Friday, July 19, 2019

Champagne and Salmon: A Grand Seiko Spring Drive Story in Pictures

A perfect pairing: Smoked salmon and champagne (as in a champagne Grand Seiko Spring Drive dial.)

Good watches go with good food. 

Friday, July 12, 2019

The A to Z Watch Collection

Guest column by Robert Blockoff

This is Robert Blockoff’s story.   Some collectors specialize in a particular brand, such as Rolex, Grand Seiko, or H. Moser & Cie. Others have a fondness for dive watches, pilot’s watches, mechanical alarm watches, perpetual calendars, moonphases, or some other complication. Still other collectors go after every watch they can find from a particular country.

Robert’s collection includes a watch from every letter beginning with A and ending with Z. He just recently completed the alphabet. 

Robert is an American watch collector who also collects other objects including fishing rods, reels, creels, old wooden fishing lures and books about fishing that date as far back as the 1600s to the present. He also collects guns, knives, and baseball cards from the 1950s to the late 1970s.

A version of this article first appeared on the forum, WatchUSeek. [insert URL]

It was three or four years ago that I started to catalog all my watches. First it started out as just a random list, but then I decided I needed to start alphabetizing my watches. Alphabetizing my collection meant it was easier to identify and locate certain brands and watches.

As I was alphabetizing, I realized I didn't own watch brands that started with the letters, "Y" or "Z"! Can you imagine? Now, I know there are watch collectors who say this is a ridiculous collection, a silly goal! Some will say, "I'm a one watch guy.” Others can’t imagine owning more than five or, at most, a dozen watches.

Part of Robert Blockoff's A to Z Watch Collectioin

I didn't start out with having one watch from A to Z as my goal when I began collecting watches some forty-five years earlier. In the 1970s you could pick up some nice watches for one hundred to a couple of hundred bucks, and I did! I had the watch collecting bug and I had it bad.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Should You Buy That Watch?

Are you trying to decide whether to buy a new watch?
This handy flowchart will help...we hope.

Is there even the slimmest of possibilities that the watch you desire
might no longer be available sometime in the next five years?


Is your next credit card statement due in
twenty days or more?


Will the watch make you happy?


Are you running out of watches to photograph and post online?


Can you ship or slip that watch home without your significant other noticing?


Do you have an important event coming up such as a school reunion,
receiving an award, or going to the supermarket to buy mayonnaise? 


Do you spend evenings looking at pictures of that watch online?


Can you recite that watch’s specs by heart?


Has it been at least a month since you’ve bought a watch?


Do you have space for another watch box?


Do you promise to wear that watch every day for the next month?


Does the dial color match one of your pairs of socks?


Will your owning that watch help bring about world peace?


Can you afford that watch?


Buy it!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Time Flocks

a short story by Bill Adler

“Look, look!” Billy jumped up and down like a Mexican jumping bean and pointed to the blue sky above Central Park’s tree canopy.

"Dija see, dija see, daddy?" His head swiveled as he tracked the flock across the sky. Billy slapped his palm over his mouth, removed it and said, "Ooo, so pretty!  I think they were Golden Pakax, daddy. Rare ones, right?"

Billy jumped up and down again, and cooed, "Ooo, I wish I had my camera." He looked at his father with wistful eyes. "Your camera."  Billy spun around in a tight 360 degree circle. "I cuda took a picture for Bobby." Bobby was Billy's older brother by five years. Billy was six. "Did Bobby have Pakax, daddy?"

Billy's father rubbed his chin and said, "No son. Your brother had a Timex. A Patek is —was—  too expensive for a kid. For most adults, too."

A Pakex?
"A Pakex?"

"Yes, a Patek. The full name is Patek Philippe."

"There's a Philip in my social studies class."

"That's good, Billy."

Billy took his father's hand as they walked toward the Central Park merry-go-round. Billy couldn't yet see the carousel because it was shrouded by trees, but he could hear the beckoning jingle.

Billy jumped high again, so high that their arms were nearly parallel to the ground. "There go more." He opened his eyes wide and looked up at his father. "It's a flock?" Flock came out as "flk."


"What are those in the flk? Are those Rolex?" Billy felt proud that he could pronounce "Rolex.” Just yesterday, his homeroom teacher had spent the entire twenty minutes teaching all the kids how to pronounce and spell "Rolex."

