Grand Seiko: Looking at What Makes the Brand so Special – And Grand Seiko is Definitely Special!
by Raman Kalra
Raman Kalra is the founder of The Watch Muse blog and has kindly agreed to share some of his articles with us here on Quill & Pad.
The first association for many on hearing the word “Seiko” is likely to be affordable quartz watches or automatic divers. However, Seiko offers much more, particularly in terms of luxury timepieces. Grand Seiko, which became its own brand under the Seiko Group in 2017, produces some of the most competitive luxury watches on the market, rivaling the best Swiss brands at prices that are still (somewhat) attainable.
It took me some time to fully appreciate this. At first, I saw “Seiko” and wondered why anyone would spend thousands on one when they could buy a Rolex, for example. What helped me most was seeing the watches in person and understanding the hype for myself. Now, my next watch wish is a Grand Seiko. I am a huge fan and even convinced a friend to purchase one earlier this year. I’m not alone in having a change of heart.
Google search trends show just how much interest in Grand Seiko has increased since 2017. It has grown faster than Rolex and is in line with Patek Philippe.
When compared to Panerai, it becomes clear that not all brands have seen this level of growth, despite the general increase in the popularity of mechanical watches.
I want to touch on what changed for me and why you should start taking Grand Seiko seriously – if you haven’t already.
Why are Grand Seikos so good?
Swiss watches are synonymous with quality. There are certain word associations that are a given; for example, German cars and superb engineering. However, Grand Seiko is breaking this mold. Buying a watch is a luxury, and no matter who you are, you should expect to get an item of quality.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. You might end up paying a premium for a brand name or a brand association with a sport, which can be expensive. With Grand Seiko, however, you get a watch worth every dollar, pound, or euro, even with recent price increases.
It is hard to convey the quality in pictures, which is why I was not convinced until I saw a Grand Seiko in person. Holding and experiencing the watch allows you to fully realize the extent of the finishing put into each one.
One of the standout reasons for this is Zaratsu polishing. This method of polishing was first seen on the 1964 Self-Dater watch and is named after the original machines used on that model. It is a technique where the metal is pressed against emery cloth or paper abrasive on a rotating disk. This requires skill, and Grand Seiko takes pride in the results of this meticulous task.
The results are flat surfaces that are distortion-free and have a perfect reflection, as well as sharp edges. This is one large aspect of what makes a Grand Seiko a Grand Seiko, but it is also the hardest to appreciate in pictures. Seeing this for the first time is mesmerizing. The indices and polished areas on the case perfectly reflect light, changing intensity depending on your surroundings.
The high level of finishing continues with other aspects like the dial, movement accuracy, and finishing. This is truly a product that feels deeply thought about and considered, as though lots of attention and energy has been put into each and every watch. What this boils down to is the impression that Grand Seiko wants to earn your money.
Grand Seiko takes pride in what they sell, which gives you, as the consumer, the feeling that they respect the price you will pay to own one. In a world where money alone is no longer good enough to purchase some watches on offer with other brands – not naming names – it is nice to feel as though your custom is appreciated. At least to me.
They have pride in what they sell, and that gives the consumer the feeling that the brand appreciates the price you will be paying to own one. In a world now where your money alone is no longer good enough to purchase some products on offer with other brands – not naming names – it is nice to feel as though your custom is respected. At least to me.
The dials of Grand Seiko are what sets them apart – even more so than the overall finishing.
You don’t see many brands (dare I say any?) taking the level of time and care into their watch dials like Grand Seiko. Each Grand Seiko dial reflects a different aspect of Japanese nature, fitting with their inspiration – the nature of time.
Their dials take a canvas approach allowing them to create an abstract, artistic impression of what the specific model is representing.
For example, for inspiration the ‘White Birch’ uses the Shirakaba white birch forests in the regions of northern Japan near the Shizukuishi and Shinshu studios of Grand Seiko.
Another example is the Nature of Time Japan Seasons special edition collection, featuring four references with each attempting to capture the essence of Japan in those moments – the Spring model is a light pink reflecting the cherry blossom, the Summer a deep green imitating the green of fields and grass, the Autumn a dark blue celebrating the moonlight around the autumnal equinox and finally, Winter in an off-white for the deep snow.
Ok, this might all sound long-winded, but ignoring the associations you are still left with a beautiful, textured dial with colors that are interestingly different. This creates something visually pleasing with depth, allowing the watch to change in different light conditions, especially as the texture adds an extra dynamic – and don’t forget the Zaratsu polished indices on top of this!
You are not choosing just a dial color when you purchase a Grand Seiko. You are deciding on texture, a timestamp in Japanese nature and genuinely something close to art. Yes, there are varying degrees to this across their lineup – you will see some models without texture in case that is not what you are after or just classic black and white models. But, this all just gives us a lot more to choose from and a lot of opportunities to find the model that speaks to you.
Grand Seiko does not just make beautiful-looking watches; there is also a lot to say about the movements driving them. They are all in-house and range from their 9F quartz, 9R Spring Drive to the 9S mechanical. Given the amount of engineering that goes into each movement there is a lot to unpack here, but essentially there is something for everyone and it allows for broad pricing allowing as many people buy into the brand as possible.
