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Review: Seiko Astron GPS Solar Worldtime

Full hands-on analytical review with live high res photographs of the LE MOP dial flagship and all 6 other models in the collection.
by Peter Chong on May 8, 2016
Positives

Feature packed, high accuracy watch which is versatile and very practical for global travel.

Negatives

Might be a bit sporty looking and bulky for serious business travel use.

The Seiko Astron as a series has its place in the history books of timekeeping. It began as the world’s first quartz watch in 1969. It has kept with progress of technology, and introduced the world’s first solar power GPS watch in 2012. This Baselworld, they introduced a new, smaller GPS Solar movemnt in the form of the Caliber 8X22. We review the new series, including the limited edition Ref SSE091 with mother of pearl dial, and the other references. 

 

Seiko Astron: Historical perspectives

 

One of the seven versions using the 8X22 movement. This is the SSE087, with a black dial in a polished hardered titanium case and bracelet.

One of the seven versions using the 8X22 movement. This is the SSE087, with a black dial in a polished hardered titanium case and bracelet.

 

The 8X22 is a new Astron caliber being featured in 7 new references released in Baselworld 2016. It is the latest chapter in the life of the very interesting Seiko Astron series which originated as the world’s first quartz watch.

The Astron series began life as the world’s first quartz watch movement in the form of the Caliber 35 announced in Tokyo on Christmas Day 1969. It claimed and achieved an amazing accuracy of +/- 5 seconds per month, far better than any mechanical movement. The movement used a small, thin, stepper motor which moved the second hand only once per second. This behavior was similar to mechanical watches fitted with seconds morte mechanisms. However, it did so to conserve energy rather than to allow time to be read to the second with great precision.

The quartz oscillator proved to be very shock-resistant, completely immune to magnetism and worked at a very low voltage, ensuring a battery life of one full year. Interestingly, although quartz watches would later develop a reputation as inexpensive timepieces for the masses, the first one was decidedly luxurious, boasting of an 18k gold case. And had a retail price of ¥450,000 (then about US$1,500). As a comparison, the Toyota Corolla LE was ¥432,000 when it was released in 1966. Despite its high price, it sold 100 pieces within the first week.

 

 

The historical Astron on the left was the world's first quartz watch. Sold for US$1,500 in 1969, the equivalent of a small car in Japan in those days. And on the right, the Astron GPS Solar introduced in 2012.

The historical Astron on the left was the world’s first quartz watch. Sold for US$1,500 in 1969, the equivalent of a small car in Japan in those days. And on the right, the Astron GPS Solar introduced in 2012.

 

In 2012, the Astron GPS Solar watch was introduced. It is an analog, solar-powered watch that receives GPS satellite signals and adjusts to the precise local time anywhere on Earth. It did so by using GPS technology, and was the first solar powered watch do so.

When GPS signals are received, the second hand starts moving, indicates the number of satellites that it is in synchronization with. Once the required number is connected, usually 5 or 6, it automatically adjusts itself to display the correct current time according to the satellite data. It can do this automatically once a day, or on demand at the push of a button. Upon arrival at a new timezone, a simple push of the button is all that is required to bring the watch’s local time to the correct time, accounting even for Daylight Savings.

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This is a major breakthrough in two areas. The first being the use of GPS as a time synchronization source. The Astron’s system is superior even to those of radio-controlled watches, which receive terrestrial radio signals from atomic clocks. Radio lag is often fuzzy in nature, while satellite lag can be precisely accounted for. The Astron also automatically recognizes what timezone it is in. And the second is the use of solar power to completely power the watch. The watch requires no other source of power. Here is Seiko’s description on how the solar powered movement works.

The 2012 watch featured the 7X52 movement. The movement received continual technical upgrades and in 2015, the 8X series was released. The 8X watches were carried by many references (Seiko, being a typical Japanese company, and the movement being quartz is featured has in as many as 40 references, some with chronographs, and others featuring dual time indication). One example is the one used by Novak Djokovic which we featured here. In that article, we explored the technology and commented on its validity in the market.

