Tuesday, April 6, 2010

SEIKO Railroad Approved Pocket Watches / Seiko 6110-0010 Second Setting Railroad Pocket Watch

A Railroad grade Pocket Watch or Wrist Watch is a timepiece used by Rail employees, and typically must have an accuracy +/- 30 Seconds over 24 hours, have a hacking function, and have an easily read dial, typically with Arabic numerals. While a number of websites provide details of e.g. American Railroad watches, there is a paucity of information regarding Japanese Railroad watches. I attempt in the following to compile some of the information I have been able to find, and invite other contributions in the hope that we can collect all available knowledge in this field - please also feel free to correct or berate me! If you would like to learn more, an excellent review is available at:http://www.gmtplusnine.com/2007/05/20/all-aboard-japan-railways-the-seiko-connection/ ... a review which served as inspiration for this post.

Authorised Railroad Watches are used to coordinate train departures and movements, and are used by both train drivers as well as conductors. Typically, the train driver and the conductor would set their watches with a central time source at the start of a trip - coordination of watches would help ensure that two trains would not be on the same track at the same time. Clearly, it is vitally important for a train driver and the conductor to keep their schedule, with fixed times alloted to specific points along the journey, allowing the driver to speed up or slow down as required to remain, uhm, on track (sorry...). In the following pictures from 2006, the train drivers Seiko pocket watch can clearly be seen nestling in an illuminated cut-out on the console:

Seiko Railroad Pocket Watch in use, 2006. Picture credit: http://japan.mattanderson.net/

(This has got to be a typical Seiko WIS thing - I got all flushed and excited when, after a long search I finally found this, the only picture I have seen of a Seiko railroad-approved pocket watch "in action". I gave a whoop of glee (I'm easily pleased) and she-who-must-be obeyed came to take a look and shot me a withering glance when she saw what I had found).

On Ikuo Tokunagas website: http://www.tokunaga.ne.jp/ a series of Seiko Railroad Pocket Watches can be seen. It is immediately clear that the basic design has remained unchanged, with changes primarily being restricted to the movements used, as well as the positioning of the seconds hand:

To the best of my knowledge, the five calibres presented here were used exclusively in pocket watches. From the dial symbols it appears that the first three movements were produced by the Suwa factory, established in 1943. It would appear in all cases (sorry) that the cases are chromium plated.
From left to right we see a hand wind caliber 91RW (Railroad Watch) 15 jewel movement with a 41.3mm diameter, running at 5 beats per second. The second piece is a 6110A hand wind calibre 61 Railroad Watch (61RW) with 21 jewels, issued in 1971 and running at a higher rate of 6 beats per second (21.600 bph). Interestingly, this calibre was introduced in 1968, suggesting it was required to prove itself in the field before being introduced as a replacement for the venerable 91RW. In 1977 the quartz-driven 75 series calibre was introduced, and a year later the quartz revolution reached Japanese railway-approved watches in the from of the 7550 Quartz Railroad Watch, which boasted a quoted accuracy of 15 seconds per month, a clear step up from the 30s / day accuracy of its mechanical predecessors. As an aside, a close relative and forum favourite, the 7549 300m Tuna was introduced at the same time. The 7550 calibre was followed in 1986 by the 7C11 quartz and the 7C21 quartz, which boasted a long-life lithium cell.

A glance at the dials of all five watches show that the same font was used for all pieces. This font has had a particularly long life, and using the numbers 4 and 7 as a reference, we can see in Seikos "A Journey in Time" that the same font has been used since at least 1913!

Seiko 6110-0010 Second Setting Railroad Pocketwatch

I was fortunate enough to recently acquire a Seiko 6110-0010 Second Setting Railroad Pocketwatch from Seiko dealer "secondhandseikos" (Paul is apparently a SCWF lurker) which lead to a pleasant exchange of emails and permission to use his photos:

Seiko 6110-0010 Second Setting Railroad Pocket Watch, Front

Seiko 6110-0010 Second Setting Railroad Pocket Watch, Rear

The 6110 is part of the vast and immensely popular 61xx line designed and manufactured by Suwa, ranging from simple, robust hand-wind models over the "Seiko 5" range to chronographs and the Grand Seiko 61GS. A characteristic of the 61xx line is their use of a large diameter balance wheel, which apparently imparts an improved rate stability. A further characteristic of the 61xx line is the use of the Diafix shock absorbtion/lubrication jewel system for the escape wheel.

The calibre 6110 is one of only three hand wind 61xx models (and is used only in pocket watches), the rest of the 61xx line being automatic. Introduced in 1967 the 61xx line appears to phase out in the mid 1970s, with the exception of a few movements well known to SCWF members: the Seiko Divers 150m calibre 6105 which remained in production until 1977 and the 6138/6138 chronograph calibres which remained in production until as late as 1979. With its wristwatch-like diameter of 27.4mm, the 6110 caliber is significantly smaller than the predecessor Railroad Pocket Watch 91RW calibre with a diameter of 41.3 mm, and I can't help wondering if Seiko had planned to use this calibre in a wristwatch series.

My impressions of this watch are very favourable. It is large enough to be a true pocket watch, and sits comfortably in the hand. Winding is exceptionally smooth and quiet, and the sweep of the second hand across the large dial is particularly satisfying. The dial is exceptionally easy to read, even under low light conditions. It fits nicely into a watch pocket:

There be gold over them thar hills...wink.gif

Although it will be fun to wear on special occasions, I probably will not carry it very much. In my book, a watch which is rarely worn usually gets flipped. However, as you can see from the picture below, A Seiko Railroad Approved Pocket Watch makes a perfect focal point for a collection of Seiko watches, and even my non-WIS friends have commented it, allowing me the perfect opportunity to show-and-tell (until their eyes glaze) and as such it is justified as a definite keeper.

Prices for these pieces lie around the 200USD mark, the 91RW slightly higher, making these an affordable, interesting conversation piece for any Seiko collector.

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