To mark the end of the school’s Easter holiday period, three quarters of my immediate family went to see the movie ‘A Quiet Place’ at our local Everyman cinema (having first taken out a second mortgage to pay for the tickets). Beautifully shot, very nicely paced and unrelentingly tense throughout. I’d say it largely deserves its 97% Rotten Tomatoes rating. One plot device, however, left me feeling unsatisfied and unsettled (plot spoiler alert): surely, when bringing up from the basement a bag of laundry which then snags on a nail on one of the steps, you don’t just keep pulling on the bag until the nail bends upwards, directing its apex skyward for the unsuspecting Emily Blunt to step on at a critical point later in the narrative? What any reasonable person would do, is to investigate the source of the snag, unhook the laundry bag and then not step on the nail unnecessarily when in any case you are at that point in the throws of labour.
I mention this not because it has a great deal of direct relevance to the matter of horology, but because this narrative flaw resonates in a timely way with two design flaws that blight what should otherwise be one of the crowning glories (please forgive the pun) of Seiko’s output from the early 1970’s: the high beat automatic King Seiko.
In spite of the fact that I knew full well of the reputation of the 56 series movement for its brittle day-date corrector wheel rocker (surely there must be a snappier name that they could have chosen for this part), as well as the chronic shortage in supply of 30 mm V-type bonded frame crystals, I still find myself having acquired three of the blighters, two of which I’ve been sitting on for well over two years. They’ve since asserted a sort of menacing presence, taunting me to tackle their revivals, knowing full well that I would likely flounder in the face of temperamental quick-settery and the infuriating prospect of dinged up frame-bonded Hardlex.
In the spirit of the best traditions of how best to enter the English channel for a brisk dip, I propose to jump in head first, and tackle two of the blighters at once. I do this not just to kill two birds with one stone, but because the two watches in question are both very similar but also fundamentally different. My hope is that the contrasts between the two might prove to be of some interest.
Let’s introduce our pair of Kings: to the right we have a 5626-7000 KS Hi-beat dating from June 1970, an early example of the breed and housed in a classic grammar-of-design case. To the left, we have a 5626-7111, younger by two and a half years, and in spite of the superficial similarity in design cues, noticeable evolved in its development of what is essentially the same design brief.
The earlier watch is almost indistinguishable in its frontal aspect from the 45-series watch we met a couple of years ago but, in addition to the transplantation of a hand wind 36000 bph 4502 with a 28800 bph automatic, the case has morphed into a monocoque front-loader, gaining a little height in the process to accommodate the rotor.
The 1972 watch has a case that appears a little more refined to my eye with finer lugs and a slightly more open aspect to the dial. Crucially, it also differs from the ’70 watch in that its case is a conventional rear loader and, presumably in the interests of cost cutting, no longer sports the gold medallion at the centre of the case back.
Rather than running the accounts of the two watches in parallel I propose to split this post into three parts: Part I will deal with the earlier 5626-7000, covering proceedings up to the point where we have to deal with the crystal; I’ll then shift to the 5626-7111, focusing on the differences and any points of particular note; and then we’ll draw everything together by taking a look at how to deal with the crystals before wrapping things up.
A King Seiko 5626-7000 from June 1970
This is not, admittedly, quite as nice an example as I was hoping for when I lobbed in my bid about three years back. Superficially, it looks fine – rather handsome in fact.
But with the bezel and crystal removed, we notice that the periphery of the dial between 10 and 1 is stained yellow, the result I think of a past ingress of water.
The crystal, as I’ve alluded to above, is of the bonded V-type in which a tempered mineral (Hardlex) crystal is bonded into a metal frame which itself sits upon a rubber gasket of rather complex profile.
I suggested earlier that the design is flawed but if it is, then it is only so from the perspective of someone having to deal with the dearth of spare parts nearly 50 years after the fact. In terms of aesthetics and function I have no quibble at all. The flaw as it exists derives from the fact that these crystals were designed to be replaced as a single unit at service; it was never intended that the glass itself could be separated from the frame for replacement. Consequently, in the absence of a new replacement part, there is the potential that the revival of otherwise serviceable watches stall. I’ll leave further discussion of the crystal ‘till later and so for the moment, let’s press on.
