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.)

Friday, May 10, 2019

Nothing Is Forever

a short story by Bill Adler

“Excuse me, sir, you’re going to have to remove your watch, put it on the tray, and go through again.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Ian said. He shifted his gaze to the red light above him. He hadn’t missed the buzzing — it was more than audible over the cacophony of random noises and voices — but he figured he must have left some coins in his pocket. Or possibly have forgotten to take out his keys. Or...the metal Amex card in my wallet! It had triggered a metal detector once before.

A World War I era J.W. Benson
“It’s my wallet. There’s a metal credit card inside. I’m sure it’s happened before with the new American Express cards. Whose brilliant idea was that, to make a metal credit card?”

“Your watch, sir,” the uniformed TSA agent repeated, pointing to Ian’s wrist. “You have to remove it. Your wallet, too, if it’s still in your pocket. Any and all metal goes into the tray.” She shot Ian a look of, “You should know that, idiot.”

“I can’t take my watch off. It’s valuable, rare, and of great sentimental value. It belonged to my grandfather, and I would feel terrible if anything happened to it.” Ian nodded, half hoping the TSA agent would nod back.

“Please remove your watch, put it on a tray, and proceed through the metal detector again, sir.” The TSA agent tapped her foot with foreboding, like a rattlesnake shaking its tail.

“I can’t,” Ian said. Ian had stepped back and to the side so he wasn’t holding up the security line. Except for Lucy, who stood behind him with her arms folded across her chest. She also was tapping her foot.

The TSA agent narrowed her eyes, as if she was about to discharge a deadly laser beam. Ian turned around and glanced at Lucy, quickly deciding he preferred the TSA agent’s angry face to his girlfriend’s. “Sir, I’ll ask you one more time. Please remove your wristwatch, put it in the tray, where it will be safe and secure, and proceed through the metal detector again.” The agent had stopped tapping her foot, as if ready to strike.

Ian shook his head for five seconds before his mouth joined in the answer. “No, sorry.”

“Then I’m sorry, sir. You can’t fly.” She beckoned with her arm, looking over Ian’s shoulder . “Next!”

“Okay,” Ian replied. “No problem.” He hoisted his backpack from the tray that had yet to be delivered by conveyor belt to the x-ray machine, pivoted around, and said to Lucy, “Let’s go, babe. We’re not traveling today.”

The hubbub of a hundred voices silenced when Lucy shouted, “Are you fucking kidding me?” Lucy stomped her foot, a thunder clap that echoed off the walls. “Just take off your watch, Ian, and let’s go to Greece.”

“I’m sorry.” Ian pressed his chin against his chest. His eyes were half closed and his arms hung limp at his side.

“You and your damn watch. You never take it off. Not for the shower. Not for when we go out to a fancy restaurant. Not when we have sex.” Lucy shouted the last sentence at an even higher volume.

The TSA agent stepped between Ian and Lucy, her roundness obscuring Ian and Lucy’s view of each other. “You two are going to have to leave now or I’m going to call the Airport Police.” She added in a hushed voice, “I’m in a good mood today because I won the instant lottery yesterday, which is the only reason I haven’t already called the police.” She flicked her hand. “Git. Scoot. Now.”

“We have to go, Lucy. I’m sorry.” Ian shuffled his feet. “I am really sorry.”

“You’re out of your mind. We’ll talk about this later.” Lucy pressed her lips together like she was sealing them with superglue, as if contradicting her just spoken words, determined never to speak with Ian again. Ian reached for her hand, but Lucy swatted his hand away, making a smaller, but still audible thunderclap.

“I’m sorry we’re not going to Greece. I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you. I promise.” With his backpack slung over his shoulder, Ian shuffled his feet along the floor.

Lucy wiped her eyes with the back of her palm. She rummaged through her bag, found a pack of tissues, and wiped her eyes some more. Wavy lines that looked like the beach after the tide had come in and out and a hundred times over the same spot covered her forehead. Her chest heaved as she breathed.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Watch Toss Competition

How good is your manual dexterity? Do you have the balance of a mountain goat, the eyes of an owl, and the speed of a jaguar?