“No. They're dull-looking and aren't flying in a coordinated group. Their flight pattern is jerky. And there are too many of them."

Billy felt a cool shadow pass over his face as the flock blocked out the sun.

"I think they're Daniel Wellingtons."

"Daniels are like pigeons, right?"

"That's right."

"Only they don't poop on your head." Billy giggled.

Friday, June 21, 2019

What Do the Swiss Think About Japanese Watches?

Guest column by Arnaud Aimonetti

Arnaud Aimonetti is a watch collector and co-owner of the vintage watch shop, Ikigai Watches, which specializes in Seiko and family. 

I work in Switzerland and live in the suburbs of Geneva, and I can tell you that most Swiss disdain non-Swiss watches, especially Japanese watches, even though they don't know anything about them. In Switzerland’s watch community, some people are better informed than others and consider a watch’s quality, rather than focusing on just the name on the dial. Those watch enthusiasts tend to appreciate Seiko and Grand Seiko a little bit more.

Two Swiss watches, an Omega and Rolex, on the Tokyo subway.
Photo taken June 2019. 
The Swiss remember that Seiko, as well as Citizen and Casio, cost thousands of people their jobs in the 1970s and 1980s, during the Quartz Crisis. The Quartz Crisis, inspired by an infusion of inexpensive, super-accurate Seiko watches, was also called the “Quartz Revolution,” depending on your perspective. For Switzerland, it was a crisis. In 1970 Switzerland had 1,600 watchmaking companies; by 1983, only 600 remained. Japanese watchmakers are considered the devil himself! Most people —even people working in the Swiss watchmaking industry today—  won't even try to hear what you have to say about Japanese watches. They cover their ears when you extol the wonders of Japan’s time pieces.

But what’s interesting is that a Swiss historian specializing in the history of watchmaking wrote a book called Catching Up With and Overtaking Switzerland about the economic history of watchmaking. He explains how the crisis in the Swiss watchmaking industry in the 1970s and 1980s was not caused by quartz, but by Japanese watches being equally as good as Swiss ones, but cheaper. Quartz wasn't the cause of the Swiss watch industry's troubles, which began in the late 1960s. The problem for the Swiss was the whole organisation of the industry: This crisis was a structural crisis. Because the Japanese industry was verticalized, they were able to make everything in-house to reduce costs. But in Switzerland, the industry has always been very horizontalized, with a lot of subcontractors. Not a single Swiss brand made in-house watches, as some parts (and sometimes all the parts) were bought to various specialized subcontractors and only assembled by said brand.

The goal that Kintaro Hattori set for Seiko was to make watches that would surpass Swiss watches in quality but keep the low prices by using the American industrial model: make watches in large quantities and entirely in-house.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Movements of Time: Grand Seiko Watch Movements

by Jason Chien

Jason Chien is a humble fan of Grand Seiko and their watches, a huge fan of Japan, Japanese culture, its food and its people. He says that Spring Drive is a God-like watch movement.

Grand Seiko is known for its three movements: quartz, mechanical, and its unique Spring Drive. (Spring Drive movements are also used in some non-Grand Seiko watches).

The rare Grand Seiko "Red Flake"
All movements, as well as everything in their watches, are developed and constructed in-house. Every gear, pin, oil, case, and you name it, are all made internally from start to finish. All Grand Seiko watches are zaratsu polished to mirror finishes that catch and reflect light. Zaratsu is a magic unlike no other watches in the world.

Each of these three movements are also shining examples of Grand Seiko's technology, dedication and focus to details and accuracy.

Grand Seiko's quartz movement is not your typical, run-of-the-mill quartz movement you find in other brands. Grand Seiko grows, ages and tests its quartz crystals in their own factory in Shiojiri (where they also make Spring Drive movements). Most of Grand Seiko’s quartz watches are accurate to within ten seconds per year, and their enhanced ones are accurate to five seconds per year (these have a * above the six o'clock marker).

