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5 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Grand Seiko

In 2010, Seiko, the value-priced, volume-driven watchmaker founded in Tokyo in 1881, began to sell its luxury watch line, Grand Seiko, outside of Japan for the first time. The expanded distribution strategy generated growing interest in the high-end brand, and slowly, Grand Seiko began to amass a cult following — so much so that in 2017, Seiko decided to spin off the marque as a standalone brand. Since then, the watchmaker has experienced the kind of growth that many Swiss brands would envy. Much of it comes down to Grand Seiko’s uniquely Japanese approach to watchmaking, which places great value on nature — especially the natural environment surrounding its two primary facilities, both on Honshu, Japan’s main island.



1. Grand Seiko was founded to be the most superlative watch in the world.


The first wristwatch bearing the Grand Seiko name was a handsome gold dress watch introduced in 1960. Intended to be more precise, more legible and more beautiful than its competitors, the brand “was born as a pinnacle of the Seiko watch collection, with the aim to compete against the top Swiss brands — that was the origin of the brand,” Akio Naito, president of Seiko Watch Corporation, said during an interview in September at Seiko House Ginza in Tokyo. “For a very long time our communication was focused on the technological superiority of our brand,” he added. “But as we started competing against the top Swiss luxury brands, who had already started emphasizing the heritage and craftsmanship as opposed to the pure technological superiority and functionality, we came up with this idea of ‘the nature of time,’ which captures the DNA of our brand from two different angles: craftsmanship and our beautiful surroundings.




“The philosophy represents our goal to capture the ‘essence’ or ‘nature’ of time through high-accuracy watchmaking and pursuing the essence of an ideal wristwatch.”



2. ‘The Nature of Time’ reflects the importance Japanese culture places on seasonality and time. 


In 2019, the brand formally ushered in “The Nature of Time” as a brand philosophy, codifying a longstanding practice — namely, Grand Seiko’s use of watch dials as a way to pay homage to the landscapes that surround its two main facilities. (The first is its mechanical movement production facility in Shizukuishi, in the mountains of Iwate prefecture on the island’s northeast coast, and the second is the Shinshu Watch Studio incentral Nagano prefecture, where the company manufactures its Spring Drive timepieces.)

 

The dial concept dates back to at least 2005, when the company’s famed “snowflake dial” was introduced. A year later came the “Mt. Iwate pattern,” which was designed to evoke the craggy contours of the 6,686-foot peak visible from the facility in Shizukuishi. Moreexamples followed, including the 2016 Grand Seiko Spring Drive watch (SBGD201) featuring an 8-day power reserve and a dial inspired by the diamond dust that forms on cold winter mornings in the Shinshu region. “‘The Nature of Time’ is, however, not only expressed through the nature-inspired dials, as the concept has two ideas,” says a spokesperson. “The philosophy also represents our goal to capture the ‘essence’ or ‘nature’ of time through high-accuracy watchmaking and pursuing the essence of an ideal wristwatch.”



3. In 2020, Grand Seiko opened Studio Shizukuishi to the public.


While the brand has operated out of Shizukuishi through its Morioka Seiko Instruments division for more than 50 years, the mechanical watchmaking studio that opened in 2020 during the brand’s 60th anniversary year is a world apart.

 

Designed by the celebrated Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, the atelier is a temple to mechanical watchmaking, complete with a soaring triangular roof and floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking Mt. Iwate. The 21,250-square-foot atelier is centered on a clean room staffed by a team of artisans, who assemble, adjust, tune, case and inspect the Grand Seiko mechanical watches produced here.

An exhibition area in the front of the studio provides a brief, but rich museum-like experience to visitors (bookings are by appointment only), while an upstairs lounge displays a handful of limited edition models that can only be purchased here.



4. The 2023 Tentagraph embodies the studio’s dedication to precision and aesthetics.


In March, at the Watches and Wonders Geneva fair, Grand Seiko unveiled its first mechanical chronograph, with a 72-hour power reserve and a high-beat movement, Caliber 9SC5. Named the Tentagraph — or Ten-t-a-graph in which the ten stands for 10 beats; the letter t, for three days of power reserve; and the letter a and the suffix -graph because it is an automatic chronograph — the $13,700 wristwatch represents the very best of what emerges from Studio Shizukuishi.



5. The GS9 Club held a Stateside event in Los Angeles on Nov. 9.


In 2020, the prestige watchmaker announced the debut of the USA GS9 Club, an online community platform and e-commerce site for U.S.-based clients, designed to unite fans of the brand, and to impart exclusive information about Grand Seiko’s timepieces, cutting-edge technology and heritage. Founded in Japan in 2015, the club is open to anyone who’s purchased a Grand Seiko from a brand boutique or authorized dealer since March 23, 2017.

On Nov. 4, the largest GS9 Club event ever took place at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. In a panel discussion featuring celebrity collectors — including author Gary Shteyngart, Kevin O’ Leary of Shark Tank (aka Mr. Wonderful) and automotive journalist Matt Farah, co-host of The Smoking Tire podcast — Farah shared a story that summed up the reason so many collectors are besotted with the brand. “My friend Carl used to say, ‘When Rolex messes up a watch, they take it off the production line, fix it and put it back on the line,’” Farah said. “‘When Patek messes up a watch, they take it apart to nothing and put it back together and sell it. And when Grand Seiko messes up a watch, the watchmaker has to commit seppuku.’” The room of collectors erupted in laughter. And nods of understanding.



Article written by Victoria Gomelsky.



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