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Grand Seiko, the height of mechanical watchmaking from Japan

Grand Seiko, the height of mechanical watchmaking from Japan

Monday, 31 March 2014
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

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3 min read

Introduced in 1960, the Grand Seiko is without doubt the Japanese firm’s number-one calling card for mechanical watches. Further proof this year with a high-frequency GMT that meets the standards imposed by the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres.

Mention the Seiko name, and invariably people think of its quartz technology and the tidal wave this unleashed on the watch market in the 1970s, or the more recent Spring Drive and Kinetic movements, ingenious combinations of traditional watchmaking and electronic technology. Rare are those who associate Seiko with mechanical movements, yet this is an area in which the brand has more than earned its stripes, perhaps no more so than in the Grand Seiko collection it launched in 1960. For those whose memories need refreshing, Seiko was established in 1881 by Kintaro Hattori, and the brand has had numerous decades to “try its hand” first as a clockmaker then as a manufacturer of wristwatches, becoming a household name in Japan. Its production benefits from a level of integration that few Swiss watchmakers can match.

On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations which Switzerland and Japan are celebrating this year, Shinji Hattori, great-grandson of the founder, and president and chief executive of Seiko, was at pains to point out that the brand he heads shares the same values as a “certain category” of Swiss watchmaking. He also stressed the fact that its production has nothing to envy the watches that come out of the workshops in the country of Baselworld. On the subject of the World Watch and Jewellery Show, Seiko is this year unveiling a new booth, half of which is given over to the Grand Seiko. Attractions include an exhibition, travelling to Europe for the first time, that traces the history of this timepiece, and demonstrations by master craftsmen, particularly engravers, that underscore the importance which Japan attaches to the métiers d’art.

Seiko Prospex Kinetic GMT Diver
The new 9S86 calibre

All of which provides a carefully engineered setting for the launch of the latest addition to the Grand Seiko family, namely a model driven by the 9S86 calibre with a dual time zone that can be independently adjusted and a 55-hour power reserve. A particular feature of this new movement is its high frequency – 36,000 vibrations/hour – and a regularity that would have the best régleurs (the specialist watchmakers who regulate the movement’s rate) pale with envy. Indeed, Seiko’s directors were quick to emphasise that this new movement, a derivative of the 9S85, has been measured to show variations in rate of -3/+5 seconds a day. These are even tougher tolerances than those admitted by the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC) which, after a battery of tests, certifies movements that fall within a margin of -4/+6 second a day. As the Japanese brand modestly declares, each Grand Seiko represents the essence of watchmaking.

Rounding off the 2014 line-up, Seiko also presents five new styles as a tribute to a model launched exactly 60 years ago as the Self-Dater, that is the first Grand Seiko with a date, and water-resistant to 50 metres. The following year, Seiko introduced its first dive watch, this time water-resistant to 150 metres. Driven by a mechanical movement, it opened up new territory for the brand to demonstrate its expertise. An example from this year is the Prospex Kinetic Diver’s GMT, which is water-resistant to 200 metres. One to look out for on the wrist of Novak Djokovic, Seiko’s new Partner.

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