One thinks of Swiss watches when it comes to innovation, and with more than 200 years of watchmaking behind them, the Swiss certainly have had their share of achievements. That doesn’t mean that they are the only watchmakers who can come up with something unique, and Japanese maker Seiko, for example, has brought a number of clever ideas to market over the past 50 years or so.
Seiko’s Kinetic Drive, for example, uses a moving mechanical rotor to charge the battery on their quartz watches, making it unnecessary to replace the battery. This drive mechanism not only saves the wearer money from not having to replace the battery, but Seiko says that the watches have also kept millions of poisonous batteries out of landfills.
While the Kinetic Drive is impressive, the Spring Drive may be even more so. The Seiko Spring Drive represents nearly 30 years of work, which began with the efforts of a single engineer, Yoshikazu Akahane, 1977. He wanted to design a movement that flowed smoothly, and mechanical watches then (and most of them now) had a second hand that jerked from one position to another every second. He also wanted the movement to be accurate to within 1 second per day, which was then only achievable through a battery powered quartz movement.
Akahane thought it should be possible to build a movement that was quiet and which had a second hand that swept gently across the face of the watch without the jerking movement. It turned out that it was possible to build a mechanical watch that does this, but the Spring Drive took a lot longer to develop than he’d intended, and more than 600 prototypes were built along the way.
While the Spring Drive uses the power of a self-winding mainspring to power the watch, part of the movement is actually electrical. It’s powered by the same mainspring, and the spring powers something called Tri-Syncrho Regulator. This has an oscillating crystal, which then uses a magnetic force to regulate the speed of a glide wheel. Unlike other mechanical movements, the Spring Drive has no escapement.
Not only do Spring Drive powered watches run smoothly, quietly, and accurately, but they also have an unusually long power reserve, generally in the 60-72 hour range. That means that the watch is not only accurate and quiet, but it is efficient, too.
What it is not is inexpensive. The movement is complex, and at this time, is proprietary to Seiko. They use the Spring Drive only in a handful of watches, and that includes their top of the line models, such as the Credor Minute Repeater, which is priced at nearly a half a million dollars (U.S.)
You should not be scared away by such a price. That represents the extreme end of the product line, but there are actually watches available with Spring Drive which sell for much less. While they are still expensive watches, you can buy a new Spring Drive watch for less than U.S. $3000. True, you won’t get gold or diamonds or any fancy complications, but for $3000 or so you can get a nice watch with a date complication that runs as smoothly, or more so, than any watch you have ever seen.