A Grand Seiko Self-Dater from 1965

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The romantic overtures that led eventually to the conception and birth of the Grand Seiko line were played out through the development of the Seiko Marvel, produced from 1956 and featuring Seiko’s first watch movement designed and produced in house from scratch. The Marvel was intended to compete globally not only in terms of performance but also in terms of reliability and ease of maintenance. It quickly sired the Lord Marvel, featuring a higher jewel count version of the same movement, with the Lord Marvel’s aspirations to distinguish itself from the hoi polloi sign-posted externally through its fine detailing, engraved dial text and features such as gold filled cases.

At 11½“ the 25.6mm movement used in both Marvel and the early Lord Marvel watches was of a decent size, featuring a moveable stud and an 11mm balance wheel.

The 23J Lord Marvel movement (photo credit : http://www.grand-seiko.com)

However, Seiko’s designers reckoned that their developing ambitions to produce a properly high quality, upper tier watch that could hold its own with the Swiss competition, would be better served by a larger movement that would then allow the fitment of a larger balance wheel to improve isochronism and a larger barrel to accommodate a higher torque mainspring. The result was an up-scaling in 1959 of the Marvel movement to 12½“ (27.6 mm) and the watch in which it initially found itself was the aspirationally-named Seiko Crown.

The base 19J Seiko Crown 560 calibre (photo credit : http://www.grand-seiko.com)

The Crown movement now had a numeric name, the 560, but just as the Marvel had evolved into the Lord Marvel, so the Crown’s 560 evolved to the Crown Special’s 341. Both of these larger hand-wound movements ran at 18ooo bph, and featured Diashock shock protection and Diafix jeweling. The 341 boasted an additional 4 jewels more than the base 560, taking the jewel count to 23, and a second setting device (hacking).  However, in moving from the smaller Marvel movement to the larger 560 and 341, the moveable stud on the balance wheel had been lost (see photo above).

In 1960, Seiko decided to pull out all the stops and produce ‘the best possible practical wristwatch, engineered for optimal performance of the three core functions of accuracy, reliability, and visibility.’

The first generation Grand Seiko 3180 from 1960 (photo credit : http://www.grand-seiko.com)

That intention was realized in the creation of the first Grand Seiko in 1960, fitted with a further refinement of the Crown movement. This new 3180 calibre combined the movable stud of the Lord Marvel with the larger balance wheel and barrel of the Crown. The liberal smattering of Diafix jewelling and fully jeweled barrel arbor raised the jewel count to 25. The movement was certified as accurate to +12 to -3 seconds a day and offered a power reserve of 45 hours. It was the first watch from Japan to receive a rating of excellence from the Bureaux Officiels de Contrôle de la Marche des Montres.

The Grand Seiko 3180 movement. Note the calibre number inscribed on the balance cock. (photo credit : http://www.grand-seiko.com)

Around 36,000 3180’s were produced between 1960 and 1964, the majority with gold cap cases but a number also in platinum and an even smaller number in steel.

In 1964, the team that created the 3180 wanted to take the quality, performance and refinement of that first watch and add a dash of practicality: this came in the form of a calendar function and an improvement in the water resistance to 50m. The result was named the Grand Seiko Self-Dater, fitted with a development of the 3180 that incorporated a quickset date, accompanied by an increase in jewel count from 25 in the 3180 to 35 in the Self-Dater’s 430.  We shall see in due course to what extent all of those additional jewels are wholly functional.

This second-generation watch stepped up the game somewhat and is arguably the model most closely associated with what has come to be regarded at the archetypal early hand-wound Grand Seiko. By 1965 the 430 movement fitted to those early 43999 Self-Daters had been renamed the 5722A with the watch itself receiving the numeric model designation of 5722-9990. Further refinements were to come in the B revision of the 5722, most notably a rise in beat rate to 19800 bph but in its essence, this second generation Grand Seiko sustained from 1964 through to 1967 with the arrival of the Daini-produced 44GS and the first automatic Grand Seiko, the rather gorgeous 62GS.

For me, the hand-wound Grand Seiko Self-Dater has been something to aspire to as a benchmark of Seiko’s horological legacy. I’ve wanted one for a long time, not least because they were conceived and born in the same year as I was, but I had not really dedicated any real intent to achieving this until opportunity and resolve finally coincided a little while back when I found myself having bid a reasonably sensible amount for a watch that it is fair to say was some way off perfect but good enough for me to enjoy as a wearable piece. Oh, and of course, I should add that having placed my bid, I found myself one of only two bidders, the other chap perhaps taken by surprise by my slightly more ambitious snipe, and the watch was mine. Here it is in the state received.

