Orient Place

Orient Place

Sunday 29 November 2020

Royal Orient vs… Grand Seiko (?)


One of the most common questions I get asked is how Royal Orient and Orient Star compare against the famed Grand Seiko brand. Well, it's a legitimate question, and today I'll try to come up with an answer.

First, some background. We have covered Royal Orient's history quite extensively before, mainly in this article. In short, the Royal Orient brand was introduced in 1958, with the intention of offering models that were higher-end than other Orients in terms of mechanical excellence and overall quality.

The first Grand Seiko was actually unveiled two years later, in 1960. Seiko was aiming at very high standards, particularly in terms of timekeeping (though the finishing quality was mighty impressive as well). It was positioned way out of Royal Orient territory, and at 25,000 JPY it was more than twice the cost of the most expensive Orient of the time – very much like the price difference during the 2000s when modern ROs and GSs were being produced.

Both watchmakers stopped production of their high-end mechanical watches during the Quartz Crisis of the 1970s. Later it was Seiko who was first to resume production of its Grand brand in 1991, with new mechanical movements (cal. 9S5x) introduced in 1998. Orient was using its mixed branding of "Orient Star Royal" during those years, finally introducing a new movement (cal. 88700) and a proper new "Royal Orient" in 2004.

In 2017, Orient again put its Royal brand to sleep. Grand Seiko, of course, is very much alive today and growing in recognition and sales year on year.


Head To Head: Theory

Grand Seiko is very close to the top of normal watchmaking, normal meaning not having mind-boggling complications or ludicrous decorations - just plain and simple timepieces for telling the time. As such, GS offers fantastic movements that aren't only very accurate but also built to last; a very high level of finishing all round; some of the finest hands and dials in the business; and more.

It's not all perfect, though. In my opinion, the bracelets currently provided with GS watches are not as good as they used to be. Owners have noted some quality assurance issues – not necessarily major flaws but occasional exceptions to the expected perfectionist execution. And then, of course, there's the question of pricing, which is constantly on the rise.

Royal Orient came close - in some models closer than in others. No RO was ever as perfect a product as the top of GS, but then, they did cost half as much. RO did offer fantastic case finishing, some beautiful dials, and what they lacked in the pure technical excellence of the movements, they made up for in complications (mechanical GS are completely devoid of complications). The retrograde RO was probably the closest thing to a GS that I saw.

And what about Orient Star? Again, some are more impressive than others. The quality is there. I have handled OS bracelets that were as good as current GS, with dials nearly as beautiful as a GS. However, under a magnifying glass, it becomes easy to spot the differences. You will not find GS-sharp hands and markers in an Orient Star.

OS movements, too, are not up there - they're good, reliable, accurate enough, and served as a good basis for the RO movements. Indeed, with the exception of cal. 88x00, Royal Orient movements were simply OS movements, only better regulated and more finely decorated.

If I were to rate watches by how close their execution is to perfection, Grand Seiko would be 9-10 (but too many currently are 9); Royal Orient of later production runs would be 8-9; Orient Star would generally be 7.

Keep in mind that the economics of quality dictate that the cost of moving from one step to the next in this ladder rises exponentially. The difference between producing a "10" and a "9" is much higher than between producing an "8" and a "9", and so on. So you can understand why prices of OS, RO, and GS behave the way they do.


Head To Head: In Practice

To put the theory to practice, I'm looking at two watches from my private collection. However, this comparison might not be the most equally matched: my modern Grand Seiko is one of the brand's flagship models from 2000, reference SBGR019, and it is a flawless product. Everything about it is made to perfection as if the threat of Seppuku hung over every person involved in its making.

The Royal Orient I'm pitting against it is a beauty, but can it stand up to the mighty GS? Let the fight begin, and in the blue corner it's the Royal Orient ref. WE0031FS, previously reviewed on the blog.

I'm not going to do a full review here now, as it's not the point of this article, but just to touch on a few points that highlight the similarities and differences between these two watches.

First let's talk polishing. One of Grand Seiko's famous bragging points is its "Zaratsu" polishing, that fine technique enabling mirror-finished surfaces to meet at sharp edges. This GS definitely boasts superbly sharp lines and surfaces all-round: case, hands, markers etc. The RO does not lag far behind, and surprisingly even features wonderfully finished hands. Admittedly though, while the brushed parts are similar, the Grand Seiko's high-polished surfaces reflect light in a more mirror-like fashion than the Orient.

Another element both watches excel at is the dial. The RO's dial immediately stands out with its unusual shade of blue and unique texture. The dial of the GS appears simpler at first, but it is not. The smooth black lacquer hides intricate patterns that are only revealed under strong direct light.

When the Grand Seiko's patterns are not visible, its dial appears much more subdued than the Royal Orient. In the Orient, flashy elements like the open-heart view of the movement and the rose gold markers immediately stand out.

