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Grand Seiko - Celebrating 20 years of the Spring Drive calibre

Grand Seiko Celebrating 20 years of the Spring Drive calibre

The result of a very long development, the exclusive Spring Drive caliber delivers a level of precision that no mechanical watch can match.

Seiko revolutionised the world of watchmaking when it presented its Astron quartz calibre on Christmas day in 1969. It signalled the start of a decade of innovation that would see the Japanese company present the world’s first LCD watch in 1973 and the world’s first solar watch in 1977. But a young engineer called Yoshikazu Akahane, who had joined Seiko not long after the Astron’s launch, had a very specific dream. He wanted to combine the advantages of quartz and mechanical calibres in a movement that could offer the benefits of quartz (better precision) with the perpetual motion of an automatic movement. 

Seiko Epson filed its first patent for this technology in 1978 but the first commercial version of the movement was not presented until 1999 – 30 years after the launch of the Astron. The reason it took so long is because innovations were required in both the quartz and mechanical elements of the movement. On the one hand, a huge increase in the efficiency of mechanical winding was needed in order to power a quartz crystal; on the other, the power consumption of the integrated circuit also needed to be reduced drastically. The first sample from 1982, in which electronic parts were used to govern the rotation of the gears of a conventional mechanical movement, confirmed this, but nevertheless acted as a proof of concept.

Celebrating 20 years of the Spring Drive calibre

Manual winding Spring Drive Caliber 7R68, 1999 © Grand Seiko

A major advance came in 1986, when Seiko presented its first prototype of the Kinetic calibre at the Basel Fair. It was the first watch movement in the world to convert kinetic energy (i.e. the movements of the wearer’s wrist) into electrical energy. But the dream of the Spring Drive calibre was still over a decade away as Akahane ploughed through no fewer than 600 different prototypes in pursuit of his objective. 

A second version came in 1993 with a huge coil, but it could still only generate 10 hours of power reserve, which did not meet Seiko’s requirements. In 1999, 30 years after the Astron calibre, Seiko presented the first Spring Drive calibre, the 7R68. Its main innovation was the replacement of the escapement found in a conventional mechanical watch with a so-called “glide wheel” that is controlled by an integrated circuit powering an electromagnetic that causes the wheel to rotate at precisely eight revolutions per second. The wheel always rotates in the same direction and does so without any of the friction contact found in a conventional mechanical movement (the tick-tock of the escapement pallets locking with the escape wheel 28,800 times per hour). This translates into higher precision and a seconds hand that glides elegantly around the dial. 

Celebrating 20 years of the Spring Drive calibre

On the left is the world's first Spring Drive watch, born in 1999, housing the manual winding Caliber 7R68. On the right is the first Grand Seiko Spring Drive creation, launched in 2004 using the automatic winding Caliber 9R65 © Grand Seiko

But the story doesn’t end there. The 7R68 was a manually wound movement and the original dream was to develop an automatic version. Development of a self-winding version of the Spring Drive calibre started a year before the 7R68 was launched and would continue for six years. Meanwhile, Seiko decided to use this new calibre in Grand Seiko models, which required even more demanding levels of precision, power reserve and finishing. 

Celebrating 20 years of the Spring Drive calibre

The automatic winding Spring Drive 9R65, 2004. © Grand Seiko

The resulting calibre 9R65 was first launched in Grand Seiko in September 2004 in three versions. It combined cutting-edge technology in the form of an ultra-lower power consumption integrated circuit, with traditional watchmaking skills such as polished gears and Seiko’s own “magic lever” winding mechanism, which dates back to 1959. Although the automatic Spring Drive calibre was slightly larger than the Grand Seiko mechanical and quartz movements, the case of the SBGA001 watch in which it was used was designed with flowing lines to mimic the grace of its unique seconds hand, and a 13 degree inclination was introduced to ensure that it fits perfectly on the wrist. 

Spring Drive is platform that offers great future potential. From just one caliber back in 2004, there are today several different Spring Drive movements: GMT caliber 9R66, chronograph Caliber 9R86, 8 day Spring Drive caliber 9R01, manual 3.5-day Spring Drive Caliber 9R02 and manual 72-hour Spring Drive Caliber 9R31, both launched in 2019.

Celebrating 20 years of the Spring Drive calibre

Manual Caliber 9R02 © Grand Seiko

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From the very beginning, Grand Seiko has been pursuing the essential characteristics of a watch: precision, beauty, legibility. Its design reflects the unique Japanese sense of beauty. The brand will continue to reach new heights as a global brand.

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