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Grand Seiko One Year, One Watch

2004: Spring Drive SBGA001*


In 2004, power was to be in evidence in many different forms. There was the force of the third most powerful earthquake ever recorded, literally shaking the entire globe in December, accompanied by the uncontrollable violence of a lethal 30m-high tidal wave. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives. Earlier that year, on 4 February, a discreet form of power came into being: a new type of social interaction known as Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg, a kid of only 20, was behind this innovative software. At the time, he had no idea that he was to become one of the richest and most influential men in the world. With Facebook and Skype, a new, virtual, digital world was emerging. The time had come for the power of words to take up residence online, in the form of blogs – a word that was first included in dictionaries in 2004. Mechanical horsepower was also in the spotlight! 2004 marked the beginning of the reign of Sébastien Loeb, who was to dominate the World Rally Championship from 2004 to 2012. There was also the success of Seiji Ara, the winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans race alongside Rinaldo Capello and Tom Kristensen, at the wheel of a formidable 500-HP Audi R8 sporting Audi Japan’s livery. And so the watch for 2004 had to come from Asia, express power, innovation, and imagination, and – why not? – have a connection with a lion. The watch in question? The Grand Seiko Spring Drive SBGA001, from a country whose population peaked in 2004: Japan.

One Year, One Watch

Spring Drive SBGA001 © Grand Seiko

Why Grand Seiko ?

In 2004, Grand Seiko was one of the collections on offer from Seiko, the watchmaking giant founded in 1881 in the Ginza district of central Tokyo. The Grand Seiko collection came out in 1960. Its aim was to demonstrate Japanese luxury watchmaking know-how, positioning itself as a direct competitor of Swiss brands. From that point on, the watchmakers at the Daini and Suwa manufacturing facilities repeatedly demonstrated the power, refinement, and sophistication of Japanese watchmaking. The Grand Seiko style was developed little by little, reaching its zenith with the 62GS and 61GS VFA models in 1967 and 1969 respectively. In 1988, Grand Seiko took on board the quartz technology invented by Seiko, constantly improving its reliability and precision. The exceptional 9F movements can still be SPRING DRIVE SBGA001 2004 found in collections 30 years on. But the engineers wanted to create a revolution. Yoshikazu Akahane had an idea: why not combine the excellence of the mechanical movement with the precision of quartz? It took him many years’ labour before at last inventing the Spring Drive technology, which became available in manual-wind movements from 1999 onwards. 

The Grand Seiko Spring Drive SBGA001 – The Lion’s Roar

In 2004, Grand Seiko launched the first automatic watch fitted with a Spring Drive 9R65 movement. This unique caliber combined previously incompatible technologies, brought together in a simple design. Seen from the outside, the GS SBGA001 is a traditionally-made watch. Its steel case displays the finishes that have earned the brand its reputation, in particular the alternating polished / brushed effect known as Zaratsu polishing. Its champagne-coloured dial features a power-reserve indicator that was to become the distinguishing mark of Spring Drive models. The watch is mounted on a steel bracelets with finishes identical to those on the case. And naturally, the sapphire caseback reveals what makes the SBGA001 so special: its Spring Drive 9R65 movement. For this piece, the Grand Seiko designers opted for a timeless, demure style – so much so that it’s still available in the Grand Seiko catalogue.

One Year, One Watch

9R65 movement © Grand Seiko

The take from the Devil’s advocate

Zen, reliability, wisdom. Nothing much for an adrenaline-thirsty Beelzebub to get worked up about! As has already been said, the Grand Seiko SBGA001 is a demure watch; perhaps rather too demure. It’s almost too ideal, too clean, too perfect, and sometimes not daring enough. With age, it was to become more confident, venturing out into more innovative dials and allowing the Spring Drive to be fitted into more distinctive models. The fact is, though, that in 2004 the watchmaking industry made the discovery that power could also go hand in hand with discretion – and that’s no bad thing.

*On the occasion of GMT Magazine and WorldTempus' 20th anniversary, we have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the last 20 years in watchmaking in The Millennium Watch Book, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. This article is an extract. The Millennium Watch Book is available on www.the-watch-book.com, in French and English.

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