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IN DEPTH: Grand Seiko’s remarkable USA growth story

SLGH002_4

60 years after Seiko’s creation of Grand Seiko, and just a decade after it was launched outside its native Japan, the brand has overtaken some of Switzerland’s most famous and venerable luxury watchmakers to break into and climb the top 10 marques in the United States.

Remarkably, this success is not just in the sub-$3,000 market, but also at the ultra-luxury end of the business for watches priced at over $30,000

Grand Seiko is continuing its 60th anniversary year with a number of high end special and limited editions that pay tribute to the brand’s innovative history and demonstrate the way its passion for Japanese nature and culture influence its watchmaking.

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2020 is proving to be far more than just a birthday year, it has also become Grand Seiko’s most successful commercial period as higher priced timekeepers cement its reputation with enthusiasts and experienced collectors.

This year Grand Seiko has secured its place in the top 10 brands across all men’s price bands above $2,000.

According to retail analyst NPD, its watches are now ranked number three in the $5,000 to $7,000 price range, up from number six last year. For watches priced above $30,000, NPD records it as America’s eighth largest brand, up from 21st last year.

Three watches that went on sale this summer perfectly illustrate what watch aficionados are getting excited about. The 60th Anniversary Limited Edition Mechanical Hi-beat 36000 80 Hours, the SLGH002 (pictured top), is added to the Heritage collection, while the SBGW264 and SBGW262 join the Elegance family.

Grand Seiko has used its calibre 9SA5 for the SLGH002, an entirely new movement and the foundation upon which a whole new generation of Grand Seiko mechanical watches will be created.

The automatic movement has an entirely new escapement that enables the escapement wheel to transmit power directly to the balance, leading to an efficiency increase. The 9SA5 also uses a new and special free-sprung balance that maintains its precision for longer and is more resistant to shock and friction. And it is 15% slimmer than the current Grand Seiko high beat caliber, thanks to the innovative horizontal layout of the barrel and gear trains.

As with all Grand Seikos, the quality of their finish is as important as the genius of their movements. In the SLGH002, the movement’s bridge has a gently curving outline that is inspired by the shapes of Japan’s Mt. Iwate and a bend in the Shizukuishi River that runs near the studio where the watch is made.

SLGH002.

The watch draws from the design of Grand Seiko’s celebrated 44GS from 1967. The $43,000 piece is made from 18ct yellow gold in a larger 40mm case than its forefather, with the bold use of gold carried across to the hands, hour markers and framing of the date. It is limited to 100 pieces.

Grand Seiko’s SBGW264 Elegance is also limited, this time to 120 pieces, and takes inspiration from the natural beauty of Shizukuishi, the mountainous home of the Japanese watchmaker. The natural beauty of the area is celebrated in the deep green dial with a hatched pattern that is said to shimmer like a forest of silver birch trees its designers can see from their hillside studio.

Grand Seiko’s SBGW264 Elegance.

The soft, natural feel of the watch is completed by the slim profile of the 18ct gold case and the curved dial whose contours are followed exactly by the golden hands that are shaped by hand. It houses Grand Seiko’s 9S64 hand wound movement with a power reserve of 72 hours and accuracy of +5/-3 seconds per day and is on sale in the United States for $24,000.

Last, but not least, is the $30,000 Elegance Collection SBGW262, which has a striking black dial made from Urushi Lacquer, a finish unique to Japan. It is made from long lasting Urushi that comes from trees grown in and around the town of Joboji that lies under Mt. Iwate, the mountain that dominates the skyline above the Shizukuishi Watch Studio.

Iron is mixed with the lacquer to give it its distinctive deep jet black color.

Elegance Collection SBGW262.

Another uniquely Japanese technique known as Kaga Maki-e Urushi — a process of painting with gold or silver on the surface of lacquerware — is used on the dial’s indexes. Grand Seiko enlisted the services of renowned artist Isshu Tamura to finish every dial. Only Joboji lacquer from Iwate Prefecture, the birthplace of the 9S Mechanical movements, is used.

Domestic lacquer accounts for only a very small percentage of the lacquer used in Japan. Its handling is very difficult compared to foreign varieties, but it brings out deep black colors.

Grand Seiko’s SBGW262 dress watch comes in an 18ct yellow gold 39mm case housing the 9S64 hand wound movement.

 

GRAND SEIKO MICRO ARTIST STUDIO

Grand Seiko is a fully integrated manufacturer capable of designing and making its own movements, movement components, cases and dials. It has four main facilities within its Shinshu Toki-no-Waza Studio including its Dial Workshop, the Takumi (Mastery) Studio and the Case & Jewelry Studio.

The beating heart of the Studio is Grand Seiko’s Micro Artist Studio, which was established 20 years’ ago with a mission to pass on the skills required in the watchmaking craft to the next generation. It is also a hotbed of innovation and credited with creating the Spring Drive Minute Repeater and Sonnerie and two Eichi watches, all of which have been widely praised for their craftsmanship and beauty.

The studio is overseen by Yoshifusa Nakazawa, a master watchmaker with over 40 years’ experience and whose no nonsense motto, “Thoroughly execute the basics of assembly,” is the guiding principle of his team.

The Micro Artist Studio is credited with creating some of Grand Seiko’s most spectacular watches including the platinum Grand Seiko Heritage SBGD205 diamond and sapphire set dress watch ($185,000) and the all platinum hand engraved Elegance SBGW263 ($97,000).

Grand Seiko Elegance SBGW263.

 

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Rob Corder

The author Rob Corder