It all looks neat and tidy and importantly the dial looks very clean, without conspicuous signs of staining or damage. The gold lion medallion on the case back is in place but obviously somewhat worn, with only ghosts of the formerly embossed detailing remaining. The serial number dates the watch to June 1965, whilst the coarser knurling on the crown a sign that this watch was produced early on in the run of 5722 branded watches.  Removing the case back reveals the sumptuous visual pleasure to be had in surveying a properly lovely ‘60’s vintage hand wind chronometer movement.

First order of business is to remove the crown and stem, straightforwardly achieved by pressing the stem release button with the crown in its winding position whilst exerting outwards pressure on the crown.

The crown emerges with plenty of dark and dirty lubricant in evidence. The movement is secured to a metal case ring, with the latter encircled by a case spring of a design that I have not seen before. Some gentle encouragement sees the movement slide gracefully out of the case and onto a movement cushion.

Removal of the hands reveals that the dial is not quite as undamaged as I had first thought, betrayed by some marks around the centre hole inflicted by one or more clumsy hand-removal operations by slapdash watchmaker(s).

The frequency with which I encounter the frankly shonky workmanship of so-called professional watchmakers is both surprising but I suppose also unsurprising. Any expectation that all watchmakers are highly trained, meticulous, dedicated professionals is as naïve as expecting every railway arch mechanic to always apply the professional standards of a Roll Royce artisan engineer. With that off my chest, lets power on. With the hands off, we can flip the movement over and survey more easily the case ring and spring arrangement.

The spring unwraps easily from the ring whose removal only requires access to the two retaining screws, one near the barrel and one above the D of the GRAND SEIKO engraving on the train bridge. With that done, we can access the two dial feet screws that will then enable removal of the dial.

The calendar side presents no great surprises in terms of engineering because of the obvious similarities in approach to those used in the near contemporaneous 62 series of automatic calendar movements.

There are obviously detail differences but essentially this is a progressive date change mechanism with a quickset design that allows date setting both backwards as well as forwards (although it is clear in operation that the intention is that you should really only quickset forwards). In particular, we note that the setting wheel lever is sprung by a separate spring mounted topside whereas in the 62 series, the single yoke spring serves that purpose.

Another design difference between this and the 62 series is in the hour wheel which uses a double-decker gear arrangement, the lower transferring motion to the date driving intermediate wheel and the upper deck receiving instruction from the upper pinion of the minute wheel.

Having removed most of the calendar apparatus, we can turn back to the train side. With the balance safely out of the way, off comes the beautifully machined ratchet wheel to expose the click spring, whose removal needs to be accomplished carefully, so as not to lose the blighter.

We need to take care too over the crown wheel screw, remembering that the vast majority of these will use a left-handed thread, regardless of the presence or not of the triple slot signposting used in some designs (clearly not here).

Without the aid of a technical manual to guide me, logic suggested that the next step was to remove the train wheel bridge, the sweep second wheel impeding access to the barrel were we to remove the barrel bridge first.

The photo above reveals two points of interest: the first is the presence of the hacking lever which acts upon the sweep second wheel rather than the balance wheel; and the second is the presence of a jeweled bearing in the barrel bridge serving the barrel arbor. This is a different approach to the 3180 which used a pair of jeweled bearings in the barrel lid and barrel body rather than in the bridge and main plate. If we now remove the barrel bridge, we see that the barrel is un-jeweled. We also see that a previous watchmaker has been rather more generous in his use of lubricant than is prudent.

The logic of these jeweling choices is not entirely clear to me. Or rather the logic of choosing one approach over the other is not entirely clear. If we extract the barrel, we see that the lid in fact retains its jeweling but the bushing in the main plate remains steel rather than ruby (as is the case in the 3180).

All this talk of jewels prompts a consideration of where those additional 10 jewels come from in lifting the 25 jewels in the 3180 to the 35 in the 430/5722A. All is revealed when we survey the naked main plate from the calendar side.

The main plate is festooned with no fewer than 11 jewels, there supposedly to facilitate passage of the date wheel (5 J), the minute wheel (3 J) and the date driving wheel (3 J). I have to say, I find this somewhat disappointing but I’ve made my views clear on gratuitous marketing-driven over-jeweling before, and I won’t over-egg the pudding on this occasion. Those of you of a faintly mathematical persuasion will have noticed that 35 minus 11 is 24 so somehow the basic movement has actually lost a net 1 jewel compared with the 3180. Rather than be too dismayed at this, we can note that that extra jewel was just a cap jewel serving the pallet fork bearing, which in any case is one which many (most?) watchmakers leave un-lubricated.

Before moving on from the main plate, you will see where I have indicated in the photo above the presence of swarf in a couple of locations, one of which that pallet fork bearing hole. I have no idea how that might have been generated but in any case, I’ll make a point of removing it prior to rebuilding the movement.

The final part of the process of preparing the movement for cleaning is to open up the barrel.

