Baselworld 2019 - Seiko Announcements, Thoughts and Comments

Now that a few weeks have passed since the 2019 Baselworld announcements I have had a little time to put together my thoughts and comments about the announcements from Seiko and Grand Seiko this year.

Anniversaries

2019 is a year where Seiko celebrates numerous anniversaries of multiple significant watches from their history providing opportunities for a whole range of commemorative pieces to be released.

One piece that many people were hoping for was a reissue of the 6139 automatic chronograph. This was released to market in May 1969 and was the first automatic chronograph to go on sale to the general public. Some more info about the initial launch of these models can be found here - 50th Anniversary of Seiko’s first automatic chronograph - 6139.

Being the 50th Anniversary of these model it was disappointing that Seiko did not release an commemorative model. The initial model was recognized during the press conference in the opening statement by Shuji Takahashi, Seiko President, COO and CMO, where he stated “Fifty years ago, in 1969, we introduced some amazing products including our first automatic chronograph ...”. In the 2019 CEO message press release from Shinji Hattori it also stated “2019 is a special year for Seiko. Exactly 50 years ago, we presented our first automatic chronograph,..”  It would have been nice to see Seiko state “the first automatic chronograph” instead of just “our first automatic chronograph” as this is a claim they can arguably make.

While a reissue of the original models would have required a new movement to be produced it could have at least been recognized with a simple anniversary model and not a recreation. This could have been a current 8R48 movement in a stainless steel case inspired by the original 6139-6010 model. A case back engraving noting the 50th Anniversary, make this a Limited Edition of 1969 pieces and I am sure it would have easily sold through.

At Baselworld Seiko did not announce any automatic chronograph models at all and instead only launched a couple of new Grand Seiko Spring Drive chronographs in their Sports line.

I am sure that many people would not have been totally happy with anything less than a recreation of the 6139-6000 series model, but a general Anniversary model released would have at least captured the press attention and produced coverage and awareness of the original models release and position in history. While there may have been some internal company politics surrounding this models anniversary it does seem to be a wasted opportunity as Baselworld would have been the perfect time to announce this product to capitalize on discussion surrounding the launches of the first automatic chronographs.

On the same slide as the 6139, during the press conference, Seiko also showed a Grand Seiko VFA. In his speech Takahashi-san stated “... and also a new calibre that achieved a remarkable level of accuracy which we called VFA.”. This was in reference to the 6185 models launched at the end of 1969. Unfortunately the watch pictured in the press conference slide is a 6186-8000 that has the day/date complication and VFA on the dial. This model was actually not released until 1972 as even Seiko note on their own page discussing the Launch of the specially adjusted watch, V.F.A.

It is a little disappointing that more attention was not paid to the images used in the presentation to at least represent the correct models.

Another significant anniversary for Seiko this year is for the original Quartz Astron, released 50 years ago on Christmas Day 1969. The anniversary was noted in the 2019 CEO message press release from Shinji Hattori with the sentence “1969 also saw the launch of the Seiko Quartz Astron, a watch whose place in horological history is secure.” Surprisingly the Astron was not mentioned during the press conference in the opening statement by Shuji Takahashi Seiko President, COO and CMO. The press conference had sections devoted to Grand Seiko, Presage and Prospex but no dedicated section for Astron.

There was an official press release for a new range of GPS based Astron models where they noted that Astron GPS Solar celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Quartz Astron. This release did note the importance of the launch of quartz technology and the impact hat it has had on modern technologies. To commemorate the anniversary Seiko announced an international model GPS Astron, the SSH023, that has quartz crystal inspired indices and hands. The press release for this model stated “The new series shares several aspects of the design of the celebrated 1969 Quartz Astron. The case has the same curved silhouette case, the same wider case lugs and a similarly thin bezel.” Unfortunately this comment seems to have been written by someone who has not seen the original Astron, as the case design has a completely different profile, lug and bezel design.

There were also two GPS Astron anniversary models announced for JDM release, with the SBXC036 and SBXC035. In the press release for these models they state that their styling is based on the design code of the original Astron and this harks back to the original emotional presence that was described as futuristic when initially released. At least stating the JDM models are inspired by the emotional presence, and not actually sharing the same case shape is a little more accurate.

