Seiko Astron GPS Chronograph

Today we look at 6 of Seiko’s all-new Astron Chronographs.  Their predecessor was the first watch to sync both time and time zone by GPS signal.  The new version, however, is not only Seiko’s first chronograph to sync time and time zone via GPS, but it’s also much thinner, smaller and lighter, making for not only a more complex watch, but also a surprisingly more versatile one as well.

The Introduction 

Seiko is perhaps best known for its line of tough and affordable watches, like Seiko Prospex, or perhaps its high-end Grand Seiko line, but actually, neither of these watches is the most important in Seiko’s history.  That distinction must go to the Astron.  The Astron’s life began in 1969 and was actually the culmination of nearly a decade’s research into quartz technology.  Seiko had already made a portable, battery powered quartz clock and then a quartz wall clock in their efforts to reduce the size of the movement and increase energy efficiency.  At the end of the 1960s they succeeded and released the first quartz wristwatch ever.  And nothing has been the same sense.  The Astron is not only Seiko’s most important watch, but it’s arguably the most important watch of the 20th century.  So when Seiko chose to revive the line, it would have to be another world first.  And it was.

The first new Astron movement (as opposed to a special edition re-issue with a Grand Seiko 9F inside) was the first watch ever made to sync time and time zone to GPS.  It made it the ultimate watch for world travelers–a simple press of a button perfected your time and even changed it to your local time zone.  It was, without a doubt, the most advanced analog watch ever made.  Interestingly, however, the path for the new GPS technology would follow the same one for quartz in the 1960s–it would be miniaturized.

Like the first quartz movements, the new Astron has been minituarized–Seiko estimates it to be about 30% smaller than the last model–and wow does it show.  It’s a night and day difference in size.  The Astron Chronograph is still a full-sized watch, but it wears very well and is extraordinarily light.  There was nothing wrong with the size of the last Astron either, but those with smaller wrists may have been turned off.  That’s no longer the case–most men would feel comfortable wearing this watch.  But making the watch thinner, smaller and lighter is only one of its major accomplishments–they’ve also added a chronograph complication despite the size decrease.  It all comes together to make a great addition to the modern Astron lineup.  With that introduction in mind, let’s take a look at the specific models we’ll be reviewing today.

The Watches

Today we’ve got 6 Seiko Astron Chronographs to look at.  All of ours are on bracelet today, but models on rubber are also available.  We also have the beautiful white dialed limited edition model, which comes with a special box and a bonus leather strap.  Although they all look like slightly different colored versions of each other, there are actually some fairly significant differences between the models.  Let’s take a close look at them, and then we can review the line of watches more broadly.

The SSE001 is the new limited edition and possibly the most desirable of the bunch.  It has all of the great features of the other Astron Chronographs but, in addition to that beautiful white dial, it comes with a special bracelet and black croc strap.  The watch is made from titanium with an invisible hard coating to protect it.  The black elements of the watch, the bezel and the center links in the bracelet, are made from ultra-hard ceramic.  The SSE001 is 45mm.

The SSE003 is slightly smaller at 44.6mm but has the same titanium and ceramic elements, sans the ceramic center links in the bracelet.

The SSE005 is one of my favorites thanks to its blue dial and yes, the blue bezel is still ceramic.  Otherwise, it shares the same 44.6mm size and titanium as the previous model.

The SSE009 is also 44.6mm and titanium with a ceramic bezel, but adds a blacked out dial and black hard coating to the case and bracelet.

The SSE011 is another one of my favorites, and it also marks a fairly significant departure from the line so far.  It shares the same dimensions, but uses steel instead of titanium for the case and bracelet.  It also has much more lume, more defined subdials, and a tachymeter instead of world cities on the ceramic bezel.

Finally, we have the SSE013.  It’s basically identical to the last watch, but with a black hard coating and more interesting lume–there are actually two different colors of lume which is really nice at night.

The Face

Largely due to the additional complexity of the chronograph, the dial work is certainly busier, but I think it’s also more nicely made.  I actually really like the dial layout of the last Astron, but its dial was basically an exposed solar panel.

On the new Astron Chronograph, however, the dial is actually a very fine guilloche pattern.  You have to look very closely to appreciate it, but even when you pull back, it gives it a pleasant sunburst effect.

Despite the much more complex textured dial, it’s still solar powered, which is impressive.  The last model had a very cool, black, purplish dial that made no real effort to hide the solar panel.  These new chronographs, however, don’t look solar powered at all.

