Flawed genius: A Seiko Lord Matic 5606-8010

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Navigating one’s way around the vintage Seiko model hierarchy is in one sense straightforward but in another extremely perplexing. Our perspective in this regard has been rooted predominantly in the positioning of the various members of the Seikomatic lines with the path up the greasy pole taking us from the modest but still rather splendid 6206 Weekdaters, through highly jewelled Seikomatic middle management to great pretenders and all the way up to something rather Grand. But that route somehow bypasses a chronological path that begins in 1956 with the Seiko Marvel, the first Seiko watch with a movement designed in house from scratch. The Seiko Marvel sired the Seiko Crown three years later, featuring an up-scaled version of the Marvel movement, and which went on to form the basis of the first Grand Seiko the following year. The Cronos model of 1958 similarly featured a Seiko movement of the same diameter as the Marvel, the 54A, but at only 4mm thick, considerably slimmer. The Cronos went on to give rise to the 44 series King Seiko and Grand Seiko watches of the 1960’s.

Clockwise from top left: The Seiko Marvel, Lord Marvel, Cronos and Crown.

Meanwhile, the Marvel line continued, initially in the form of the Gyro Marvel of 1959 featuring the first self-winding movement equipped with Seiko’s proprietary “magic lever” system. By the early 1960’s, Marvel had evolved into Lord Marvel whose honorable title was bestowed on account of its higher jewel count, lovely detailing and, in some versions, a gold filled case. Meanwhile, its game attempt to assert its aristocratic credentials was usurped by the emergence of the King Seiko and Grand Seiko lines occupying the upper two tiers of the Seiko product catalogue. In 1967, the Lord Marvel name revived in a burst of glory in the form of the Lord Marvel 36000, Japan’s first pukka high beat watch, featuring the 5740C movement running at the furious rate of 10 beats per second.

The Lord Marvel in turn sired the Lord Matic series whose model positioning beneath the King Seiko was maintained, but with a very sophisticated new automatic movement and high quality case design and finishing, clearly a cut above the hoi polloi sitting further down the pecking order.

By 1968 then, the Lord Matic line had taken off, and its movement, the 5606 became one of the most ubiquitous Seiko mechanical movements of the time. It also formed the basis of higher beat variants fitted to many of the automatic King Seiko and Grand Seiko models of the early to mid 1970’s.

That meandering path has taken us to a view of the late 1960’s status quo of LM, KS and GS, arguably occupying the top three tiers of the Seiko model line-up. Lords, Kings and well, let’s say Gods.

So, if the Lord Matic is a mid-to-upper echelon watch, then how on earth has it come to be regarded as bargain bin fodder? Let’s see if we can get to the bottom of that little conundrum by examining exhibit A: one Seiko Lord Matic 5606-8010 from March 1970.

Photo credit: Yahoo Japan

The photo above comes from the original auction and goes some way to explaining how I managed to secure it for the princely sum of £14.50. And yet, it holds a certain dour appeal combined with a streak of the exotic in that the mid case is a monocoque design with the movement accessed from the front.

This gives me an opportunity to put my Seiko S-14 one-piece case opener to some use. We gain access to the movement by placing a suitably sized compression ring into the tool aperture, placing the tool over the acrylic crystal and squeezing the lever to compress the crystal to the point that it can be lifted away from the case.

In order to extract the movement we need to remove the crown and then rotate the movement retaining spring anticlockwise by about 30 degrees. Crown removal requires us to depress the setting lever and then pull out the crown and stem.

Rotate the retaining ring to its stop, tip the case over and the movement falls out.

You will have noticed no doubt that the bezel is still in position. This is because a previous watchmaker had thoughtfully refitted the bezel with its cutout at the 6 o’clock position, thus rendering it inaccessible without damaging the case. The only way I could remove the bezel was to insert a case knife from the inside once the crystal, dial and hands had been removed.

The dial is in lovely shape barring one flaw, likely inflicted at a previous service. Head on it is not so obvious, but you may just be able to make out a prang in the region of the 9 o’clock marker.

A side view reveals the damage much more clearly.

I am struggling to think how this might have happened but would guess that an attempt to fit the crystal may have been made with the movement not properly located in the case. It is time to start digging beneath the surface and discover the charms of the 56 series movements for the first time. For the uninitiated, the 5606A sets itself apart from the run of the mill of the time in boasting the following features:

  • 23 or 25 jewels
  • 21,600 bph
  • automatic winding mechanism with …
  • … hand-winding facility
  • Hacking seconds
  • Day/date calendar with bilingual day and quickset to both

All of that lot packed into a compact 11.5” movement only 4.45 mm thick. The calendar deconstruction is uncomplicated, as illustrated in the sequence below:

Everything looks straightforward enough until you realise that the cannon pinion is not driven by a centrally mounted centre wheel but sits on a calked axle and is driven by an off-centre driving wheel mounted to the reverse of the movement and whose central pinion – effectively a cannon pinion in its own right – protrudes through to the calendar side. We’ll get a clearer view of how this works later on but for the moment we can take a closer look at the calked axle on which sits the cannon pinion, still caked in somewhat congealed oil.

We shall also see that lurking in there somewhere lies a design flaw that afflicts the majority of watches fitted with 56 series movements, but curiously not this one. Anyway, I digress. Let’s swap sides and survey the rear of the movement, which thus far has been hidden from view by virtue of the front-loading nature of the case.

The automatic winding mechanism is integrated into the train wheel bridge rather than being a separate module which is what makes it such a thin movement. The motion of the rotor is transmitted to the ratchet wheel atop the barrel via a train of wheels starting with the first reverser idler which we can see to the left of the rotor axle in the photo above. With the rotor removed, we can access the idler and remove it by first extracting the reverser idler bolt, which we see partially removed in the shot below.