It was very surprising that Seiko did not release a reissue of the original Astron model as that does seem like a very simple and obvious model to release this year. A solid 18K gold case with the original design housing a Seiko 9F movement seems like a very simple product planning decision. They have released a similar model back in 2000 with the SCQZ002 that was part of the Historical Collection. To commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the original Astron Seiko released the S23617J1 that while not gold had a case clearly inspired by the original unlike this years announcements.

With the announcement from Citizen at Baselworld of the 0100 calibre based models that are rated at ±1 second per year Seiko has to look at upgrading the 9F to continue to be seen as one of the top quartz producers. There are a number of features that have been long awaited features in the 9F series, such as an independently operated hour hand and perpetual calendar. It would be great to see Seiko introduce a new calibre with these capabilities and a standard accuracy of ±5 seconds annually. If specially tuned versions of the movement could achieve ±1 or even ±3 seconds annually it would be the perfect update to the Seiko quartz line-up.

As the original Astron was only released to the public on Christmas Day in 1969, Seiko has a lot more time this year to come up with something a little more suitable to really commemorate the anniversary of such an influential timepiece. Maybe a limited edition of 100 pieces released on Christmas Day could be fitting way to note the occasion.

This year also marks the 20th Anniversary since the first market introduction of the Spring Drive movement. This Seiko unique technology has been used in a range of Seiko and Grand Seiko models over the years. The technology has been widely used on Grand Seiko models and to commemorate the anniversary two new hand wound Spring Drive calibres, the 9R02 and 9R31, were released. This is appropriate as the original Spring Drive models released utilized the hand wound 7R68 calibre. The level of finishing on the 9R02 movement is stunning and you are able to easily see this is been completed at the Seiko Epson Micro Artists Studio in Shiojiri.

The stand out model from this new range of models was the SBGZ001 with hand engraved Pt.950 case. Surprisingly at the show Grand Seiko were showing an example of the SBGZ001 that had a number of obvious differences to the official images that they provided in their press kits. The example on display at Baselworld can be seen in an Instagram shot from Hodinkee that shows obvious differences, with the second hand not blued and very different design for the GS logo. The case finish is also different but as these are hand engraved this might be a difference in individual examples.

Another calibre celebrating its 50th year anniversary was the 6800 series. This was first released in 1969 with the 6800 016 (6800-6000) that was provided with an 18K gold case. This year there was the stunning new GXBE998 pocket watch with intricate hand engraved rear design that is a limited edition of 10 pieces and is priced at JP¥10,000,000. The 6800 series calibre is the longest running movement series by Seiko, from its introduction 50 years ago to today, with the same general design used in various modern movements utilized in Credor models today. While the GBXE998 is undoubtedly a stunning piece, it would have been nice to see a traditional watch design that was more affordably priced commemorating the anniversary.

This year is also the 60th Anniversary of the introduction of the Gyro Marvel, this was the first use of the Seiko magic level auto winding mechanism that is still in use today. It is not particularly surprising that this anniversary was overlooked, because in 2016 Seiko released the SARW027, celebrating the 60th Anniversary of their first automatic. This original model did not use a Seiko designed automatic movement, but going back and explaining this distinction may have been confusing to the public, so I understand not making a fuss about the Gyro Marvel anniversary.

Prospex

The new SLA033 recreation of the 6105-8110 was one of the most desired pieces announced in the Prospex range at Baselworld. As the original 61MC 022 (6105-8110) model was first released in 1970, it was a little surprising that Seiko did not wait till the 50th anniversary next year to release this new model, when there was many other anniversary models that could have been released this year.

Just before the show a promotional image of watch was leaked and widely disseminated. Unfortunately, like many of the Seiko promotional images, this shot was a render of the watch and not a photo of a real example. In this image the lume of the watch is very green and this does not seem representative of the watch. Unfortunately this bright green color lume is commonly seen on poor quality 6105 reproduction dials and this association did not provide many fans the best first impression of the watch. Luckily the finial lume color seems to match that of last years SLA025 that is a much whiter color but with only a slight green tinge to it.