Grand Seiko’s mechanical movements (including their 36,000 beats per hour hi-beat movement) are the workhorse of the Grand Seiko brand. They are accurate to +5 or -3 seconds a day and adjusted for temperature and to six positions (while other brands test only five positions). In addition to their stellar engineering, many of the recent beautiful, intricate dials come from the mechanical line. Hi-beat mechanical watches have greater shock resistance than ordinary Seikos; the second hand ticks ten times per second, compared to eight times per second for their regular automatics. Because nothing’s free in physics: Normal automatics have a power reserve of seventy-two hours compared to a hi-beats’ fifty-five hours.

Friday, June 7, 2019

The Spring Drive Papers

a short story by Bill Adler

“Welcome aboard, Saito san.” Nakamura rubbed his fingertips over his watch. Touching the smooth crystal calmed him more than inhaling Japan' mountain air.

“Thank you, sir. I’m delighted to be of assistance.” Saito removed her wool cap and looked at it awkwardly, unsure of what she should do about the snow that remained on top. She flipped the cap inside out so the snow wouldn’t fall on the hardwood floor. Saito sensed snow on her long, black hair as well, and tried her best to ignore it, hoping it would just evaporate.

“It does get snowy in Shiojiri,” Nakamura said. “But in the summer you'll appreciate the climate more.” He scanned the paper inside the file folder in front of him. “I see you're from Kyushu. Hot there?”

"Yes, sir. In the summer everything and everybody melts." Saito didn’t want to admit she was affected by the heat, because PSIA agents are supposed to be immune from all manner of adversity, even torture. Saito pursed her lips. But just thinking about the long summer in Japan’s south ignited a fire in her core. She feared that was melting the snow on her hair, causing it to ruin Nakamura’s floor.

Nakamura closed the folder. “You're probably wondering why Seiko is hiring a former officer in the Public Security Intelligence Agency.” Nakamura motioned to the Eames chair in front of his desk. “Please, sit. Everyone at Seiko should be comfortable.”

Saito glanced at her coat’s sleeves. There were still a few white snow spots. “Just drape your coat over the chair. It will be fine,” Nakamura said.

“Okay, thank you, sir.” Saito softened her spine and sat.

Nakamura leaned forward, propping his chin on his clasped hands. “It’s because of the Swiss.”

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Never Late

a short story by Bill Adler

“Babe, I Iike that we both wear the same watch.” Betsy tapped the crystal of her Grand Seiko before running her fingers through her long, blonde hair causing electricity to meander
 through Vin’s body, starting with his belly, then radiating upwards to his head and down to his toes.

Betsy smiled, her tongue touching her lips before retreating. “I really do like that we have the same Grand Seiko Spring Drive.” She wriggled her hips, took a step toward Vin, and put her hands on his shoulders. She kissed his cheek, then his ear. “Lots of couples have matching rings or matching baseball caps.” She winked. “But matching watches are special. You remember that I thought it was nerdy when you got this pair, and you know that I insisted that a man’s watch would overwhelm my wrist, making me look like a dork. But I adore our watches, with their indigo dials that look like they were plucked out of Saturn’s rings, polished cases in which you can get more lost than in any mirror maze, and a red-tipped second hand that’s just” Betsy pulled herself closer to Vin, nuzzled his ear, and brushed her breasts against his chest. She took his hand and guided his fingers through her hair.
Grand Seiko SBGA 275

Vin gasped. “Yes, me, too.”

“It’s incredible to me that these watches are accurate to within a second a day.” Betsy put her hands on Vin’s hips. “Just incredible.”

Vin nodded. He pushed his shoes off with his toes, and rubbed his feet against the pine wood floor to cool down.

“I have you to thank for introducing me to the pleasures of wearing a watch, and you to thank for teaching me about Grand Seiko. It’s like wearing a modern art museum, walking through a Japanese garden, and flying across the solar system in the most modern spaceship ever designed, all at once. These watches are the best. You’re the best.”

“Yes. There is no technology like Spring Drive. It’s as if the watch will be invented in the year 2030, that’s how advanced it is. Tri-synchro regulator, magnetic braking, quartz oscillator, but no battery — it’s wow.”

“And beautiful.” Betsy raised herself on the balls of her feet, and kissed Vin. Her lips relaxed for a second so their tongues could touch. When Betsy lowered herself to the floor —a soft cloud landing on a meadow, Vin thought— she took his hand in hers. She rubbed her Grand Seiko’s crystal again, touched her lips, and then rubbed the crystal on Vin’s watch. “It’s lovely, and perfect from an engineering perspective." Betsy inhaled a long breath. “So sweetie, you shouldn’t set your watch set five minutes ahead of the actual time. Go with the flow, love, embrace the Spring Drive’s accuracy and tune it to the actual time.”

