We all love a good underdog story.
There is something innately magical about a person or an object defying all odds and beating the big boys at their own game: Barack Obama, Leicester City, Eminem and Jeremy Lin – all relative nobodies who rose to fame in the unlikeliest of circumstances within fields long dominated by social groups they don’t belong to.
In the field of horology, a similar story unfolded in the 1960s. Meet the Seiko Lord Marvel – the proverbial David in a world filled with Goliaths:
A watch’s accuracy is determined by a string of factors (shock resistance and anti-magnetic properties among others) but the foremost criteria lies in the frequency at which the escapement oscillates.
An escapement – also called the heart of the watch – is a 3 part component consisting of the hairspring, balance wheel and pallet fork.
The hairspring expands and contracts, generating power for the balance wheel causing it to oscillate on its axis in a back and forth motion. The movement of the balance wheel then transfers power to the pallet fork, which engages/disengages with each tooth on the escape wheel, powering up the series of gears above it and thus, kicking the seconds hand into motion.
The frequency of the escapement’s oscillation is measured by ‘beats per hour’ (BPH): the higher the frequency, the more the seconds hand is able to emulate the actual passing of time leading to a higher rate of accuracy.
Wristwatches started with 18,000 BPH, eventually moving up to 24,000 BPH. Research into a watch capable of beating at 36,000 BPH was undertaken in the 60s.
In 1966, Girard Perregaux, a Swiss watch company, became the first to succeed.
A year later, Seiko scored 2nd with the introduction of Calibre 5470c – a manual wind hi-beat movement at 36,000 BPH fully developed in-house – and to commemorate this achievement, the movement was used in a 36,000 pieces limited series of the Lord Marvel range in 1967.
It was (and remains so today) rather unusual that Seiko chose to use the 5470c movement in their Lord Marvel series as opposed to their high-end line, Grand Seiko, which was introduced in 1960.
It is also worth noting that the 1967 Lord Marvel series was not the first in its range. The series first debuted in 1956 and you can see the first incarnation below:
Most importantly, the 36,000 BPH Seiko Lord Marvel laid the foundations for what would eventually become the legendary Grand Seiko watches in the 70s till today.
There are 0 complications on the Lord Marvel 36,000. A simple 3 hander on a textured dial with applied Arabic numerals; this watch echoes the undivided focus of Seiko engineers’ to perfect the utilitarian function of time telling.
Seiko, as they still are today, is not the kind to erect a massive billboard proclaiming their achievements. Take one look at the Grand Seikos of today and you’ll witness the same commitment to mechanical and visual excellence reflected quietly in the details.
For the Lord Marvel 36,000, the magic lies in the seconds hand, my friends. Its sweeping movement is spellbindingly smooth and I can easily lose myself for a few minutes looking at how gracefully it makes its way around the dial.
Check out a video of the seconds hand in motion here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7P4JXI_nqLE
The dial with its semi-rough vertical striping reminiscent of aged fabric is absolutely beautiful. It also looks like sandpaper from a distance and at certain angles, comes across as completely smooth.
Understandably, being a watch in the 70s, the case size measures at a very modest 35 mm but wears larger due to a thin bezel and long straight lugs.
And the best part of it all? You can get it for below SGD 500 but it is not the easiest watch to come by. In fact, the images used in this post were kindly provided by a Carousell seller (who has chosen to remain anonymous) whom I was trying to buy one from but it was sold just after I contacted him.
The Seiko Lord Marvel 36,000 is a historically important watch. It was the first Japanese watch to beat at 36,000 BPH and the second in the world; the latter is of great significance because it is Seiko, not Patek Phillipe or Rolex – a true underdog tale that the most unpredictable contender could emerge tops punching way above its weight.
The story of the Lord Marvel draws parallel with that of the Grand Seiko – a true horological legend -and I’ve written an article highlighting the amazing level of detail put into even the smallest of components in those watches.
Until then, if you see a Lord Marvel, BUY it.
For an overview of Seiko as a brand, check out: 3 ‘true’ watch brands that won’t empty your bank account