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A Week On The Wrist With The (Satellite-Accurate) Seiko Astron Solar In Titanium

If there's such thing as a next-level quartz watch, then it's the GPS-powered, ultra-complicated Astron.


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On December 25th, 1969, the Swiss watch industry took a respite from toiling away at its mechanical marvels and sat down to a holiday feast, blissfully unaware of the term "Quartz Crisis." At the same time, a few thousand miles away, Seiko released the world's first quartz wristwatch: The Seiko Quartz Astron 35SQ.

With an accuracy rating of +-5 seconds per month via a tuning fork-shaped quartz oscillator and the open-step motor, this Christmas gift would end up changing the world. Within a short period of time, Seiko would go on to open the many patents it held on this new form of timekeeper, allowing quartz technology to rapidly spread. It caused a revolution or, depending on who you ask, a crisis.

Seiko Quartz Astron

The original The Seiko Quartz Astron 35SQ.

Nowadays we look back at Seiko and quartz as key figures in the downturn of Swiss mechanical watchmaking in the 1970s and '80s. But as that very industry has restabilized in a big way, we don't have to be so hard on the Japanese game changer.

And Seiko hasn't stopped innovating when it comes to, let's say, "non-mechanical" watches. But it all began with the Astron. Today we are looking at a modern Seiko Astron that has very little to do with its vintage predecessor apart from the name. So that brief historical prologue was just that – prologue.

Astron

The modern Astron sits within the Seiko catalog as a bit of an oddball in one respect, and a modern-day revolution in another. It's an oddball because, aesthetically, it's not exactly sexy with its sharp-edged case design and overly modern dial layout and therefore hasn't really found a broad market. It's revolutionary because it's powered by satellites (satellites!) and is about as hands-off a watch as they get and about as close to a smartwatch as you're going to find outside of an actual smartwatch. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that the Seiko Astron is the smartwatch alternative for folks who simply aren't interested in having their phone on their wrist all day long.

And that's because the Astron does so much. Its complications are plentiful so let's list them out: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, day of the week, GPS solar, perpetual calendar, dual time indicator, GPS time, and time zone adjustment. The modern Astron was released in 2012 and represented the world's first mass-production wristwatch with time synchronization by GPS satellite signal reception and time zone adjustment functions, according to Seiko. It saves its firsts for the Astron.

Astron 7x

The Seiko Astron 7x Series released in 2012 with GPS satellite functionality. 

Normally, when I think complications, I literally think complications, as in, how complicated is this for me to use? In the case of the Astron, it's both a complicated watch (in terms of usability) and a very simple watch that does a lot for you.

In fact, it's a watch I might start recommending to friends who – somehow – don't have the time to wind or set their watches. You know the friends I'm talking about. They're the ones who you help find their first mechanical watch. Maybe you even give it to them as a gift. One day you get a text that says, "My watch is broken…it's dead." And you immediately know that the power reserve died. Or it's Daylight Savings and you get the text that–– Okay, you get my point.

When I opened the box upon receiving the Astron, something magical happened: Light hit the dial and the hands began moving every which way, finally landing on the correct time, day, and date. I literally had to do nothing. At first, I thought, "Wizardry," but then I remembered, "Oh yeah, satellites."

Astron

That's right, multiple satellites communicate with this piece to make sure it is as accurate, to the second, at all times, as it can possibly be. To be more specific, the GPS signals transmitted to the watch are working from atomic clocks that are accurate to within one second every 1,000 years. Makes the +-5 seconds per month of the OG Astron seem…mechanical.

Visually the Astron has the appearance of a modern chronograph, though the subdials don't technically function like one and you likely would never be timing anything on a watch like this. Instead, the dial is there to showcase the myriad capabilities. The outer minute track surrounds the applied indices coated with Seiko's proprietary Lumibrite material which pairs nicely with the hands. In all, there are four subsidiary dials marking: a day-of-the-week indicator at three o'clock (with a smaller 24-hour indicator subdial inside), a second timezone indicator at six o'clock, as well as a function and power reserve indicator at nine o'clock.

Astron
Astron caseback
Astron case profile

Lest we forget about the date function – what's all that complication if we don't know what day it is? That can be found at everyone's favorite location: 4:30 on the dial. Moving further out is the bezel with UTC timezone information displayed.

