While Seiko’s influence on the automatic chronograph doesn’t need to be demonstrated anymore, as it was one of the three manufacturers to simultaneously launch such an innovative movement back in 1969, the brand’s history in terms of chronographs is slightly older than this milestone and the calibre 6139. It actually dates back to 1964 with a watch that was not only Seiko’s first chronograph watch but also Japan’s first of its kind. Celebrating the 55th anniversary of this 1964 Crown Chronograph and its calibre 5719, here’s the new Seiko Presage Chronograph 55th Anniversary Limited Edition SRQ031.
The new 55th Anniversary Limited Edition SRQ031 is part of a sub-collection comprising two watches, the other one celebrating the 50th anniversary of Seiko’s first automatic chronograph, with the Prospex reference SRQ029, as shown below (and also reviewed on MONOCHROME).
Seiko’s (and Japan’s) first-ever chronograph watch
The chronograph function isn’t per se modern. While it dates back to Moinet’s (1815-1816) and Rieussec’s (1822) inventions, it only became popular during the 1930s/1940s, when the wristwatch became the norm. The first examples were mainly built for military purposes, but with the advent of sports and racing, this complication made it to the wrists of civilians – sportsmen, racing drivers and doctors. As for today’s topic, it might seem surprising, but Japan’s watchmaking industry only launched its first chronograph watch and movement in 1964, with the Seiko Crown Chronograph and its Calibre 5179.
Far from having the same cult status as the automatic calibre 6139/6138, the movement developed by Seiko is, nevertheless, rather interesting. “Suwa Seikosha, i.e., Seiko’s factory in the city of Suwa, developed the watch, which was launched in time for the 1964 Summer Olympics. It was powered by the 12-ligne, hand-wound Caliber 5719. The salient features of this 6.1mm-thick movement included a single button to trigger the chronograph’s functions, horizontal coupling, and a column wheel to control the start, stop and return-to-zero functions. The balance was paced at 5.5Hz, or 39,600vph. With the chronograph mechanism switched on, the movement would run for 38 hours,” according to Watchtime here.
Powered by this calibre 5179, Seiko launched its first chronograph wristwatch in 1964, with the Crown Chronograph. This steel sports watch with its 38mm diameter was rather unusual, compared to today’s classic features of a chronograph. First of all, it was a mono-pusher. Second, its dial resembled a classic 3-hand watch, without sub-counters. In order to record elapsed times, Seiko equipped it with a black rotating bezel, with a 1-minute increment scale. To measure intervals of more than one minute, the wearer had first to rotate the bezel to point to the 12 o’clock triangle in front of the minute hand. Obviously, not the most practical device, explaining why later Seiko chronographs would feature sub-counters.
This 1964 Seiko Crown Chronograph is the inspiration for a new watch, the Seiko Presage Chronograph 55th Anniversary Limited Edition SRQ031.
The new Seiko Presage Chronograph 55th Anniversary SRQ031
Certainly, don’t expect this Presage Chronograph SRQ031 to reintroduce all the features of the old Crown Chronograph, such as the counter-free dial or the mono-pusher architecture. However, Seiko is clearly evoking the past model, with similar style, shapes, colours and design – a mix of old and modern that ends up being rather desirable.
The new Presage Chronograph SRQ031 isn’t a true re-edition, but pays tribute to an important watch with cool design elements.
This Presage Chronograph is a deliberately modern watch with vintage elements visible on the dial, the shape of the case and the use of a rotating bezel. As mentioned, it isn’t a re-edition but more a tribute watch. In this instance, it is modernly sized, with a 42.3mm x 15.3mm case – respectable dimensions for sure, but the black bezel makes the watch looks more compact than expected. The case is sharply designed, with bevelled, straight lugs and protruding mushroom pushers. Just like its ancestor, it features a black-coated bidirectional bezel, with an equal scale with 1-minute increments.
As for the design itself, the combination of these sharp lines and the contrasting bezel is really pleasing and has that particular 1960s charm. The watch is worn on a glossy cordovan leather strap, making it less sporty than the 50th anniversary Panda edition. In this instance, the Presage name is justified.
The true beauty of this watch, at least in my eyes, appears on the dial. Although the Presage Chronograph SRQ031 might have exchanged the counter-free layout for a classic 3-register display, it remains faithful to the original 1964 model in multiple ways. First is the slightly champagne-colour of this dial, a warm, brushed metallic silver that plays nicely with the ambient light. Just like the older model, it features a contrasting chapter ring and applied “double facetted” applied indexes, again playing with light and adding some depth and complexity to this watch.
The finishing of the dial in this Presage Chronograph SRQ031 is pretty impressive, with sharp dauphine hands – facetted too, and generously filled with luminous material – and sub-counters that are circled by a metallic ring. Altogether, this watch has some depth, a luxurious appeal but legibility isn’t compromised, thanks to textures and recessed areas. A round date aperture is positioned at 4h30, a function that could have been omitted…
To power this Seiko Prospex Automatic Chronograph 50th Anniversary Limited Edition SRQ029, the brand relies on its well-known calibre 8R48, a movement we’ve already seen in the Seiko Presage Enamel Chronograph. This movement, launched in 2014, is Seiko’s high-end integrated chronograph calibre (not talking GS, of course), with a 4Hz frequency, a vertical clutch and column wheel architecture, Seiko’s unique three-pointed hammer and a heart-shaped cam which ensure the perfect synchronisation of the hands’ flyblack function and a centrally mounted automatic rotor.
Surprisingly, Seiko chose to have the chronograph parts on the dial side, so this calibre 8R48 doesn’t reveal a great deal through the sapphire caseback. It is finished in an industrial way, with brushed surfaces.
Price and availability
The Seiko Presage Chronograph 55th Anniversary Limited Edition SRQ031 will be produced in 1,000 pieces, available from December 2019 at Seiko Boutiques and selected retailers worldwide. Recommended retail price in Europe is EUR 3,400.
More details at seikowatches.com.