Grand Seiko: On a mission to become the world’s best watch brand
If you wanted to buy a high-quality watch in the 1960s, there was simply no way around Swiss brands. At that time, the first Swiss watch brands were already looking back on a more than 200-year-old history. This of course also shaped the collective consciousness of watch enthusiasts (and those aiming to become one). There is no doubt that other countries were home to excellent watch brands as well, such as Germany or the United Kingdom, but the general opinion was: The best watches come from Switzerland. Period.
However, an island nation in the Pacific, almost 10,000 km away from the cradle of modern watchmaking, had a thing or two to say about it.
In Japan, when it comes to the production of commodities, the Japanese have always adhered to the maxim “all or nothing”. Deeply rooted in the country’s culture, this principle has changed little to this day. The Made in Japan designation of origin is still regarded as one of the most powerful ones in the world and as a guarantee of uncompromising quality and longevity.
It was precisely these attributes the watchmakers of Grand Seiko had in mind in 1960 when they presented their first watch to the world public. To be fair, however, this is an understatement, to say the least. The aim was not just to stand up to the Swiss, it was much more the incentive to create the best watch in the world, unparalleled in readability, precision and quality. Spoiler alert: They are on a good way.
In the 1960s, the Neuchâtel Observatory competitions were widely regarded as a prestigious showdown among Swiss watch brands, making it the perfect occasion for the Japanese to enter the international watch stage with a big bang. For the first time, the Japanese were involved in the race for the world’s most precise watch in 1963. Year after year their rankings improved, which increasingly became a thorn in the side of the reigning top dogs. Everything indicated that the race would soon decide in favour of the Japanese, until the competitions were finally officially stopped once and for all. Shame be to him who thinks evil of it. Since the brand was also banned from using the “chronometer” designation due to its non-Swiss origin, it was decided to introduce its own more stringent standard: The Grand Seiko Special Standard was born and the brand’s success story began to really take off.
Today, watch brands usually offer a wide range of both mechanical and quartz watches. In Grand Seiko’s chest, however, beat three hearts: The Japanese have a very innovative and unique hybrid movement in their repertoire, which is called Spring Drive. It has rightly gone down in the annals of watchmaking history as one of the most innovative new developments and is arguably Grand Seiko’s biggest selling proposition. Spring Drive makes use of both mechanical and electronic elements, resulting in a movement that achieves extraordinary results. The best of both worlds.
Three hearts in one chest
But Grand Seiko also leaves nothing to chance with their mechanical and battery-powered quartz models and impressively shows how traditional watchmaking practices can be raised to a new level. While quartz watches usually only elicit a weary smile from die-hard watch lovers, quartz watches at Grand Seiko are a serious matter. The brand cultivates its own quartz crystals and lets them age for several months to guarantee ideal oscillation capabilities. In addition, every quartz crystal is individually and carefully selected for each watch.
A very brief look at the history of watchmaking reveals why quartz movements continue to be a major discipline for the Japanese. At the beginning of the 1970s, Seiko was the catalyst for the “quartz crisis”, a revolutionary development in the watch industry, when mass-produced and high-precision quartz watches almost made their more expensive Swiss counterparts disappear forever.
The mechanical movements at Grand Seiko are not just ordinary watches either. As one of the few watch brands worldwide, Grand Seiko has a large number of high-frequency movements in its portfolio, which perform their work precisely and shockproof with 36,000 half oscillations per hour. Virtually every component of Grand Seiko’s watches is produced in-house, which makes Grand Seiko a watch manufacturer with one of the highest production depths around.
From a former Japanese insider tip to a global success story
For a long time, Grand Seiko was regarded as an insider tip for true watch connoisseurs. Surprisingly, Grand Seiko has only been managed as a solely independent brand within the Seiko Group structure, which also manages for instance Credor and Orient Watches, since 2017. The luxury spin-off Grand Seiko ushered in a new era: While the “Seiko” lettering was being banned from the dial, the lettering “Grand Seiko” stayed. This is certainly to be understood as a means to push international expansion more successfully.
Watches from Grand Seiko are genuine luxury watches in every respect. The rich history is joined by particularly refined finishes such as Zaratsu finissage, special features such as Snowflake dials, high-precision in-house calibres and, last but not least, a fair price policy.
The Grand Seiko collections:
Grand Seiko Elegance Collection
As the name suggests, this collection is characterized by its elegant appearance. The watches are only being offered on leather straps and feature clean and minimalist dials, although this timelessness is occasionally loosened up by a GMT hand or a power-reserve indicator.
Grand Seiko Sport Collection
Complications, such as a second time zone, a power reserve indicator and chronograph modules make the watches in this collection more technically sophisticated, which in turn contributes to the fact that they wear more present on the wrist. Equipped with stainless steel bracelets and large pushers, the watches have a sporty and masculine appearance.
Grand Seiko Heritage Collection
The Heritage collection is perhaps the most sought-after collection of the three and represents a successful compromise between the two previously named collections. Classic dials, elegant Dauphine hands, stainless steel bracelets and a wide range of case diameters make this a collection a true crowd pleaser. In particular the SBGA211 – which is probably better known under its epithet “Snowflake” thanks to its dial reminiscent of freshly fallen snow – rightly enjoys cult status among Grand Seiko fans.