Orient Star Retro-Future Bicycle Watch

The Very Fine Orient Fineness

 In the mid-1960s Japanese watchmakers waved the white flag and admitted Orient
had won the jewel-count battle with its Grand
100. The industry then went on to discuss more important matters,
namely: who makes the thinnest watch movement.

At the time, Citizen held the record for the world's thinnest mechanical
three-hand movement, the hand-wound cal. 0700. But then automatic winding
became favorable with watch buyers, and so the next challenge was to build the
world's thinnest self-winding movement. Orient embraced this challenge.

In 1967 Orient introduced caliber 3900, so named for its thickness: a
mere 3.9mm, less than the competitor – Citizen's 3.98mm thick caliber 54. A
tiny difference, but one that took Citizen 5 years to overcome. And so, it took
the crown for the world's slimmest automatic day-date movement.

Cal. 3900 boasted 35 jewels, and was equipped with the latest
advancements (at least those that could be fitted in), such as a bi-directional
winding mechanism and incabloc shock absorption.

The new movement was placed inside a special new model – the Fineness
Ultramatic. Featuring a uniquely shaped cushion
with sharp edges that emphasized its slim profile, this watch really
stood out from the crowd. The case was 33mm wide, and its overall height including
the domed crystal was about 8.5mm.

Another feature that set the Fineness apart was the unusual layout of
the day-date wheels, which enabled both day and date to be viewed through a
single aperture, one on top of the other. This helped avoid unnecessary clutter
on the already small and fairly crowded dial.

A number of variants of the Fineness were released followed that early,
silver-dialed model, including a dark dial, and a gold-plated watch.

The Fineness was also priced competitively, with basic models selling
just below 20,000 JPY, and the gold plated version priced at around 22,000 JPY.
Comparable models from Citizen, such as the Super Crystal Date and Chronomaster
cost thousands of Yens more. These were all pretty high-end wristwatches mind
you, costing more than most King Seiko models at the time.

In 1968 a new Fineness design was introduced, set in a larger round
case, measuring 36mm across. A "cyclops" was added to the crystal to
assist in viewing the small print of the day and date.

Like the earlier model, this model too was mainly offered with a silver
dial but also had darker colored versions. Variations also included a dial with
Roman numerals, in addition to the more common stick markers.

An even rarer model of the Fineness was introduced later on. This time Orient
returned to the cushion form factor, albeit in a larger and slightly elongated
shape, measuring 36mm across.

This final version of the watch was equipped with the latest iteration
of the movement, caliber 3991, and a push-button at 2 to enable quick date
setting – as opposed to earlier releases where the date had to be set by moving
the hour hand back and forth across midnight.

And then, as the decade was ending, things took another turn. Orient
entered into an even hotter fight than the one for thinner movements – that focused
on faster
movements. With limited resources, no further work was done to push the limits
of slimness.

In 1974, Citizen introduced the 3.73mm cal. 8001A, and returned to the
top of the podium of thin day-date self-winders. As the battle for thinner
movements continued, it eventually got completely taken over by the leading Swiss

Citizen later focused on thin quartz movements, and Orient returned to
concentrate on what it did best, which was producing reliable, serviceable,
decently accurate workhorse movements for affordable watches.


Photos in this post were taken from various old Orient publications and
sale ads.