Grand Seiko Fine watchmaking from the land of the rising sun
An aesthetically minimalist watch, high standards and a rigorously efficient movement – in the eyes of the world, the Grand Seiko label represents high-quality Japanese mechanical watchmaking.
Contrary to what its name might suggest, Grand Seiko isn’t just a bigger or better version of Seiko. Even though the name Grand Seiko appears alongside the mother brand on the dial, it is a separate entity with its own level of prestige. For a long time, Grand Seiko was known only to the domestic market, but now it is forging an international reputation as a brand that stands on its own, with its own design codes, movements and quality standards. And as far as quality is concerned, it is high enough to ensure that the most accessible Grand Seiko is at least 50% more expensive than the top Seiko models.
And while the pricing helps to put things into perspective, a little more detail doesn’t go amiss. Grand Seiko is, above all, a particular style – although perhaps not in the minds of its designers. There is, nevertheless, an undeniable family resemblance between all the models of the brand. Simple, round cases whose angular lugs are joined with long bevelled edges, meticulously polished and satin-finished using the Zaratsu technique; diameters of between 39 and 42 mm; exclusively dauphine-style hands; a marked preference for baton indices, with Arabic numerals a rare exception; and dials with sunburst finishes and monograms or, less commonly, fine graining or a textural effect like fresh snow (in Japan poetic references are never far away...).
The favoured material for Grand Seiko is steel, although there are a few models in gold, rarely seen outside Japan. But the brand also has a penchant for high-intensity titanium, an alloy containing iron which makes it possible to produce a more brilliant finish. Most of the models are elegantly sporty, and generally come on a metal bracelet.
Grand Seiko relies on a family of calibres that, while not necessarily exclusive to the range, are commensurate with its high-end status. Among the wide spectrum of mechanical movements produced by the brand, it keeps the best for itself: those whose references begin with a 9 (rather than an 8 or a 6). They are all automatic, even the high-frequency movements known as Hi-Beat. Grand Seiko offers a calibre running at 5 Hz or 36,000 vph, which for a long time remained the only three-hand movement to run at this speed. But Grand Seiko is not too proud to use quartz, a technology of which the group is extremely proud; indeed, it is one of the few companies to promote quartz in its high-end ranges.
What clearly distinguishes Grand Seiko in terms of their mechanics is their focus on Spring Drive movements. Launched in 2005, these movements are entirely mechanical, with an electromagnetic system for regulation, an operation governed by the balance wheel, balance spring and escapement. They generate their own electricity, which powers a quartz crystal, which in turn transmits its information to the gear train through a glide wheel whose speed is controlled by an electro-magnet. This electro-mechanical hybrid, a totally unique concept, provides unequalled precision of plus or minus one second per day under real wearing conditions.
All Grand Seiko components are made in Japan. The production of these watches, which takes place in plants in Shizuhu-Ishi in the north of the country, near Morioka, and Shiojiri at the foot of the Nagano mountains, is an exercise in Japanese pride and attention to detail. Bonneted and gloved watchmakers work in sterile white-painted rooms using huge binocular loupes, in a meticulously controlled environment. The pursuit of quality is omnipresent and the philosophy of kaizen or continuous improvement is an intrinsic part of the house culture, and of Japanese society. This is all placed in the service of an extremely limited number of complications. Three hands with date, GMT, and an optional power reserve for the Spring Drives, plus a chronograph. That’s it.
Recently, two new models have marked a creative departure for the range. The Grand Seiko Avant-Garde is an artistic limited series of chronographs in black ceramic whose straps are printed with photographs taken by two contemporary Japanese artists, Daido Moriyama and Nobuyoshi Araki. The Spring Drive 8 Day Power Reserve was the first model to offer a power reserve greater than 72 hours, achieving 192 hours with its three barrels. The highlight of this ultra-limited series in platinum is nevertheless the movement decorated by the Micro Artist Studio. Behind the name is a minuscule workshop of just a few square metres, wedged under a staircase. That is where the three greatest master watchmakers of the Seiko group are to be found. They are usually employed in making Credor Grande Sonnerie and Minute Repeater watches, the pinnacle of the Japanese watch industry. But they occasionally apply their talent for extreme horological beauty to other models.
The history of Seiko is a more than 130 year story of innovation. From the very start, Kintaro Hattori was determined to be at the forefront of the industry and his oft-repeated credo was that Seiko should be “Always one step ahead of the rest.”Find out more
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