SRPE83K1 – Seiko 5 Brian May Limited Edition
This is going to be fun. I don’t often get to initiate one of my watch reviews with a brief autobiography of an astrophysicist. Oh, and he also happens to be an absolute Rock Legend.
Dr Brian Howard May CBE was born 19th July 1947. His story begins to pique our interest, in context of this article, way back in 1963 when, at the age of 16, he and his father hand made a guitar, called Red Special, out of an old fireplace.
Red Special. Quite possibly the world’s most viewed guitar. (image from seikowatches.com)
Red Special was created using only hand tools that the father and son team had. The neck was made from the aforementioned 100 year old fireplace whilst the body was made from blockboard with an ancient oak insert and covered with a mahogany veneer. Brian stained and polished the guitar himself. The tremolo was designed by Brian. It featured a hand carved mild steel rocker plate that pivoted on a knife edge, literally. The tension on the strings was taken up by motorcycle valve springs and the tremolo arm was manufactured from a part of an old bicycle saddle bag holder and capped with part of a knitting needle.
Little did Brian and his father, Harold, know then that they had just created, arguably, the most recognised guitar the world will ever see. This was because, after joining bands ‘1984’ (from 1964 to 1968) and then Smile (from 1968 to 1970) Brian formed a band with fellow Smile member Roger Taylor and somebody called Freddie Mercury. That band was Queen. You may have heard of them.
Less than one year later John Deacon joined as bassist and the rest, as they say, is history. Queen were recently voted the third most popular rock band of all time behind Led Zeppelin (definitely rock) and The Beetles (definitely pop).
Red Special was present throughout as these Hall Of Famers racked up an impressive 90 million album sales. Despite the death of their enigmatic front man, Freddie Mercury, in 1991, Queen remain just as popular today. Brian can still be found touring with the band, with Adam Lambert replacing Freddie. And, remarkably, he’s still wielding that very same guitar he built 56 years ago. In 2005 Brian was voted the 7th greatest guitarist of all time in a listener’s poll organised by Planet Rock radio station.
Given his immense talent at constructing his lifelong guitar, and his ability to create a sound from it that catapulted his band into rock and roll legendary status, it won’t surprise you to learn that Brian obtained a bachelors degree in science in 1969. He started a PhD in astrophysics soon after and completed most of it by 1974. However, Queen had now become one of the biggest bands in the world by this time and it took until 2007 for Dr Brian May to successfully complete his PhD. Brian received his CBE from the actual Queen in 2005 for “services to the music industry and charity work”.
As a self-confessed watch nerd, one of the most amazing parts of Brian’s staggering career is the fact that, not only was he accompanied by the same guitar throughout his whole 56 career – which is extraordinary longevity for a professional musician and a single instrument – he has had the very same wrist watch since the early 1970s: A Seiko Divers watch he bought whilst touring Japan. I’m sure there have been other timepieces on the talented wrists of Brian in the last 50-or-so years (without wanting to seem crude, he could afford any watch ever made) but the fact that he kept this Seiko diver and still wears it to this day fills me with joy. Just imagine what that Seiko has witnessed. The mercenary part of my brain tries to imagine what this watch would go for if it landed at an auction house, hypothetically speaking. If the iconic Steve Jobs’ basic Seiko quartz from the early 1980s, with an original retail price of about £50, could sell at auction for $42500, where would Brian Mays end up? On a more practical note, it is also yet another testament to the reliability and durability of Seiko timepieces.
With the above in mind, Seiko have done the only honourable thing and just launched a Limited Edition Seiko 5 Sports in celebration of the man himself and his trusty guitar. It is called the Red Special. And is it both red and special.
The Seiko 5 collection has been an important part of the brand’s collection since its inception in 1963. It hasn’t always been available outside of Asia, but it was always renowned throughout the world for its amazing value for money and reliability. In fact, my own father bought one in the late 1970’s and it remained a faithful companion throughout his life. My father never understood my passion for timepieces so I was always glad that he had chosen well when buying the only watch he would ever need. Incidentally, my Dad, a massive Queen fan, chose “Who wants to live forever?” to be played at his funeral. He always did have a blunt sense of humour.
The 5 in the title refers to five main attributes for all examples produced: A self-winding automatic movement, resistance to water, a day-date display, a screw down crown and a durable case.
