As Grand Seiko celebrates its 60th Anniversary, Director and Senior Vice President of Seiko Watch corporation Yoshikatsu Kawada shares about the brand’s milestones with Riga Ramadhan.
Nobody can deny the appeal of Japanese craftsmanship. Grand Seiko, which fetes its 60th anniversary this year, has been a master in precision, quality, beauty and, of course, craftsmanship. It was only in the late 1950s when a small team of Seiko’s finest watchmakers came together with a very simple yet ambitious aim: To create the very best watch of which they were capable, with the highest possible levels of precision, legibility, durability and ease of use. Then, in December 1960, their first creation was born and, in keeping with the team’s ambition and desire to create the “king” of watches, it was named Grand Seiko. It had a level of accuracy equivalent to the superior grade of the recognized chronometer standards at the time and it marked the first step on a sixty-year journey towards the summit of watchmaking.
The year marks the 60th anniversary of this achievement. To top it off, becoming 60 years old is considered special in Japanese culture. Why? Because it denotes the 60 combinations of the traditional zodiac calendar cycle—10 calendar signs and 12 oriental zodiac symbols—coming full circle. In other words, it is a moment of new energy and rebirth.
To commemorate a full year of celebrations of this important landmark, Grand Seiko has released many novelties that both celebrate the first sixty years of the brand and point the way forward to the next sixty-year cycle. To delve even deeper into Grand Seiko’s journey, we recently chatted with none other than Yoshikatsu Kawada, Director and Senior Vice President of Seiko Watch Corporation.
DA MAN: First and foremost, congratulations on Grand Seiko’s 60th anniversary this year. What does reaching this milestone mean for the brand?
Yoshikatsu Kawada: The number 60 has great resonance in our industry as one of the fundamental numbers in horology but, for us in Japan, it has another and even more important significance. When a person reaches 60, he or she has gone full circle through the traditional zodiac calendar cycle and has arrived back at the beginning. It is a moment of new energy and rebirth. And, for Grand Seiko, a golden opportunity that we are embracing wholeheartedly.
DA: Looking back through those 60 years, what would you say was the key to Grand Seiko’s initial success and subsequent popularity?
YK: To sum it up, Grand Seiko’s 60 years is a journey in pursuit of the essentials for a watch, such as precision, legibility and beauty. Our achievements started with the first Grand Seiko in 1960 whose precision met the highest international standards of the time. In 1969, we managed to create what we call V.F.A. (Very Fine Adjusted) which delivers an astonishing monthly rate of +1 to -1. In 2004, the first Grand Seiko equipped with our original Spring Drive automatic movement was released, realizing a power reserve of 72 hours. And this year, the two new generation calibers will take Grand Seiko forward into the future.
DA: Can you elaborate more about these two new generation calibers?
YK: We launched two important new calibers this year. The first one is the new mechanical Caliber 9SA5. It is an entirely new high beat mechanical movement. With nine years of development and deploying all the skills and experience that Grand Seiko has gained over the past 60 years, 9SA5 is without doubt the finest mechanical caliber Grand Seiko has ever created.
Furthermore, in developing the 9SA5 caliber, the Grand Seiko development team set out to deliver the same level of stable accuracy as that of their existing 36,000 vph [vibrations per hour] movement but with a longer power reserve, which therefore makes the watch even more practical in everyday life. They succeeded in characteristically uncompromising style. The Caliber 9SA5 has a precision rate of +5 to -3 seconds a day and a power reserve of 80 hours.
The second one is the new spring drive caliber 9RA5 that is slimmer, even more precise and has a greater power reserve. Caliber 9RA5 takes Spring Drive technology to a new level of excellence. In comparison to the 9R6 caliber that is the mainstay of the current collection, Caliber 9RA5 delivers a five-day power reserve, an increase of 60 percent. Its monthly precision rate has risen from ±15 seconds a month to ±10. The movement depth has been reduced from 5.8mm to 5.0mm and the speed of the date change has been greatly increased.
DA: Could you take us back to some of the most significant milestones of Grand Seiko?
YK: Since its international launch in 2010, Grand Seiko’s reputation as a leading luxury watch brand has grown rapidly, thanks to its award-winning mechanical watch series and its unique Spring Drive and exclusive quartz collections. Back in 2017, a new chapter in the Grand Seiko story opened with the launch of a wider collection, new designs, new retail distribution and new communication. All of this established Grand Seiko as a fully independent brand. Moreover, to symbolize this transformation, the Grand Seiko logo is now proudly presented at the twelve o’clock position on the dial.
DA: Speaking about milestones, a new and exciting moment in Grand Seiko 60-year history is also marked by the introduction of the brand’s first-ever concept creation: The T0 (T-zero) Constant-force Tourbillon. In short, this particular creation incorporates a fully integrated constant-force mechanism and tourbillon on the same axis for the first time in the world. Could you explain the motivation and the creative process behind it?
