Timekeeping: Seiko Astron GPS Solar
The primary goal in the manufacture of any watch is precision; there is scarcely a watchmaker, from Patek Philippe to Citizen, that would argue that fact. After all, the whole raison d’être of a watch is to tell the time — if it does that poorly, you might as well be wearing a charm bracelet. Furthering precision through newly developed techniques and technologies has been the Holy Grail of horologists dating back to the sundial. Bimetallic hairsprings, tourbillons, gimbals and tuning forks all served in the quest. But then, in 1969, the Seiko Corporation turned the watchmaking world upside down with its introduction of the battery-powered quartz watch movement in its revolutionary Astron. Suddenly the history of watchmaking was divided neatly: Before Quartz and After Quartz. This fall, Seiko is introducing yet another Astron, both equally revolutionary and very precise: the Astron GPS Solar.
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For those who think the only timepieces worth discussing are mechanical, the Seiko Astron GPS Solar might just get a passing glance. After all, we’ve seen solar-powered watches before, and what about those geeky GPS watches all the runners are wearing? But the Astron is different. Very different. In the quest for precision, the new watch is unsurpassed: how does better than one second every 100,000 years sound? Once a day, the watch automatically receives a signal from up to four GPS satellites orbiting the Earth. This signal adjusts the Astron to atomic clock precision with no input required from its owner. Every time you glance at your wrist, you’ll know the exact time.
When Daylight Savings Time takes effect, a simple as press of a button moves the hour hand forward or backward. Of course, communicating with the satellites requires some exposure to the sky, either through a window or (gasp!) being outside. But even if you never leave your basement, the Astron can keep time to within +/- 15 seconds per month.
Casio, Citizen and Seiko have been building solar-powered watches for years. But to adapt to the power needs of the GPS receiver, Seiko had to develop a new charging system. The Astron’s newly patented GPS system is extremely stingy when it comes to power, allowing the light passing through its dial to keep the watch running.
Aside from whiz-bang GPS and solar functionality, the Astron has two other impressive features: a world time complication and a perpetual calendar. The former can display a second time zone on one of Astron’s subdials at the touch of a button, again utilizing the GPS receiver by automatically detecting your location. A perfect traveler’s tool, the time compilation can display the exact time in all of the world’s 39 time zones, including those that are a half-hour offset from the others, such as in India. Take that, Rolex. The perpetual calendar, which is accurate until the year 2100, means you don’t have to fiddle with advancing the date for short months, even in Leap Years.
With all this incredible functionality, you might expect the Astron to look like something your old high school chemistry teacher might wear. It’s actually as smart-looking as it is smart. It’s available in four variations: two in titanium and two in steel, with bare metal or black coating options. All models come with a black scratch-proof ceramic bezel. The dial is surprisingly easy to read, with raised hour markers (blue, gold or white) and understated legible subdials for the world time, GPS receiving and Daylight Savings functions. The titanium watches come with a full metal bracelet, while the steel is only available on a high quality rubber strap. The Astron, built with typical Seiko durability, are water resistant to 100 meters and have sapphire crystals and high magnetic resistance.
There is a basic difference between accuracy and precision when it comes to timekeeping. Accuracy is the ability of a timepiece to tell the correct time at any one time. But as the saying goes, even a broken watch is accurate twice a day. Precision is the ability of a watch to keep time consistently. The Seiko Astron GPS Solar, which goes on sale this fall at a price range between $2,300 and $3,800 may necessitate the invention of a new word.
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