The Seiko keeps its little secrets close to its chest – such as printing the dates using the same silver ink as the rest of the text on the dial (whereas any other brand would use white ink). That said, it seems more recent Grand Seikos rarely go to such lengths. Possibly someone at Seiko said, "why bother if no one notices?" - I'm not saying that many recent Grand Seikos aren't superb watches that look fantastic and have some best-in-class movements in them - but they're much more "what you see is what you get" than this old model.

Now, what about the movement? Seiko's caliber 9S55 is almost as legendary as vintage GS movements, a robust, accurate mechanism built to maintain its precision over time with minimum maintenance and maximum reliability. Orient uses a much more modest movement, cal. 40Z60, working at lower frequencies (6Hz vs. 8Hz), offering lower power reserve (40 hours vs. 48 hours) and officially lower accuracy (-5/+10 seconds per day, compared to the Grand Seiko's -3/+5).

In practice, the difference in performance is minimal. My GS and RO both seem to be +3 seconds per day fast now, which is very good considering neither has ever been serviced. Both wind nicely and seem to be healthy and ready to keep ticking many more years.

Bottom line, most Grand Seikos and Royal Orients are wonderful timepieces. The everyday experience of wearing, using, and looking at them is comparable, as the Royal Orient's qualities are surprisingly close to Grand Seiko's.

Keep in mind, the price difference between these two watches was significant, when they were new. The GS cost 400,000 JPY, whereas the RO was a mere 150,000 JPY. The premium paid for a GS gets its owner a few extra fine details (depending on the specific model), technical superiority that is almost unmeasurable in regular use but is nonetheless undeniable, and bragging rights that come with a more prestigious name and line of historically important watches.

This premium is the same now when buying a pre-owned watch, as it was when new Royal Orients were available to buy. Was it worth it back then, and is worth it now? If you care about technical bits and historical importance, it is. If you're just looking for an excellent watch – look no further than a Royal Orient. That is, if you can find one…


Tuesday 10 November 2020

Orient "Retro-Future Camera" Re-Issue Hands-On Review

Orient's Retro-Future series was born in 2005, meshing classic designs from the 1950s – 1970s with some of the then-new hallmark signs of the brand's mechanical watches, like the power-reserve indicator and the open-heart dial.

The Orient Star Retro-Future Camera model was the first in the series (which later included such classics as the motorcycle, the car, and the guitar). Its first iteration was based around Orient's caliber 46S – its first open-heart movement. In 2010 it was replaced with a nearly identical model equipped with caliber 40S, adding hand-winding and hacking to its list of features.

The Retro-Future models were quite successful in introducing the brand's DNA to a broader market segment, becoming a favorite with people looking for unconventional designs. They weren't meant to be mass-volume bestsellers but seemed to hit the right note with influencers (I recall the first time I saw an Orient Retro-Future was on the wrist of some Japanese fashion designer, though I cannot find that photo right now). A good reason then, for Orient to produce a new re-issue of the Camera watch for its 70th anniversary!

Orient provided two watches for this review: the limited edition "Jaguar Focus" version ref. RN-AR0204G (RA-AR0204G), and the non-limited ref. RN-AR0201B (RA-AR0201B). Their visual impact is quite different, but they are, of course, mechanically identical. Below, we'll conveniently refer to them both as "Camera" when discussing their common features, or "Jaguar" and "Steel" when addressing one of the two in particular.


How They Look

The Camera is Orient through and through. It is quirky, bulky, and as far from functional minimalism as possible. It is a fairly common approach by the brand, making models like this very much "acquired taste".

Opinions among friends and colleagues who got a glimpse of the Camera were divided. One said the Jaguar is beautiful; another, a watch enthusiast, loved the Steel version better; another, a novice watch-person (and owns an Orient Bambino), didn't really know what to make of either version. Ralph, who's responsible for the professional photography in this review, said he hadn't worn a watch in years, but he'd gladly wear the Jaguar.

My initial impression, before diving into details, was very positive. The Camera seems to possess the unconventional components I seek to find in an Orient, has them laid out just right, and the result is a bold and surprisingly esthetic impact.

That said, the Jaguar outshines the steel version: it simply takes the unconventional one step further. Its color scheme, which may seem a little cheesy in some photos, really works in real life. The bronze plating of the case is subtle but adds a unique flavor to it. The gradient dial, well, when the light falls on it it's more radiant than gradient!

The Steel has a more refined appearance and is obviously more versatile with its monochromatic scheme. It can also take on a black leather strap for added versatility. I can definitely see why someone who isn't a hardcore Orient fan could prefer it over the extravagant Jaguar.

Now let's take a closer look at the details. The first thing one notices looking at the Camera is the rotating bezel. The bezel markings represent minutes (or seconds) as one would expect, but the styling is intended to remind one of a camera lens.

