It has been 20 years since Grand Seiko unveiled its Spring Drive calibres and this year the Japanese watchmaking giant is partying like its 1999 by unveiling arguably its most exciting range of watches using its revolutionary movement. The anniversary is particularly timely in the UK where Grand Seiko has dramatically ramped up its activity with the opening of a boutique in London’s Knightsbridge in 2017 supported with pop-up stores with Watches of Switzerland this spring.
Shuji Takahashi, President, COO & CMO of Seiko Watch Corporation, gave an impassioned speech at Baselworld to highlight his pride in Japanese watchmaking and the achievements of Seiko and its affluent big brother Grand Seiko. The tenor of the presentation was interesting: Seiko is ready to place its Japanese origins front and centre of its message and will not be cowed into acting like it is second best to the historic Swiss watchmakers.
“2019 is a special year for Seiko. Exactly 50 years ago we presented our first automatic chronograph, another caliber that delivered an industry-leading level of precision and an ultra-thin hand-winding caliber. Through these three landmark creations, we were able to make an important contribution to mechanical watchmaking at the highest level in terms of function, accuracy and aesthetics. 1969 also saw the launch of the Seiko Quartz Astron, a watch whose place in horological history is secure. Together, these achievements opened up new possibilities in watch-making and led directly to the creation of Spring Drive 30 years later. With its precision, autonomy and its signature glide motion seconds hand, Spring Drive expresses the nature of time in a particularly Japanese way, which explains why it is finding increasing favour around the world and is at the heart of our 2019 collections,” Mr Takahashi told a packed press conference at Baselworld.
Grand Seiko has become a hugely respected watchmaker for connoisseurs and collectors, and now wants to reach a wider audience that is becoming better educated about horological history, artistry and mechanics. “For more than three decades, Seiko has participated in Baselworld. Over that time much has changed but, as I see it, by far the biggest change has been the increase in the knowledge of watch lovers about our industry’s creations. Today, our customers want to know not only what our watches do, but also where they come from and why they exist. Heritage is today as important as function,” Mr Takahashi expressed. “For us, this change is both a delight and an opportunity. We feel that the world is becoming ever more interested in Japan and its culture and we are very pleased to have the chance to show the world, through our watches, our horological heritage in Japan for 138 years,” he added.
Grand Seiko demonstrates one aspect of Japan’s heritage through hand craftsmanship and in its uniquely Japanese aesthetic. The sporty Seiko Prospex “embodies the boldness and determination of the Samurai to accept any challenge,” Mr Takahashi suggested. “Presage opens up the world of traditional Japanese artistry through its unique lacquer and porcelain dials, and Astron offers the best of modern Japanese high technology watchmaking,” he added.
Grand Seiko has three key collections launching in 2019 covering classical dress watches and sporty chronographs — both using the latest Spring Drive movements — plus a family of opulent ladies’ automatics.
The classic Grand Seiko Elegance has new four hand-wound dress watches using two new manual-winding movements, Caliber 9R02 and 9R31 Spring Drives offering +/- one second-per-day precision and 84 hour power reserves.
There are different dial treatments and the choice of steel, yellow gold and platinum cases for the three-handers, which all come on crocodile leather straps. Prices range from £7,300 for steel watches up to £69,200 for a top of the line limited edition platinum model that will only made for 30 customers in the world.
This year’s limited edition Grand Seiko Sport Collection is more striking and complex than the dress watches. There are chronographs with a GMT hand and date in 44.5mm 18ct rose gold or titanium cases; and three-handers with date in the same case option. Gold watches come on leather straps while the titanium models have titanium bracelets with a three-fold clasp. Chronographs house the Spring Drive Chronograph GMT 9R96 movement while the three-handers use the Spring Drive 9R15.
Prices range from £9,950 to £12,200 for models limited in production to 500 pieces, while more exclusive watches limited to runs of 100, are selling £39,700.
Grand Seiko has traditionally been viewed as a watchmaker for men, so a range of ladies’ automatics was a welcome introduction at Baselworld. The 27.8mm watches house an all new automatic caliber 9S25 (should be 9S27) with a 50 hour power reserve in five different looks: two in stainless steel and three in 18ct yellow, white or rose gold. In steel, there is a version with a champagne silver dial with a pattern inspired by the weave of linen and another with a mother-of-pearl dial with diamond-cut hour markers, priced at £4,800 to £5,150. All the gold models are set with 55 diamonds totalling .73 carats. Prices range from £25,700 to £26,600.
Grand Seiko is working hard in the UK to widen its distribution, and is showing retailers the potential of the brand at its own boutique in London’s Knightsbridge and, in the past two months, with pop-up shops and supporting events at Watches of Switzerland stores in the West End of the capital.
The installations focused on the Japanese heritage and artistry that is infused into Grand Seiko watches with large video screens showing how the watches are made and the Japanese habitat that inspires them.