How Smart Do You Really Want a Watch to Be? Seiko’s New Astron Straddles the Smartwatch Line

Unless you’ve been vacationing under a rock in these waning days of summer, you surely heard last week that Apple has released the latest version of their Apple Watch, along with a completely new version of the watch meant for those of you more likely to fall off the side of a mountain than myself. This predictable product refresh happens annually, and I always find myself wondering if I could personally jump the mechanical watch ship and join the smartwatch crowd. The devices get more impressive year after year, and I tend to like gadgets, but to this point I haven’t crossed the line and actually indulged any Apple Watch whims I might temporarily experience. I always find myself asking, “How smart do I really want my watch to be?” And then I hear about the latest version of the Seiko Astron, and I think, “This smart – this is as smart as I’d like a watch to be.” 


Watches like the Astron sit in a strange place. They are not quite smartwatches – they lack the total immersion and app driven interactivity that you get right out of the box with an Apple Watch and its chief competitors. But they’re also far more advanced than your typical quartz watch, offering layers of autonomy built into the design and the movement that give them a nearly set and forget it quality (you can put G-Shock’s most advanced watches in this category as well, with their automatic updating thanks to GPS and Bluetooth connectivity via the user’s phone). The Astron still feels like a “normal,” traditional watch, even with its impressive and tech driven feature set, while the Apple Watch is more clearly in the electronic gadget category. Some may disagree (please voice your opinion in the comments) but there still seems to be a line between what we consider a smartwatch and the most advanced technology watches coming from traditional watch brands. 

Seiko has just launched four new Astrons, and if you find yourself yearning for a watch that’s decidedly on the techier side of things but don’t want to jump fully into smartwatch territory, these might be worth taking a look at. (It’s important to note that the Astrons are considerably more expensive than the Apple Watch, so this is not an apples to apples comparison). The new watches feature Seiko’s 5X53 caliber, which is charged via solar power and offers a suite of features geared toward world travel. The watches are all GPS equipped, and connect automatically to a GPS satellite network to ensure perfect timekeeping and automatic adjustment while moving through time zones (they can also be synched on demand by the wearer). The movement adjusts the watches automatically for Daylight Savings Time, and the main timing display can be changed from home to local time with the push of a button. The watches also feature a perpetual calendar.

So the draw here is basically perfect timekeeping anywhere in the world, automatically. That’s something that’s accomplished with an Apple Watch (or a phone) fairly easily, and always in the background, but for some reason a watch that makes human interaction virtually unnecessary remains quite impressive.

Something else you get with the Astron that you don’t with a smartwatch is a distinct design. Users are largely expected to customize their Apple Watch screens via a plethora of pre-defined options baked into the operating system, but the Astron is a watch, an aesthetic object, and someone has already made those decisions for you. For these pieces, Seiko appears to be looking to the stars. The SSH117, SSH119, and SSH121 have radial patterns in silver, black, and blue that are inspired by the astronomical phenomena of a “nova,” or the burst of light that occurs at creation of a new star. The SSH123, a limited edition with identical specs as the other watches in this collection, has a textured purple dial with the same radiant pattern that Seiko describes as being inspired by the “explosive power of a supernova.” It’s pretty cool looking, and another example of the continued prevalence of purple watches in all of our lives. It’s a thing. 

As with most Astrons, these are large watches that fit firmly within most people’s definitions of a big modern sports watch. All are titanium, which should help with the heft, but they measure a full 43.1mm in diameter. They’re a bit over 12mm thick, which is not too bad for a watch of that size, but there’s no doubt these are going to have some major wrist presence on just about anyone who chooses to strap one on. All the modern features you’d expect can be found in the spec sheet, including a ceramic bezel insert, 100 meters of water resistance, and a sapphire crystal. They also feature Seiko’s “super hard coating” on the case and bracelet to protect against unwanted scratches. 

The SSH117 and SSH119 both carry a retail price of $2,200. The SSH121 and SSH123 will set you back $2,400 (and the latter is limited to 1,500 pieces). All of the new Astrons will be available in October. Seiko

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Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.