Seiko Spring Drive Spacewalk watch keeps time in space
By Darren Quick
March 14, 2010
Today watches are built to withstand varying degrees of water pressure and shocks and scrapes of all sorts. But a new watch from Seiko has been built to withstand the harsh environments found when the wearer is enjoying a pleasant Sunday afternoon spacewalk. Touted as the first watch ever designed for use in outer space might restrict the target market for the Seiko Spring Drive Spacewalk watch somewhat, which is probably why Seiko will release a limited edition of only 100.
The original Spring Drive Spacewalk was built specifically for Richard Garriot, who became the seventh private space tourist by spending 12 days aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in October 2008. Two Spring Drive Spacewalk watches Richard took on his flight performed flawlessly, but they were really put to the test in December 2008 when they were worn by a Russian cosmonaut throughout a 5-hour-38-minute Extra-vehicular Activity (EVA), or spacewalk.
The watches were worn on the outside of the space suit and were able to withstand the extreme temperatures, pressures and radiation conditions involved in the spacewalk. On their return to Earth the watches were studied and tested at Seiko Epson’s facility and their perfect performance during the EVA was independently verified.
Without special treatment battery-operated instruments aren’t appropriate for a spacewalk for safety reasons, so quartz movement was ruled out as an option for the watch. That left a choice of mechanical or Spring Drive. Since there was no way a mechanical watch exposed to temperatures ranging from minus 20 to plus 70 degrees Celsius could maintain its accuracy Spring Drive was chosen. Instead of a traditional regulator, Spring Drive has a Tri-synchro Regulator, an entirely new regulator that uses and generates mechanical, electrical and electromagnetic power and is less affected by temperature variations.
One of the watches taken into space was auctioned in New York in September 2009 where it sold for US$45,000 that was donated to the two charities that Richard supports: the Nature Conservancy and the Challenger Center for Space Science Education. Now others planning to slip the surly bonds of Earth and don’t want to lose track of time have the opportunity to grab their own Seiko Spring Drive Spacewalk watch for the bargain price of US$28,000.
The limited edition watch has the exact same specifications as the watch that went into space with one adaptation: a screw-in crown is used. To ensure ease of manual winding, the crown on the original was not a screw-in; however, Seiko says the perfect functioning of the watch, both inside and outside the ISS, revealed that the self-winding mechanism worked flawlessly in space, so a screw-in crown is now used in the commemorative edition to enhance the overall security of the case.
The watch has a ballistic nylon strap with an additional elastic nylon strap, which is exactly the same as the one used in space, is included in the special presentation box. The serial number is engraved on the case back. The watch will be available in selected Seiko retail outlets worldwide, with the first ones released in February.
The watch is constructed with a high-intensity titanium casing and sapphire crystal glass with anti-reflective coating. It has hour, minute and second hands with date calendar and GMT hand. Aside from its ability to withstand the rigors of space the watch has a chronograph and date function. There’s no alarm since in space, no one can hear it go off.