The dial's main theme is the aperture of a camera, represented by the spiraling lines etched into it. These are cleverly done, immediately noticeable, but not so intrusive as to detract from the watch's legibility.

The dial has two cut-outs: There's the open-heart that immediately stands out, revealing the standard Orient movement finishing; and a thin, round opening that encircles the dial, separating it from the minute track with its applied hour markers. Little bits of movement plates are visible through this opening.

Interestingly, while the model has been "demoted" from the original's Orient Star status to the re-issue's mere Orient branding, the overall level of finishing does not seem to be inferior in anyway (in fact, Orient claims to have improved upon some of the aspects).

The sides of the crown and the bezel are both etched with a matching criss-cross pattern. The crown is stamped with the Orient logo. These two, bezel and crown, really make a handsome couple here. This is particularly true for the Jaguar, with the bronze tone of the crown and the dark plating of the top of the bezel.

The case and the lugs are essentially constructed as one chunky piece of metal, which is mostly brushed. The crown guard is polished, though, as is the case back. The back is mostly solid but has a small aperture offering a glimpse of the movement, exactly opposite the open heart on the dial.

To sum it all up, in the looks department this is a success. Not necessarily a mainstream success, but an excellent example of Orient's modern design approach, where a bunch of components that seemingly have little in common somehow make it work. The Jaguar Focus edition in particular is beautiful, but the more standard steel version is mighty fine, too.


How They Wear

Looking at off-wrist photos, one might be fooled into thinking the Camera has to be a big watch. In fact, it isn't. Orient packed a lot of design into a small package. Case width is 40.8mm, length is 46mm, and thickness is 12.6mm. Thick, yes, but not as big as the case structure intentionally has you thinking.

On the wrist, there is obviously a big difference between the two versions we're reviewing, as the steel version comes on a bracelet, while the Jaguar is attached to a leather NATO band (NATO-style is the proper term, as true NATO is nylon).

The Jaguar version is fairly light at around 100g. Once again, the initial expectation of feeling significant heft on the wrist soon fades away. The leather strap is really good, soft, and nicely textured. The need for it to pass between the spring bar and the case prevents the use of padded leather; This is a good thing, as it allows the strap to hug the wrist and hold the watch case tightly in place.

Of course, if a NATO strap isn't your thing, you can easily replace it with any 20mm wide strap. The spring-bars are removable, and the lugs are drilled.

The steel version feels quite different than the Jaguar, thanks to its bracelet, weighing in at over 170g in total at full length. This bracelet seems thicker than what you get in some of the less expensive Orients – it weighs about the same as the Kamasu bracelet despite being 2mm narrower.

In truth, the original Retro-Future Camera was fitted with a proper Orient Star bracelet, with an elaborate link design and solid end-links. This here is much simpler, and connects to the case via folded end-links. Still, it seems to offer a decent compromise, and as "simple" bracelets go – this one is good enough. It feels robust, got just the right amount of flexibility in it, and matches the case well.

So in terms of wearability, there's nothing to complain about. If you like 'em big and bulky for the looks, then the Camera has the bulky looks. If your wrists are just average in size, or even a little smaller than average – the modest lug-to-lug dimension should help you get by with this watch. You get your bracelet option, your leather option, and chances are if you do like the look of the watch, its size won't prevent you from wearing it.


How They Function

So we've established that these Orients look good and wear comfortably. Now, how does this retro-futuristic thingy perform?

First thing's first, we operate the crown. Winding feels a little rough, but not in a way that requires any excess force – it is just a feeling of friction against the turning of the crown, which some people actually seem to like (personally, I prefer a smoother feel).

This is a time-only model, so the crown's second position is for setting the time. As with all Orient open-heart models, there is no date-disc here. In fact, the only open-heart Orient that has a date function is the Moon Phase – where the date is presented using a sub-dial.

The movement inside is Orient's in-house caliber F6S22 – a no-date, semi-skeletonized variant of the F6 family. Like its siblings, it operates at 21,600 bph, and its accuracy as stated by Orient is between +25/-15 seconds a day. The results we got from the test units were better: The Jaguar version measured +8 sec./day on average, after a few days of normal mixed usage (on the wrist during the day, at rest during the night). The Steel version measured +4 sec./day, mostly at rest. These results are perfectly good for this sort of mechanical movement.

Operating the unidirectional bezel is fine. The bezel presents the right amount of resistance and clicks rather satisfyingly. It does have more back-play than one would want in a professional diver watch – but as this isn't a diver's watch, it is acceptable.

The crystal here is mineral, both front and the (very small window in the) back. Sapphire would have been a welcome upgrade to the specs in this case – although to be fair, the original Orient Star also used mineral crystal.

