On one of the internet watch discussion forums, back in 1998, I wrote and shared my thoughts about the THE RE-EMERGING POWER OF SEIKO TIME. I covered some historical links of the company in general and how I came to follow closely many significant developments. I realized back then that this company was no sleeping giant.
Today, more so, I cannot hide my affinity for Seiko as a leader of watchmaking innovations especially since their introduction of their ‘Spring Drive’ timepieces.
First, a brief definition of Seiko’s ‘Kinetic’ -- the predecessor to their ‘Spring Drive’.
Kinetic is Seiko’s name for a category of watches that differ from standard quartz watches in that they never need a battery change. That’s because a Kinetic watch generates its own electrical power.
Seiko Kinetic is the first quartz watch powered by human movement which uses the simple motion of the wearer’s arm to create electricity to run the watch, a development so significant it led to the application for more than 50 patents. The process uses an oscillating weight that is rotated by the movement of the wrist: this movement is transformed into a magnetic charge, then into electricity, which is stored in a tiny capacitor or a rechargeable battery for up to six months. It never needs a battery change.
Every movement of the oscillating weight in the kinetic watch is turned in to a magnetic charge. The rotors in kinetic watches can spin 100,000 RPM’s faster then a formula one race car. This is where the magic of kinetic watches begins. Every movement of the oscillating rotor in the kinetic watch is turned in to a magnetic charge. The extremely high density coil in kinetic watches transforms the magnetic charge created by the kinetic watches rotor in to electricity to power the watch. A very vital piece in a kinetic watch is the circuit block. The block controls the voltage, amps, and by quartz oscillation, produces a precise watch signal. The oscillator oscillates at a highly stable rate of 32,768 time per second. The step motor then converts the electrical signal in to a precise rotational motion that is transmitted to the hands through the gear train.
TRAIN WHEELS OF NEW SPRING DRIVE MOVEMENT
In order that the entire power generated through the oscillating weight to the mainspring is not prematurely expended and is regulated at the same time, Seiko employs, in place of a mechanical escapement, a newly developed “Tri-synchro regulator”. This unit regulates the ‘mechanical energy’ used in the Spring Drive mechanism; the ‘electrical energy’ generated from the mainspring’s motion which activates a crystal oscillator; and the ‘electromagnetic energy’ that turns the glide wheel precisely 8 times per second. It required new advances in electro-magnetics to develop the braking system within the regulator and new advances in power generation and IC to convert part of the mainspring’s mechanical power to an electrical signal.
I believe the achievements found in the Seiko Spring Drive are, in general, obvious but noteworthy on many fronts.
First, detailed attention has been given to the finishing and aesthetics of the movement parts not only for its looks but also to make all the moving parts operate as smoothly as possible. As for just beauty, not many quartz movement makers bother to produce a high end looking product.
Second, the idea of combining the proven side of mechanical watchmaking with the latest innovations in quartz technology is a noble undertaking and, indeed, a significant accomplishment.
Third, the enormous collective resources of Seiko’s financial, technical, and engineering all contributed to this astounding and impressive breakthrough.
Perhaps the most remarkable feat of accomplishment with this unique hybrid of quartz-mechanical is the less than a handful of non-traditional parts that are never used in all mechanical movement. Out of 280 parts in the Spring Drive movement there are only four ‘electronic’ parts representing less than 2 percent of the total number of components.
Its technological advances, as listed on Seiko’s website (see link below) are many and varied, as its numerical statistics reveal:
* 0.025 mm. The thickness of each layer of alloy in the coil block.
* 1 second a day accuracy, 10 times better than the chronometer mechanical standard.
* 3 types of energy are controlled by the Tri-synchro regulator: mechanical, electrical and electro-magnetic.
* 5 craftsmen and women. Only Seiko’s 5 most skilled craftsmen and women are entrusted with the assembly of Spring Drive.
* 8 times per second. The precise speed at which the glide wheel turns within the electro-magnetic braking system.
* 13 generations of prototype were built in the development phases.
* 15 microns . The width of the wire in the Tri-synchro regulator’s coil.
* 18 layers of amorphous alloy in the coil block.
* 25 nanowatts. The minute amount of power needed to activate the regulator, less than half that needed in all other watch circuits.
* 28 years of research and development invested in the project.
* 30 percent improvement in winding efficiency achieved through the improved Magic Lever system.
* 30 jewels in the movement. 32 in the small second hand version.
* 72 hours of power reserve.
* 92 years since Seiko built its first wristwatch.
* 124 years of Seiko's expertise in time keeping.
* 230 patents have been applied for in Japan, USA and the EU.
* 276 components in the movement. 280 in the small second hand version.
* 600 actual prototypes were built between 1997 and 2004.
* 25,000. The number of times the coil is wound, for maximum energy efficiency.
* 28,800. The number of times the glide wheel turns per hour.
SUMMARY OF DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE NEW ‘AUTOMATIC’ SPRING DRIVE AND ITS PREDECESSORS
1. The new Spring Driver is an automatic wind versus the previous one a manual wind.
2. The principle technical function of the new and old spring drive are the same except the new spring drive has additional automatic mechanism parts.
