For someone who’s learning to love fine watches for the first time, it often comes as a surprise to find out that Seiko –a company many associate only with democratically priced quartz watches –is, in connoisseur’s circles, admired for its luxury mechanical watches as well. Seiko is, in fact, virtually the only watchmaking company that makes everything from entry-level consumer quartz watches to ultra-luxury watches all under the same brand name. The Grand Seiko, Grand Seiko Spring Drive, Ananta, and Credor lines are gradually starting to become better known outside Japan, however, and one of the most remarkable Seiko watches in recent memory was introduced this year: the Credor Spring Drive Minute Repeater.
The Credor Spring Drive Minute Repeater combines what’s probably the most advanced wristwatch technology in existence today with one of horology’s most conservative and revered complications: the minute repeater. The minute repeater is a watch that chimes the hours, quarter-hours, and minutes past the hour “on demand” –pressing a button or operating a slide in the side of the case winds up a second mainspring, providing the necessary energy to sound the time. A series of complicated mechanical sensors literally read the time off the gear train of the watch by touch, and communicate this information to two spring-powered hammers that strike the gongs. The repeater originally was developed to allow the time to be told at night (it’s easy to forget, in the days before electric lighting, just how dark nighttime really was.)
Seiko’s Spring Drive technology is unique. A Spring Drive watch is exactly like an ordinary mechanical watch, until you reach the escapement –the part of the watch that controls its accuracy. In Spring Drive, the gear train –powered by a mainspring, not a battery; there’s no battery in a Spring Drive watch –powers a flywheel under the control of a magnetic brake. The speed of rotation of the flywheel is controlled by an advanced, ultra low power integrated circuit. The result is a watch with the accuracy of a conventional quartz watch but with no battery to run down –and with a seconds hand that glides smoothly, with no jumps. Significantly, the Spring Drive movement is also totally silent.
That’s what makes it a perfect base for a minute repeater –a watch that’s as much musical instrument as it is timekeeper. The Credor Spring Drive Minute Repeater has a very special sound as well. Its gongs are made of a special steel, made by the Myochin family which opened its forge over 850 years ago. Myochin steel is revered in Japan today for its use in wind chimes where it produces a distinctive clear, penetrating, but harmonious sound.
To ensure that no extraneous sounds interrupt the lucky owner’s contemplation of the Myochin gongs, the Credor Spring Drive Minute Repeater is also equipped with a totally silent regulator system. In a repeater the regulator controls the speed at which the hammers hit the gongs –a critical parameter; too fast, and the hammers will muffle the pleasant overtones and decay of sound so beloved by repeater enthusiasts; too slow, and the pace becomes dead. Most repeaters use braking systems that generate some additional background noise but the Credor Spring Drive Minute Repeater uses air resistance across the vanes of a tiny rotating fan for a regulator which is truly silent.
Created in Seiko’s special Micro Artists Studio workshop in Shiojiri, the Credor Spring Drive Minute Repeater is one of the most advanced chiming watches in the world –and one of the rarest. Approximately three per year will be made, for fortunate connoisseurs with the means to own them, and the discrimination to appreciate their technical sophistication, and uniquely Japanese artistry.
The Credor Spring Drive Minute Repeater is available in rose gold, with a power reserve indication and “decimal” chiming system (that is, it rings the number of ten minute intervals past the hour rather than –as is more usual in repeaters –the number of quarter hours.) Retail price in Japan is ¥34,650,000 –about $443,787 at the time of this writing.
Jack Forster is the Editor in Chief of Revolution Magazine, a quarterly publication celebrating the world of fine watchmaking, and he also manages Revolution Online www.revo-online.com the foremost information and discussion site on the internet for watch enthusiasts.