It all looks clean enough but again, swimming in lubricant. The Seiko technical guide instructs that no lubrication should be used at all on manual wind main springs, other than on the arbor and so that is what I shall do when reassembling after cleaning.

With the main spring uncoiled, its potential energy dissipated for the moment, we find ourselves at the halfway point in the process. Our tumble down the hill towards our objective begins typically with the psychological hurdle that is the assembly of the five Diafix settings.

Four of these are of the conventional type, with lubrication achieved from the underside once the cap jewels and springs are in position. The fifth, at the apex of the train bridge, serves the sweep seconds wheel and its jewel is a conventional dished setting whose oiling is best served from the upper side before the cap jewel is put in place.

The cleaned mainspring is wound into the mainspring winder drum and then pressed with a satisfying click into the un-lubricated barrel.

The oiled arbor follows, then the lid and we then set aside the barrel to wait assembly of the train side of the movement. With the fiddly stuff done, the setting works comes together without incident.

A couple of flip flops follow: first the centre wheel and its bridge are manoeuvred into position.

Then back to the calendar side and the cannon pinion, minute wheel and its bridge are fitted.

Let’s jump ahead and take a look at the barrel bridge and train in position.

The order of play is important in reaching this point: the barrel goes in first, followed by the third wheel, the hacking lever washer and lever itself. The barrel bridge is fastened down next and we can then lubricate and fit the sweep seconds wheel, followed by the escape wheel. If you forget to fit the third wheel before the hacking lever and barrel bridge, you then realize that the hacking lever blocks the way and the bridge has to come back off.

The train bridge is fitted next, with care taken to make sure that all of the train wheel pinions are properly located and that all wheels rotate freely before tightening down the bridge. Once we are happy that the wheel train will spin away for a couple of seconds following a decent shove via the barrel, the pallet and its bridge can be fitted and lubricated ready for the balance.

I tend to fit the calendar side Diashock setting next, then the balance and finally its Diashock. Wind in some power, and away she goes.

On a full wind, straight out of the box, it is pushing 290 degrees of amplitude but with a significant beat error (around 0.8 ms) that I can’t dial out by adjusting the stud position. So out comes the balance and I spend some time working on the hairspring to even out a touch of asymmetry. A couple of iterations later and beat error is banished entirely dial side down and somewhere in the region of 0.2 ms dial side up. We’ll have another go at regulation once the movement is re-cased, but for the moment I am happy.

Assembling the calendar side is entirely uneventful and so I’ll skip to the point just before fitting the guards for no reason other than to admire the date wheel. I think the numerals are a work of art, the 4’s particularly flamboyant with the arched connecting line between horizontal and vertical lines. Calendar 4’s are to Seikos that open sixes are to vintage Rolexes.

Once the dial and hands have been mated once more with the movement, I set it aside to run for a day and turn my attention to the case.

This watch has clearly had some attention in the past few years and the case itself is relatively free from much in the way of mucky neddy.

The way in which the crystal is designed to mate with the case is certainly of its time and similar to that used in contemporary Seikomatics. In this case, we see that the crystal sits around the outside of the case lip and is held in position by the steel bezel whose even force around the circumference provides the required degree of water resistance.  The case parts spend some time in the ultrasonic bath, followed by a good going over with a toothbrush and some fresh mint toothpaste.

A new crystal sealed into place with the bezel, and our case is ready to receive its engine.

Rather than fit the case ring and spring to the movement first, I opt to seat the movement into the case and then loosely attach the case ring to get everything properly aligned with the stem in place. With everything tightened up and a fresh case back gasket into position, we are all set to perform the final regulation before closing her up.

A bit of tweaking and I we have a record-breaking amplitude monster. On a full wind, dial down I am seeing 322 degree amplitude, comfortably better than the best I have seen previously, which interestingly was another 57 series movement, the 5719 fitted to my 1964 one-button chrono.

Cased up, our 1965 Grand Seiko Self-Dater is looking pretty sharp.

The choice of strap for me is straightforward – a flat, unstitched crocodile – but the 19mm lug widths limit choice somewhat more than if I’d been looking for 18mm or 20mm straps. Happily, Hirsch produce just the ticket at an affordable price point.

Let’s see how it looks fitted.

It is easy to lose perspective when immersing yourself so much in one brand but I think I have a pretty objective take on what constitutes real star quality in the broader context of the worldwide rather than just Japanese watch industry. This 52 year old watch, even in its slightly challenged cosmetic condition, oozes class.

Very few watches currently in production provide quite such a blend of perfectly coherent, understated yet gorgeous, original style with such a magnificent in-house movement and do so in a package that in spite of the massively over-inflated vintage watch market at the moment, remains an affordable aspiration to real enthusiasts.

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