On October 4, 1957, the world was fundamentally changed when a metal object about two feet in diameter was placed in orbit around Earth by the Soviet Union. Sputnik had charted a new course for relations between the East and West and ushered in an era of rapid developments in science and technology the world over.
The emergence of satellites had a profound impact on history, of course. Not only did it start a space race which eventually put humans on the Moon, but the tech trickled down to devices we use every day – satellites beam news media around the world, they help us navigate using GPS, and they even help us predict the weather. And those are just some of the more mundane applications. NASA uses a satellite component of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Tracking Data Relay Satellite, to look 14 billion light-years into deep space.
Satellites also help the Citizen Satellite Wave GPS F950 Titanium 50th Anniversary Limited Edition stay consistently accurate by continuously syncing up with a network of satellites. Even without them, the watch is accurate to +/- five seconds a month, but it’s the satellites that take away any sort of variation, thanks to regular synchronization. Anywhere in the world, three seconds is all it takes for the watch to communicate with a satellite and self-correct to the appropriate time.
This is all done without any effort by the wearer thanks to Citizen’s Cal.F950. Admittedly, much like an iPhone, it’s easy to forget about the miraculous technology that’s packed into something 47.5mm across and 14.71mm tall. The Satellite Wave technology has been evolving since the introduction of Satellite Wave GPS F100 from 2014 and the Satellite Wave GPS F900 from 2015. But then again, it’s easy to forget you’re wearing a watch at all, thanks to the titanium its case and bracelet are fashioned from. For its size, the watch is incredibly lightweight and wears nothing like a stainless steel sports watch.
Simply by appreciating the watch visually, one can tell this isn’t garden-variety titanium. This is Citizen’s proprietary Super Titanium, and the difference between it and normal titanium is in its hardness. Super Titanium is rated at 1000Hv (Vickers Hardness). The type of titanium used in standard commercial applications is rated at roughly 200-260Hv. This 2006 paper from São Paulo State University takes a look at a premium alloy of titanium often used in dental applications, Ti-6Al-4V, that’s been heat treated. The findings? A Vickers Hardness rating of only 340-369Hv.
Of course, whatever Citizen’s methods are to increase the hardness and durability of titanium to such an extreme degree won’t be disclosed by Citizen, but, in a response to questions, a Citizen engineer in Japan wrote, “Duratect consists of two technologies. One is the technology that hardens the surface by forming a hard thin coating on the surface of the material. The other is the technology that makes the material itself harder by increasing its surface density. We use it alone or in combination.”
In 2017, Citizen became a partner of HAKUTO, then simply a team participating in the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition. Fast forward to today, and the same team has developed and finalized the HAKUTO-R program, slated to participate in lunar expeditions in both 2022 and 2023. The first mission, dubbed Mission 1, will be the first time a private Japanese firm will perform a soft landing on the lunar surface. Mission 2 will involve the deployment of a rover.
The legs of the landing craft used in both missions are made from Super Titanium. At first, Citizen was a financial backer of the HAKUTO team, but now, the company is a partner in a much more substantial capacity. Now Citizen is making parts of the spacecraft out of the exact same material the Satellite Wave GPS F950 is made from. That shared technology adds another element to appreciate while wearing the watch. The same engineer who explained what Duratect is also highlighted that it’s the properties of the metal that allow this watch to wear the way it does, saying, “It boasts significant beauty. With our skilled craftspeople and technologies, it offers higher quality finishes (quality brushing, polishing, and sharp outlining) and offers a lot of color variations as well.”
The way the bracelet articulates is where the supreme tactile qualities of Super Titanium shine through. Despite the lightness of the material, the sort of smooth articulation and “tightness” that comes from minimal tolerances you’d find a very high-end stainless bracelet is present. The links are pyramid-shaped and they meet the case at short lugs that lend a similar feeling to wearing a monobloc-cased watch. Citizen was an early adopter of titanium in horological applications, and its 50 years of experience with the metal shows. The finishing “in the metal” could even fool someone for ceramic. Titanium watches have earned a reputation as scratch magnets, and in many cases, that’s a well-deserved reputation. The titanium used in many watches just simply isn’t as hard as Citizen’s. Traditionally, the metal was favored for its weight, certainly not its hardness. The Satellite Wave GPS F950 is what happens when you stick with an idea for half a century and slowly perfect it.
It’s easy as a watch enthusiast to forget that Citizen is involved in the engineering and manufacturing of a myriad of products beyond horological applications. It makes electronics, automotive components, lathes, precision measuring instruments, CCD/CMOS image sensors, ferroelectric liquid crystal displays, and even calculators designed for general consumers. Considering the range of products Citizen is involved in the production of, the way the user interface works and the layout of the dial makes sense. The watch is packed full of features like a World Time feature, a standard Chronograph, and a Countdown timer all with flyback functionality. There’s also a power-reserve indicator, but the watch is charged via solar power as part of Citizen’s Eco-Drive technology. The watch is charged from any conventional light source – it doesn’t necessarily have to be from the Sun. Operating all the functions is about as difficult as operating any consumer electronic device is, and that is to say that it takes some time with the instruction manual – you won’t be an expert out of the box – but with some practice, it’s a breeze.
The Satellite Wave GPS F950 Titanium 50th Anniversary Limited Edition retails for $ 5,000. It will be available in December. Other Citizen watches that use Satellite Wave technology can be found here. This one will be made in a limited quantity of 550 and will be serially engraved.