 

The 8X22 Movemement

 

The latest iteration , the 8X22 was announced in Baselworld 2016. It is slimmer than all other Astron calibers. The latest cases to feature the 8X22 measures only 44.8mm diameter by 12.4mm, as compared to 48.2mm by 13.3mm in Astron watches that housed the earlier 8X series. A smaller, and more wrist friendly case size.

But because of the smaller size, Seiko engineers needed to make changes to increase the processing power of the circuit in the GPS module so that the the reception of GPS signals is as strong as the earlier calibers like the 8X53.

Like the earlier calibers, the watch synchronizes with just one touch of a button or automatically once a day within GPS signal reach. It recognizes all 40 timezones automatically, including 15 minute and half hour timezones. It also accounts for Daylight Savings automatically and achieves an accuracy of 1 second every 100,000 years.

The Astron covers the globe by first determining its location using GPS, then comparing that information with an on-board database that divides the Earth’s surface into one million squares, each of which is assigned to a particular time zone.

If the watch is kept without ability to synchronize to satellites, its own quartz movement keeps accuracy to 15s/month. Some enthusiasts have observed that this is rather disappointing performance for a quartz movement, as this translates to 0.5s/day. However, in regular normal activity, the watch should be able to be within satellite range at once a day to automatically sync, so this may not be a practical issue. In our trials in Singapore with the similar Caliber 8X52 equipped models, satellite acquisition is quite fast, often taking less than 10 seconds. At worst cases, it took some 45 seconds to synchronize, which can seem frustrating in this day and age’s instant gratification society. But one can go about one’s normal activity while the watch is going about acquiring satellites as long as there is a clear view of the sky.

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The Caliber 8X22 is available in a series of seven designs. All are titanium-cased and there are four bracelet and three strap versions. The Caliber 8X22 World-Time takes its place alongside the Chronograph and Dual-Time calibers to make up the full Astron GPS Solar collection of over 50 models.

We take a closer look at the SSE091, the only Limited Edition in the seven designs.

 

The SSE091 (Limited Edition of 3500 pieces)

 

Housed in a hardened and polished titanium case on a titanium bracelet, the SSE091 is lighter than its (nominally) 45mm case diameter suggests. The build quality, fit and finish of the case, dial and hands are to a very high level consistent with the precision engineering instrument levels that Seiko aspires the Astron to be.

The bezel is in ceramic and engraved with the cities around the world corresponding to each timezone. It keeps track of 40 cities simultaneously. Around on the case, just inside the bezel is a ring which indicates the times at each of the cities.

Going inward to the dial from the rings, is another stationary ring with a sloping collar. This houses the minute markers, with each 5 minutes marked by a dot with luminous material. Seiko does not specify SuperLuminova, though on inspection, it does look like the ubiquitious paint is used. Extending from this ring, like piers on a pond are the hour markers, which take the form of faceted and polished bars with tapering ends. The effect is quite like our description of piers on the pond, as the markers are floating over the dial. We rather like this look.

On the SSE091, the dial is Mother of Pearl.

 

The Seiko Astron GPS Solar Worldtime SSE091 with the mother of pearl dial.

The Seiko Astron GPS Solar Worldtime SSE091 with the mother of pearl dial.

 

The MOP dial, though a fairly typical MOP encounter on Swiss dials, is quite a rare sight on a Seiko. Like all MOP dials, it is a thin slice from a shell, typically approximately 0.2mm in thickness, and no more than 0.6mm. When raw, the material is translucent, and typically a milky white luster, however it can be found with a natural pearlescent hue in pale blue, pink, gray and brown. Color can be applied by painting, varnishing or lacquering the back of the mother of pearl. For the Astron dials, special care is required to ensure that sufficient light penetrates to reach the solar panels located below the dial.

