The Beginner’s Guide To The Seiko 5
Seiko’s origins lie not in clock or watch manufacturing. Instead, the company’s founder, Kintaro Hattori, set up shop in Tokyo’s Ginza district in 1881 selling clocks imported from Europe. Until the Meiji Restoration, Japan ran on traditional Japanese time, based on the hours of sunrise and sunset, measured with clocks known as wadokei. In the […]
Seiko’s origins lie not in clock or watch manufacturing. Instead, the company’s founder, Kintaro Hattori, set up shop in Tokyo’s Ginza district in 1881 selling clocks imported from Europe.
Until the Meiji Restoration, Japan ran on traditional Japanese time, based on the hours of sunrise and sunset, measured with clocks known as wadokei. In the years following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the country underwent a tremendous transformation. Two specific events had a major impact on watchmaking in Japan: the adoption of the Gregorian calendar and rapid industrialisation. This period marked the beginning of domestic clock production in Japan. In 1892, Hattori set up Seikosha Co., Ltd primarily to manufacture wall clocks, and then included pocket watches three years later.
Seiko’s first wristwatch, the tiny Laurel, only arrived in 1913, and it was only 50 years later that the company unveiled, arguably, the most significant mechanical watch in its history, the Seiko 5. Conceived in 1963 as a basic, affordable mechanical timepiece for the youth of the 1960s, it was originally named the Sportsmatic 5, designed to be functional, reliable and robust. A year after its launch, the Seiko 5 got a big boost from Seiko’s role as the official timekeeper of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. Together with the other products of the post-war Japanese manufacturing boom, like the Sony television and Toyota automobile, the Seiko 5 set out to conquer the world. Since then, untold millions have been sold. In fact, a mere four years after its introduction, production of the Seiko 5 had already crossed the five million mark.
The Seiko 5 got its name from the five key features which define it: Automatic winding, day and date displayed in a single window, water resistance, a recessed crown at four o’clock, and a durable case and bracelet.
Seiko invented the Magic Lever automatic winding mechanism in 1959. This simple yet efficient winding system underpins not only the Seiko 5, but nearly all automatic Seiko watches. Essentially a V-shaped lever that winds the barrel regardless of the direction in which the rotor spins, the Magic Lever has proven popular on the other side of the world as well because it is an elegant yet effective solution. Leading brands like Cartier, Montblanc, Panerai and IWC are some of the luxury Swiss marques which use a similar mechanism.
This efficient winding mechanism is responsible for another key characteristic of the Seiko 5, the small crown at four o’clock. Because the Magic Lever is so good at what it does, there was little need for manual winding. Hence the original Seiko 5 movements had no hand winding capability, combined with an unobtrusive crown.
But Seiko had since adapted to modern tastes, which dictate that hand winding option is preferred by the consumers. Hence, the latest generation of Seiko 5 movements, the 4R series, can all be wound by hand, although they still use the Magic Lever winding mechanism. Even though some modern pieces have crowns repositioned at three o’clock, the other elements of the Seiko 5 are still going strong. All still have a day and date feature, a minimum of three bar water resistance (equivalent to 30m), with most presented with a bracelet.
Half a century after its introduction, the Seiko 5 not only retains its five original characteristics, but also an informal sixth quality – affordability. Starting at around a hundred dollars and climbing to about $500 for high-end models, the Seiko 5 is probably the most affordable and durable mechanical timepiece in the world.