Astron Dual Time Review
The Astron Dual Time is the third and newest model of modern Astrons, all identified by their amazing ability to sync time and time zone via GPS. The Astron Dual Time keeps the thinner and smaller case of the Astron Chronograph while adding more useful features for the frequent traveler or international businessman. The particular Astron we have today is the limited edition SSE039, probably the boldest of all the new Astron Dual Time models thanks to its mother of pearl dial and white ceramic accents. Join me as I explore the newest member of the Astron family.The IntroductionCaliber:
8X53, Solar PoweredCase:
Ceramic and titanium, super-hard coatingBand:
Ceramic and titanium with super-hard coatingSize:
Mother of pearl dial GPS controlled time and time zone adjustment Dual-Time with AM/PM indication Perpetual calendar correct to the year 2100, Signal reception result indication World time function (40 Time Zones), Daylight Saving Time function, Power save function
The Astron comes from a long and distinguished family that began with the famous, or infamous (if you happen to be in the Swiss watch industry) '69 Astron, the first production quartz wristwatch. The original Astron is, without any doubt, the most important watch of the 20th century, the one that would form the basis of the vast majority of watches to come afterwards. The modern line of Astrons are almost as innovative when it comes to a new way to keep time. While they still rely on a high-quality quartz mechanism, the accuracy is vastly enhanced thanks to the ability to sync with super precise GPS satellites. Perhaps more interesting, and more useful, is the unique ability to sync time zone as well. And unlike radio controlled watches, this will work anywhere in the world.
To understand Astron you'll need to step back in time. The 1960s was an era of tremendous technological progress, most notably the space race. The Astron came too late to participate in the first manned moon landing, but the name, which I suspect is derivative of the word astronaut, was intended to invoke that same space age excitement that was entrancing the world. Today's GPS Astrons, however, are much more involved with space than the original could ever have hoped to be.
That's because the current generation of Astrons, including this one, can receive signals from several satellites simultaneously. This allows it to sync its time, giving it unprecedented accuracy. It also marks a great deal of freedom more than its radio based predecessors which could only be used in certain areas of the world. The Astron will work literally anywhere on the planet, so long as you have a clear view of the sky. More impressively, the time zone will be synced automatically as well, making changing time zones as simple as using a single pusher. If that weren't enough, it's entirely solar powered. In a sense then, it receives both its power and its time keeping capabilities from space.The Dial
The dial of the SSE039 really sets it apart from the other new Astrons. Seiko seems to be developing a theme whereby the inaugural limited edition model has a white motif. Like the SSE001 chronograph that came before it, this too features numerous white accents, although now it's blended with a blue bezel.
In what will undoubtedly be a controversial decision, Seiko chose to go with a very subtle mother of pearl dial here. Before you riot, however, let's take a really close look at it.
It's very discreet, almost a uniform soft blue. Only upon close examination, like here, can you see the slight mother of pearl patterns on the dial. It was risky to use mother of pearl in a men's watch, and it's not going to be for everyone, but it actually looks surprising good. Looking at the patterns in the dial it almost reminds me of clouds. This is an especially interesting choice on a solar powered watch, which implies that the solar cells underneath must either be very efficient or the watch is a real power sipper.
Look past the mother of pearl dial and you'll find that the Astron Dual-Time is your run of the mill 8 hand watch. Fans of the grand complication look will be very happy with this layout. Each hand is a very multi-chromatic blue which ranges between black and bright blue depending on the light.
Alright, a quick walk through of all the hands before we dive in: on the top left is your mode selector and power reserve, on the top right is your retrograde day, just below that is the AM/PM indicator and at the bottom a second time zone on a 12 hour scale (made possible by the previous complication).
We'll start with the mode selector. This is an important element of the Astron dial, not merely because of its functionality, but because it's the only consistent element in all three models of Astrons. It's pretty much identical to the original Astron GPS, although the second model, the chronograph, moved it to a circular subdial at 6:00. Design heritage aside, this performs a multitude of tasks, from telling the owner his remaining power reserve and how many satellites he is receiving signals from to toggling airplane and daylight savings time modes.
Totally new for the Astron is this retrograde day complication. What's a retrograde complication, you might ask? Well, these are complications that can move both clockwise and counterclockwise. Typically, a retrograde complication is like this one, where it flies back to the starting position (in this case counterclockwise) after finishing its cycle (a week here).
Here's the AM/PM complication. This essentially just bifurcates the first 12 hours of the day from the second and is more important than might first appear. In a dual time watch, like this one, a 12 hour scale is often used for convenience. However, not being present for the home time, you can't see if it's day or night and you can't read it from a 12 hour scale either. So this complication actually does have a very real, very practical utility to it. It basically tells you how to read the next complication.
Here's the complication that gives the Dual Time its name. This is, as the name would imply, a second time zone, typically your home time although you could set it to anything. It's a very nice complication to have for frequent travelers because whether you're on a mechanical watch or a GPS one like the Astron, changing the local time (the main hands in the middle of the dial) does not affect the home time, which should stay constant, at least until you permanently move to a different time zone. I really like the use of a 12 hour scale here, complete with a redundant minute hand. This make it extremely easy to read at a glance, and thanks to the AM/PM subdial, no information is lost.
