Seiko: Ancient and Modern

James Dowling

Hi All,

In 1973 Seiko introduced the first ever analog quartz chronograph movement, the 7a28. It had a number of really interesting features like a tenth of a seconds register and was fitted with fifteen jewels, almost as many as contemporary manual chronographs. The movement was almost completely built from metal and looked more like a mechanical movement than a quartz one. With this robust construction it proved to be an exceptionally tough watch & the British Royal Air Force bought over 11,000 of them to equip pilots & navigators.

Apart from the almost austere Military version, unfortunately most of the watches fitted with the 7a28 were uniformly hideous in appearance; it was a time when Seiko were adding as many superfluous details as humanly possible and gold plating everything; so these wonderful movements were often ignored because the look of the cases just repelled potential clients. However, ten years after the movement was introduced, Giorgetto Giugiaro began to work as a consultant to Seiko; although best known as a car designer (everything from the first VW Golf to the Lotus Esprit) he had also designed lots of consumer products (cameras for Nikon & firearms for Beretta) and one of his first tasks was to design futuristic cases for the 7a28.

Designed for the car driver, the asymmetric cases pushed the chronograph buttons and watch dial out to the right; meaning that it would protrude further out from a shirt cuff than a regular watch and the buttons were in a contrasting colour to the case, so as to be easy to locate in low light. He made about half a dozen different designs for the movement; all of them probably a little too futuristic for the market at that time. But a couple of years later when James Cameron began to work on the film Aliens (set 100 years in the future) his production designer Peter Lamont cast around for objects which looked like they came from the future & the Guigiaro watches were obvious contenders.

The watch shown on the left is one of the originals, as worn by the Android ‘Bishop’ in the film (Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, wore a different model of the 7a28) and next to it is the model launched last year to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the initial launch of the Guigiaro watches. As proof of how well built the original watches were, they cost ¥50,000 apiece when they were first sold; the current hommage sells for ¥33,600; I wonder how well the watch on the right will look in thirty years.

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