Seiko may not be Android or Apple smart, but the company is still making watches that are smart in their own way.
The Japan based Seiko Holdings Company, or Seiko, was founded in 1881 as small watch and jewelry store. In 1892 the small company began to produce their own clocks, followed by watches in 1924. Taken from the Japanese word for exquisite, Seiko focused on timeless timepieces that had to meet the highest of standards.
Seiko made itself known as a luxury brand in watches with its 1969 Astron Quartz Watch. Priced the same as a medium sized car, the Astron was the watch for the rich and famous. Seiko is best known for their wristwatches, which at one time were all entirely produced in house. Everything from the motor and hands, to the oil that lubricates them was made inside of their Japan factory.
Seiko’s expertise in both quartz and mechanical watches, and some are prized by watch collectors. They have also produced limited edition rare watches, like the A359 5040 Sports 100 Chronograph, which was released in 1981. Few images of the watch exist, and even fewer of the watches, giving it an air of mystique that appeals to the serious collector.
The first smartwatch?
In 1982, at a time when the world was still limited by land lines, Seiko released a timepiece that for all intent and purpose could fit the bare bones definition of a smartwatch. The Seiko T001 allowed wearers to watch TV from their wrist. There was no Bluetooth or video streaming yet, but with a receiver attached to the Seiko watch, television signals were captured and sent to the tiny watch display.
While this seems antiquated to us now, the concept was 30 years ahead of its time, and one of the very first examples of a watchmaker thinking outside of telling time. In 1983 you could attach your Seiko Data-2000 to a computer keyboard, store two memos and calendar entries and use the watch as a calculator.
Seiko did continue in this mode of thinking, albeit not in mobile television watching wear, but rather in high tech gear like the Ruputer and the Seiko Message Watch. The Ruputer is best described as a computer watch that Seiko introduced in 1998. It ran off a DOS operating system and gave the wearer primitive computer functions from their wrist. Launched in 1995, the Seiko message watch used FM frequencies to show the wearer weather forecasts, stock prices and sports scores. This is not so far off from what Android Wear is doing 20 years later.
By 2006 Seiko had harnessed the power of Bluetooth to design the CPC TR-006. This smartwatch was only ever available in Japan, but it can communicate with a mobile phone and display caller ID information on the watch display as well as text messages. Obviously not nearly as sophisticated as what we are seeing now in smartwatches, this was still a wearable that was years ahead of its time.
For now, that seems to be the end for Seiko’s foray into mobile phone assisted timepieces. Instead, the company turned its focus on GPS, and developing their own low energy GPS receiver for watches. The Astron was launched in 2013 and featured this low energy GPS that got its power from the sun. Quartz movement allowed the watch to synchronise time perfectly, and adjust as the wearer changes time zones.
There are over 21 different styles of the Astron available, with variations in color and wrist band type. They have a water resistance of up to 100 metres and has a smaller face inset to display a second time zone. The reserve battery is expected to last for up to four years before needing to be changed out. The suggested retail price in Australia varies depending on the style chosen, but can range between $2,500 and $5,700.
Seiko has taken a different approach to the smartwatch, and has chosen for now to maintain its sharp high end style. Its ability to harness solar power for its GPS function is certainly an appealing trait that combined with the beautiful look of Seiko watches would make for a fierce competitor in the smartwatch market.
If your watch wearing interest is in a watch that looks fantastic and tells time with precision, then for you, Seiko is a smartwatch. The bells and whistles may not be as loud as with other smartwatches, but they are crafted to perfection to make sure you always know exactly what time it is.