Seiko’s Velatura mechanical chronograph has not one vertical clutch but three. In this in-depth review from our archives, WatchTime’s Martina Richter takes a close look at this most unorthodox sports watch; Zuckerfabrik Fotodesign provides the original photography.
Seiko’s Caliber 8R28 is the most advanced automatic chronograph movement the Japanese watch company has ever built. The watch that it powers — the Velatura chronograph — is a testament to Seiko’s position as a true manufacture of mechanical watches, a role still unknown to many watch connoisseurs in the U.S., who associate the brand primarily with quartz timepieces.
The movement’s vertical-clutch-and-column-wheel system is not a new development. In 1969, Seiko became the first to bring these two technologies together in its mechanical chronograph movement, Caliber 6139. While the classic column wheel ensures reliable, accurate action, the vertical clutch guarantees that the chronograph seconds hand starts smoothly, with no “jump,” at the moment when the stopwatch is activated. These features are characteristic of all column-wheel chronographs with vertical clutches. (Photos can be enlarged with a click.)
What is new and different in the 8R28 caliber — and exclusive to Seiko — is that the chronograph mechanism has not one but three vertical clutches. This means that each chronograph hand — not just the one for the seconds, but also those for the minutes and hours — is driven by a vertical clutch. The minute and hour counters (at 9 and 6 o’clock, respectively) are therefore not driven by the chronograph seconds hand by means of a finger (as is commonly the case), but are instead powered directly by the hour-and-cannon pinion of the primary gear train. The result is that the hands for the minute and hour counters move as smoothly and continuously as does the chronograph seconds hand.
The design is both clever and simple: when the chronograph function is started and one pulls the crown out — even accidentally — to the hand-setting position, the chronograph seconds hand will stop, since Caliber 8R28 includes a hack mechanism and the chronograph seconds hand is connected to the continuous seconds hand on the time display. If you turn the crown in this position to set the time, the minute and hour counters will be moved along, too. The two chronograph counters — that is, the corresponding wheels on the same arbors — stay connected to the cannon pinion and hour wheel. But if the chronograph is stopped, the elapsed time will be retained, with the minute and hour counters remaining in their positions.
The chronograph functions are identifiable by the red color of the markers and hands. The same red appears on the chronograph pushers, which have red grooves around their protector rings, making it easy to see whether the pushers have been screwed in or not.
The Velatura distinguishes itself from the rest of the pack in other ways. The pusher protector rings are locked and unlocked in the opposite direction you’d expect — meaning that they are turned counterclockwise (toward the case) to open and clockwise to lock. The crown, on the other hand, works in the traditional way: that is, you turn it counterclockwise to unscrew it and clockwise to lock it. All the screwed connections work smoothly and are easy to use. The large notches on the crown make it easy to grasp and move; it clicks readily into the positions for quick date changes and for setting the hour and minute hands. A fair amount of pressure is needed to start and stop the chronograph; resetting it is slightly easier. Every action makes an audible click.
Caliber 8R28’s frequency, 28,800 vph, makes it possible to measure increments of 1/4 or 1/8 of a second. The track on the dial’s inner flange shows three tiny subdivisions between each second. Arabic numerals are printed along the outer edge at every five-minute (or five-second) mark.
The multilevel display lends the watch a sense of depth. Beneath the minute track there is a second, polished ring with the hour markers: eight circular and two rectangular markers and an imposing triangle at 12 o’clock. They all glow brightly in the dark and provide clear orientation. Highly visible hands, with easily distinguishable shapes, point to the hours and minutes. In order to see the seconds in the dark, however, you’ll need to use the stopwatch function, since only the chrono seconds hand has a luminous dot. The three subdials are not visible at all in the dark. In good lighting, however, it’s easy to tell the seconds subdial from the hour and minute counters because the first is blue and the latter two, red.
The Velatura’s case and bracelet incorporate a mixture of materials. The dial is made of carbon fiber, which is also used on the bezel. The bezel is surrounded by a black, stainless-steel ring with six prominent trapezoidal claws that are a feature of all the Velatura models. The various recessed-head screws — on the raised bezel claws and on the crown and its flanks — are also hallmarks of the Velatura collection. A side view of the watch reveals its true dimensions. The diameter and height are determined in great part by the massive bezel, which lords over the body of the case like a castle turret. The center case frame below it goes almost unnoticed as it slopes downward to the lugs. One would hardly guess that the watch is very comfortable to wear, an advantage it owes to its ergonomic shape. The bracelet, which is made of stainless-steel and urethane elements — flows harmoniously into the lugs and adds to the watch’s comfortable fit, even on a narrow wrist. Its flexibility also ensures that this rather heavy timepiece does not tip forward when worn. The watch is fastened with a smoothly folding clasp that can be used to make fine adjustments to the length of the bracelet.
The rate results for the Velatura are not bad, though they are variable. The watch gains four to five seconds per day on the wrist, making the average daily rate 4.6 seconds — a good result. On the electronic timing machine the fully wound watch showed a rate result of between +4 seconds per day in the “dial up” position and -4 seconds in the “crown up” position. When the chronograph is engaged the rate hardly changes at all. Of note, however, are the relatively low amplitudes, which fall below 200° in some positions after 24 hours. Still, this doesn’t appear to have a negative impact on the overall rate results.
Seiko once again proves its manufacture credentials with the Velatura, a watch that should appeal to anyone in the market for a reliable and dominant-looking chronograph. And at a price of only $3,800 for a solid mechanical chronograph with an in-house movement, many would consider it a bargain.
Manufacturer: Seiko Watch Corp., 1-2-1 Shibaura, Minao-ku, Tokyo 105-8459, Japan
Reference Number: SRQ001J1
Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds, date display, chronograph
Movement: Seiko 8R28 automatic; 28,800 vph; 34 jewels; Diashock shock absorption; Glucydur balance; flat Invar hairspring; over-45-hour power reserve; diameter = 28 mm; height = 7.2 mm; decorated with côtes de Geneve; partially skeletonized rotor
Case: Stainless steel/carbon fiber; non- reflective sapphire crystal in front and back; water-resistant to 10 ATM
Bracelet and clasp: Stainless steel and urethane with folding clasp
Dimensions: Diameter = 47.17 mm; height = 15.45 mm; weight = 207 g
This article was originally posted in 2013, and has been updated.