For the truly obsessive-compulsive who panic if their watch is even slightly off, the Seiko Astron GPS watch could be the answer. The world’s first solar-powered watch that can set the time with GPS signals, the Astron is accurate to within one second per 100,000 years and automatically adjusts to any timezone in the world. Seiko announced the release of the Astron back in March and it’s now going on sale worldwide.
Wristwatches that synchronize themselves to radio signals have been around since the mid-1990s and are now commonplace, but they have their limitations. They only work in areas where radio time signals are available, where the watch is designed to tune in on those particular signals, and where reception is good enough for the watches to receive them. This leaves very large areas of the earth, such as in the middle of the ocean, where these watches are no better than regular timepieces.
The Seiko Astron does not suffer from these shortcomings. Named after the world’s first quartz watch, the 1969 Seiko Astron, the updated version adjusts the time and sets itself to all 39 time zones.
Each day, the Astron homes in on the time signals from four GPS satellites and uses them to coordinate the correct time to atomic-clock accuracy in about six seconds. At the press of a button, the Astron can within 30 seconds pinpoint its precise latitude and longitude, calculate which of the 39 timezones it’s in, and adjust its hands automatically. It can even adjust for Daylight Savings Time on command and has a perpetual calendar good until February 2100.
The face of the Seiko Astron has that upmarket analog look, but the hands do double duty by telling the wearer whether a proper GPS signal is being received and by how many satellites. Though the Astron doesn’t suffer from the limitations of radio watches, it still needs open sky to receive use GPS, so such information is necessary for proper operation. The face also acts as a solar panel to keep the watch charged.
Seiko is offering the Astron in three models – one with a titanium case available in a metallic or black finish, one with a stainless steel case, and a special edition with detailing and special serial numbers. All are magnetic resistant and water resistant to 100 meters (328 ft) and have a sapphire crystal with proprietary anti-glare coating.
For all its technological sophistication, the Seiko Astron is more jewelry that an instrument for practical timekeeping. Though it can determine its location, the coordinates are not displayed and the minute and second hands aren’t laid out for best use of its incredible accuracy by those who might want it, such as sailors and aviators. Another significant drawback of the Seiko Astron is the cost. With a suggested retail price of JPY152,250 (US$1,942) - JPY210,000 (US$2,679) this is a watch targeted at people for whom the word “affordable” has little relevance.