One of the most important watches ever made celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Released on December 25, 1969, the revolutionary Seiko Astron was the world’s first quartz wristwatch. To mark this milestone year, the Japanese watchmaker has now introduced a limited edition GPS Solar Astron that brings together two technologies that Seiko pioneered – quartz and satellite timekeeping.
When the first Astron was launched in 1969, it was sold at a retail price of 450,000 yen ($1,250), this was equivalent to the price of a medium-sized car back then. The result of over ten year of research, this was a wristwatch with unprecedented accurate rate of ±5 seconds per month. It was made possible by several technological advances including the tuning fork shaped quartz oscillator and the open type step motor which are still standard components of quartz watches today.
Soon after the launch of the Quartz Astron, Seiko opened most of its patents to the world, a move that brought the advantages of quartz timekeeping to a more mainstream audience and heralded the coming of the Quartz Revolution. In 2004, the Astron received the IEEE Milestone Award for its breakthrough contribution to horology and a vast range of other electronic applications. The Astron name was revived in 2012 to launch the world’s first GPS solar watch. Powered by a movement that had the ability to connect to a GPS network and adjust to every time zone at the touch of a button, all while taking all the energy it needed from any light source.
Needless to say, the 50th anniversary edition has a lot to live up to. The good news is that the anniversary edition brings back to life the form and design of the 1969 original. Like the original, the hand-carved case is in 18K yellow gold. It is 40.9 mm wide and 12.8 mm thick, has wide lugs and a slim bezel. It is fitted with a sapphire box crystal and is water-resistant to 100 meters. Recessed pushers on the side of the case are used to receive the time keeping signal from the GPS satellite. The caseback has a horseshoe shaped marking commemorating the 50th anniversary.
The dial has a subtle vertical hairline pattern and the hands and multi-faceted indexes are thin and carry a black line on the surface, just like the original. The dial has an inner flange that has the markings ‘Y’ near the 2 o’ clock position (at the 8 seconds marker to be precise) and ‘N’ at the 52 second marker (near the 10 o’ clock position) and an airplane symbol at the 42 second marker. While the first two markings indicate whether the movement has received the GPS signal successfully or not, the airplane symbol denotes the inflight mode. A further ‘LS’ indicates at the 32 second marker stands for Leap Seconds, the watch has an automatic leap second reception function.
A brand new movement was developed for this edition. Seiko calls Caliber 3X22 the thinnest GPS solar movement used in a wristwatch. The watch connects automatically up to twice a day to the GPS network to maintain its precision of one second every 100,000 years, and when time zone adjustment is required, with a simple push of a single button on the side of the case, the hands now move faster than before thanks to a system that moves each hand independently.
The watch is paired with a brown crocodile leather strap fastened with a three-fold clasp with push button release. It is a limited edition of just 50 pieces and is priced at €38,000 ($42,400 or AED155,735). Yes, just like the original, the 50th anniversary edition also costs as much as a mid-size car.