Constructed in 1702 as a monument to the glory of Louis XIV’s army, it’s no accident that the Place Vendôme will bear witness to Grand Seiko’s continued ascent. This world-famous square, located in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, is known as the preeminent location for French fine jewelry, fashion, and now, Japanese watches.
Grand Seiko originally planned to open the flagship outpost at 7, Place Vendôme to mark their 60th Anniversary, sharing the historic location with icons like Chanel, Cartier, Dior, Vuitton, and the famous Ritz hotel. It was to be a significant moment of reflection and celebration until an unexpected year upended their best-laid plans. The flagship may not open as initially planned, but that hasn’t stopped Grand Seiko.
Sixty years holds great significance for the Japanese. When a person reaches the age of 60, they have traveled full circle through the zodiac calendar cycle, arriving back at the beginning. This anniversary marks a significant moment of rebirth and a perfect moment to redefine the future. On March 5th, Grand Seiko celebrated its 60th by releasing an exclusive anniversary collection, two artistic masterpieces, a new Spring Drive movement, and a new high beat caliber. (Refer to our Spring, 2020 issue for an in-depth look at this collection, which highlights Grand Seiko’s innovations from the past sixty years.)
In addition to the Place Vendome boutique, Grand Seiko’s new manufacturing studio in Shizukuishi, Japan will be unveiled later this year. The nearly 2,000 square meter facility was designed by master architect Kengo Kuma. Designed to reflect Grand Seiko’s philosophy — The Nature of Time — the wooden construction leverages transparency, unveiling natural surrounds with breathtaking views of Mt. Iwate. The facility envisions a perfect environment for Grand Seiko’s artists and technicians to construct the company’s future.
On the following pages, we pay tribute to these creators, the technical and creative geniuses that keep an eye toward history, while propelling Grand Seiko into its next sixty years. We also have the pleasure of presenting the “Tōgè Special Edition” timepiece, an exclusive timepiece for the United State and the United Kingdom, and the very first collaboration between Grand Seiko and The Watches of Switzerland Group.
The process to create Grand Seiko’s best-ever mechanical movement was born in the mind of Hisashi Fujieda. “Around 2009, when we developed Caliber 9S85, we started wanting to go further, to innovate,” Fujieda says. “We were always on the lookout to discover the building blocks needed to create a new mechanical movement that would capture the essence of Grand Seiko. Our aims were to achieve high accuracy and long-lasting performance, and to bring about a revolution in mechanical watches”.
From 2009 to 2011, Fujieda’s team focused their attention on the underlying technology of the new movement. Fujieda, during the same period, embarked on an independent personal study of every aspect of the mechanical watch, from the intricacies of the movement to the design of the case. “I went beyond studying functional design elements and devoted extra attention to the finer points of the movement, including its appearance,” he says. It was an all-consuming development process, conceiving the new movement from the ground up.
“The simplicity of the new design made the entire movement lighter, resulting in roughly 20 percent greater efficiency than the Caliber 9S8 series,” Fujieda says. “It is no exaggeration to say that the new structure was the key to achieving a long power reserve with a 10-beat movement.”
This new caliber 9SA5 boasts both a longer power reserve than its predecessor (80 hours) and precision of -3 to +5 seconds per day. Two of Fujieda’s innovations make this possible. The first, a new dual impulse escapement, dramatically improves the efficiency of the driving force transmitted to the balance. The second: twin barrels enabling the mainspring to store more energy, extending the watch’s power reserve. These two innovations result in incredible accuracy and a power reserve 45 percent longer than Grand Seiko’s existing high beat caliber, the 9S8 series.
Fujieda explored every design possibility, studying and analyzing to innovate new parts. Hairsprings, regulators, and balance wheels were reconceived and redesigned with the help of the Grand Seiko Studio Shizukuishi. Because of Fujieda’s dedication, the new 9SA5’s is 1mm (or 15 percent) slimmer than the outgoing caliber, due to barrels and gear trains laid horizontally.
Thus, Fujieda’s team reduced the overall thickness of the watch case, increasing on-wrist comfort, while a repositioned crown allows 9SA5-equipped watches to sit more easily on the wrist. Special attention was paid to the crown’s action, lending the 9SA5 the same responsive feel as a manually wound watch. For Fujieda’s masterpiece, no detail was too small to perfect.
Despite endless technological development, aesthetics also play a starring role. The movement’s bridge considers the form of Mt. Iwate and the bending river that runs past the Grand Seiko Studio Shizukuishi where the 9SA5 watches are made. Fujieda and his team oversee every single aspect of manufacturing, ensuring the design meets Grand Seiko’s exacting standards, from manufacturing to assembling and adjustment.
“There is a value in expending that kind of effort, the same value that lies in achieving accuracy and practicality, and in pursuing the beauty of a watch, ” Fujieda says. “I believe that value is conveyed beyond the bounds of time from the wearer of the watch to others, and I intend to continue pressing forward on the strength of that belief.”
Accuracy, legibility, beauty. These Seiko hallmarks allow the Spring Drive movement, created by the technicians at the Shinshu Watch Studio, to mark time in that uniquely Japanese way. The caliber 9RA5 delivers remarkable accuracy, just +10 seconds per month while boasting a five-day power reserve.
“The ideal we aimed for was to create the best Spring Drive movement,” says Eiichi Hiraya, designer of the 9RA5 movement. A movement that acknowledges the Anniversary of Grand Seiko, while opening a new chapter in its history to provide innovation for the next 60 years.
