As this seminal Golden Anniversary year for the watch industry winds down — and timepieces commemorating a half-century of the Zenith El Primero, the Heuer Monaco, and the Omega Moonwatch have all been given their due — one milestone from 1969 remains largely unheralded: Seiko’s invention of the first wristwatch with a quartz movement, the original Quartz Astron. The Japanese watch giant remedied that this week, with the release of the 1969 Quartz Astron 50th Anniversary Limited Edition — a series of just 50 pieces in gold that brings together in one watch the original technical innovations of the first Astron and the ultra-modern GPS functionality of the revamped 2012 version.
The original Quartz Astron, released on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 1969, introduced into watchmaking the use of a tuning-fork-shaped quartz oscillator and open-type step motor — still standard technology in quartz watch movements today, and now even used in other non-horological electronic applications — for a then-unheard-of accuracy of +/- 5 seconds per month. In 2012, Seiko revived the Astron name for a watch that pioneered another groundbreaking technology, the ability to connect to GPS satellites and to adjust to a new time zone at the push of a button, all powered by light and never needing a battery change.
While this 50th anniversary piece incorporates all of these elements, its outward appearance most definitely takes its cues from the 1969 original. The 40.9 mm case, with its curved silhouette, thin bezel, and wide lugs, is made of 18k yellow gold and features a delicately hand carved motif. The dial, under a box-shaped sapphire crystal with nonreflective coating, is graced with a subtle hairline pattern; its thin hands and thin, multi-faceted hour appliques have a black line on their surface, another stylistic nod to the first Quartz Astron. A date window is framed in gold at 3 o’clock.
Seiko developed a new movement, Caliber 3X22, for this anniversary model — the slimmest GPS solar caliber to be fitted into a watch case, Seiko says, which allows the gold case to maintain the relatively thin profile (12.8 mm) of its ancestor. It connects automatically up to twice a day to the GPS network to achieve its otherwordly timekeeping precision of one second every 100,000 years, as well as its user-friendly time zone adjustment, which requires a single button push to move both hands at ultra-speed thanks to a new system built into the movement that drives each hand independently. In addition to its elegantly simple three-hand time display, the Astron is equipped with a perpetual calendar that requires no adjustment until 2100.
Caliber 3X22 does its duty behind the scenes, underneath a solid gold caseback with a horseshoe-shaped emblem commemorating the 50th anniversary. The watch is staged on a brown crocodile strap with a triple-folding, push-button-release clasp. Appropriately, the 1969 Quartz Astron 50th Anniversary Limited Edition is packaged in a special wooden box with a 50th anniversary logo. Available in December 2019 (presumably before the 25th) at selected Seiko boutiques and retailers worldwide, the watch will be priced around 38,000 euros.