This article is about two things. First, about the very nice Seiko Ananta Spring Drive watches (yes they are available in the US), and also about "what you need to know about the Seiko Spring Drive movement." In addition to the Spring Drive version of the Ananta watches, there are also versions of the watches with in-house made in Japan, Seiko automatic mechanical movements. Though I am going to save additional discussion of them for another article.
In a nutshell, if you don't already lust for a Spring Drive watch, you should. Let's talk more about the Ananta watches. The watches are important as they represent the first higher-end Seiko watches that have come to America in a long time. In fact, they are world market watches meaning that they are to be sold globally. The watches are based on the look of Japanese katana swords. No doubt you'll see this look all over the watch from the sides of the case to the hands, and the hour markers. Little katana touches are all over the watch, even on the automatic rotor, to remind you of the "sharp" influence. By the way, when I was in Japan visiting Seiko we visited a traditional Japanese sword maker who still makes the awesome "samurai style" swords. As a kid I grew up utterly wanting one of these (and still do). To hold an actual one in my hands (not just some look-alike) was truly awesome. It took a lot of will power for me to hold back, and not find a watermelon to hack up.
In addition to the blade looks, the watch case also features something that Seiko calls blade polishing. The mirror polished surfaces are done in a special technique that gives them a superior shine and polish compared to most of what is out there. I got to see a little side-by-side discussing the differences and I agree that the Seiko blade polish system is easily superior. The polishing is done by hand, and another touch of luxury that is easy to appreciate.
Ananta watches are big, at 46mm wide (and between about 14mm - 16mm thick depending on the model). Still, the watch fits well, and doesn't slide around. Even on smaller Japanese wrists the watches looked good, and will look good on your wrists too. They make a wonderful statement, are and built just as you'd expect from a luxury Seiko watch. The cases are in a few parts, while the case is secured with screws to the bezel part. Thus, there is no real caseback piece. This allows for the back to be very smooth and curved a bit. The case is further 100 meters water resistant. Plus, to remove glare, the sapphire crystal is anti-reflective (AR) coated.
The bracelet on the watches are really well done. Lighter than you'd expect, but done so on purpose to enhance comfort. Still, the links are all solid and very well polished - they are also close together, with the bracelet having mostly no gaps. The links have interesting beveled edges that increase the sense of style. While the watches have a functional feel, they are the antithesis of boring, and this concept carries over to the bracelet. The bracelet has a push-button locking clasp and a great looking "Seiko" logo engraved on the clasp. The watches are also available with an alligator strap - also with a folding clasp.
The watch is really all about the dial - which looks great. First and foremost for Seiko is function. As you can see the Chronograph and GMT models are extremely easy to use and read. For a simpler look you can go with the GMT model. It has the time, date, GMT hand, and a power reserve indicator. Very clean lines, and impressively bold, yet beautiful. The chronograph model adds a 12 hour chronograph to the mix, with the chronograph subdials being stacked for the easiest reading possible (all the chronograph hands are also red). Let me tell you why Seiko high-end chronographs are the best on the market to use (in my humble opinion). First, the chronograph movements utilize a column wheel and vertical clutch (if you don't know what these are, that is OK, but they are things you want in a chronograph movement). In addition to being accurate (and actually increasing the power reserve time on the Spring Drive watches!) they utilize a "ready, set, go" feature. The chronograph pushers have a two-stage operation. Let me explain this simple but important concept. Press the chronograph start/stop pusher down and you feel a gentle springy resistance until it comes to the first stop. You've just gone from "ready" to "set." Then press down a bit more and you start the chronograph. The chronograph starts precisely when you press the pusher down the second time, without any lag time. This way you start the chronograph at just the right time, and it feels so nice! The second you try it, you'll be sold - I was. It might even make you use the chronograph function much more than normal. The chronograph is also used for the tachyemeter scale on the bezel. That is a function no on uses. A limited edition version of the Ananta Spring Drive Chronograph a clean, bare bezel.
The watch dials themselves are beautiful. A lot of this has to do with the large diamond polished hour indexes. You'll see spots of quality luminant near them on the chapter ring where the numbers for the GMT hand are placed. The hour markers and the hands (also the power reserve indicator strip) reflect light in a wonderful way that give it a prism-like feel. Look closely and you can see little rainbows of colored light gently playing on the surfaces. It is quite impressive. If you've never experienced a Spring Drive movement watch, you'll be impressed with the seconds hand. You know how mechanical watches have a "sweeping" seconds hand, well Spring Drive takes that a step further. I won't get into a big discussion on this, but on Spring Drive watches, the seconds hand moves in the most perfectly smooth manner you'll ever see. Seiko calls this "Glide Motion" hands, and it just means they are buttery smooth in their cutting through time.
I could go on and on about the Spring Drive movements - but I will spare you. They are all hand made and assembled in Japan by highly trained people. The movements are just like mechanical movements, but with a big difference. No escapement. Instead, power is sent directly from the mainspring to the rest of the movement. But there is a catch. The power is regulated by something called a glide wheel the slows down the power moving out of the mainspring. Think of it as a brake. The degree that the power is slowed is regulated by a oscillating quartz crystal. The quartz crystal moves when electrical impulses are applied to it. This electricity is generated right there, from the power moving out of the mainspring barrel. The real trick for the watches was having a long enough power reserve, due to the need of having it generate a small electrical current. It took Seiko almost three decades to make a practical Spring Drive movement. The Spring Drive movements have 72 hours of power reserve on average (closer to 100 hours with the chronograph function activated, opposite of standard mechanical watches).
Each of the Spring Drive Ananta watches have different movements. The chronograph model has a Seiko caliber 5R86, while the GMT has a Seiko caliber 5R66. You can see an image of the 5R86 movements above, as well as a cool diagram with actual parts that I photographed while at the Spring Drive manufacture in Japan (click on that image to make it larger). Seiko Spring Drive movements are accurate to within about 1 second a day (which is pretty much equivalent to quartz movement based watches). So with a Spring Drive movement based watch, you really have all the things you love about mechanical watches with the accuracy of a quartz movement. Oh, and just to be clear, the mainspring is powered by both the automatic rotor or hand-winding via the large crown. In all ways, these movements are top notch from construction to performance. Really the apex of what Seiko is known for.
Hard to think of complaints about the watches. I would have liked for there to be a Seiko signature or logo on the crown, but that is a minor point. Also, the GMT hand is kind of strange to adjust until you get the hang of it. It is totally independently adjustable (thankfully in one hour increments), but the process of doing so is different than in Swiss movements. Otherwise the watches are hard to beat. Even though they are pricey, they are an incredibly good value in comparison to European watches. Retail prices for the Seiko Ananta Spring Drive watches range from about $5,500 - $8,100. Certainly worth looking at if you are a Seiko fan, or just like the looks. Plus, if you are looking for a quality timepiece with GMT and chronograph functionality, these watches are hard to beat. Forgot what you think Seiko watches are if you simply think they are reliable inexpensive watch. There are plenty of Seiko watches that fit into that category, and there is also this new world high-end Seiko watches that you'll soon become more and more familiar with.