YK: As you may already know, accuracy is one of the essential factors that Grand Seiko values most. One of the brand’s endeavors is to create an ultra-high precision mechanical watch without considering commercialization factors, such as production capacity and price. The T0 elevates precision with a complicated mechanism to pursue further accuracy without these considerations. The T0 and the 9SA5 calibers were developed in parallel, inspiring and affecting each movement’s design and manufacturing in the development process. In pursuit of the highest level of accuracy for mechanical watchmaking, the designers conceptualized the new creation without restrictions from production capability considerations. The free approach to development resulted in the birth of the T0 and inspired essential movement parts for the new Caliber 9SA5, which was developed in parallel with the concept creation.
DA: More importantly, how long did it take for Grand Seiko to come up with this piece and what were the biggest challenges that came up during the development phase?
YK: To develop the T0 caliber, it took about seven years including the very first stages of idea development and evaluation after completion. There were two main difficulties. One was assembly. For instance, the wound small constant-force spring has to be put into the gap between the inner carriage and the outer carriage, which was extremely hard. The other difficulty was to minimize the wear and friction of parts. This was realized by applying a special coating onto the parts and a highly durable and precise ceramic stop wheel.
DA: Another major attention-grabber from Grand Seiko this year is the 60th anniversary limited editions. With this year’s novelties, do you have a specific message you want to convey?
YK: We are celebrating the 60th anniversary of Grand Seiko in several ways throughout the year. We launched new important calibers and also the 60th anniversary limited editions. And, we have opened new and important facilities: The Grand Seiko Boutique in the Place Vendome in Paris and, back in June, a new manufacturing studio at the same Shizukuishi site which currently creates all of Grand Seiko’s mechanical watches. And, starting this year, we will promote a new concept for the brand. We call it the Nature of Time. This represents a very ancient part of Japanese sensibilities. By combining traditional Japanese aesthetics with expert hand craftsmanship and state of the art technology, Grand Seiko presents a powerful brand story. This is a unique value proposition that consumers cannot find in any other luxury brand. Grand Seiko was created exactly one hundred years after the birth of our founder, Kintaro Hattori. We have the honor of setting Grand Seiko on the path to further success in its second sixty-year cycle. Craftsmanship, quality, and beauty. That was the essence of Grand Seiko 60 years ago, it is the same today, and we are confident that it will be the same many years from now.
DA: Moving on to the present, how has Grand Seiko adapted to the current situation with the slowdown of the global economy due to the coronavirus pandemic?
YK: In the current difficult situation, we have strengthened both physical stores and online communication. For example, we have renovated the Wako specialty store in Ginza, Tokyo, and renewed and relocated the Seiko Museum. Also, we have opened several Grand Seiko boutiques not only in Asia but also in Europe this year. We still emphasize physical stores as a place where consumers can touch and feel real products and the philosophy of Grand Seiko as a luxury brand. On the other hand, we give high priority to digital communication. Even during the period where brick-and-mortar stores are closed, we will provide information through online channels and provide a place where consumers can enjoy face-to-face shopping experiences.
DA: What do you think about Indonesia as a market for Grand Seiko? How do you see the potential for growth in this country?
YK: We feel the Indonesian market has a high affinity with Japanese culture and aesthetics which is related to the new concept for Grand Seiko, the aforementioned Nature of Time. We have high expectations for Indonesia as a market with great potential and we will continue to focus our efforts on acquiring further Grand Seiko enthusiasts in Indonesia.
DA: Grand Seiko appears to have a diverse target market today and offers many different watches. Do you feel that this is an advantage?
YK: Yes, we do. We have held to Grand Seiko’s philosophy, and meanwhile, we have expanded the range of designs, calibers and materials after we established Grand Seiko as a fully independent brand in 2017.
DA: On a related note, how do you engage the next generation of Grand Seiko enthusiasts?
YK: In order to attract the younger generation as potential customers, we will keep developing the way of digital communication flexibly.
DA: Last but not least, what are the key elements to ensure that the next collection from Grand Seiko continues to excite and inspire?
YK: Endless pursuit of the essentials for a watch, such as precision, legibility and beauty. Craftsmen and watchmakers of the highest skill are involved in the movement assembly, adjustment, dial making, case polishing and every aspect of our watchmaking, and the attention to detail and the passion to achieve perfection is revealed in the design, finishing, and manufacturing processes. This high level of craftsmanship and a uniquely Japanese aesthetic are characteristic of our timepieces and is what the brand is renowned for. The combination of our watchmaking heritage and innovative technologies are also characteristic of Grand Seiko.
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