The dial on the SLA033 continues the trend seen on the SLA017 and SLA025 with a printed Seiko logo. The originals of all these models had an applied logo, but the modern versions have the logo printed on the dial. The applied logo would give the dial a higher quality of finish, but it is possible that this was not done due to the hand clearance height with the 8L35 calibre. The other disappointing design feature on the SLA033 dial is the shape of the hour makers. The corners of these markers are rounded and again are reminiscent of the poor quality 6105 reproduction dials. A distinctive design feature of the original 6105 dial markers was the very sharp edges and square shape of the lume plots. These are very distinctive and give the dial a high quality feel to the finish. Occasionally an example of an original dial can be seen where the markers have a more rounded look, but close examination shows that this is caused by the black dial paint being applied and covering up with corners of the markers. It is disappointing that the sharp edges of the markers were unable to be reproduced on the new dial.

The SLA033 is supplied on the same waffle strap that the SLA025 was provided with. This is a little unusual, but understandable as they already have this strap design in production. In the Japanese market the 6105-8110 was never released on a waffle strap, but instead was supplied with the “Chocolate bar” strap until 1972 where it changed to the XGL-731 “Tire tread” strap until the end of production. The 6105-8119 export model was provided with the ZLM01 waffle strap, so it is appropriate for the model and it avoided the requirement for producing a new strap design. At the Baselworld show Seiko displayed an example of the original 6105-8110, but this was presented on a DB72BP modern curved vent strap that looked totally out of place. While I understand that they may not have had original strap available it would be been more appropriate to present the original model on a modern waffle strap instead of how it was shown. This is just a small thing, but it does go towards the general impression that the visitors receive when seeing the show stand display.

Unlike previous years, when releasing the modern reissues there was no lower priced reinterpretation of the design. When the SLA017 was released there was also the accompanying SPB051J1 and SPB053J1 models, and the SLA025 had the associated SPB077J1 and SPB079J1 models. Unfortunately there was no similar associated reinterpretation models for the SLA033, but hopefully these may be released later in the year.

The other new significant addition to the Prospex line up was the introduction of the LX series. This range was created in conjunction with famous industrial designer Ken Okuyama who has been involved with numerous classic vehicle designs, like the Enzo Ferrari and the Pininfarina Ferrari P4/5. The LX series makes a move into the higher price bracket for regular models in the Prospex range. With the levels of finishing, materials and movements used this revised price point is understandable. Seiko has made the move away from naming their Prospex models under the Master branding, but I still would have liked to see the watches marked as Land Master, Marine Master and Flight Master. The new SNR033 / SBDB031 (JDM) sky model has a black and blue 24 hour bezel. This design choice seems a little derivative of other GMT based models and it would have been more interesting to see a more “Seiko” inspired design, maybe using a similar polished and textured finish seen on the old SBDW001 Flight Master. This bezel style with a zaratsu finish would have been a very distinctive and unique finish, and could have been used with both the regular and blacked out models.

The introduction of the new 6R35 movement with a 70 hour power reserve and sapphire crystal make nice upgrades to the Sumo range of models. The black and green versions of these look great and I am sure we will see other colorways in the future with blue being the next obvious additions. Orange and yellow colorways could also be nice versions and hopefully these could be added as regular models and not just special or limited editions.

The new ana-digi models were great to see and were a little unexpected. The design with the larger pushers to balance the crown on the opposite side works well, and helps to give a modern and updated feel to the models. I am sure that these will be popular models and will also likely be released in additional colorways in the future.

A surprising addition to the Prospex range was the new automatic field watches. These have an interesting design with distinctive crown guard at two o’clock to rotate the inner directional bezel. I think that these models will also prove to be quite popular.

Presage

In the Presage line up the new porcelain dialed models are quite stunning and continue the tradition of bringing traditional Japanese craftsmanship to the range. The new material used for the dial to provides excellent strength and durability for the watch and is very impressive. During the press conference they dropped a dial onto a hard table surface to show how tough the new material is while still retaining the beauty of traditional Arita porcelain.

