The concept of the homage to glories past is one that the watch industry appears to have embraced of late, recognizing the considerable marketing power of the charms of the vintage watch vibe combined with the notional reliability and bling of the new. Many of the major players seem to be indulging in nostalgia, from Omega with their numerous special editions and anniversary tributes to Blancpain with their modern take on the Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec of 1957 and to Tudor and their Heritage range. Curiously Rolex seem to have resisted the temptation but then again, Rolex have been producing essentially the same range of watches for the past 50 years and, as a consequence of their massive market dominance and unrivaled value retention, have less need to look so conspicuously to their past to inject a bit of je ne sais quoi into their current range. In any case, Tudor play that role for Rolex in producing heritage models that make more than a passing nod in the direction of iconic vintage Rolex models.
What about Seiko? Well, they’ve been in the heritage/anniversary game for the past 20 years or so, most conspicuously perhaps with the revival of the 6215/6159 300m diver’s watches of the late 1960’s in the MarineMaster 300m SBDX003, released in 2000 and subsequently spawning the familiar SBDX001 that continues in production to the present day. In the past 5 years or so as 50th anniversaries of notable 1960’s landmarks roll past, so Seiko have released a series of vintage-inspired homages and modern interpretations, some of which more successful than others.
Getting the balance right between reissue and inspired-by is quite tricky, particularly given that watch companies are wont to rescale these tributes to modern tastes, fraught as that process is with the havoc that upscaling can play with proportion. The MarineMaster SBDX001 I think just about gets it right as an example of the ‘inspired by’ approach, the result being a model that holds its head up as one having its own identity whilst still very much displaying its heritage. The latest Seiko homage to the 62MAS I feel is much less successful, so much so that I feel not a twitch of desire in spite of the huge affection I feel for the original.
All of these ruminations bring us to the subject of this present entry: a brief comparison between the Grand Seiko Self-Dater from 1965 that featured in the previous post, and its 50th Anniversary tribute, the SBGV009. The former a 52 year old watch powered by a low-beat manual wind chronometer mechanical movement; the latter a relative new born, powered by a state-of-the-art, thermo-compensated quartz movement.
Here we have two watches that in isolation appear identical but sitting side by side appear individually quite distinctive from one another.
Ok, there does not appear to be a great deal of difference in the front-facing aspect of the cases, but the use of a box-domed sapphire in the SBGV009 where the 5722-9990 uses acrylic, has the optical effect of causing the dial to recede somewhat and appear a little smaller than it does in the older watch. This is not something to which I have any objection – it just creates a different look to the newer watch compared to the vintage.
When I was on the run up to buying the modern interpretation as a self-indulgent 50th birthday gift to myself, I couldn’t help feeling that somehow I was compromising in going for a quartz Grand Seiko. The fact that the decision was forced by a financial imperative did not do much to temper that feeling but with it landed and in the hand, all of those doubts evaporated. The genius of the quartz movement as a choice for this model is that it has none of the bulk of many of Seiko’s high end modern mechanical movements which in turn then allows the watch mid-case to follow the perfect sizing and proportions of the original. The truth of that statement is revealed by the view from the rear and from the sides.
I don’t think it is worth dwelling on the technological differences much further other than to repeat that it seems somehow fitting that this modern take on the original Grand Seiko Self-Dater heroically resists the temptation to use an updated mechanical chronometer. Instead, Seiko took the inspirational decision to opt for a quartz movement as representative of the very best of modern-day horology, all wrapped up in a case that has traveled through time from the era of the Cuban missile crisis to the era of the North Korean missile crisis. Let’s finish with the two watches in imperious repose: first the old stager: