Thursday, August 18, 2016

Seiko Superior SSA001 Flight Computer "Cyclops" in Blue

Truth be told, I'm a fan of dive watches. So much so, that I have a whole slew of them ranging from Seiko SKXs, to Oris Aquises (see my review of the Oris Aquis Date here), to the Marinemaster 300. I haven't quite reached Rolex Submariner level yet, but it's definitely on my list assuming a ton of money goes my way someday.

Pilot watches, on the other hand, to me at least, are a mixed bag. I do admire pilot watches' emphasis on legibility and functionality even if they do not possess the ruggedness or tool-watch vibe of dive watches, with the latter being purposefully overbuilt to withstand extreme depths. It is that lack of ruggedness though, which ironically makes them more convenient as daily wearers, as they are typically lighter, easier to dress up with leather straps, and possess the at-a-glance legibility that is not only convenient for pilots, but for anyone in general. 
As such, while my collection mostly focuses on dive watches, there are a precious few pilot or aviation-themed watches in my collection. There is the Hamilton Khaki Aviation Pilot Day Date Auto (see review here), and then there is Seiko's line of Flight Computer slide rule watches, affectionately dubbed by Seiko fans as the "Cyclops".

The subject of this review is the blue version, the Seiko Superior SSA001, first introduced in 2011.

SSA001 Flight Computer, AKA "Cyclops".
A single glance of the SSA001 reveals the volume of functionality crammed into a 44mm case diameter, 13mm thick, and 50mm lug-to-lug length package. First to be noticed is the massive dial face with applied stick indices all the way around, with a pair of stick indices denoting the 12 o'clock position. There is a silver 24-hour subdial just below it, indicating at a glance military time or whether the current time is in AM or PM. It is this subdial which is essentially responsible for earning this watch the "Cyclops" nickname, given its very prominent location on the dial.  There is a date aperture with a silver border at the 4 o'clock position, displaying a high contrast date wheel consisting of white numbers on a black background. The hour and minute hands are slim, white bordered fencepost-styled ones which display excellent legibility against the dark blue waffle dial, while the second hand is arrow-styled with the tip in high contrast white. The indices, hour, minute and second hands are all generously filled with Seiko's proprietary Lumibrite compound, so lume performance is right up there with the best of them. There is minimal text on the dial, consisting of an applied "SEIKO" logo at the 3 o'clock position just above the date aperture, and "AUTOMATIC" and "100M" text printed halfway between the middle of the dial and the 6 o'clock index.  Surrounding all these dial elements is a precisely printed minute track chapter ring with hash marks every five minutes, every second, and every fifth of a second, and topping off the entire dial is a domed Hardlex crystal.

The 100m water-resistant case features a mix of brushed (on the top) and polished (at the sides) surfaces which gives the watch a dressy demeanor, though that impression is quickly tempered by the no-nonsense appearance of the bi-directional rotating slide rule which can be used in the calculation and conversion of various flight data, such as distance, altitude, fuel weight and volume. It is this feature which is responsible for the "Flight Computer" moniker, though to be honest I've never figured out how to use this myself, but then again I'm no pilot. The rotating outer bezel is in blue with gilt text while the stationary inner bezel is in polished steel with black text.
Powering this watch is Seiko's 24-jewel, 21,600 bph, 4R37 hacking and handwinding movement, a variant of the ubiquitous 4R36 movement which eschews the day complication for a 24-hour subdial. Performance is virtually identical to that of the 4R36, with a 41-plus hour power reserve and accuracy of +/- 30 seconds a day. Setting the time is accomplished through a non-screw down crown at the 4 o'clock position which features a blue ring to complement the rest of the blue of the watch. The minimally finished movement is visible through a see-through caseback.

The bracelet is perhaps one of the few weak points of this watch, with hollow end-links, split-pins, and a stamped-steel clasp. In typical Seiko fashion, the bracelet, which is mostly brushed with polished center highlights, is functional and adequate, but not much else. Those unsatisfied with the supplied bracelet may opt to use original Seiko or aftermarket rubber, leather, NATO or Zulu straps, thanks to the standard 22mm lug width.

All-in-all, the SSA001 is a unique spin on pilot watches done in Seiko's distinctive style. Even without the brand on the dial, there is no mistaking this watch for anything else other than a Seiko, and this has contributed to the following that this watch has. The looks may not appeal to everyone, but they have a strange way of warming up to you the longer you stare at it.

This watch can be bought new for 200-220 USD assuming you can still find one for sale.

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