Other new models in the Presage line up were a couple of new Cocktail Time designs with burgundy and green dials. I especially like the burgundy version and feel it will be a flexible watch to wear being able to be easily matched with blues, blacks and browns, so can be worn on many occasions.

Grand Seiko

In addition to the hand wound models that were introduced celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Spring Drive, Grand Seiko also introduced a new range of models into their Sports series. These models have a very distinctive case shape and make it clear the expansion in the design aesthetics we are seeing from Grand Seiko. They are dividing the line up into three distinctive families, with the historical collection featuring the traditional GS design styling, the elegance collection featuring new designs for traditional dress watches and the Sports series featuring new sporty models with completely new styling. I think this expansion of the design style can help to broaden the appeal of GS but it is good to see the individual families being clearly separated to ensure that the traditional Grand Seiko design elements are still represented.

Final Thoughts

This year had a number of interesting releases and a mix of just as many surprising exclusions as inclusions to the announcements. I was expecting the Lukia range of ladies models to also be featured this year, as it is my understanding the Seiko wishes to expand this to a global audience as they have previously done with the Presage series, and Baselworld wold appear to be a nice global stage for that.

Continuing the trend that has occurred over previous years, there were various models announced that appear to be identical but feature different model codes for the international and domestic markets. This is a practice that is quite confusing to customers as they have ready access to information globally, so see two different models used for a specific watch. I think this is also frustrating for retailers as they will often get customers asking for a particular model from a different market and will then have to look up the model to determine the local equivalent.

As has been the case in previous years Seiko issues an international press release stating that the model e.g. SLA033 has a limited production of 2500 units world wide. They also have a second press release for the Japanese market stating that the JDM equivalent model SBDX031 has a worldwide limited production of 2500 units. I have never seen official comments from Seiko how the quantity of limited editions are distributed or confirming that the total quantity of LE units is shared between the JDM and international models. The way in which the quantity are shared between international and domestic markets would obviously be determined from market feedback, pre-orders etc. and would likely only be finalised after the models announcement to the market. I reached out to Seiko on a number of occasions asking for clarification if the LE quantity of units is allocated on a model level or if these are shared between both domestic and international releases. Unfortunately Seiko declined to comment on this which is a little frustrating as you would expect that they would want to clarify the total number of units in the LE releases to avoid any confusion.

Overall I think it was a mixed year for Seiko and Grand Seiko at Baselworld. They released a number of interesting pieces like the new hand wound Spring Drive models with the new 9R02 and 9R31 movements. Hopefully we will see the 9R31 calibre turn up in a number of additional models as time progresses. On the opposite end of the scale the new ana-digi “Arnie reissue” models will undoubtedly be well received and I am sure we will see some interesting additional colorways of these. The new 6R35 is a nice addition to the Seiko line up and with a power reserve of 70 hours, it will be great to see this expanded to models outside of the new Sumos. There were also disappointments with the lack of a 6139 reissue or even anniversary model and no reissue for the original Astron. I look forward seeing what other models Seiko releases during the year, hopefully they will have a few more surprises in store for us.

Other Baselworld 2019 Seiko Coverage

Baselworld 2019 Announcement - Complete Seiko Models
Baselworld 2019 Announcement - Seiko Grand Seiko
Baselworld 2019 Announcement - Seiko Prospex
Baselworld 2019 Announcement - Seiko Presage
Baselworld 2019 Announcement - Seiko Astron
Baselworld 2019 Announcement - JDM Astron 50th LE & Revolution
Baselworld 2019 Announcement - Credor
Baselworld 2019 Announcement - New Sumo & Save the Ocean Great White Shark models
Baselworld 2019 Announcement - Prospex Ana-Digi, Monsters and Shrouded Divers
Baselworld 2019 Announcement - Prospex Automatic Field Watch
Baselworld 2019 Announcement - Enamel Presage Models
Baselworld 2019 Announcement - New Presage Zen Models
Baselworld 2019 Announcement - New Cocktail Time Models
Baselworld 2019 Announcement - New Premier Models