Dial It Up: Seiko's Presage Gives Good Face, Here Are Our Top Three Finishes
It's been three years since Seiko rebranded its Presage line. After Grand Seiko became its own separate entity, Presage stepped in to become Seiko's top tier of fine mechanical watches.
The collection is inspired by the company's rich heritage (which goes back to 1913 when Seiko produced Japan's first wristwatch. But it also honors such traditions of Japanese artistry as Shippo enamel, Urushi lacquer and now, porcelain.
Since the relaunch in 2016, the Presage line has become best known for its beautiful dial finishings. Today, we take a look at our favorite faces and look forward at the new Arita series scheduled to hit stores September 2019.
First up is a whole new Presage collection, the Arita Porcelain Dial series.
Watchmakers have been using white porcelain for dials pretty much since the birth of the industry. Visually, this material has a unique depth and texture. Historically, it implies a sort of patrician quality. At the same time, it's less expensive to produce than fine enamel or lacquer finishes and therefore provides a more financially accessible option for collectors.
Still, creating these dials is a very delicate process.
Seiko produces its porcelain by hand, in the town of Arita, which is the home of internationally renowned Imari ware. Since the 17th century, artisans have been producing Imari which is distinctive for its radiant sheen with a subtle blue-ish tint.
These new Presage porcelain dials are made by an experienced manufacturer in Arita that has been producing porcelain since 1830. Hiroyuki Hashiguchi is the master craftsman, and he and his colleagues have been developing the dials with the Presage team over the past three years. Together, they've created a material that addresses the issue of porcelain's fragility (the new stuff is four times harder and much more flexible).
After molding, each dial is then hand-glazed and fired three times before completion, Afterwards, holes for the date window and hands are cut by laser. Finally, the dials are fired again to smooth out the cut surfaces. It's a process that demands much time and labor, but it's totally worth it. These dials have an unsurpassed crispness which is accentuated by the blued hands and a red, roman numeral 12.
The new Presage Arita series consists of two automatics: the 6R27, with a power reserve indicator at nine o'clock and a date indicator at six o'clock; and the 6R35, which delivers a power reserve of 70 hours.
Both feature fine details such as a dual-curved, crystal glass sapphire, and an exhibition case plus water resistance to 10 bars. The Presage Arita Porcelain Dial series will be available from September 2019 at Seiko Boutiques and selected Seiko retail partners worldwide.
Few can deny the beauty of a well-made enamel dial. They have a depth and dimension that never fail to delight aesthetically. But they can also be prohibitively expensive.
At Baselworld 2018, Seiko presented two limited edition Presage timepieces decorated using the enameling process known as Shippo. Not only do these deep blue dials provide a high degree of craftsmanship, but the watches themselves are an excellent value proposition.
Plus they have a tangible cultural connection to Japanese tradition. Although enameling originated overseas, the Japanese adopted and adapted it until it became its own unique art form — Shippo. To produce these handmade finishes, the brand employs Ando Cloisonné in Nagoya, a company that has been working with this technique since the 1970s.
Here's how it works. Layer upon layer of translucent color is hand-painted onto each dial. This gives Shippo the deep and complicated patterns that are its signature. Yet the dial itself still measures in at no more than 1mm thick.
The Island Blue hue of the display was also an homage to the color of the sea that surrounds Japan's islands. A blue crocodile leather strap complements the ocean-colored scheme and comes with a three-fold clasp.
There are two versions of this limited-edition timepiece. The SPB073J1 has power reserve and date indicators, while the SPB075J1 offers a simpler time and date display. Both reference the markers and minute track used on a historic 1895 Timekeeper — Seiko's first pocket watch. Their Shippo enamel dials are protected by dual-curved sapphire crystals and stainless steel cases. The crocodile leather strap has a three-fold clasp.
Priced between $1,400 and $1,600 USD, there were only 2,500 of each edition produced, but you might find a few still available by contacting your nearest Seiko retailer.
Perhaps the most impressive Presage is the Urushi Byakudan-Nuri SPB085. This limited-edition timepiece dropped in December 2018 to much fanfare. The Japanese have a profound reverence for the natural world, and this design is inspired by the moon at dawn.
Japanese lacquerware dates back some 7,000 years. The material is derived from the sap of the Urushi tree—a member of the poison oak and poison ivy family (fun fact: part of the process of becoming a lacquer master involves developing a tolerance to the toxin urushiol). Do not fear, in its finished state, and it is completely safe.
The dials for all Seiko Presage Urushi lacquer watches are created in the workshop of lacquer master Isshu Tamura in the Hokuriku region of Honshu, Japan's main island. Each dial involves a painstaking process of building up layers of lacquer on top of base metal. Each layer must be cured under carefully controlled conditions. Depending on the complexity, this can take weeks or even months to complete.
The Urushi Byakudan-Nuri incorporates many different Japanese lacquerware techniques. First, base layers of black lacquer are applied to the metal disk. Then the next step in the process is to decorate the two sub-dials with red lacquer. This technique is called byakudan-nuri – traditionally, it was used to embellish sacred objects and the armor of Shogun warriors. And finally, a third technique, known as maki-e, uses a metallic lacquer to create the golden crescent of the power reserve indicator.
The second hand is also tipped with a tiny, golden crescent moon. The sapphire crystal is designed to blocks potentially harmful ultraviolet light rays to prevent crazing to the lacquer finish. The stainless steel case comes in elegant 40.5mm in diameter, and 12.8mm thick. And speaking of protection, like most Presages, it is anti-magnetic and has a 10 bar/100 meter water resistance rating.
Most collectors would expect a dial of this complexity to come with a hefty price tag, but the limited to 2,000 piece edition is priced at only $2,500 USD.
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell & Seiko Watches)