Seiko is associated primarily with a wide range of moderately priced and reliable watches, but surprisingly, the watchmaking division operates within the diversified conglomerate Seiko Group, whose many specialties include upscale department stores, printers, semiconductors, machine tools, and of course, watches. Seiko has deep roots in timekeeping – founder Kintaro Hattori started to produce clocks in 1892 under the name Seikosha, and in 1969, almost swept the Swiss watchmaking industry off its feet with the introduction of Astron, the first commercial quartz watch. The brand has an enthusiastic collector base and an unparalleled breadth in the lineup that stretches from mainstream quartz to haute-horlogerie, something that is unique in the watchmaking industry, and a depth that is surprising given the wide spectrum of businesses the parent company is involved in.
Seikosha translates to “House of Exquisite Workmanship,” and Seiko’s high-end Credor line takes this very seriously. Today we’re looking at the Credor Eichi II, the second generation of exclusive time-only pieces with a breathtaking hand-painted porcelain dial and superlative finishing inspired by none other than Philippe Dufour.
The Eichi comes in a simple, black wooden case. It is easy to brush off the display case as a mere accessory and a burden to the collector, but this one deserves attention. The moderate size of the case is a nice departure from the trend of larger, heavier, and louder displays, and the layout is quite practical, with the watch holder on the right and an empty tray on the left that can be used for storage of other accessories. The highlight here, however, is the deep black urushi lacquer finish of the case, which provides a contrasting background for the lustrous white porcelain dial of the watch. The technique of urushi lacquer has been perfected in East Asia over the past several millennia, and is a proud reflection of the Japanese heritage of the brand. This is something you will not find from Swiss or German manufactures.
Let’s start with the dial. It’s almost luminous and certainly lustrous – the porcelain possessing a translucent quality that seems to absorb light and give off a warm, organic glow. Set inside a finely polished platinum case, the dial takes on an ethereal character.
Then, you have the hand-painted indices. From afar it may look like simple blue stamped indices, but bring it up close and you notice a wonderfully three-dimensional set of indices that is ever so slightly irregular – proof of being hand made, and the reward of an artisan’s touch adding to the organic warmth of the porcelain base. Further observation shows the paint has a grainy texture, almost sandy – and sure enough, the paint is translucent with coarse pigment grains visible under a loupe. Blueberry jam on fine china comes to mind. What we mean is – the result is deliciously breathtaking. This is simplicity at its best.
Let’s take a closer look at the painting. Note that even the tiny Credor logo is hand painted, with serifs and stroke width variations represented faithfully.
The hands are blued steel and the color plays nicely with the indices. While the dial lacks any minute marks for precise timekeeping, the elegantly pointed hands exude confidence in timekeeping accuracy. The crescent second hand gently breaks the monotony of straight lines on the dial as it glides across – yes, this is Spring Drive after all.
And, did we mention the strap? It is an unusual gorgeous deep purple, complementing the blue-painted dial and hands perfectly.
Of course, the Eichi is not just about a pretty face. Turn the piece around, and you are greeted by serious haute-horlogerie under the hood. This is where the influence of Philippe Dufour is immediately evident, in the unparalleled level of finishing. It is indeed a fascinating twist of fate that the company responsible for bringing about the quartz crisis has found new inspiration in the most traditional Swiss watchmaking techniques. Despite the fact that Seiko also produces pure mechanical movements, it has chosen to blend its newfound expertise in movement finishing with its exclusive Spring Drive technology to craft a modern classic. Welcome to the Neo-Renaissance of watchmaking.
The movement is simple, purposeful, yet artistic. The flower motif on the mainspring barrel first catches the eye, and the attention then flows to the stem and leaves created by the gap between the two bridges, and the splash of colors in red and blue sprinkled around from the rubies and blued screws. Movement finishing aficionados may lament the lack of some form of damaskeening such as Côtes de Genève. But, in our view, the uniform brushed finish provides a cleaner background for the “picture” to come through. The power-reserve indicator that was on the dial side in the original Eichi has been moved to the back and enlarged. The simple blued baton hand serves its purpose and does not interfere with the artistic motif. The yellow infill of the engravings initially comes across as slightly odd, and perhaps, faux-brass – but at the end, it does add to the painting-like qualities of the piece, front and back.
One last area of detail that deserves highlighting is the crown. The original Eichi had a small rectangular porcelain insert mirroring the dial. In this revision, the crown has received an engraving treatment. This also extends to the deployant buckle.
Comparing Modern Classics
A wise man once told us all good things come in threes. So, here we present you with a threesome of horological bliss, a trio of time-only pieces with the finest of hand-finished movements. Credor Eichi, meet Philippe Dufour Simplicity and Laurent Ferrier Galet Micro-Rotor.
Let’s take a closer look at the movements of the two brothers. First, the Dufour:
Now, the Laurent Ferrier:
Further close-ups of the Eichi, Simplicity, and Galet Micro-Rotor, in that order:
The Dufour employs the most sophisticated bridge edge finishing with elaborate inner and outer angles executed with perfect sharpness and flawless polishing, and a clean boundary between the polished edge and the Geneva stripes. The Eichi actually surpasses the master in terms of width of the polished edge – as we said before, this is truly the Nile River of anglages – however, it does fall a little short compared to the Simplicity in terms of uniformity and sharpness of angles. The edge polishing of the Galet Micro-Rotor is well executed but thin and plain in comparison, and while inner edges are there, they appear ever slightly rounded compared to those of the Dufour.
Now, let’s take a look at the surface treatment of bridges. In the same order:
The Eichi looks uninteresting due to its plain linear brush finish across the two bridges, but the fine pitch and uniformity of the pattern are superb. Both the Simplicity and the Galet Micro-Rotor have similar widths on their Geneva stripes, which is to say they’re both gorgeously wide. The Dufour wins on uniformity of the arc pattern, but the stripes are slightly overlapping at the boundaries, creating a softer look. The Laurent Ferrier seems to have used a slightly more aggressive pressure to cut, resulting in a coarser texture, but this has the benefit of cleaner cut boundaries with zero overlap between stripes. Also note that Dufour seems to have used a smaller diameter tool compared to Laurent Ferrier, resulting in more curvaceous reflections.
Another point to be praised when looking at these movements up close is the complete absence of burrs around engravings. The Dufour is automatically excluded since the plates are carved by hand, but kudos to Laurent Ferrier and Seiko for producing movements with zero burr visible around machine-carved engravings, even at these high levels of magnification. You would be surprised – many other high-end calibers fail this simple test.
If the Eichi presents a modern, minimalist interpretation of movement finishing, Dufour spins an eloquent story of fine traditional watchmaking and Laurent Ferrier builds upon it an architectural vision with cleaner lines. In automobile analogies, perhaps Tesla Model S, Bugatti Atlantic, and Lamborghini Countach might fit the bill. But, whatever the analogy – the three pieces we spent time with today represent some of the best in what modern haute-horlogerie has to offer, and it is refreshing to see the traditional hand-finishing techniques carried on and re-interpreted by the artisans in Japan.
For more on Seiko, click here.
For more on Philippe Dufour, click here.
For more on Laurent Ferrier, click here.