Legibility with the Orient Retro-Future Camera is pretty good. Despite the elaborate dial, the hands manage to stand out. This is particularly true with the Steel version, but the Jaguar too manages to make time-telling easy enough, even with somewhat less contrasting colors.

The hour and minute hands, as well as the markers, are lumed, again assisting with low-light visibility. Don't expect anything near the level of lume you'd get in a decent dive watch like the Kamasu though.


The Bottom Line

Bottom line, the Camera is a very likable model. It can just as well be unlikeable or controversial if you're not the type, but that's okay because Orient aren't shooting for mainstream consumers here but rather for the kind of people who appreciate this sort of design.

Orient fans will almost certainly love this watch. It is very wearable for a large range of wrist sizes, it presents a style that's unique but not strange-for-the-sake-of-being-strange, and simply put – it's fun.

This watch is probably not ideal for those seriously methodical watch collectors who like to put things in pigeon holes, as it's not quite a sports or diver watch (as it lacks some of the required specs) and it's definitely not dressy or an everyday office-wear.

The official prices for these are just under 600 USD. Actual prices we're seeing online at the moment are around 500 USD for the Steel version, and closer to 550 for the Jaguar Focus. Indeed these prices are getting closer to Orient Star territory – but then, this watch is very much an Orient Star at heart, and carries many of the qualities associated with Orient's higher-end sub-brand. And what it does lack in specs, it more than makes up for in charm.


The blog would like to thank Orient – Epson Europe for providing us these Retro-Future Camera watches for review, and Ralph Hason, for excellent product photography (where his name is stamped; other, less professional photos were taken by the author)


Wednesday 4 November 2020

New Orient Star Models – Upgraded Moonphase, Ladies' Semi-Skeleton

Orient releases today two new Orient Star models, each represented by a number of different references, and all of which look good! 

Contemporary Semi-Skeleton for Women

Ladies first, and Orient have really produced a beautifully designed semi-skeleton model for their female clientele.

The new model has a cushion-style case with very clean and flowing lines, 30mm wide, 37mm lug to lug, and 10.2mm thick. With a 14mm lug-width, it really is very a decidedly feminine design, as opposed to the 36mm Bambino for instance that is truly unisex.

Four regular references and two limited editions have been introduced. Reference RK-ND0101S has a champagne dial, golden bezel and hands, and a steel bracelet. Ref. RK-ND0102R has a deep red dial, and comes on a bracelet. Ref. RK-ND0103N has a rosy-pink dial and is attached to a leather strap, as is RK-ND0105S with its white dial and gold tones.

The additional limited editions are RK-ND0106L and RK-ND0104L. Both have a dark blue dial, golden bezel, and come on a bracelet; however while the first is limited to 400 pieces that are available across various Orient retailers, the latter also comes with a leather strap, and is limited to 250 pieces to be found exclusively at Orient's Prestige Shops.

All models also have a diamond set on the dial at 12 o'clock and the familiar open-heart aperture at 3. Front crystal is sapphire, back is mineral, and water resistance is rated at 5 bar.

Inside is Orient's caliber 55C22 (a smaller movement than the F6/7 calibers that are intended for the larger models), with accuracy set to +40/-30 seconds per day. Prices are around 500 USD.

Classic Moon Phase Watch

Orient have also updated its classic Moonphase watch. The new line-up maintains the case and overall styling of the first generation of the Moonphase models, albeit with some visual updates, but houses the newer 50-hour movement that is used in the Contemporary/sporty Moonphase.

Like the old classic, the case is 41mm wide, 49mm long, and 13.8mm thick. The general layout of the dial is similar, but its overall look appears cleaner thanks to the inner ring, which separates the hour markers from the sub-dials, always having the same color as the dial (whereas it would contrast in most of the older references). The hour hand is now also very slightly shorter and thicker.

Interestingly, while the light-dialed versions are otherwise very similar to the first generation, the darker ones have been adorned with a very different, rather complex texture, and given uniquely shaped hour and minute hands with some white color on them – not sure if this is lume or just regular paint.

Five references are being introduced: RK-AY0101S has a white dial and steel bracelet; RK-AY0102S has a white dial but comes on a leather strap. Ref. RK-AY0103L is dark blue and attached to a bracelet, while RK-AY0104N has a dark-grey dial and leather strap.

Reference RK-AY0105Y is a limited edition, which will be sold exclusively at Prestige Shops. It has a deep brown dial, golden bezel, crown and hands, and comes with a leather strap. All models are priced the same, at just under 1,900 USD – about the same as the older models.

As mentioned, the movement is caliber F7M62, which replaces the old F7X62, and provides 50 hours of power reserve instead of 40. Accuracy is still a pretty good stated +15/-5 seconds per day, lug width still 20mm, and water resistance – still, 5 bar.