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Grand Seiko - Grand Seiko VFA, the crème de la crème in Japan

Grand Seiko Grand Seiko VFA, the crème de la crème in Japan

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the calibre 9S, Grand Seiko is bringing back its Very Fine Adjusted label, a testament to its regulating skills.

In the 1960s, Seiko set out to beat Swiss watchmaking on its own terrain: operating precision. This aim became a focus for Grand Seiko. In 1969 the Grand Seiko operating standard was introduced; it specified that all movements made by the brand should have an operating error of no more than -3 to +5 seconds per day. These are the parameters used by the COSC today, but back then, Swiss chronometers settled for far less. In a bid to improve even further, the company developed the Grand Seiko Special designation for movements adjusted to +/- 3 seconds per day. And finally, because all pyramids need an apex, the Grand Seiko VFA (for Very Fine Adjusted) was conceived, with movements adjusted to +/- 2 seconds per day. The VFA designation was resurrected in 2018 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Grand Seiko 9S calibre.

Grand Seiko VFA, la crème de la crème japonaise

A Grand Seiko 4580-7010 VFA from 1970 © Seiko

In 1998, mechanical watchmaking had barely begun to emerge from its technological torpor, but quartz king Seiko had already been producing a range of top-end mechanical calibres for 10 years. Grand Seiko had gone back into production in 1988, using the same targets as it had when it was created. The predominant engineering culture of the company was performance-orientated, which made it easy to fall back into the old habit of making their mass-produced mechanical calibres as precise as possible. In the quest for superior precision the brand stuck with the Grand Seiko standard, and another solution it had already explored –higher frequency movements. In 1998 the 9S calibre was introduced, boasting a frequency of 36,000 vph or 5 Hz, a rate that Zenith was the only other watchmaker to use at the time. The watches equipped with this calibre were named “Hi-Beat 36000”.

Grand Seiko VFA, la crème de la crème japonaise

Case back view © Seiko

These two currents of Seiko’s history met and joined in 2018. The calibre 9S85, the quickest in the 9S range, comes in a series of three watches, each more rare, more precious and more precise than the last. Their dials are in different colours, but they are all etched with a fine pattern. The motif is made of the letters G and S, plus a symbol that appeared on the first generation of VFA watches, a stylised S, which was the logo of Seiko’s ancestor, Daini Seikosha. The Hi-Beat 36000 in steel comes in a limited edition of 1500 with a blue dial. The Hi Beat 36000 Special, with an accuracy of -2/+4, will be available in a run of 150 in yellow gold with a white dial. The showstopper is the XXX, in platinum with a silver dial, accurate to -2/+2 seconds per day, an astonishing achievement.

Grand Seiko VFA, la crème de la crème japonaise

The Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 VFA in platinum, limited series of 20 © WorldTempus/David Chokron

Each version has the same movement. What’s different is the time spent regulating them. In fact, timekeeping is about construction and design but, above all, execution. A movement can be taken to the next level just by polishing the right components of the escapement, spending more time finding the best tenth-of-a-millimetre position for the adjuster that determines the length of the balance spring, securing a better fit between the hairspring and balance, testing and retesting. This is the work of the watchmaker who intervenes at the end of the manufacturing process, and whose job is to get the best performance from a movement in the time available.

Grand Seiko VFA, la crème de la crème japonaise

The Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 Special in yellow gold, limited series of 150 © WorldTempus/David Chokron

There are people who seek out superior adjustment. Of course, watches are generally selected according to other criteria. But chronometry, particularly at the highest levels, is an essential element of watches, and a key factor in their development and their history. And it took a Japanese brand to remind us of that, with a clearly structured and highly instructive hierarchy.

Grand Seiko VFA, la crème de la crème japonaise

The Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 in steel, limited series of 1500 © WorldTempus/David Chokron


Lecture 1 Comment(s)

21 June 2019
Narimene Zeghouda

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