Another nice feature of the movement is the fine adjuster screw on the balance, allowing for precise regulation.

Moving on and we see more evidence of the slightly unusual approach taken to the design of this movement: rather than a pair of banking pins regulating the motion of the pallet, this function is instead served by a notch cut out of the pallet cock within which sits a pin sat at the centre of he forked part of the pallet:

And the pallet itself has a very strange lopsided design, presumably to fit within the more compact dimensions of the movement.

We are very nearly at the point where the train bridge comes off but first we need to remove the hacking lever spring.

And then the ratchet wheel and its spring.

Finally, we can remove the train wheel bridge to reveal a slightly unconventionally arranged going train.

The unconventional aspect in this case is the presence of a driving wheel and cannon pinion that transmits power to the cannon pinion proper through the main plate via the sprung minute wheel on the other side of the movement.

During the normal running of the watch the cannon pinion (off-centre) rotates with the large driving wheel but during hand setting and operation via the crown, the cannon pinion rotates independently of the driving wheel, slipping against the driving wheel shaft in the same way that a conventional centrally mounted cannon pinion operates in relation to a centre wheel shaft (see reassembly later on).

The other two wheels you see sitting on the main plate are the differential wheel and second reverser idler, both of which form part of the compact autowinding mechanism.

The motion of the winding weight is transmitted via the first reverser idler we met earlier to the second reverser idler and then on to the differential wheel (shown above). The job of the differential wheel is to feed power into the mainspring regardless of the direction of rotation of the winding weight. The differential wheel communicates with the ratchet wheel mounted on the barrel via the transmission wheel mounted on the reverse side of the train wheel bridge. Phew!

The balance side of the main plate is now almost naked, barring the barrel and hacking lever, both of which depart stage left before we turn attention back to the calendar side for the home stretch.

I’ll pause at this point to draw attention to the notorious day-date corrector wheel rocker, the small but critically fragile component that is single-handedly responsible for holding this movement back from true greatness. It is also largely responsible for the trepidation with which potential buyers of vintage 56 series LM and KS watches approach their transactions. In particular, the Lord Matics have suffered to the point that I suspect many buyers pick them up in the hope that they might supply working corrector levers to fit to 56 powered King Seikos.

The flaw in the design of this part is that the wheel is made of plastic and over time it fractures under the torque applied when called into action to quickset either the day or date. This is a real shame because these are beautiful, very high quality movements. Happily though, the corrector in this watch looks healthy and performs its task without complaint. At some point in the future we shall revisit this issue with a watch whose corrector has failed as advertised.

Our parting view of the main plate is to note the presence of the minute wheel spring sitting in the centre, there to regular the force with which the minute wheel presses against the central cannon pinion.

Last order of business is to open up the barrel and inspect the main spring.

Nothing here to cause concern. Everything into the ultrasonic bath, followed by extensive agitation cycles in the watch cleaning machine and we can contribute in some vanishingly small way to resisting entropic inevitability. We start by assembling the setting parts, noting the setting lever design variation, there to allow removal of the crown and stem for case designs in which the movement is accessed from the front.

That potentially troublesome corrector wheel rocker goes in next.

Once secured into position by the minute wheel bridge (the minute wheel also having been fitted) we can observe how the corrector wheel rocker works.

You should be able to see from the animated gif above that with the crown at the first position, rotation in either direction moves the corrector wheel to mesh either with the inner teeth on the date wheel (once that is fitted) or with the intermediate wheel for day correction (once that is in place). Somehow this one has survived 47 years without breaking and so I am reasonably confident that it will continue to function satisfactorily from this point onwards.

In go the two pesky Diafix settings on the train bridge, followed by lubrication with an automatic oiler.

Refit and lubricate the mainspring, fit the train wheels, lubricate the differential wheel and fit it and the second reduction wheel.

In refitting the train wheels it is essential to remember to lubricate the cannon pinion (off-centre).

If you omit this step, then it is likely that the cannon pinion will bind and not slip as designed when the crown is operated at the setting position. In such circumstances, your only recourse will be to strip down the movement again, extract the driving wheel and reassemble. You have been warned! Reassembly of the remaining components on this side is simply the reverse of disassembly and so we can skip to the moment of truth, wind in some power and see if she runs.

The hairspring had needed some work to even out the spacing between the coils but with some rudimentary regulation, the watch is pushing 260 degrees amplitude with a noise free timing curve and negligible beat error.

The calendar parts come together without incident and all of the functions appear to work satisfactorily.

I straighten out that bend to the dial as best I can, fit the dial, clean the hands and refit and we seem to be getting close to the end of play.

The only remaining task before final regulation and testing is to fit the reverser idler, its retaining bolt and the winding weight.

With that done, and the case having been forensically cleaned, we set the movement holding spring into its unlocked position, drop in the movement, fit the crown (with fresh gasket) and stem, and lock the ring into position.

With a new acrylic crystal pressed into place, followed by the bezel, its cutout now positioned at the 9 o’clock position, a suitable 19mm leather strap fitted and we are finished.

I was drawn to this one because of its slightly unusual shape, its dour demeanour and of course its bargain basement price. But more than that, I like this watch because, in spite of its lack of flamboyance, there lurks within a movement of very high quality, notwithstanding its one major design flaw, all wrapped up in a quietly exotic package. From the Western perspective, a watch with the moniker ‘Lord’ smacks somewhat of naïve far Eastern pretensions, an aristocratic title that jars, in a way that ‘King’ or ‘Grand’ does not and so perhaps that is another reason why these lovely little watches are somewhat overlooked. I however, have come to appreciate their charms, and perhaps you have too.

Two parting shots: one at an angle that reveals the still slightly deformed dial:

And one, slightly more sinister – the Lord of Darkness perhaps?

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