Japan’s Seiko, famed as one of the world’s leading producers of quartz watches, had some surprising news about mechanical watches at its annual press conference on the opening day of Baselworld.
First, it unveiled its first-ever tourbillon watch, which it says is the world’s smallest tourbillon by volume (you can read our report on it here). Then it announced the global launch of a new, all-mechanical collection of affordably priced automatic watches called Presage. “Presage takes center stage as Seiko’s leading mechanical watch collection,” the company said in a statement. The Presage collection contains 60 models at prices ranging from the equivalent of $500 to $2,600. (Only two Presage watches – limited-edition chronograph pieces with special dials – will be available in the U.S. this year, however.) The collection’s tag line is “Fine Mechanical Watchmaking. From Japan.”
The announcements, particularly about Presage, indicate a new level of attention to and ambition about fine mechanical watchmaking at Seiko. Introducing Presage at the press conference, Seiko’s Teruyo Ishimaru said, “Today Seiko is best known for electronic watches. Presage is going to change that.”
Seiko, founded in Tokyo in 1881, is no stranger to mechanical watchmaking. It made its first wristwatch 103 years ago. And over the years it has notched its belt with a number of mechanical watch innovations. The Magic Lever of 1959 increased winding efficiency. In 1964, Seiko developed Spron, a special alloy for its in-house balance springs. In 1969, it made the world’s first automatic chronograph with vertical clutch and column wheel systems. Its Grand Seiko mechanical watches, launched in 1960, are acclaimed for superior accuracy.
Seiko’s embrace and mastery of quartz-watch technology in the 1970s changed its – and the watch world’s – history. Recently, though, under CEO Shinji Hattori, a great-grandson of the company founder, Kintaro Hattori, Seiko has revived its mechanical watchmaking prowess. Presage will be the firm’s first all-mechanical watch collection. (The celebrated Grand Seiko collection has mechanical, quartz, and Spring Drive models. Seiko introduced four new Grand Seiko watches at Baselworld, all with Spring Drive movements.)
Seiko aims for Presage to have broad appeal. It uses the full range of Seiko mechanical calibers, from what Seiko calls the “accessible” 4R, through 6R, to the exclusive 8R. (The prestigious 9S mechanical movement is reserved for Grand Seiko watches.) All Presage watches have sapphire crystals and 100-meter water resistance.
At the top of the Presage line are the two limited-edition pieces meant to mark the 60th anniversary of Seiko’s first automatic watches. The watches have stainless-steel cases (42 mm by 15.2 mm) that are antimagnetic. They are powered by Caliber 8R48, which has a 12-hour chronograph with column-wheel and vertical clutch systems. The dial design derives from the Seiko’s original wristwatch, the Laurel of 1913. One version has a white enamel dial, like the Laurel (top photo, $2,300). The other has a black dial made of urushi lacquer (above, $2,600). Seiko will produce 1,000 pieces of each watch.
WatchTime had a chance to spend some time with the new Seiko Presage recently, as the two limited-edition models made their U.S. debut at Seiko’s flagship boutique in New York City. Scroll down to see our live photos.