Each one of these movements has something special about them. The 9F quartz is more than just regular quartz. To start, Grand Seiko grows and ages its own quartz, selecting only the best for the final product. The movement features a “Backlash Auto-Adjust Mechanism” (their own words) that means the seconds hand lands perfectly on the indices, adding to the precision, as well as an instant date change mechanism.
Another underappreciated aspect is that it generates enough torque so that Grand Seiko can use the same hands as their mechanical models, as opposed to thinner, lighter hands found on other quartz watches. It is an extremely over-engineered quartz movement – again Grand Seiko looking to earn your business.
The 9R Spring Drive has enough to talk about for a whole post in itself. The concept and engineering that went into designing this movement are nothing short of extraordinary. It is unique to Grand Seiko, partly because no other brand has managed to achieve what they have done. The Spring Drive combines the best of quartz and mechanical into one. It generates energy like every other mechanical watch, but uses a quartz crystal to regulate the timing, creating a high level of precision.
What it also does is give the seconds hand a continuous sweep. No, not like other automatic watches, but a true continuous movement. It is quite something to see, and even if you don’t like the way the watches look, I would highly recommend going to see one just to see the Spring Drive in action. If you want to buy into their nature marketing, then the Spring Drive allows you to see the constant flow of time.
You can view the 9R in two ways. Either, it has quartz and therefore, is not a true mechanical movement, or, it is an engineering achievement and my watch is more accurate and unique for it. I am in the latter camp, and if I am ever in a position to purchase a Grand Seiko, it would be a Spring Drive for this reason.
With how much effort is put into their 9F and 9R movements, it should be no surprise that their mechanical 9S movement has received the same attention. As with the other two, there is too much depth to go into for this post, but the 9S can achieve 36,000 vibrations per hour (the Omega Co-Axial 8900 is 25,200 vibrations per hour for reference) and has up to 80 hours of power reserve depending on the exact model. Further, this is done with an accuracy of +4/-2 seconds per day.
That is incredible. To have a watch that uses more energy to power this high beat rate, but last as long, if not longer, then the competition should explain it all.
One large factor as to why they can achieve this is the use of MEMS technology (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems). This method uses technology initially developed for semiconductor manufacturing, and it fundamentally allows Grand Seiko to create some components perfectly and at a reduced weight. The escape wheel is 5% lighter, for example, reducing the energy required in driving it.
With a brief touch on each movement, you can see that the care that goes into each watch is amazing. You know that in buying one, from what you see to what you don’t, you have bought something of exceptional quality.
The final point is availability. A lot of watches are in so much demand, that getting one at RRP is a challenge, to say the least. This might change in the future, but as of now, it is an unfortunate reality. Despite having some popular models such as the Snowflake or White Birch, Grand Seiko’s are generally available. There could be a limited edition that might be harder to get, or maybe a hyped version that upon release is in short supply, but I have never had an issue walking into an AD and trying on multiple models. I am coming to appreciate this factor a lot more recently.
Then, when you do decide to go into a boutique, the staff have always been extremely helpful and passionate about the watches. The previous time I went in, I openly mentioned I was not purchasing but the sales person helping me brought out every model I was interested in and more. They were extremely knowledgeable about the different variations, and if anything their passion matched mine and it left me with an extremely positive impression.
Where Grand Seiko needs to do more
Despite my love for their watches, there is still more that Grand Seiko needs to focus on to continue on its upward trend. As always, these are all just my impressions. Firstly, they release many new watches per year, with many editions limited to certain numbers and regions. It all gets confusing. The Snowflake and White Birch are the most popular and well-known because they are the brands’ identity products. They are the staples that remain constant, and to some degree, they could narrow down their wider offering to help focus and build a stronger brand image.
Secondly, the bracelet needs some work. It is rather chunky, there is no taper to it which makes it feel less refined, and there is no micro-adjustment that you are seeing on competitor watches (even the new Tudor Ranger now has this). Grand Seiko has nailed everything else, so now it is time for them to improve their bracelets.
Finally, for me, it is Grand Seiko’s marketing. I love the idea of nature inspiring what they do, but some of the inspirations feel a little too farfetched. Further to this, they then produce imagery in front of their inspiration and some studio images of the watch. It would be nice to see some more ‘in the wild’ photos and videos to just bring the story alive.
I love Grand Seiko. I am so happy that I have had the chance to see them in person as this opened my eyes. From their movement innovation to the Zaratsu polishing and dial detail, everything feels extremely well made. Grand Seiko goes to extreme lengths to earn your money and provide you with a product of exceptional quality.
There is a sense of occasion with each watch – it feels special. Maybe this is helped by the fact you don’t see too many in public, or maybe it is because to appreciate what you are looking at, you need to understand the watch beyond just the brand name on the front. There is a saying – you buy a Rolex to impress others and a Grand Seiko to impress yourself.
Maybe buying a Rolex to impress others I can disagree with, but I couldn’t agree more about buying a Grand Seiko for yourself.
Now I just need to decide which I want to aim for, and start saving!
For more information, please visit www.grand-seiko.com/
You can read more articles by Raman Kalra at www.thewatchmuse.com.