Bathed in light, the luminous spirit of Grand Seiko performs its shadow dance, which echoes the magic and mystery of ancient Japanese culture. The dramatic collision of beauty and history awakens the senses and fires the imagination. Creativity and artistry are the companions of accuracy and divine detailing with the relationship between sleek modernity and rich heritage being as intricate as it is deliberate. The fullness of the brand is initially best absorbed aesthetically and beyond this, academically.
Kaizen is the Japanese name for the process of a collective approach to incremental improvement, small things that make a big difference in the long run, and it is a system that is central to Grand Seiko’s philosophy. More often than not in life, small regular tweaks are much better when striving to improve a process or end product and it is proven to be more sustainable. It is this dedication to perpetual advancement and staying true to its rich cultural heritage that has led to Grand Seiko being a watchmaker that is geographically and philosophically a million miles away from the Swiss world of horology.
Grand Seiko has a lot to boast about. It has been at the forefront of technical horological advancements for 60 years now, celebrating their significant anniversary this year. It’s a true manufacture and every aspect of a Grand Seiko watch’s journey from the initial development, design and manufacture is done in-house; even the quartz crystals are home grown, aged and tested rigorously in line with the culture of the brand. However, boast it does not – instead, it prefers to remain understated. This understatement as artistry runs through the very core of Grand Seiko alongside the spirit of Takumi; a spirit which embodies every Grand Seiko watch and each of the brand’s employees from CEO downwards. But how is it possible to carry such Japanese cultural tradition so literally and wholeheartedly into watchmaking?
Of Dark and Light
The realms of dark and light merge to provide the ethereal backdrop to precision engineering and master craftsmanship. The expression of light and shadow is paramount in Japanese culture, both being treasured and celebrated in equal measure. The infinite graduations between both states have always been a key ingredient of the Japanese aesthetic and are celebrated in traditional art forms such as Sado, the Japanese tea ceremony, and Kado, the art of flower arranging. The Sado ceremony takes place in the Cha-shitsu, behind the Shoji sliding doors. The Shoji allow a low, dim light through that changes over the course of a day – casting the treasured infinite hues of shadow across the room and creating juxtapositions of light and shadow that is so important to the Japanese nation’s notion of beauty.
Grand Seiko obsessively captures this aesthetic by the use of clean, flat lines on its watch cases that harness as much light as possible to enable the wearer to have a timepiece that is as legible as possible, even in low light conditions. However, to create the contrast and interplay that is so important, the watches also have areas that create and project shadows to truly celebrate and enhance the interplay between light and shadow and the elegance that exists between the two.
The nine enduring elements of the Grand Seiko Style
This ‘Japanese-ness’ is articulated by the brand as the ‘Sparkle of Beauty’ that each watch must demonstrate. The Grand Seiko Style has three components, which combine to give ultimate control over the execution of light and shadow in the aesthetic of the watch. First, the design must combine flat surfaces and two-dimensional curves, with the greatest focus on the flat surfaces. Second, the case, dial and hands should have as many flat surfaces as possible. Third, as many surfaces as possible should be mirror-polished and distortion-free. The artistry comes to the fore in the interplay between the mirrored and brushed, or hairline to use Grand Seiko parlance, surfaces. The technique used to create the mirror finish is called Zaratsu polishing and this pairing with the hairline finishes, aims to give the wearer the best possible time-reading experience. It is this depth of thought and design that makes Grand Seiko unique.
Grand Seiko Elegance Collection
At its most subtle and refined, this aesthetic is channelled through the Elegance collection, one of the three distinct Grand Seiko collections. These watches are built to the very highest standards and robust enough to be worn daily but are truly in their element on the rarefied occasions that demand a beautiful dress watch. The designs have that timeless look that genuinely could have been born in any decade of the past 60 years and yet, at the same time, look current, modern and very much in tune with today’s market. And like most things that are truly beautiful, these watches are understated, which is again the perfect embodiment of the Grand Seiko mantra of understatement as artistry.
Central to the beautiful execution of these watches is the curve. The curve of the case, the dial, the crystal; even the minute hand is curved by hand to compliment the curve of the sapphire crystal. The power reserve even echoes the curves and lines of the case and crystal. And going back to the idea of light and shadows, one cannot overlook the way the case line and bezel create interplays of bright and dark. And my personal favourite element? The small detail in the finishing where the inside of the lugs meets the case body. A small but key part of the visual impact, where small pockets of shadow form to draw the eye…stunning! It is the simplicity of these watches that makes them so alluring.
The 2020 Elegance range also encompasses re-creations of the first Grand Seiko watches — a limited edition trio in celebration of the sixtieth anniversary. Based on pieces from the brand’s vintage archive, they fuse the original designs from 60 years ago with modern manufacturing processes and refinement — pure kaizen in striving for constant improvement of the classics. The case form, curvature of the dial and sharp cut hands faithfully echo the original watches from the early 1960s, but the new limited editions are enhanced with touches such as sapphire display case backs, redesigned hour markers and an updated clasp.
The caseback is secured by six screws and gives the beholder an unadulterated view of the Caliber 9S64 manual winding movement, which understatedly boasts a 72-hour power reserve and a precision rate of +5 to -3 seconds per day. In keeping with the importance that the brand places on the interactions between light and shadow, each of the three metals feature a dial with subtle nuances.
The Platinum watch (SBGW257) houses a white gold dial that has the GRAND SEIKO text engraved into the dial, thus revealing the white gold colour beneath the white surface. This engraving creates shadows within the words that change as readily as the shadows cast by the applied white gold hour markers. The yellow gold model (SBGW258) has similar hour markers but the GRAND SEIKO is applied, which again casts infinite shades across the dial, depending on the light. Its deceptively simple but don’t underestimate anything that Grand Seiko present!