In order to better see what is required to extract the movement from the case, we need first to remove the glass gasket back-up ring.
There now follows a two-step routine: first depress the setting lever, as indicated in the photo below, and remove the crown and stem. Next, with a pair of tweezers, rotate the snap ring (indicated) in an anti-clockwise direction until its end aligns with the 2 marker. At this point, the other end of the snap ring will align with the 4 marker.
The movement should now be free of its shackles and can be carefully tipped out of the case.
This is probably a good moment to note one additional distinguishing feature of the case: between the lugs, we find a hole, filled with a screw positioned between the 5 and 6 o’clock markers.
The purpose of this hole is to provide access to a micro-adjuster axle that allows regulation of the movement in situ. When I first saw this feature, I assumed that the screw head provides the means to regulate the movement directly but it is in fact simply an access hatch through which you insert a flat bladed screwdriver to adjust the axle. Obviously, the external threaded screw needs to be sealed and to that end, a gasket maintains the water resistance credentials of the case.
Clearly, this particular example is long past the point at which it might be trusted to resist ingress of water.
The following photo provides a means both to appraise the condition movement now that it is free from the case as well as to note the position of the aforementioned micro-adjuster axle.
As we’ve worked through the servicing of a 56 series movement fairly recently in the form of the 5606, I’ll hop and skip through the process this time, pausing only to note key differences and other points of interest.
I alluded in the preamble to the infamous fragility of the day-date corrector wheel rocker, but here we have once more an exception to prove the rule. The rocker fitted to this particular watch features a wheel made of metal rather than plastic and needless to say, it functions. I am now two from two in encountering 56 series movements with working day-date quicksets!
The external movement regulation in this watch distinguishes it from the uni-body-cased Lord Matic 5606 discussed previously. Let’s take a little time to see how the micro-adjusting axle interfaces with the regulator arm of the balance.
You should be able to see in the photo above that the end of the regulation arm on the balance is forked with the fork sitting astride a pin mounted on a rotary stage. The lower half of that stage features a pinion that meshes with the teeth at the end of the micro-adjuster axle (below).
Neat! 23 jewels in the 5606 plays 25 in the 5626. Where does that difference lie?
A jeweled barrel arbor that’s where: one jewel in the barrel bridge, and one in the main plate. Having dismantled the movement, I can report no obvious areas of woe, no broken parts nor excessive wear and so all that is required is to clean and reassemble. We start as usual with the mainspring and Diafix settings.
I am becoming sufficiently adept at Diafix, that they no longer cause sleepless nights.
And mainsprings, where they have not been previously abused, are generally routine business.
By far the most complex and time-consuming part of the reassembly of these movements is tied up in the keyless works and setting parts. But with familiarity comes appreciation for what is I think is one of the most brilliant of Seiko movements of the period.
This is exemplified nicely in the beautiful design of the automatic winding mechanism, an integrated part of the barrel bridge, allowing for a compact and slim movement. Interested readers can find more on the workings of this mechanism here.
The process continues and soon we find ourselves with a running movement, initial regulation complete and with a flat timing curve reporting negligible beat error and about 225 degrees of amplitude on a full wind. This seems about par for the Seiko Hi-beat movements and so for the moment I am content.
Before re-casing the movement, I attend to the small matter of the micro adjuster window. That hardened gasket needed replacing but I can find no information at all about the gasket number, nor can I measure the outgoing gasket because it is in several small fragments, having crumbled during removal. After a bit of trial and error, involving needless purchase of gaskets I may never find a use for, I finally settle upon what appears to be the perfect size.
With that job done and the screw fitted to the case, we are now ready to re-case the movement prior to tackling the issue of the crystal.
We’ll take a pause there, and pick things up in a day or two with the second of our two King Seiko automatics.