The white dialed SSE001 actually also has a fine guilloche pattern, but its soft, white nature makes it look almost like porcelain.  It reminds me of a super sporty Credor Eichi.

Some models, like this SSE011, have contrasting frames around the subdial, a look I quite like.  This reminds me a lot of the old Ananta chronograph models.

The hour markers on the Astron are, so far at least, never numeric.  They do vary quite a bit throughout the line, however.  This SSE001 has black top facets to the markers which aids in clarity against the white dial.

Of the six Astrons here, only the SSE001 has the black surface–this SSE009, for instance, has a fine brushed surface on top instead.  Notice also that they use small lume dots on these models.

Other models, like this SSE011, have markers completely covered in lume.  Don’t worry, lume shots to follow.

There’s actually quite a variety of lume in the new Astron Chronograph collection, but this is the wildest one we have today, which combines bright white (green lume) and blue luminescent markers.

The sharp, stick-like hands are well lumed and simple, although the subdial hands are not lumed.

The counterbalance of the chronograph seconds hand is lumed, however, with an unusually shaped triangle.  So you could, at least conceivably, time an event of under a minute even in the dark.

Like many chronographs, a tri-compax layout is used.  The subdials have multiple uses aside from the chronograph, however.  At the top left is the seconds subdial.  At the right, a minutes counter, and at bottom, an hour counter, up to 6 hours.  But these subdials also let you see your power reserve, switch to airplane mode and tell you whether or not your attempt to receive the satellite signal was successful.  When I saw that the subdials had multiple functions aside from the chronograph, I was concerned that you might have to choose chronograph mode before you could use it, but that’s not the case–the pushers at 2:00 and 4:00 work just like any other chronograph and instantly moves the subdials into readiness.

All of the bezels are ceramic, which is a nice enhancement in toughness.  Here you can see the sportier tachymeter on the left, a feature that seems to accompany the steel models, and the world cities on the right.  I think I prefer the time zone bezel myself–it is more uniform all the way around the bezel.

The Lume

The lume comes in two basic flavors for the new Astron Chronograph line:  dots on the indices or fully luminescent markers.  The models with fully luminescent markers also have quite a variety of colors to choose from, from blue and green, to green and even to orange.

The titanium models go with the small dots of lume above each marker.  It’s still very bright and easily legible though.

Steel and rubber models get the full lume treatment, and the intensity of the lume is comparable to that of many Seiko dive watches.  It’s very bright.

The most exciting model is this one that combines green and blue markers.  It’s more visually interesting, for sure, but it’s also easily to get oriented to at night because you can distinguish the cardinal markers at a glance.

Clearly the steel models shine brightest, so if lume is important to you, consider focusing on them.  But the titanium models have more than enough lume of their own, although I do wish the 12:00 marker was distinguished somehow.  I do find it interesting that only the counterbalance of the chronograph seconds hand is lumed since you can’t see the minutes or hours subdials, but at least you will be able to see if your chronograph is running, or alternatively, you could create your own central seconds hand that is visible at night by running the chronograph.

The Movement

The star of the show is really the all-new 8X82 movement.  This is the second line of movements that’ll be available under the Astron line, joining the existing 7X52 from the last model.  While the 7X52 is the first movement to sync time and time zone with GPS, the 8X82 is Seiko’s first and only chronograph to do the same.  Unfortunately, no photos of this movement exist right now, so enjoy some cool Astron shots while I talk about it.

The new 8X movement is an improvement in almost every way over the old model.  It has more features, it’s easier to use, and it’s more compact than its predecessor.

The most obvious new feature is the chronograph, but there’s more to it than that.  The movement is also more energy efficient than before, which allowed them a lot more freedom in dial design.  You see, in the first generation of modern Astrons, the power consumption was great enough that Seiko chose not to put hardly anything that would mitigate the path of light to the solar panels inside.  But thanks to the increase in efficiency, they can use a lot more variety in dial design and color.  You can’t even see the solar panels on these watches–they don’t look like solar watches in the first place.

The new movement has a few other tricks as well.  Advancements in Seiko’s antenna design technology allowed them to miniaturize the movement and thus shrink the watch by about 30% overall, addressing the most common concern with the last model.

