari’s Watches Design Center.

Traditionally, getting quality sound transmission from a minute repeater case demanded roominess and rigidity. Rose gold has long been the default choice, joined, in recent years, by titanium.  But CTP is lighter than either, and offers unique physical advantages—namely the rare acoustic properties of its polymers. Buonamassa went a step further with the Octo Carbon’s design, with strategic incisions that amplify resonance inside the case, compensating for the absence of substantial internal volume. This allowed Bulgari to employ its in-house BVL 362 movement, the world’s thinnest repeater caliber, while still endowing the Octo Carbon with powerful sound output.

Incredibly, the new watch is just 6.85 mm thick, nearly 10 percent louder than an equivalent titanium piece, and weighs less than a regulation PGA golf ball.

But this isn’t some hollow, artless technical study. True to the brand, Buonamassa paired his super-progressive design to ancient motifs, naming architectural elements among his inspirations. (The octagon was a common interior detailing motif in Roman antiquity.) Owing to variations inherent to CTP, the patterns and textures of each case and dial are unique. Like the Via dei Condotti or Spanish Steps or Baths of Caracalla, or Bulgari itself, every Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon is one of a kind, a timeless entity, simultaneously a product of Rome and, above all else, totally unforgettable.

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