The Dual-Time is interestingly named because this dual time complication was more or less identical on the original Astron GPS. In a technical sense, this is the second Astron dual time, although this one is clearly much more centered around the complication with its 12 hour scale (the original had a 24 hour scale), AM/PM and day complications. As another interesting aside, the original Astron GPS was, in my opinion, very clearly modeled after the Seiko SAGA line of watches. The Dual-Time, however, reminds me a lot of the obscure (and underrated) Seiko SARN models although the top left and top right retrograde complications point inward on that watch. This is probably only a coincidence, however, unlike the SAGA resemblance.
Finally we get to the date, one of the overlooked complications of the Astron. You shouldn't overlook it, however, as this is actually a perpetual calendar. It's true that quartz perpetual calendars don't warrant the acclaim that mechanical ones do, but you have to look at it on the whole. This is a solar powered perpetual calendar that can perfectly sync time and time zone via GPS and adjust for daylight savings time with a simple button press. It is, without any doubt, the ultimate set it and forget it watch.
The Astron Dual-Time features tiny applied hour markers and larger blue ones with luminescent dots on them on the substantial chapter ring.
The green lume on the hour and minute hands is quite bright, although a bit more subtle on the hour markers and seconds hand. It's bright enough to be useful but it actually looks great in moderate to low lighting where the green stands out against the slightly blue dial.
I went through a few phases with this SSE039. When I first saw it in stock photos from Seiko, I really liked it. As the white ceramic and mother of pearl influences were realized, I became a little more cautious with how it was going to turn out. In the end, however, I quite like it. I'm not sure it's the best of the new Dual-Time dials, as it's the only one I've spent much time with, but I actually do think I would wear this one.The Case
The titanium and ceramic case of the Dual-Time SSE039 is almost as interesting as the dial. One reason for this is its 48.7mm size, which is much larger than most of the Dual-Times by 3.7mm. But the other reason, of course, is its ceramic edges on the 3:00 and 9:00 sides of the watch, a feature that is currently not replicated by any other Dual-Time model. The ceramic use is also found in the bezel, although this is not atypical of the Dual-Time lineup, or of Astrons generally.
The ultra-scratch resistant ceramic use is quite welcome in the bezel, one of the more vulnerable parts of the watch case. On it are time zone abbreviations which can be useful for calculating time differences. It's not particularly useful for figuring out the time zone you've arrived in, however, because that task is completed with the push of a button on the Astron.
The combination of titanium and ceramic composition is an interesting one, and not without utility. Titanium is a rather soft metal, typically much softer than the steel used in watches, making it unfortunately scratch prone. Seiko deals with this by using proprietary titanium alloys which are harder, or in this case, using a hard coating. The SSE039, however, does receive additional protection from the ultra-hard ceramic elements sprinkled throughout. Thus, although the watch is much lighter than steel, very little scratch resistance is lost here.
Each side of the case is made of a solid piece of white ceramic. It integrates quite nicely as a sort of target pattern, thanks to the matching white chapter ring, separated on either side by a blue bezel and blue dial. These steel pieces, I assume, must attach the ceramic to the case, although I'd prefer them to be recessed, as they are on the other side, to allow the ceramic to take more of the damage given its superior scratch resistance. They do provide a bit of symmetry with the crown and two pushers on the opposing side, however.
The other side is quite the same except with chronograph-esque pushers and a crown. The pattern on the crown and pushers is somewhat interesting, however.
They each feature a sort of hobnail texture to them. This is no doubt a stylistic flourish, but it does probably make it slightly easier to grip and operate the watch.
The crown is also adorned with a ceramic accent, again probably more for looks than anything, but this will also absorb some scratches that the crown would otherwise have taken.
One aspect of the Astron Dual-Time that isn't talked about much is the fact that, like Grand Seiko, zaratsu blade polishing techniques are used to finish the case.
The case back, although obviously not sapphire, does have an interesting motif around the edge. It's otherwise unremarkable but certainly not bad looking.
By popular request, the ruler comparison shots have returned.The Video
Check out our high-definition vide of the SSE039 here.The Conclusion
The Astron Dual-Time is, without a doubt, the best GPS Astron ever. It really is more of what the GPS Astron should have been in the first place, an entirely travel-centric watch. Now that the home time has returned, with the addition of an AM/PM indicator and day complication, it has pretty much completed its mission of becoming the most convenient choice for world travelers.
So it goes without saying that I really like the Dual-Time. It's one of my favorite quartz watches in the world, and I would consider it a legitimate, although aesthetically very different, rival to Grand Seiko's own quartz watches, depending on the look you're going for. But that's a discussion about the line of watches. What about this wild new SSE039 in particular?
It really grew on me. I was certainly concerned with the use of mother of pearl and white ceramic accents, thinking that this watch might appear too feminine for men, yet be too large for women. In practice, however, these accents are used very tastefully. The dial appears a light, shiny blue at a glance and is much more subtle than you'd expect. The white ceramic is more prominent, largely due to the center links of the bracelet, but it's still relatively discreet thanks to an abundance of titanium and the blue ceramic bezel.
Is it the SSE039 the Astron Dual-Time I'd buy? I need to spend some more time with the other new models before I make up my mind. I do wish it were smaller, matching its brethren, and while I accept the mother of pearl dial, it's unclear to me if I'd choose it over a more conventional option. Still, an eye catching design like this is a great way to bring in the third model of Astron in its progression to become an entire line of watches, not unlike Grand Seiko, Brightz or Prospex. You'll have to make up your own mind on the SSE039, but I think that the Astron Dual-Time in general is the Astron to get.