Of the brands exhibiting at Watches and Wonders Geneva – not including the Carré des Horlogers –, two manufacture their timepieces outside Switzerland. One is A. Lange & Söhne, whose production carries on the grand tradition of watchmaking in Glashütte, Germany. The other is Grand Seiko, the first Japanese brand to take part in the fair which this year launches a new format, backed by 38 exhibitors. Already in 2021, Grand Seiko confirmed its reputation when the Hi-Beat 36000 80 Hours Caliber 9SA5 took home the Men’s Watch prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. Boasting a dial inspired by the white birch trees that grow in the forests of northern Japan, it runs off the 9SA5 calibre that was introduced in 2020 for the 60th anniversary of Grand Seiko, a fully integrated manufacture. Fitted with a new escapement which oscillates at 36,000 vibrations/hour, the 9SA5 is precise to -3/+5 seconds per day (superior to COSC chronometer standard) and delivers 80 hours of power reserve.
Precision, power and finesse define this timepiece, which is also true to Grand Seiko’s “The Nature of Time” concept. “The watch captures the mood of the white birch tree forests near the studio where all Grand Seiko mechanical watches are crafted. In summer and winter alike, the tall, slender trunks and the white bark of the birch trees present a shimmering vista that is at once beautiful and mysterious. To look closely at the dial is to experience the exact same feeling that the visitor to these forests enjoys and to be brought closer than ever to the true and eternal nature of time.” There is always a risk that a message such as this, with its undercurrent of back-to-nature spirituality, might not be taken seriously. Grand Seiko, however, showed a very real commitment to sustainability and biodiversity when in July 2020 it opened its new manufacturing facilities, Studio Shizukuishi, in the north of Honshu island.
The building is the work of architect Keno Kuma. He explains how “the Nature of Time is a phrase that almost everyone can intuitively embrace. My goal, however, was to reach beyond the primary nuance of the essence of time to inspire a sense of the mysterious linkage inherent between the aspects of nature and time. I strove to frame a more tangible picture of that awareness through my architecture.” The building’s core materials of wood and glass blend into the natural surroundings but were also chosen to meet a strict environmental brief. The Studio is designed to be energy-efficient and to minimise waste and CO2 emissions. Like its parent company, Morioka Seiko Instruments, a subsidiary of Seiko Watch Corporation, it advocates sustainability and peaceful coexistence with nature. The Studio’s “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” ethos is put into practice, for example through on-site wastewater treatment. It also covers part of its energy needs with solar panels. A wireless sensor network, dubbed “Mr. Sho-Ene” or “Mr Energy Saving”, monitors temperature, humidity and light levels, again to save energy.
Grand Seiko’s lyrical prose in praise of nature as a source of inspiration is matched by real-life measures to preserve the natural environment and habitat that surround the Studio. The natural forests are inventoried and maintained, including a monitoring of exotic species. The site hosts insect hotels and nesting boxes for birds and squirrels. Employees and their families can take part in activities to maintain the area and the infrastructures for wildlife. So as to spread the environmental word, the public can sign up for tours of the site and attend information sessions that include talks on biodiversity and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Grand Seiko is also a patron of the arts; another means of adding a philosophical dimension to its pursuit of perfection. Held at Milan Design Week, “The Nature of Time” exhibition invited visitors to reflect on time and the unique way the Japanese embrace its passing. The exhibition also showcased Seiko’s proprietary Spring Drive movement, a breakthrough technology unveiled in 2004 after more than two decades of research and development. It combines the advantages of a traditional, hand-assembled mechanical movement with the reliability, precision and stability of quartz. Power from a mainspring drives a mechanical gear train, at the other end of which, instead of a conventional escapement, is a quartz regulator that controls the rate of energy released from the mainspring. By combining the best of mechanical watchmaking with the high precision of electronics in a single movement, in one fell swoop Seiko propelled time measurement into the twenty-first century. The gliding motion of the seconds hand, a unique characteristic of Spring Drive movements, reproduces the natural flow of time.
For the 60th anniversary of Grand Seiko, the brand took its Spring Drive technology to a new level in terms of dimensions, performance and functionality with Caliber 9RA5. This new-generation movement delivers a five-day power reserve, an increase of 60% on Caliber 9R6 which equips most of the current collection. Precision has been increased to ±10 seconds per month compared with ±15 seconds for the 9R6. Movement height has been slimmed from 5.80mm to 5mm. The date change is also significantly faster. Grand Seiko continues its exploration of The Nature of Time.