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Queen (Seiko) Is Here!

The Queen is here!

Ever since ascending to the throne, King Seiko has been weak from sadness, a mainspring in search of a winder. All alone, with nobody to share duty and glory with. Nobody with whom to say, "Let's synchronize watches," the lyric love song of all Kings.

Smaller than the King Seiko, but equally powerful in her own way.
Then today along came the Queen, arriving in a box marked with no words other than that of the magical, far away land we know of as "Amazon." Yet she traveled far, not in distance, but in time. The Queen had been waiting all these years, unwound, in search of forever love. Queen Seiko is a diminutive, svelte creature, measuring not more than 21 mm, yet her 23 jewels capture the gaze of everyone who glimpses her beauty.

Queen Seiko will remain by the King's side, a bond more powerful than the strongest tree sap, from now until the world itself winds down. Or until servicing is needed, whichever comes first.

Who is the Queen Seiko? Or rather what is a Queen Seiko?

Manufactured in the 1960’s, the 21 mm Queen Seiko was the women's version of the King Seiko, though in 2019 a 36 mm King Seiko would look just fine on a woman’s wrist. The Queen Seiko may have been the watch that men bought for their wives so that happy couples could wear matching watches.

The Queen Seiko is one of Seiko's lesser known vintage models. Queen Seikos are medium-hard to find, but you can sometimes locate them on Yahoo Auctions, Rakuten and eBay, usually for several hundred dollars. The Queen Seiko you buy may not have been serviced for many decades, which means that if you acquire one, your first stop should be a watchmaker.

It goes without saying that if you have a Queen Seiko in your collection, you need to have the entire set of Seiko royalty: Lord Marvel, Queen Seiko, King Seiko, and Grand Seiko, of course. 

Queen Seikos are as fun as couple's watches today, as they were half a century ago.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Watch Shopping in Japan's Pawn Shops

I don't want to draw overly broad lessons about buying watches at pawn shops in Japan, but I thought I would tell a short story about my recent buying experience at one Tokyo pawn shop.

There probably should be a tick mark to the right of the
date window, but there wasn't, indicating that this watch
lives in a Twilight Zone of uncertainty: It might be the
real deal, or it might not be. 
A short while ago, I purchased a 1970 Grand Seiko 6185-8020 VFA at a pawn shop in Shibuya. The shop sells high end watches, as well as designer handbags, and jewelry with fist-sized diamonds. The Grand Seiko I picked up is a beautiful watch, eye-candy for collectors, but as it turned out, the watch was flawed in several ways. It may have been water damaged, and in repairing the dial, the tick mark to the right of the date window had been erased. The crown was not the original crown, either.

I didn't notice those problems before buying the watch. In fact, I didn’t notice the flaws even after I got the watch home. But two Grand Seiko experts from the Grand Seiko Owner’s Club instantly spotted these two issues, kindly and gently alerting me to the fact that my watch wasn’t whole.

The watch came with a calibration certification from Grand Seiko that I thought also guaranteed it was the real deal. But I was wrong. The calibration paperwork was just like a test for blood sugar, revealing nothing more than it’s narrow mission.

I've posted a photo of the watch I bought. If you Google "Grand Seiko 6185-8020" you'll see what this VFA should look like.* The lack of an indice to the right of the date window, a (probable) staple of all 6185-8020’s, will immediately jump out at you once you know what you’re looking for.

As soon as my friends pointed out my Grand Seiko’s defects, I boarded the Toyoko Line, the express, back to Shibuya.

The pawn shop wasn't happy to see me again. They argued and said I should have noticed these problems from the photos on the website. The sales clerk consulted with an unseen manager in some hidden room behind closed doors. After the clerk returned with the word, “no” on her lips, I pointed out that the description had noted some problems with the watch, including a scratched crystal and scratches on the case, both of which were acceptable for a vintage watch. But the online description didn't say anything about the crown being replaced or the dial being changed. Eventually, the shop gave me a full refund. (The shop also has a four day return window, so ultimately whatever their argument, they had to take it back.)