Caliber 9RA5 hosts several important innovations. First, two “Dual Side Barrels” that extend the movement’s power reserve. The caliber also features a new date change mechanism that shortens the date changeover to half that of conventional mechanisms.
A new vacuum-sealed enclosure now houses the integrated circuit controlling the accuracy of the Spring Drive movement, a quartz oscillator, and the wiring that connects them. “In the development process, we faced a new challenge,” says Hiraya. “Incorporating the (movement’s) temperature correction function within the vacuum package meant that a separate source of power was required to activate the function, and it had to be kept to 45nA, the same consumption current needed to operate a conventional integrated circuit. Under these tight restrictions, it took a lot of trial and error to find the optimum mechanism.”
Hiraya and his team were also tasked with slimming down the movement. A slimmer movement makes for a thinner watch, moving the watch’s center of gravity closer to the wrist. These changes allow a more comfortable watch. And while the 9RA5 is thinner, the movement’s strength isn’t compromised.
For the first edition watch using the Caliber 9RA5 movement, the team looked to nature for inspiration. They chose a winter theme, channeling the look of frost covered trees and a star-filled night sky to adorn the surfaces on the movement.
“If we can design components that work well but will also look beautiful, they will be easier to manufacture, which in turn will lead to higher precision. This is a fundamental lesson we learned from our predecessors,” explains Hiraya. The movements ” should always be accurate, should not break, and should be beautiful.”
For Grand Seiko, passing down information between generations is vital. In Japan, this is known as Michi or The Way of Continuous Evolution. In turn, knowledge gained during the development of the Caliber 9RA5 will be passed along, allowing Grand Seiko’s legacy to flourish in perpetuity.
“What we saw as our themes were inheritance, evolution, and deepening. To design a ‘near-future face’ appropriate for a new generation, while inheriting the Grand Seiko traditions that our predecessors have built up. That was our goal,” says Kiyotaka Sakai, designer of the Grand Seiko Heritage Collection’s latest entry.
In designing the watch, Sakai faced a unique problem. How do you redesign a watch that’s stood the test of time? Sakai’s answer: by leveraging advances in manufacturing technology and craftsmanship, considering the way lifestyles have changed and observing the direction of history. These considerations allowed Sakai to redefine the look of the original 44GS.
First, Sakai immersed himself in the lifestyle of the people living in mid-century Japan, when the 44GS bowed. “In Japan and elsewhere at the time, cars were shinier, suits were more dressy, and things with glittery charm tended to be popular. Watches were mainly worn in formal situations like at the office or at parties,” says Sakai.
For the 60th Anniversary, Sakai and his colleagues sought a new design direction. They wanted to respect the past while looking resolutely to the future. “The aim was to create an impressive look. In an era where an individual’s way of thinking and behavior are more valued, I thought we needed a design that announced the presence of the person wearing the watch.”
Changes in global lifestyles were top of mind for Sakai. As were the settings in which a modern watch gets worn. Sakai explains, “Looking ahead to the future, these are the ideas that I felt should inspire the next designs at Grand Seiko. I have it etched deeply into my mind that this is the mission that was assigned to me.”
The “Tōgè Special Edition” Exclusive Collaboration Between Grand Seiko and The Watches of Switzerland Group
Introducing the Tōgè Special Edition, a timepiece to celebrate the combined legacies of Grand Seiko and the Watches of Switzerland Group. This special edition timepiece reimagines Grand Seiko’s infamous textured Mt. Iwate dial in British Racing Green to honor Watches of Switzerland’s English roots. The term Tōgè, or mountain pass, “refers to a navigable route through a mountain range,” inspired by a spirited drive through the mountains of Shizukuishi, Grand Seiko’s home base in Northern Japan.
Acclaimed Grand Seiko Chief Designer, Nobuhiro Kosugi, designed the exterior case (he’s already celebrated for the 44GS’s original case design). The profile of the case takes its shape from a crescent moon, incorporating the Zaratsu polished curved lugs. Gold details add a warm contrasting touch, with a brown crocodile leather strap and fine green stitching to match the dial. With the Tōgè, Grand Seiko’s refined minimalist aesthetic meets a bold flavor of English style.
The Caliber 9S66, which powers the Tōgè, is tested to the stringent Grand Seiko Standard of -3 to +5 seconds per day in static conditions, six positions (etc.). It features a MEMS escapement, and a 72-hour power reserve.
The Tōgè Special Edition: SBGM241 will be available for purchase at Watches of Switzerland boutiques and select Mayors locations in July 2020.
Late summer, a temporary pop-up boutique will be opening in New York’s Soho district, inspired by Grand Seiko’s theme of “The Nature of Time.” Created in partnership with The Watches of Switzerland Group, the shop will feature the latest timepieces from the collection in an immersive environment reflecting Japan’s twenty-four seasons referred to as “Sekki.” During the activation, watchmaking demonstrations will be taking place, showcasing Grand Seiko’s meticulous attention to detail and craftsmanship.
Tōgè Special Edition by Grand Seiko, USD 5,200. Exclusively available at Watches of Switzerland, +1.844.4.USAWOS or +1.844.487.2967 and at select Mayor’s stores
The Nature of Time Exhibition presented by Grand Seiko and Watches of Switzerland
119 Spring Street, New York, N.Y. exact opening dates and hours to be confirmed.