Grand Seiko Wristwatch Brand Marks 60th Anniversary

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The exterior of the Grand Seiko Studio Shizukuishi is seen in the town of Shizukuishi, Iwate Prefecture.

Seiko Watch Corp.’s luxury wristwatch brand, Grand Seiko, marked the 60th anniversary of its establishment in 2020. During the anniversary year, a new studio to produce the brand opened in Shizukuishi, Iwate Prefecture.

The Grand Seiko Studio Shizukuishi sits at the edge of a forest amid a rich natural environment. It was designed by architect Kengo Kuma, who was also behind the National Stadium built for the Tokyo Games. The company said the aim was to create a building that embodies the Japanese sense for the passage of time through changes in the natural environment.

Timber such as those from larch trees were used to make the building. The interior walls are made with a technique called Yamato-bari in which boards are laid in such a way that their edges just overlap each other. The company said the technique was used to inspire the rhythm of the passage of time.

“Seiko’s craftsmanship is world-class,” Kuma said. “I’m happy I could design a studio that produces these representative watches.”

In a space called a clean room, about 20 watchmakers were working with their faces full of concentration. Visitors can see them work through a window in an aisle of the studio, which opened in July.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A watchmaker in the studio handles tiny precision parts.

The heart of each watch is a movement that is only a few centimeters in diameter. In some cases, more than 200 tiny parts are assembled inside the drive unit.

The studio is a valuable place for visitors to learn about the deep appeal of wristwatches, which have been likened to microcosms, and directly see some of phenomenal skills required of watchmakers.

While taking into consideration the effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the studio is scheduled to remain open to the public.

Shinji Hattori, chairman of Seiko Holdings Corp., said, “I want to make this studio a base for promoting the GS brand to the rest of the world.”

History of Japan-made watches

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The first model of the Grand Seiko brand

The history of the Grand Seiko brand overlaps the progress of watches made in Japan.

The first model of the Grand Seiko brand was created in 1960. Watchmakers at the time had a slogan: “The highest-quality wristwatches made in Japan that can take on the world.”

This model was sold as the first mechanical watch made in Japan with high accuracy levels that passed the standards of the official watch bureau of Switzerland.

At ¥25,000, it was very expensive for that time, more than double the starting salaries of high-ranking public servants.

Seiko continued to release new models with higher functionality and higher accuracy. In 1972, Seiko produced a model for women that was epoch-making, as the model’s monthly time gap was within two minutes, plus or minus.

After Seiko released the world’s first quartz watch in 1969, quartz watches became the mainstream. The Grand Seiko brand released its first quartz watch in 1988.

In the 1990s, however, consumers reappraised the good points of mechanical watches manufactured manually by skilled artisans. Since then, the popularity of mechanical watches have regained momentum.

In 1998, the Grand Seiko brand revived a mechanical model.

Even in the 2000s, the mechanical models continued evolving, with Seiko releasing its first Grand Seiko chronograph in 2007.

Then in 2020, a model commemorating the 60th anniversary was released.