In our latest edition of History of Time, we shine a light on Grand Seiko — a name that has for many years inspired confusion in all but the most granular collectors. The first timepieces designated “Grand Seiko” arrived in 1960 — positioned as a premium mechanical alternative to the quartz watches for which Seiko-at-large would later become famous. In 2010, while still operating as a diffusion of the Seiko Watch Corporation (“Seiko Corp.”), the line was given a much-needed revamp: available to international consumers for the first time through channels that didn’t involve reselling or a trip to Japan. Since then, the brand has made successful inroads to overseas markets and in 2017 Seiko Chairman Shinji Hattori — great-grandson of the company’s founder Kintaro Hattori — announced that, moving forward, it would operate as a separate entity from Seiko’s core offering. The quality of the Grand Seiko product, combined with intelligent region-specific marketing has seen the brand’s profile grow rapidly. In 2018 it became one of the 10 best-selling watchmakers in the United States (at the HK$40,000-$80,000 price point); and drew widespread acclaim for collaborating with we+ at Milan Design Week 2019.
So why do watch collectors — particularly those into vintage and historic timepieces — rate Grand Seiko so highly? Surely, if you have the cash to splash on luxury watches, why not stick with an established and recognisable Swiss brand? It’s a perennial question for GS evangelists like Felix Scholz — one which the Time + Tide editor is happy to explicate upon. “In a lot of ways the Japanese learned from the Swiss and built upon those same values of quality finishing and fine mechanical craftsmanship. And in the case of Grand Seiko, they’ve really taken those principles and run with them”, says Scholz. “They are — obsessed is too strong a word — really concerned with fine precision watchmaking, so accuracy is something they care about. They care about having a watch that will last for a long time, and they care about making watches that, simply put, look great — the level of finishing on the cases and dials is really quite high.” To better understand this never-ending quest for precision, beauty and function — and to clear the air around the company’s now-official independence from Seiko Corp. — here are 10 of our favourite moments from Grand Seiko history, bound to win you over faster than I can say “Spring Drive”.