The 70,000 Dollar Seiko You've Probably Never Heard Of
May 11, 2023
An extremely rare and pricey space watch from a brand known for affordability.
When you think of Seiko, you're likely to think of a $100 Seiko 5, a $700 Alpinist, or maybe even a $1,200 Prospex Diver. Needless to say, a highly limited concept watch that's been to space worth $70,000 probably doesn't come to mind. Yet, here it is, the fascinating outlier that is the Seiko SpaceWalk. Worth multiples the price of most Rolexes, the SpaceWalk is unlike anything else on the market. So, what makes the SpaceWalk so expensive, and how on earth did such a watch come to be?
A True "Space Watch"
The story of the SpaceWalk begins with Richard Garriot, an aspiring space tourist who would join the October 2008 Soyuz TMA-13 mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Specifically for this trip, Seiko developed an entirely new concept watch presumably as a publicity stunt. On his 11-day and 20-hour journey, Garriot brought two SpaceWalks, both of which he left on-board the ISS for the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov. Lonchakov later wore the pair of watches during his December 23, 2008 spacewalk, making the timepieces worthy of their name.
Back on land, Garriot auctioned off one of his personal SpaceWalks for charity. Seiko went on to produce 100 more of the model. Each retailed for $28,000, a price that was unheard of for the brand at the time. As a result of the SpaceWalk's rarity, uniqueness in Seiko's lineup, and backstory that appeals to our enduring fascination with space travel, demand for the watch persists. When a SpaceWalk occasionally shows up on the market, it's typically listed in the range of 70 to $100,000, far higher than the original retail price.
Built for a Purpose
The SpaceWalk was truly built with space travel in mind. Consequently, the watch has several idiosyncratic features which make it ideal for use in space. Most blatant of all is the size; at 53 by 48.7 millimeters, the SpaceWalk is not a watch for small wrists. This size makes sense for two reasons: firstly, the case needs to sit on the outside of a very bulky spacesuit, and secondly, the large crown and pushers allow for ease of use with gloved hands. The position of the crown and pushers in the so-called "bullhead" configuration at 12 also grants easier access to the stopwatch function than a typical chronograph configuration would; this superiority is largely due to the presence of necessary accessories on the exterior of spacesuits and their inherent puffiness which would make accessing side pushers more difficult. Lastly, the dial is designed to maximize legibility, featuring luminous white markers contrasted against a black backdrop.
Still, some aspects of the watch purely improve aesthetics. For instance, the large, rose gold bezel hardly seems necessary for space, though the feature literally adds value to the timepiece and brings it closer to its several thousand-dollar price tag. The chronograph hand is unusual due to its distinctive, possibly space-capsule-inspired base, while the small seconds sub-dial includes a decorative white circle. The stainless-steel sides of the case and lugs are hollowed out, contributing to the watch's futuristic appearance and partially counteracting the weight added by the gold bezel.
The caliber 5R86 inside is also notable. First, the movement relies on Grand Seiko's Spring Drive technology. If you don't know, Spring Drive uses both a quartz oscillator and automatic winding and mechanical components, achieving higher precision with the convenience and appeal of traditional self-winding. This extreme precision is obviously useful for a space voyage when exact timing may come in handy. The high frequency of the quartz oscillator also allows the chronograph hand to glide smoothly around the dial.
Most impressive is the number of additional complications packed into the caliber 5R86. The 24-hour GMT function is distinguished by a blue hand and markers counting every other hour up to 24. The calendar function is neatly tucked away at three o'clock. The power reserve display at four mimics a fuel gauge, cleverly indicating how much power remains out of the movement's impressive 72-hour reserve. While not necessarily useful for space, these functions certainly make the SpaceWalk more appealing to the sort of collector who would go for an eccentric piece like this one.
Space travel has always captured the public imagination, and brands from Bulova to Omega have capitalized greatly off our appetite for space-themed watches. The SpaceWalk is part of a small collection of watches that have actually been in space. Considering the exclusivity of this group and the marketing potential of the model's story, it's surprising that Seiko hasn't brought back the SpaceWalk in some form. The brand's recent move up-market makes now an excellent time for a revival. Some enthusiasts have even called for such an action, especially those who consider the quirky timepiece an unobtainable "grail" watch. In the meantime, the SpaceWalk remains an elusive, valuable, and highly collectible Seiko that continues to captivate collectors.
Shop this article:SPS005 Seiko SpaceWalk Spring Drive | Essential Watches
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