In October Richard Garriott, the renowned video game designer and adventurer, became the sixth private space explorer. Richard conducted his space mission aboard the International Space Station wearing a SEIKO Spring Drive watch, specially designed and built for this purpose.
The SEIKO Spring Drive Spacewalk
Three years ago, the “Quiet Revolution” of Spring Drive started, and all over the surface of the earth, Spring Drive is increasingly accepted as one of the most important new developments in luxury watch-making. In 2008, the revolution goes into space.
The second generation in space
Richard Garriott is not only a remarkable entrepreneur and adventurer but he is also the son of a NASA astronaut. Richard's father, Dr. Owen Garriott, made two space flights, aboard Skylab in 1973 and aboard STS-9/Spacelab-1 in 1983. In total, Owen spent 70 days in space and he carried SEIKO watches on both of these flights and wore one continuously during his Spacelab mission. His trust in SEIKO was inherited by his son, and so it was natural that Richard should contact SEIKO as soon as his mission was arranged. Richard and SEIKO will be the first “second-generation” space partnership.
Why SEIKO Spring Drive?
The challenge of making a watch that could operate not only during a space flight but also outside on a spacewalk is a daunting one, and is precisely the kind of challenge that brings out the best in SEIKO's engineers.
The first decision to be made was on the type of movement to be used. Without special treatment, battery-operated instruments are not appropriate for a spacewalk for safety reasons. Thus, quartz movements were not considered. The choice was therefore between mechanical and Spring Drive. The choice was decided by the need for safety and accuracy.
As the watch will be exposed to a range of temperature from minus 20 degrees Celsius to plus 70, accuracy at extreme temperatures was the critical factor, and no mechanical watch can retain its accuracy in these conditions, because of the inherent instability in these conditions of the traditional escapement which regulates the time in all mechanical watches.
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. Thus, Spring Drive was selected as the perfect mechanism for the task.
The Spring Drive Spacewalk
The SEIKO Spring Drive Spacewalk has been custom designed and built with Richard's mission in mind. The mission of SEIKO's engineers was to build a watch that was light, air-tight, strong, easy to read and easy to use, as well as safe and accurate.
(i)The air-tight case
Because of the vacuum of free space, the watch case needs to be completely air-tight. Based on SEIKO’s long experience with Divers watches that can withstand pressures up to 1,000 meters, Spacewalk was designed with special features that will guarantee air-tightness. In addition, to maintain the air-tightness in the huge temperature changes that occur in the vacuum of free space, and especially in cold temperatures, it was necessary to develop a new type of gasket using a rubberized material.
(ii)The lightness of High-intensity titanium
Everything to be taken into space needs to be as light and as strong as possible. High -intensity titanium was chosen as the case material because it is 40% lighter than stainless steel.
(iii)The optimum balance of lightness and wide dial-opening
The next challenge was to make the watch both as light and as large as possible. The case was designed for minimum volume but maximum dial opening size, to ensure quick readability. The solution was to build a case with recessed sides, but this required a new engineering solution, using a CNC machine that SEIKO developed in-house. This process reduced the volume of the case material by 30 %. With this process, a case was created that has the optimum balance of strength, lightness and wide dial opening.
(iv)The most readable dial.
Richard needs to be able to see time and elapsed time at a glance. After many dial designs were tested, a new layout, with the chronograph dials at the top, was selected. The hands and hour markers were designed expressly for this watch, and additional layers of SEIKO’s Lumibrite material were used. The dial is now at least three times brighter than a normal luminous watch.
(v)Maximum ease of use
Richard’s hands will be protected, of course, by thick gloves. He therefore needed the buttons to be over-sized so that they can easily be used and they are placed at the top of the case to be more readily accessible.
The harmony of space travel and Spring Drive
In addition to all the technical attributes which make the Spring Drive Spacewalk the prefect watch for the mission, there is a profound harmony between the essence of Spring Drive and the whole arena of space and space exploration. With its glide motion hands, SEIKO Spring Drive is the only watch to reflect the true, continuous nature of time. It measures time without ‘ticks’, and the perfect, uninterrupted motion of every part of the movement is in perfect harmony with the eternal, continual and precise motion of the planets.
Meeting the challenge and the future
The task of creating this remarkable watch was difficult, and it has involved new developments in every aspect of SEIKO's watchmaking skills. It has taken a dedicated team over three years to create and to test the Spring Drive Spacewalk and new skills, materials and ideas have been generated as a result.
SEIKO's history is replete with examples of how watches like Spacewalk later inspire future generations of SEIKO watches. Only 100 watches will be available: three pieces will go with Richard on his mission and the remaining watches will be marketed worldwide in December this year.
The Mission - October 12 to 19, 2008: Richard spent a week in space, blasting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard the SOYUZ TMA-13 spacecraft.
Click here to see the Spring Drive collection.