Japan’s Seiko has recently shifted its Astron GPS Solar watch collection to its more premium “Luxe” collection, which is also where you’ll find the more elaborate Presage models and the Prospex LX sport watches with movements such as the famed Spring Drive. The Astron GPS Solar watches (as the name implies) contain in-house made and developed quartz watches that receive signals from global positioning system satellites in order to update the time and date. The movements are also solar-powered. The most recent versions of the Seiko Astron GPS Solar watches are those in the Astron GPS Solar 5X collection, which includes the limited edition reference SSH073 Seiko Astron GPS Solar Kintaro Hattori 160th Anniversary Limited Edition.
The limited-edition version (of 2,500 pieces) leads the pack in terms of price and also has a special facet-cut ceramic bezel. The Astron GPS Solar Kintaro Hattori 160th Anniversary Limited Edition is actually more than $1,000 higher in price than the standard Astron GPS Solar 5X. In addition to the special black and gold-color palette, the limited edition has that interesting bezel, comes with an additional crocodile strap (in addition to the titanium bracelet), and also includes some special case markings. The watch honors Seiko’s original founder (who passed away in the mid-1930s), the Tokyo-born Mr. Kintaro Hattori. While Mr. Hattori’s motto was “one step ahead of the rest,” I’m really not sure that during his time he could have ever envisioned something as wildly advanced as an electronic watch, powered by the light, that receives signals from satellites rotating high above the earth, with atomic timing data.
Seiko was the first modern traditional watch company to debut a GPS watch when they re-released the Astron collection name back in around 2012. Seiko has continually focused on streamlining its Astron GPS watches, both by improving visual design and with regard to making the movements smaller and more wearable. As such, the Seiko Astron GPS Solar 5X family of watches is 42.8mm-wide, 15.6mm-thick, and water-resistant to 200 meters. While these aren’t small watches, they by no means wear like the comparatively much larger Astron watches of just a few years ago. Seiko really did a great job with the caliber 5X53 movement in making it very compact.
All of the Seiko Astron GPS Solar 5X watches use precision-machined titanium or steel cases. About half of the models feature ceramic bezels (in various colors), but only the Kintaro Hattori limited edition has a faceted ceramic bezel. Over the dial is a domed and impressively AR-coated sapphire crystal. Just one model (the SSH024) comes on a strap, and the also limited-edition SSH023 has its own unique set of hour markers and hands. Finally, the titanium versions of the Astron GPS Solar 5X watches (which are all the watches shot for this article), have more interesting angular pushers.
What Seiko got really right with the 5X watches is the way in which the dials look far more high-end than before. The Astron GPS watches have for the most part always been quite legible, but now with the “Grand Seiko-like” dials which include broad hands and diamond-polished applied hour markers, the sense of visual awe the face of these 5X watches evoke is much more palpable. I only wish Seiko might have found a way to design the AM/PM indicator subdial to go between 7 and 8 o’clock in order to visually balance the location of the date window — on the other side of the dial.
Caliber 5X53 movements are pretty nifty and include a nice assortment of features — with travelers in mind. Indeed, for most of the recent history of GPS watches, most of the people buying them are frequent travelers, which makes sense. Now after the pandemic, perhaps more buyers will be people seeking to “get away” from it all, but nevertheless want to know the absolute accurate time from their new home on a remote island. On the Astron GPS Solar 5X watch dials are two time zones (in 12-hour format), an AM/PM indicator for the main time, and ability to juxtapose the two time zone readouts with the press of a button, a date indicator window, a day of the week indicator window (the calendar system is a perpetual calendar which means it takes leap years into consideration), and battery charge level indicator, and a signal-received success indicator use when the watch is in manual GPS receiving mode. The watch also has the easy ability to switch among 39 different time zones. In order to save power, when the watches are not being worn for a while, the movement inside switches off the motors to the hands, even though it is still keeping track of the correct time.
If you really like the Kintaro Hattori 160th Anniversary Limited Edition (SSH073) version of the Astron GPS Solar 5X, but feel it is out of your budget, the reference SSH069 is $1,200 less and also features a black-coated titanium case and has a ceramic bezel. That is actually the closest thing there is to a “stealth model” in the 5X family, even though the white-lumed hands and hour markers are in non-black colors (for legibility purposes). One of my favorite Astron GPS Solar 5X models is the limited edition SSH071 which uses a hunter green dial and matching green ceramic bezel, paired to the natural titanium case and bracelet. Note that Seiko doesn’t use “naked” titanium, and treats each of these Astron GPS Solar 5X watches with an effective scratch-resistant “hard” coating. The coating can however attract fingerprints… so expect to caress your Mr. Hattori watch with a soft cloth frequently.
As useful as GPS watches are, such timepieces are also niche products. GPS watches like the Seiko Astron GPS Solar are a true hybrid between the technical sensibility of a connected timepiece with much of the appeal of a traditional wristwatch. That means these are for the watch consumer who isn’t quite ready or willing to get a smartwatch (battery life might be a reason), but who also wants more accuracy and reliability when compared to most other traditional-looking timepieces. I happen to think that for the right people, Seiko Astron GPS Solar 5X watches could make for an excellent daily wear.
Seiko currently offers over a dozen versions of its latest Astron GPS Solar watch, with a healthy diversity of styles among the various Astron GPS Solar 5X watch models. The collection absolutely tops out with the SSH073 Kintaro Hattori 160th Anniversary Limited Edition versions of the Astron GPS Solar 5X at a retail price of $3,900 USD. The other Seiko Astron GPS Solar 5X watches range in price between $2,000 – $2,700 USD. Learn more at the Seiko Luxe website here.