In his economic treatise on The Theory of the Leisure Class, Thorstein Veblen first coined the term “conspicuous consumption”, referring to the habit or practice of spending more money on goods than they are worth. The clear objective of such economic behaviour is to signal one’s elevated social status and power, be that real or perceived. The part of his theory that I find particularly compelling is the concept of goods being priced at more than they are worth. Of course, worth itself is inextricably tied up with so much more than the actual cost of producing something and in a general sense goes hand in hand with the art of branding. No one in their right mind believes that a modern mass-produced sports steel Rolex actually costs anywhere near the RRP to manufacture and market but it is clear that a great many people believe that they are worth the asking price because of the unique position Rolex holds in the market place and the consequential status afforded to ownership. These thoughts have been rattling around in my brain for some time, largely in the context of the 1960’s model hierarchy that connects the humble middle market Seikomatic to the high-end 62GS series Grand Seiko.
All four of the watches shown above are constructed around the same basic architectural premise and all are powered by variations of the same base movement. The Sea Lion Weekdater, shown top left, arguably sits at the bottom of the heap but is still a quality watch powered by a marginally over-jeweled day-date automatic 6206A movement running at 18000 bph. The 6206A is listed as the base movement in the 62 Weekdater series but its lineage traces further back to the 33 jewel 400 movement, itself a development of the 24 jewel date-only 394 which derives from the three-hander 603.
The classic Seikomatic 6206 Weekdater shown top right sits a rung further up from the Sea Lion by virtue of its branding but is arguably a step back in terms of specifications by dint of its press-fit rather than screw-down case back. The power of Veblen-inspired value enhancement starts to kick in as we graduate from the Seikomatic 6206 to the 35 jewel Seikomatic 6218 (bottom left). There is no doubt that this is a watch with a degree more star quality, deriving primarily from its slightly greater heft and the screw down case back with embossed dolphin crown emblem, but at its heart, its 6218B differs from the 6206 only through its finer regulation capabilities and its seconds setting function. The elevated jewel count indicated on the dial is a bit of marketing-driven nonsense, the 9 jewel enhancement accounted for by what are essentially decorative jewels notionally serving the date and day wheels. The actual functional jewel count is 24, the same as the date only 6205.
This progression would appear to be heading towards a suggestion that the Grand Seiko pictured bottom right is somehow merely a marginal step up in its fabric from the 35 jewel 6218 Seikomatic. However, that is not where we are heading. The Grand Seiko 6245, as I have described elsewhere, is a properly spectacular object of desire, whose high-end bona fides are tied up in the design and finishing of the case, dazzling dial and the genuinely higher level of specification of the movement. The principal improvements over the 6218 are a slightly elevated rate (19800 bph plays 18000 bph); rack and pinion fine adjustment regulation to the balance (although later versions of the 6218 used the same) and, importantly, jeweled barrel arbor holes in the main plate. Taken together as a package then, the Grand Seiko sitting at the top of the tree, does so with its head held high.
What then does all of this have to do with the essential value proposition of branding over substance? The answer to that question lies in the Seikomatic 6216-9000. In every respect, this watch is the equal of the 62GS: its movement is identical, the design and finishing of its case every bit as striking, if not featuring quite so much extravagant Zaratsu surfacing; its dial, arguably a touch more charismatic. What it lacks is any assertion of chronometer status but also, more importantly, the Grand Seiko branding. In 1966 the Seikomatic 6216-9000 cost 23,000 Yen yet the Grand Seiko 6246-9000, which in large part is the same watch, would have set you back a whopping 38,000 Yen. I fear I am getting slightly ahead of myself, so before we further develop the point, let’s meet our Grand Seiko in all but name, a Seiko 6216-9000 from June 1966.
What you might also have perceived by now is that there is very little to criticize in terms of the external condition of the watch. Everything looks to be in super condition, marred only by fairly liberal lashings of gloop around the periphery of the case back and some of its nooks and crannies.
The suggestion that this is something of a pristine example beneath the external wabi sabi is reinforced once the case back is removed.
The movement has a degree of mild tarnish that might reasonably be expected of a 51 year old watch but the initial appraisal strongly suggests that this is the first time the case back has been off since June 1966. The inside of the case back is entirely free of any watchmaker markings and the screws on the movement look completely unmarked.
The view of the dial provides an opportunity to indulge the anoraks/geeks/nerds/otaku among us: in contrast to the 6218A/B/C movement, on which the 6216A is based, the day disk and date wheel sit at the same level in the 6216 resulting in the loss of the characteristic stepped calendar windows seen in the 6218 dials.
With the day disk removed, you may just be able to make out the extent to which the date wheel surface sits at a higher level. We can also see where 4 of the 13 Veblen (for want of a better adjective) jewels are located.
The deconstruction proceeds swiftly from this point and follows a path previously documented on a number of occasions in the blog for other 62 series movements. Let’s pause though to continue our jewel count. With both calendar disks removed, we can see the 9 jewels supporting the date disk. These take the decorative jewel count to 13 which when subtracted from 39 leaves 26 functional jewels.
The base 6206A movement has 24 functional jewels and the two additions in the 6216A that provide some genuine added value lie in the jeweled barrel arbor holes in the main plate and in the train and barrel bridge. Here’s a view of the jeweled bearing on the bridge side.
You can also see that at this point I was mid-way through removing the two Diafix jewels from the bridge. Let’s mark the half-way point with a quick view of the stripped main plate, its balance refitted and ready for immersion in the cleaning machine.
A useful indication of how well the movement is likely to run can be gained at this point by directing a virile gust of air from a puffer towards the wheel train and observing for how long the resulting motion sustains. The video below suggests that this one is in fine fettle.
The reassembly from this point was largely routine but let’s pause momentarily to note the metal dial spacer there to support the convex edges of the dial.
The largely pristine condition of the interior parts of the watch really deserves a pristine case. The original case is in decent enough shape but opportunity had knocked some time ago when I happened upon an auction for an old stock 6216-9000 case, complete with intact blue case back film.
So in the interests of showing this watch off to the best possible effect (and in doing so, inadvertently reinforcing the theme of this present post), the movement waves farewell to it former abode and settles in to its new home.
One of the most satisfying elements of the design of not just this watch but a number of the 62 series upper echelon Seikomatic and Grand Seiko models is the juxtaposition between the supremely elegant front facing aspect with the rather more slabbier sides.
The original case would probably have scrubbed up quite well, as suggested by the contrast between the spick and span incoming and the still mucky outgoing, but I wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity to use the service case.
In this light (or indeed any), this highest level Seikomatic, whilst still formally occupying one tier down from the summit, more than holds its own against the spectacular Grand Seiko 6245-9000 with which it shares most of its DNA.
If a Grand Seiko of the time represented conspicuous consumption, at least in the Japanese domestic market, then this watch is perhaps an example of inconspicuous conspicuous consumption: its artificially high jewel count and fine bone structure raise its game and justify a more elevated asking price compared to the 6218 pretenders but it is only through the addition of that magical GS branding that Seiko were able to justify an additional 65% inflation in the asking price of the 62GS. This Seikomatic then might be viewed as the horological equivalent of the S-Class Mercedes, its S600 badge having been deleted from the boot, not because it is actually an S280, but because it simply doesn’t need to trumpet its credentials quite so obviously.