Read also:   Review: Angelus U10 Tourbillon Lumière

 

The MOP dial on the SSE091 is exceptionally beautiful, as any dial made of natural material usually is. The play of colors as light bounced off the dial from various angles makes a sight to behold.

The MOP dial on the SSE091 is exceptionally beautiful, as any dial made of natural material usually is. The play of colors as light bounced off the dial from various angles makes a sight to behold.

 

As MOP is a natural material, the play of light as it bounced off the dial from various angles creates beautiful and magnificent colors.

 

The 45mm case is not uncomfortable as it is very light. But perhaps the watch is more suited for more sporty applications or for use on board while travelling than for formal business events.

The 45mm case is not uncomfortable as it is very light. But perhaps the watch is more suited for more sporty applications or for use on board while travelling than for formal business events.

 

On the wrist, the 45mm case diameter is a nice fit. The weight is very light as the case is in hardened titanium. And the simplified dial layout now seems less unappropriate in a business suit than the multi-dial layout of the Dual Time versions. But we still feel this is more suitable as a sporty or casual watch, or for use when travelling than for formal business.

Perhaps the SSE095, shown below fares a bit better as the gold accents on the markers and hands, coupled with the crocodile strap makes it a bit less sporty and more formal.

 

The SSE095 with gold markers and a polished titanium case in a crocodile strap.

The SSE095 with gold markers and a polished titanium case in a crocodile strap.

 

Concluding thoughts

 

We think the Seiko Astron GPS Solar Worldtime watches are amazing pieces of technology. We like the look of the watch, and feel its usage might be very good for wear during travel. On board an aircraft or high speed train (or even a cruise ship), it is certainly well at home. The convenience of automatic synchronization with any timezone around the globe is certainly one less task for the jet lagged weary traveler to remember and undertake. As we noted, we feel that perhaps in the interest of sartorial elegance, one might perhaps carry a more elegant watch for formal events on arrival and swap as one changes from travel clothes into one’s suit. But for less formal occasions, the Seiko Astron GPS Solar Worldtime might be just the perfect watch to travel with.

Pricing information is not finalized yet, but we are expecting the series to be sold for about ¥180,000 before taxes in Japan. Although this is approximately S$2,300 incl GST at current exchange rates, Kwong Sia, the Official Authorized Dealer for Singapore often sets retail prices much higher. We are guessing that the Singapore retail to be approximately S$3,200 with GST.

Seiko Astron GPS Solar Worldtime Specifications

Caliber Specifications: 8X22, GPS Solar World-Time
GPS controlled time and time zone adjustment
Perpetual calendar correct to the year 2100
Signal reception result indication
World time function (40 time zones)
Daylight Saving Time function
Power save function
Accuracy: +/-15 seconds per month (without receiving a time signal and at temperatures between 5°C and 35°C)

Specifications: SSE091
Titanium case with super-hard black coating
Ceramic bezel
Colored mother-of-pearl dial
Sapphire crystal with super-clear coating
Water resistance: 10 bar
Magnetic resistance: 4,800 A/m
Diameter: 44.8mm, Thickness: 12.4mm
Ceramic and titanium bracelet with super-hard black coating, three-fold clasp with push button release
A crocodile strap is included.
Limited edition of 3,500 pcs

Specifications: SSE085, 087, 089, 093, 095, 096
Titanium case with super-hard coating (SSE085, 087, 093, 095)
Titanium case with super-hard black coating (SSE089)
Titanium case with rose gold color coating (SSE096)
Ceramic bezel
Sapphire crystal with super-clear coating
Water resistance: 10 bar
Magnetic resistance: 4,800 A/m
Diameter: 44.8mm, Thickness: 12.4mm
Titanium bracelet with super-hard coating (SSE085, 087)
Titanium bracelet with super-hard black coating (SSE089)
Crocodile strap (SSE093, 095, 096)
Three-fold clasp with push button release

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