3. The Magic Lever winding system parts have been reduced by one wheel since the new type mainspring requires less power, thus providing for smoother and more efficient winding
Seiko claims the system combines the best of mechanical and quartz technologies while doing away with the negatives of each.
It replaces the weakest component of a traditional mechanical watch - the escapement - and the one part of a quartz watch which wears out - the battery.
Crucial to the mechanism has been the creation of a mainspring using a high-elasticity material called Spron 510 which delivers more power for longer to the movement.
As the watch unwinds it powers a rotor which produces enough electricity to cause the quartz crystal to give out a reference signal to an integrated circuit which replaces the escapement and regulates the three kinds of energy used by Spring Drive.
This allows the hands of a Spring Drive watch to move in a smooth, sweeping action - rather than in a series of ratchet-like steps - making it, according to Seiko, the only watch in the world to represent the true motion of time.
It is the opinion of Seiko's management that their SPRING DRIVE technology has "created the de facto standards of the watch industry". One thing is sure - Seiko has proven to the watch industry that it is, indeed, not a sleeping giant.
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The writer acknowledges thanks, first and foremost, to Scott Chou - Technical Service Manager of Seiko Time Corporation in the U.S.A., and also to John Davis, as well as Thomas Mao, Andrew Babanin (photo taken at Basel Fair ‘05), Mike Disher and to others for information gathered to cover this report.
At this writing, no other official technical materials were available from Seiko U.S.A. on the new Spring Drive.
ADDITIONAL INFO FROM SEIKO
by Jack Freedman
Official information from Seiko about the Spring Drive Automatic timepiece has been sketchy and incomplete. Today I talked to a technical spokesperson at Seiko who took the time to answer a few questions I was asked by many forum participants.
Please note that these questions and answers have not been recorded verbatim and that they were edited and modified by me for the purpose of general information and discussion.
The Grand Seiko Spring Drive Automatic with a 9R65A movement was introduced last year in Japan. Grand Seiko calibers are all 9 series these days. How does the 5R movement compare with the 9R65A movement used in the Grand Seiko Spring Drive watches which were introduced in 2004? Is the 5 series designation pure marketing or are there some functional differences?
Here's an official e-mail reply I got from Seiko’s U.S. executive offices on May 17, 2005:
I have the exact quote from an expert in our Tokyo office regarding your movement question pertaining to Spring Drive.
The 9R65 movement is used only for Grand Seiko. The only difference between 9R and 5R is the finish of the rotor bridge and shape of the rotor. As an example, striped pattern bridge for 9R and circular pattern for 5R. Processing method and time are same so it is difficult for us to judge which is better between them. However, in terms of technical modifications and improvements 9R and 5R is same.
What is the expected life of the IC and generator?
The longevity of these components are not much different than those in other quartz movements. And, many quartz movements 25 years old are still around with the original electronic parts. If the watch is not dropped or abused in any way there should be no problem with these parts functioning over a long period. Furthermore, since the Spring Drive contains no battery there is no chemical process which could unexpectedly have an adverse effect on the IC and generator.
What are the specs of these models i.e. size, height, weight etc. ?
Seiko's marketing department has not yet officially released all information on these new models.
When will these watches be available in the U.S. and at what price?
The expected release will be this summer through select stores at the price of $3500 for the steel version. It will also become available in gold. The prices are justified by the very high quality components used and by the significant amount of manual assembly by highly skilled watchmakers.
How many watches will be produced initially for the market?
Seiko estimates they will produce fewer than 1000 Spring Drive watches during the first year. Seiko’s 5 most skilled craftsmen and women entrusted with the assembly of Spring Drive should be able to handle the initial production.
How complicated is this movement that it needs specialized technicians to do the assembly work?
It may be possible for a qualified professional watchmaker with good skills and experience to disassemble, service, and reassemble the movement without the fear of facing the unknown.
What are the recommended service intervals for these new timepieces?
Seiko's preliminary tests and research show that the movement should run longer between complete service overhauls than other mechanical and quartz movements. There is no 'escapement' heavily dependent on the condition of lubricants and no 'power cell' to require a battery change and which can cause leakage, corrosion, and damage to the movement. Seiko has not specified at this time precisely how often the watch should be serviced.
Will the spring drive eventually replace the kinetics movements?
Seiko has not made their marketing or production plans public. It's hard to predict the future trend but, at the moment, there exists a need to also continue to produce and market the lower priced Seiko 'Kinetics' timepieces and that niche will be filled.
I thank Seiko and all the participating readers of the forum who have contributed to this discussion and appreciate all your kind comments about my review.
I conclude this additional posting with the appropriate words of a forum member who wrote:
"I think I may be able to see it as Jack does. The problem with existing quartz watch technology is that it does not build on the heritage we admire, but discards it and replaces it with something that is no more interesting to me than any other piece of electronics. In contrast, the Spring Drive respects this heritage and builds within its traditions. It can be seen then as a technological advance in horology per se rather than a repudiation of horology." (Very well said, Bogart! - Jack)
(copyrighted by Jack Freedman and ThePuristS.com, May 2005 - all rights reserved)
(copyrighted by Jack Freedman and ThePuristS.com, May 2005 - all rights reserved)