Seiko Anantas – Unrivalled Bang per Buck…..Yen, Pound, whatever.
After spending some quality time with these superb Seiko Ananta timepieces I’m left with the over-riding feeling that Seiko have been a victim of their own success. Allow me to explain: There are literally thousands of watch brands currently in business around the world. These range from the horological hand crafted master pieces from such luminaries as Messieurs Greubel and Forsey to the throw away market fodder watches from which you’ll get change from a fiver. However, to the non-initiated there are only a few brands that everybody has heard of. Rolex is the immediate example that springs to mind but also most people will probably have heard of Seiko. In most regions this is because of their high quality quartz watches, which they produce over 3,000,000 per year. Therefore, getting back to my opening line, Seiko are mostly recognised for their quartz movement watches and are not known for their high end mechanical masterpieces. Seiko do, in fact, produce about 10,000 mechanical movements each year. Every single one of these movements is produced totally in-house. Seiko even make their own mainsprings, balance springs, synthetic rubies, etc. So why doesn’t anybody seem to know about this? Up until recently these were only ever exclusively available in Japan, where Seiko have a cult-like following. If these had Swiss Made on the dial we would all be proclaiming them as the must-have timepieces to aspire to. What is also extraordinary is that these Japanese wonders are not priced according to their quality. The two Ananta mechanical timepieces presented here are on a par, quality wise, with Breitling, Omega, Tag Heuer and many more less known marques. And yet they are less than half of the price of the equivalent offerings from these brands. It can’t be all about the strength of the Swiss franc against the Yen. I am staggered as to how they have managed to acheive this.
It’s not as if Seiko does not have an illustrious heritage to back up their fantastic products either. Seiko was founded as Seikosha (House of Precision) in 1881 by 22 year old Japanese entrepreneur Kintaro Hattori. In 1892 the first factory was opened to produce their first clocks. In 1895 they manufactured their first pocket watch. In their 130 year history Seiko have been responsible for some of the most technological evolutions in horology over that period. In 1913 the first ever wrist watch in Japan was produced. In 1929 Seiko’s pocket watches were recognised for their quality, reliability and precision when they were appointed as official timekeepers for the Japan National Railway. In 1960 Seiko released their Grand Seiko range which was to rival the quality of most Swiss brands costing twice as much. In 1964 Seiko served as official timekeeper at the 18th Olympic Games, creating 1278 electronic timing devices for every discipline. In 1968 Seiko received the highest ever score in the Geneva Chronometer Competition and was awarded “Best Mechanical Wrist Chronometer”. 1969 was a good year for Seiko as they introduced the first production Quartz watch and the first automatic chronograph with vertical clutch and column wheel. They were only just beaten by a few months for the first ever automatic chronpgraph by a large four company conglomerate in Switzerland. After nearly 30 years in development Seiko released the Spring Drive movement in 1999, which is arguably the greatest horological development in the last 250 years. I appreciate Dr George Daniels may have a strong argument against this point. In 2008 Seiko were chosen specifically to create a watch that could venture beyond the earth’s atmosphere by American space traveller Richard Garriott. Now, that’s a history any watch manufacturer would be proud of.
Let’s also consider the expertise that is available in-house within Seiko. They do not simply churn out tractor movements in their manufacture facilities. Their Grand Seiko models are reportedly on a par with Rolex,etc for their build quality and exemplary finish. Their Credor models are haute hologerie of the very highest order. These models can include complications from minute repeaters to Grand Sonneries.
Fortunately, for us Westerners, Seiko have decided to start introducing some of these high end wonders to different regions.
The Ananta range was introduced by Seiko in 2009 to much acclaim. Ananta is translated as “infinite” in Sankrit, which is fitting because Seiko have tried to design these watches to last the life time of their owners. The original idea behind the project name of Ananta was for the designers to be creative with no boundaries. No limitations were imposed on the movements used, or whether they decided to create completely new ones, the case design and the inspiration and technologies they investigated to create their new masterpiece. Existing proprietary technologies that were used include the “magic lever” bi-directional winding mechanism which was invented in 1959 and their SPRON510 alloy which is used for their own mainsprings and allows for a 72 hour power reserve from a single barrel.
