On my sixth birthday, I was in Hawaii at my grandparents house watching the live launch of a manned Apollo mission to space on a black and white TV. It seemed like the whole nation, or at least what I knew of it, was consumed with dreams of travel to the stars. The endeavor represented our technological prowess and, especially to a boy, it was awe inspiring.
I have never forgotten that feeling. My real life has had no connection to astronauts, or rockets, or lunar modules, but I have admired what they achieved. Much like I have purchased watches reminiscent of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms or the Rolex Submariner that I cannot afford, I went in search of a timepiece that would resemble the Omega Speedmaster Professional Chronograph, or Moonwatch, issued to our American space warriors.
A glimpse of Seiko’s SSB031 Chronograph made me think of serious men with buzz cuts and dangerous ambitions in Cape Canaveral. To be an astronomical homage, my watch had to have a tachymeter on the bezel, a black dial with white indices and white chronometer sub-dials, and a stainless steel case and band.
Oh, there was more. I needed the chronometer dials at the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions. The manufacturer’s name had to be above the sub-dials, and I desired there to be the precision white minute markers around the main dial’s perimeter. These things would make the watch “moon-worthy” to me and the SSB had them.
While not an exact clone, which I did not want anyway, the Seiko SSB031 bore enough of a resemblance to the vaunted Speedmaster Professional to make it A-OK in my book. Thus, cash egressed my bank account. I ordered from an online retailer shipping from Japan and I believe the SSB made a trip around the dark side of the moon before landing on my doorstep. Honestly, it took five weeks to arrive.
But I was pleased at the unboxing. The SSB031’s 40mm case size and 20mm band make this package just what I wanted to fit under a dress shirt cuff or look casual techy with jeans. The watch looks terrific in person. While its visage is a bit more robust than the sleek Speedmaster, the SSB031 has the can-do demeanor of a Mission Control flight director.
The Seiko 6T63 Meca-Quartz Chronograph movement possesses the advantages of a standard quartz engine, but its stopwatch functions like a mechanical type, with smooth 1/5 second ticking and a snap-back reset. A standard quartz chronograph’s second hand ticks each second and sweeps around on reset. Spot checking the U.S. Naval Observatory Master Clock shows my SSB running at +-5 seconds per day. Yes, this is a hacking movement.
While not stellar, the watch’s stainless band and button-actuated fold-over clasp do their job for me. Hey, you don’t like them? Buy aftermarket! Beneath the Hardlex crystal, SSB031’s hands and hour markers have strong lume. While Seiko rates this watch to 100 meters of water resistance, the SSB lacks a screw down crown so I would be careful wearing it for anything more than a splashdown.
The bezel has a tachymeter (tah-KIM-i-ter). You can use it to measure speed or distance. The only thing I’ve ever used one for is checking the speedometer in my car. By driving 60 mph, pushing start at one mile marker on the interstate and stop at the next, you get your true speed as indicated where the stopwatch hand points on the bezel. That’s about it, but the tach looks bitchin’.
A monochrome cathode ray tube with rabbit-ear antennae showed me the way to the stars when I was young and impressionable. It led me to science fiction novels, original Star Trek, and a love of things NASA. If my Seiko SSB031 takes me on a time travel journey back to the Space Race, then it was worth all of $149.00.
Seiko photos: BladeBarrelBezel.com, Omega Speedmaster photo: Omega Watches