The 8X82 has a hugely impressive list of features and is very easy to use.  The GPS syncing feature is very easy–just hold down a dedicated pusher for 6 seconds and the watch will get the correct time and triangulate your position, automatically setting the time zone.  Unlike a radio synced watch, this watch will work anywhere on earth as long as you have a decent view of the sky.  But the Astron also has a perpetual calendar, meaning you don’t have to manually set the date on short months.  It has a daylight savings time feature, which lets you almost instantly adjust for DST with the press of two buttons.  The chronograph pushers are always accessible–the 3:00 side of the watch operates just like any other chronograph.  It is no exaggeration to say that this is the most advanced analog watch in the world.

The Case

The cases of the new Astron are also diverse and advanced.  They’re all just under 45mm, save for the white dialed SSE001 which is exactly 45mm.  That’s a full sized watch, but it makes perfect sense for a sporty chronograph like this.  Furthermore, the case is much thinner than the predecessor at 13.3mm.  Long story short, the Astron is no longer a noticeably large watch.  You could definitely wear this every day.

The cases are actually available in a few varieties.  First off, you can choose between steel and titanium.  Titanium is obviously much lighter, and the proprietary clear hardcoating should make it as tough as steel, but some people prefer a little heft in their watch.  The titanium models are very light.

You also get the option of a black coated case.  Of course, every model gets a black ceramic bezel, sans the SSE005, which has a blue ceramic bezel.

The most interesting aspect is that the limited edition SSE001 has a unique and edgier case.  This may be a standard feature of Astron special editions going forward, because, as you’ll call, the Hattori special edition last year also had more aggressive case styling.

This must be why the SSE001 is listed as slightly larger than the other models.  In terms of appearance on the wrist, however, it doesn’t seem any bigger than any of the other new Astrons.

Another unique feature of the SSE001 limited edition, seen here, is the unique crown, which Seiko refers to as a “lighter cut.”

The Bracelet

You have a few options in terms of bracelets from Astron, although rubber straps are also available.  If you’ve chosen a titanium Astron, it’ll come with a matching titanium bracelet, and the same goes for steel.  The bracelets are also black coated (or not) depending on the model you chose.

All of the bracelets look great though, and on steel models, they appear to use a true 5 link design like its older brother, Grand Seiko.

The titanium models look even better, with a dressier 7 link design.

The most interesting bracelet, however, is the limited edition SSE001’s.  It has alternating black ceramic links.  It’s also worth mentioning that it comes with a nice black crocodile strap so the SSE001 is inherently more versatile than the other Astrons.

The Video

The next best thing to seeing a new Astron in person is to see it in our videos.  We made a video for each Astron below:







The Conclusion

Seiko has created another hit for the Astron brand.  The original Astron GPS, which appears to continue being sold alongside the new chronograph version, is a great watch, and it did something incredibly rare:  it actually improved the functionality of a modern watch.  Great though it is, its size meant it was best for larger sized men.  The new Astron Chronograph is much more versatile.

The chronographs are not only available in a more versatile size, but they add features and more sophisticated dial work.  There’s more variety too, with new colors.

I love the combination of metal and ceramic–the bezel is the part of a watch that is probably subjected to the most abuse, and in any new Astron Chronograph, it will stay looking good for a long time.  Titanium is softer than steel, so Seiko applied an invisible hard coating to it, which should make it relatively scratch free.  These are watches intended for the frequent traveler, and Seiko didn’t just stop at making a better movement, they designed the entire case around that.  When you’re beating your watch up packing, pulling around luggage, hitting the arm rest on the plane and so on, it doesn’t take long for your pristine new watch to look old.  But the new Astron can stand up to that treatment.

Which is the best?  They’re honestly all equal, so it comes down to personal preference, but of the titanium line, I was most impressed with the blue dialed SSE005.  I like the blue ceramic bezel and the sunburst effect was probably the most dynamic on its dial.

My favorite steel model, and probably my favorite overall, was the SSE011.  I like the bolder subdials and the red tipped seconds hand.  I actually like the steel models–I don’t mind a little weight.  They’re still surprisingly light.  I think it’s probably the all around best looking watch of the group.

Of course, you can’t ignore the special edition SSE001.  It does cost more than the other models, but it also comes with an additional leather strap and a unique case, as well as ceramic center links on the bracelet.  So if the white dialed model is the one you think looks best you can feel good that the increase in price isn’t merely because it’s limited edition–there are several perks that come with it.

I would advise those who are interested in the Astron Chronograph to simply get the model they think looks best and not get too caught up in the steel/titanium/limited edition distinctions.  They’re all great and have their pros and cons.  All of them are about 30% smaller than their predecessor and add functionality–so if you were waiting to buy an Astron, now is probably the time.

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