The ground breaking design and style of the case has been transposed from the ancient art of Katana.
A few Ananta models are driven by Seiko’s proprietary Spring Drive movement. Please follow this link to read more about this fascinating and peerless range of wrist watches.
This design philosophy has been principally used on the hour markers, the hands, the case and the automatic winding rotor.
The introductory day-date model can be had for as little as £1500 (correct in 2011) on a leather strap, which is simply mind boggling.
The case, in particular, is flawless. Only five people within the entire Seiko empire have the necessary skills, based on blade polishing, to polish the cases. These cases have been examined at high magnification and have been discovered to be of a much better standard than the standard polishing techniques used in watch making.
The same level of meticulous detail and finishing has been applied to the satin brushed surfaces of the Ananta case aswell. These contrast wonderfully with the immaculately polished sections.
Each dial in the series of timepieces available in the Ananta range are highly detailed to reflect their high end status and yet they also have functionality and legibility as strengths. Every element of the informative dial is given its own unique perspective so that there is no significant hierarchy. Below is a montage of the individual components present on the Automatic Chronograph and Retrograde Day-Date examples:
Legibility, for time function only, is achieved using Seiko’s own incredible luminosity material. Seiko do have some of the best lumes in the business, even on their lower range watches. It is no surprise then that these Ananta models have some of the brightest lume I have ever seen. The hands and hour markers are liberally applied with the material and these will happily glow green even in bright light. When the lights are dimmed, or distinguished completely, it is as bright as if someone had just written the words in the air with a sparkler.
The bracelet is a nice unique design which incorporates a wonderful interplay between satin and polished surfaces with raised middle sections. The crocodile straps come with a deployant clasp. Both options are fantastic quality for watches at this price point.
Both the bracelet and strap versions are very comfortable to wear, given the size and weight of the watch heads themselves. The caseback is subtly curved so that it conforms to the wrist. The Anantas are oversized and substantial, even in today’s market, but I do believe that the detailing and overall unique design allows these particularly oriental inspired timepieces to compliment jeans with a t-shirt or a suit with a dress shirt.
The caseback is not only slightly curved but it incorporates a sapphire glass back to show of the in-house movements. All of these high end elements make me truly marvel at how Seiko have managed to create these watches for the asking price.
In conclusion: I own a Seiko high end watch (Spring Drive GMT) and I love the fact that hardly anybody else knows about the sheer quality of it and the bang for buck that you get with these watches. I like that it takes knowledge to want to own one of these watches and that I have that knowledge. I am running the risk with this article of losing that feeling of smugness about my Seiko Spring Drive GMT but I am prepared to sacrifice this (I’ll still love it anyway, aahhh) by trying to be an evangelist for these great watches. As I mentioned above if these Seikos were more readily obtainable or if they had Swiss Made on the dial we would all be pouring over them like we do over some of the other well known manufactures available from Switzerland. In the numbers that are produced annually I believe they would sell out immediately and premiums would be expected on line. Although not limited editions I feel we would see the kind of strength in their obtainable value only normally associated with such brands as Patek Philippe and Rolex. Everything lines up to make these covetable and collectable timepieces and yet buyers are not lining up. I do hope that Seiko receives the acknowledgment that they deserve in these new territories that they are now starting to distribute amongst. They certainly deserve it. I’m not aware of a watch brand that offers interesting, contemporary timepieces with high end manufacture movements in stunning, unique and perfectly finished cases for such low prices. As a watch collector and vendor I couldn’t recommend anything more. My ultimate testimonial comes in the form of my very own original Spring Drive GMT. However, I am considering an Ananta Chronograph. I am also considering a Grand Seiko Divers. If I could get hold of a Seiko Izul I would happily swap my Submariner for it. If I had the money I would be equally happy pay the £20,000 asking price for a Seiko Spring Drive Space Walk. You’ve probably never even heard of the last two, and that’s the way I like it. There is nothing wrong with being a conformist. If you copy every one else you are pretty much guaranteed to get good quality. This is good for those people who do not have sufficient knowledge to make their own decision. People who buy a high end Seiko are making an educated decision.
All words and pictures by Rick Atkins (unless otherwise stated). This article may not be reproduced in part or in whole without the author’s permission.