Mechanical animals: Seiko’s Presage collection is a menagerie of affordable automatics
“One step ahead of the rest.” That might sound rather bombastic for a 19th-century Japanese businessman, but Seiko’s founder Kintaro Hattori was every bit the humble pioneer, always quick to suffix his favourite motto with the wise words, “…but just one step; no hurry or rest; taking too many steps ahead would make you far from the public”. Wise words, and enduring ones, as despite its age, Seiko is only just beginning to reveal to the world the sheer breadth of its capabilities – far beyond the Argos-catalogue fodder you might be imagining right now – just when the world is ready to appreciate them properly. Capabilities born out by this year’s new mechanically powered Presage collection, which should give the likes of Longines, Oris, Raymond Weil or any of Switzerland’s “affordable luxury” brands a genuine run for their money.
Hattori actually started out as a retailer. A clever one too: when he was just 13, it occurred to him that a beat cheap replica watch and clock shop could make even more of a profit not only by selling but also by repairing its stock. By 1881 he’d set up shop in Tokyo at the tender age of 21, his unusually punctual settlement of invoices quickly earning the trust of his suppliers and ensuring a ready flow of new and exciting stock, often before any other retailer in Japan. Sure enough, by 1892 his Seikosha factory was manufacturing high-quality clocks with an appropriately high price tag, and with the introduction of new automated machinery, Hattori’s pocket replica watches started to turn a profit in 1910, with Japan’s first-ever wristwatch, the Laurel, coming off the line by 1913.
It is this slow but steady spirit of innovation that has seen Seiko grow into the titan of replica watchmaking we know today, beyond the small matter of inventing the quartz wristwatch in 1969. A week-long Bullet Train blast through Japan visiting Seiko’s various factories reveals absolute autonomy, from the quartz crystals themselves to bracelets and balance springs. Yes, you read correctly: balance springs.
Nestled in the snowy woods of Morioka in the north is Seiko Instruments Inc., where the Shizukuishi Replica Watch Studio does an excellent impression of an haute-horlogerie atelier in the Swiss Jura, its 20 lab-coated replica watchmakers delicately tweezering together the chronometer-rated 9S mechanical movements for the Grand Seiko prestige imprint brand. Just 20 yards down a corridor from this hushed atelier is a cavernous cleanroom the size of a football pitch, where two serpentine production lines pump out a quartz movement every second – manned by just two people.
Somewhere in between these extremes you’ll find Presage. All of Seiko’s mass-production capacity, but high-quality mechanical expertise comes together here – a collection that’s already been successful in Japan and selected other markets for some time, but is now going global, with global awareness and understanding of the Grand Seiko range cemented and pan-global willingness to invest in a prestigious mechanical (non-Grand) Seiko firmly established.
Presage is, in keeping with the usual Seiko oeuvre, a collection of broad appeal. It comprises 60 models, all with 100m water resistance and sapphire crystal dials, and uses the full range of Seiko’s mechanical calibers, from the accessible 4R (a basic automatic for just £600), through 6R to the exclusive 8R. Highlights include the 6R27 multi-hand power reserve model and a series using an entirely new version of the 4R57 caliber. This new caliber is Seiko’s first ever with a center power reserve indicator, and is available in a series of five designs, including a limited edition.
Drawing its inspiration from Seiko’s heritage, and most specifically the design and typography of the celebrated Laurel of 1913, two very special Limited Edition automatic chronographs, each costing £1,950 top the Presage range, celebrating Seiko’s 60 years of automatic replica watchmaking. Their dials are made in the finest traditions of Japanese artistry – one in enamel and the other with lacquer – both use the vertical clutch and column wheel 8R48 caliber, and both are offered in editions of 1,000 from September. Move fast, if I were you – they’ll be surefire collectibles.