Deep thinker

Seiko en­gi­neer ikuo toku­naga’s sub­aque­ous so­lu­tions

Wallpaper - - October -

A Seiko diver’s watch is resur­gent

Whether it’s the ‘Orange Mon­ster’, ‘Tuna Can’ or ‘Sumo’, the re­lease of a new Seiko diver’s watch sparks fren­zied de­bate (and nick­name in­ven­tion) on on­line watch fo­rums. This year, there is plenty to talk about as the Ja­panese watch­maker launches a replica edi­tion of its first-ever me­chan­i­cal diver’s de­sign, along with two new su­pe­rior-tech ver­sions, due in stores this month.

Seiko en­tered the per­for­mance watch arena in 1965. Buoyed by its as­so­ci­a­tion with the Olympic Games, as of­fi­cial time­keeper for Tokyo 1964, it had be­gun

‘Ti­ta­nium is an ideal ma­te­rial be­cause of its cor­ro­sion re­sis­tance and light­ness’

to con­sider the new era of gad­get-hun­gry con­sumers. Its first diver’s ef­fort was well re­ceived, the clean, wide hands and dial mark­ings pre­sent­ing a con­tem­po­rary Ja­panese take on an es­tab­lished Western tem­plate. Wa­ter-re­sis­tant to 150m, its high leg­i­bil­ity and tough con­struc­tion also led to the watch be­ing adopted as a key tool for the Ja­panese Antarc­tic Re­search Ex­pe­di­tion in 1966.

But it was an al­to­gether more per­sonal chal­lenge – and the dogged de­ter­mi­na­tion of an in­de­pen­dent en­gi­neer, Ikuo Toku­naga – that led to the launch of its Prospex Pro­fes­sional Diver’s se­ries in 1975. The watch fea­tured a num­ber of tech­ni­cal firsts and es­tab­lished Seiko as a se­ri­ous player in pro­fes­sional in­stru­ments.

‘Just be­fore I started work­ing with Seiko in the late 1960s, a let­ter from a pro­fes­sional diver had ar­rived at the com­pany’s head of­fice,’ re­calls the now-re­tired Toku­naga, who worked with Seiko for 35 years and is a rev­ered fig­ure in the busi­ness today. ‘He ex­plained that no diver’s watches, in­clud­ing im­ported ones, were of use to him in his field as he worked in the oil and gas in­dus­try us­ing a sat­u­ra­tion div­ing tech­nique, fea­tur­ing a mix of he­lium and oxy­gen. We vis­ited his team and asked them about the prob­lems they were hav­ing.’

Work­ing at 350m depths in pitch-black, freez­ing con­di­tions was among them. But the most sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem was not the wa­ter re­sis­tance un­der high pres­sure that other diver’s watches were de­signed to com­bat, but the lack of re­sis­tance to he­lium gas, par­ti­cles so small they pen­e­trated the gas­ket.

Toku­naga was not a watch­maker. Rather, his fo­cus was the be­hav­iour of ma­te­rial struc­tures. He started to ex­per­i­ment with ti­ta­nium. ‘Com­pared to stain­less steel, ti­ta­nium is an ideal ma­te­rial for diver’s watches be­cause of its cor­ro­sion re­sis­tance, in­ten­sity and light­ness,’ he says. ‘How­ever, as this was the 1970s, we had to de­velop new tech­nol­ogy. Pres­sure-test­ing equip­ment was not hard, but the de­vice to test the he­lium gas pen­e­tra­tion was very chal­leng­ing.’ His so­lu­tion was a sin­gle-con­struc­tion light­weight case and an L-pro­file gas­ket that en­abled an air- (and he­lium-) tight fit of the glass to the dial. In 1975, Seiko launched a com­pletely new type of diver’s watch, af­ford­ing un­prece­dented gas-tight­ness, for pro­fes­sional use. The team had notched up 23 horo­log­i­cal firsts in the process, in­clud­ing the unique ac­cor­dion polyurethane strap, de­signed to move with the ex­pan­sion and con­trac­tion of a diver’s wrist as he reached new depths. Now a clas­sic Seiko diver’s watch mo­tif, it was de­vised by an­other of the brand’s lauded de­sign as­so­ciates, Taro Tanaka, who was in­spired by the fold­ing cam­era he used. Tanaka also cre­ated the Pro­fes­sional Diver’s outer case con­struc­tion, aka the Tuna Can.

Seiko has a healthy tra­di­tion of part­ner­ing with in­de­pen­dent de­sign­ers. In the late 1890s, its founder Kin­taro Hat­tori met 28-year-old en­gi­neer Tsu­ruhiko Yoshikawa and they started pro­duc­ing their own clock, the ‘Bon­bon’, as an al­ter­na­tive to pop­u­lar Western im­ports. By 1924 it had paved the way for Hat­tori to cap­i­talise on the Ja­panese predilec­tion for pre­ci­sion

(seiko) and es­tab­lish the world’s first Ja­panese clock and watch man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness.

right, iko toku­naga, pho­tographed at the seiko mu­seum, sum­ida, au­gust 2017, wear­ing, from left to right, a grand seiko spring drive chrono­graph and His own cus­tomised seiko pro­fes­sional diver’s de­sign, made of sev­eral ver­sions of so-called ‘tuna’...

top Left, a con­tem­po­rary rein­ter­pre­ta­tion echo­ing the orig­i­nal de­sign, the prospex au­to­matic diver’s watch 42.6mm (cal­i­bre 6r15), fea­tures the orig­i­nal ac­cor­dion strap de­sign and bang up-to-date diver’s tech­nol­ogy, £799 above, seiko prospex diver...

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