Seiko may technically be a holding company that manufactures semiconductors, jewelry and electronic devices, but it has changed the reputation of Japanese watchmaking significantly that its name became synonymous with watches.
Grand Seiko was created to challenge the reputation of Swiss watches, held in such high regard by the world. Seiko is relatively young compared to the often family-founded Swiss watchmaking firms, some of which have been around since the 18th century. But impressively enough, it was able to catch up in an industry that predates the company’s foundation and even go beyond. Some would even argue that Seiko was able to topple the Swiss at their own game.
While that is still a matter of personal preference, it is undeniable how Seiko paved the way for Japanese watchmaking to gain international recognition, and how it valued the same things the Swiss did—precision, design and durability—in making their topnotch watches.
Starting small, soaring high
Seiko didn’t always have the reputation it had today. It was hardly considered a luxury brand for the first half of the 20th century. Founded by Kintaro Hattori in 1881, it was committed to making quality products since the beginning, but it took a few tries before it became a name that rattled already established Swiss watchmakers.
Seiko’s first dive into timekeeping was in 1892, when it produced its first clocks. A few decades later, it released its first wristwatches. The achievements of the company were notable in its home country, but it wanted to generate a greater splash beyond Japan; Seiko was persistent in leaving a mark in the luxury watch market. This desire led to Seiko assigning its division Suwa, then responsible for manufacturing men’s watches to produce the first Grand Seiko, and they did.
The original, employing a classic design, began gaining traction, and soon enough the company produced more models, each adding features to the original Grand Seiko with dates, automatic winding and so on. The company even became the official timer for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. A few years later, Seiko challenged international watchmakers at the industry’s very own Olympics, the Neuchatel Observatory Competition and Geneva Observatory competition, and returned to Japan with top rankings and overwhelming results. This solidified Seiko’s capability to compete with other watchmakers, catching up to centuries-old traditions and soon creating the first quartz watch, Seiko Quartz Astron, that led to the quartz revolution of the 1970s.
Many decades and models later, the brand is still among the top brands for enthusiasts and probably the most challenging to collect. Grand Seiko, although renowned worldwide, was only launched globally in the last decade. In 2017, it was declared that Seiko will be treating Grand Seiko as an independent brand.
Classic Vintage Seiko Quartz Astron 18K Yellow Gold.
Made by hand to achieve perfection
In many ways, Seiko is forward-looking, with its proven ability to create timepieces that can disrupt status quo and with its willingness to embrace technology to take their craft to the next level.
But that doesn’t mean that Grand Seiko doesn’t look back and respect tradition. At a time when many companies became dependent on technology to do the work, Seiko insists on creating its timepieces by hand. Whether they’re created with quartz, a mechanical movement, or a spring drive, the watches by Grand Seiko are assembled by hand by a team of experts. To the company, nothing can still quite match the precision of the human hand.
The rerelease of the original 1960 Grand Seiko. SBGW253
As of the moment, Grand Seiko has three major movements used in its collection: quartz, mechanical and spring drive.
Quartz may have fallen out of grace and is not often used on high-end watches, but not with Grand Seiko. It still is significant since its first release that has shaken up the whole industry. Unlike other brands that boast of a quartz movement and use automatic assemblies, Grand Seiko creates its own and prefers them to be made entirely by hand. The brand arguably has the best quartz movements around, with the very precise 9F that is rated from 5-10 seconds per year.
The watch company continues to push the limits of the mechanical movement, despite being the oldest, to maintain its precision as the technology further develops. Its mechanical watches have 300 individual parts at most, and uses Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) to achieve near-perfect accuracy and functionality. Grand Seiko also developed its own metallic alloys it calls SPRON so as not to wear out the individual parts.
Spring Drive is a pride for Grand Seiko and is used in the most high-end watches the brand has to offer. It is the brand combining the best of two worlds, mechanical and electronic, with the mechanical aspect aided by an electronic regulator. It needs no batteries and yet is almost completely mechanical with accuracy even greater than that of quartz. Grand Seiko claims that its precision is unmatched even by the most luxurious of mechanical watches.
One step ahead of the rest
Seiko may not be the sole luxury brand in Japan but it definitely paved the way for the others as it led the rise of the Japanese watchmaking industry. What started as a grand ambition became a reality, proving to the world that the finest watches are not concentrated in Europe. And yet, even when the brand has already made its mark, it is unstoppable in its drive to always be one step ahead of the competition. It does so not by rejecting the traditional practices unlike so many others, but finds a way to make the human touch more important when dealing with the most advanced developments technology has to offer.
Grand Seiko Hi-beat 36000 GMT.
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