Most importantly, do you have the nerve to participate in the First Annual Watch Toss? Or are you going to keep your watch safe and secure under your sleeve?

The rules are simple. Whoever tosses their watch highest and catches it wins.

There are three Watch Toss competition categories: $1,000 and under watches, $10,000 and under watches and over $10,000 watches.

So, do you feel lucky?

Friday, April 26, 2019

Watch Adoptions

Imagine if watches could be adopted like cats and dogs. We did, and this adoption rejection letter was the result. 

Dear Mr. Lear,

Frankly, we're not even sure why you applied. In the forty-nine-year history of the agency, we've never seen anybody as unqualified, undeserving, or unfit to adopt a wristwatch.

A Habring2
Watch Lives Watch Adoptions only places watches in homes where they’ll be cared for with infinite love, where watches are greeted with smiles each and every day, and where watches are treated with the admiration and reverence they deserve. Your home isn’t fit for an hourglass.

Our investigators found that your previous Breitling lived in a watch winder. You probably know that keeping a watch in a winder 24/7 wears your watch out faster because the gears are in constant motion — and that's unacceptable. It’s watch abuse, pure and simple.

We’re also aware that you never put a previously owned Omega in a watch winder, a watch that you rarely wore. Don't you know that a watch that’s stationary for months at a time causes the lubricants to congeal?

If it appears we're contradicting ourselves when it comes to your watches and winders, we don't care. We can deny your watch adoption for any reason. Frankly, we just don’t like you.

You wore your Alain Silberstein with a short sleeve shirt in June, exposing the dial to the harmful rays of the sun. Watches sunburn, too, you know, especially ones with colorful dials like Alain Silberstein’s. Heaven forbid you bleach an H. Moser Vantablack.

We know from social media posts that when you bought your Rolex Daytona, you had your suit jacket sleeve shortened so you could show off the watch. That’s bad taste.

You change the date between 10 and 2. We saw you. (We have eyes everywhere. Ever heard of drones?)

Friday, April 19, 2019

A Good Crop

a short story by Bill Adler

“Whatcha plantin’, Joe?”

Bob Haskins surveyed his neighbor’s field as he moved the wheat stalk in his mouth two teeth to the left. The afternoon sun seared his already burned neck. He wanted to get inside for air conditioning and ice tea, but figured it was polite to start the conversation outdoors because Joe had walked from his house to the driveway to greet Bob.

The furrowed ground gave evidence of recently planted seedlings. Raised brown rows with a narrow gully in between extended from one end of Joe Davenport’s property to the other. It was too early to tell what Joe had planted. All just-furrowed fields look the same to Bob.

“How about we talk about crops and life and such inside where the air conditioning and ice tea are nice and cool, and the blueberry pie is just the right temperature?”

That was music to Bob’s ears. He patted his ample belly. The blueberry pie was an unexpected plus.

Above the fireplace there was a wooden sign that with a quotation about farming printed in a sepia-stained, cursive font: “Some of us grew up playing with tractors; the lucky ones still do.” The sofa, dining room table, lounge chair, table lamp, wall clock, and fireplace tools were all in well-kept condition, but were mismatched, as if it had been acquired over a century.

Joe motioned Bob to the sofa. The ice cubes in the glass clinked against its sides as Joe handed the tea to Bob. Bob sighed as he wrapped his sweaty hand around the frosty glass.

“Not too sweet, I hope.”

Bob emptied nearly the entire drink in one gulp. “Perfect.” Bob smiled. “Another?”

Joe slid his chair close to the coffee table on the opposite side of the couch, causing Bob to grimace as the legs squeaked against the hardwood floor. He smiled a toothy smile and said, “This year, Grand Seikos.”

“Say what?”

“I’m planting Grand Seikos.”

Bob slapped his thigh so hard it sounded like thunder filled the room. “No way. Why ya doing that?” He held the ice tea glass against his forehead for about a half minute, drank the second glass in one gulp, and continued. “Do ya need to have sense kicked into you, Joe? Cause I’m willing to as a friend.” Bob raised his leg and aimed his size 11 shoe at Joe.

“Do you want to know why?”