This watch is quartz, it's solar, and it has GPA functionality. It's the anti-mechanical watch, but it's also something of an answer to the smartwatch. I've yet to let myself fall under the tantalizing spell of what smartwatches have to offer me. I'm analog. This watch is analog. Its capability, while still feeling familiar to my old-world sensibilities, is what prompted me to do this review in the first place.


A Week On The Wrist
Astron

Spending a week with this light, titanium piece of tech was a breeze mostly because I barely had to do anything to the watch. The baked-in complications work on their own and are there for you to enjoy, not for you to set by hand. One of the more interesting parts of the experience of the watch was witnessing the satellite GPS signals in action.

I liken it to any engineering feat on an automatic or hand-winding watch because it's an invisible power being beamed to my wrist. It's Star Trek but horological.

Astron

My old understanding of the Astron was that of a 47mm behemoth where the size was a necessary evil of the tech within. When Seiko released the 42mm, the brand had my attention. And while the overall wrist real-estate is vast given the integrated nature of the bracelet, the Astron is entirely wearable in an everyday context.

Now one rub with this watch is its looks. It's quite intense and after spending some time with it, I couldn't help but wonder if Seiko has an entirely different design department for watches like this one. On one side of the Seiko lineup, we get heritage-inspired pieces like the Seiko Prospex Divers or the Alpinist. On the other side, you get this – an aggressively conceived, futuristic wristwatch with a dial layout that screams "I am technology! I do technology things!"

Astron

And it is! And it does! And for that reason, I can look past the aesthetic shortcomings. I ended up pairing the watch with both a suit and more casual wear, and it never looked out of place (though the suit look might be a stretch).

My favorite part of the experience with the Astron was the sheer accuracy of the thing. We sit here and argue about COSC, and METAS until our faces turn blue. This is GPS. Atomic. And it blows everything else out of the water. Now that's not to say I don't still absolutely love my automatic watches. I do – a lot. But it doesn't mean I can't love this too.


The Competition
Citizen Sattelite Wave GPS Super Titanium
Citizen Satellite

Very often, we find ourselves cross-shopping and cross-comparing Seiko and Citizen timepieces. As fate would have it, Citizen has its own GPS-signal-powered watch with similar aggressive styling to that of our Astron. What the Citizen watch lack in history it makes up with in complication featuring an Eco-Drive movement as well as world time in 27 cities (40 time zones), a chronograph, dual time zones, a universal coordinated time display, perpetual calendar, daylight savings time indicator, power reserve indicator, and a light level indicator. It's also priced $5 less than the Seiko at $2,495.

Breitling Emergency
Breitling Emergency

On the other end of the price spectrum sits a Breitling that isn't so much a comparison point for someone looking to buy an Astron as it is a curiosity when it comes to "firsts" and the implementation of technology. The Emergency is the world's first wristwatch equipped with an authentic dual-frequency distress beacon that allows you to call for help from any location in the event of an emergency (this is not a function to be played with as there are considerable costs associated with being saved). At upwards of $15,000 the Breitling is certainly another kind of watch entirely.

Apple Watch Ultra
Apple Watch Ultra

Speaking of other kinds of watches, how could we touch on smartwatches in this article without outright including one? The Apple Watch deserves a place on this list because of its boundless functionality. It is basically an extension of your phone therefore an extension of all the usable technology on the planet. If you want it to be, the Apple Watch can be the most complicated and powerful wristwatch there is. The drawback is that it's only as good its software and ultimately will not last quite as long as something like the Astron. But boy if it isn't a compelling offering. 

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Concluding Thoughts
Astron

If the original Seiko Quartz Astron was the catalyst that led to the Quartz Crisis which eventually upended the Swiss mechanical watch industry, I think the new Astron might be the mechanical watch's greatest ally at a time when smart technology has all of our watches in its sights.

The Astron may not be the sexiest watch out there – heck, it's not even the sexiest Seiko. But it's the most accurate and the most technologically compelling. In the end, it's a testament to just how far watches have come.

The Seiko Astron Solar in Titanium: case, titanium, 100 meters water resistant; 42.7mm x 12.2mm. Perpetual day and date calendar. Movement, Seiko in-house caliber 5X33, GPS solar, with signal reception indication, power save function, transfer of local to home time. Sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating. Push-button clasp. Price, $2,500

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Hodinkee is an authorized retailer of Seiko watches.