A brand-new line of Seiko 5 models, the Sports collection, was released across the world to unanimous praise in 2019. It is this fabulous new range that the Red Special Limited Edition is based upon. The entire collection numbers 27 individual pieces. This new family has proven itself to be one of brand’s most popular, and its easy to understand why. Adhering to not only Seiko’s aspirations for the 5, but also conforming to professional dive watch criteria, these extraordinary watches retail for between £250 and £350.
The dial of the Red Special Limited Edition has a subtle interpretation of a wood grain pattern reminiscent of that seen on the body of Red Special. A curved accent on the left side of the dial also matches the body shape of the guitar, as formed by Brain’s and Howard’s own hands.
The 100m water resistant 42.5mm diameter by 13.4mm thick case houses the in-house designed, tried-and-tested 4R36 24 jewel automatic movement with 41 hours power reserve, hacking seconds and a quick set date/date. The hands and hour markers are inlaid with Seiko’s proprietary Lumibrite® material.
The exhibition caseback is embellished with a print of Brian May’s signature in gold and an engraving of the individual Limited Edition number, out of 9000.
One of the best presentation boxes ever produced comes with a replica coin which represents the sixpenny piece that Brian famously used as a plectrum throughout his career
The box perfectly replicates a guitar case.
Seiko have created one of the most quintessential commemorative Limited Editions ever, in the Red Special. It is an affordable timepiece. This is key to the target demographic. We have to consider that this is aimed at music fans as much as watch fans. I’m a big fan of the Rolling Stones and AC/DC but I was never going to pay the asking price of their Zenith and Raymond Weil Limited Editions, respectively. The Red Special Limited Edition has unparalleled integrity due to it coming from industry maestros Seiko because the hero of our story, Brian May, has cherished a very similar watch for nigh-on 50 years. This particular Limited Edition pays homage to one of the most fantastical stories from the very highest level within the Rock music industry. How many other timepieces can you name that celebrate a musical instrument? How many musical instruments have ever been created that are as anecdotal as the fabulous Red Special?
So, that’s the perfect scenario for a desirable Limited Edition before we even get to see it. The Red Special does not disappoint upon any inspection and delivers as a complete entity. The detailing, inspired by one of the world’s most famous guitars of one the world’s most famous guitarists, has been exquisitely and subtly transposed. The price point is incredibly attractive and achievable. The Seiko 5 platform is pertinent to Brian’s own 40-plus year old Seiko diver watch and will also guarantee reliability. The replica guitar case packaging is an inspired choice. All of these elements combine to create a flawless synergy of legitimacy, obtainability, desirability and pertinence rarely witnessed before.
A limited edition set of 9000 pieces may seem too many to some. That might well be true of many numbered edition timepieces but there will be nowhere near enough of the Seiko 5 Red Specials to meet demand. This means that you will still have something desirable, collectable and, I am prepared to state, an investment going forward.
My only real complaint with the watch is a slight criticism I have of the Seiko 5 Sports series as a whole. And that it the decision to use a hardlex crystal glass instead of Sapphire. This may seem akin to me saying my house would be perfect if it were positioned on the shores of Lake Garda, but I do feel a tool watch, that is as otherwise as triumphant as the Seiko 5 Sports, deserves this high end material that is impervious to scratches.
Queen’s career spanned 17 studio albums, so you will all have your favourite song. Mine is “Hammer To Fall”. It was written by Brian in 1984 for The Works, arguably at the peak of their illustrious career. It is defined by Red Special’s power chords and technical solo.
The fact that my father owned a Seiko 5 for many years, helping ignite my passion for watches, and that he chose to have Brian and Red Special play at his funeral means that I will definitely be buying one of these wonderful timepieces. Like the other 8999 lucky people you will have your own reasons. You may be a collector of Seiko, because you appreciate quality and value. You may be a fan of Queen and love the idea of a wrist worn memento of all the good times you have had listening to their music. You may simply be an aspiring guitarist and would like to pay respect to one of the greatest axe men of all time. The Seiko Red Special is a perfect exponent of all of these. One unifying element though will be our joy in ownership of something truly special. Red Special.
I will leave you with the words of a humble legend:
“I am delighted to see this watch come alive, and proud that the creation of me and my Dad all those years ago has inspired this collaboration. I love my Seiko and it has served me well for many years. I will wear this new one with pride.”
Me too Dr May.
To conclude succinctly, the Red Special will rock you. Sorry. You knew it had to be done at some point.