A Niche Japanese Watch Brand Is Going Big With U.S. Limited Editions

(Bloomberg) -- Originally published by Jack Forster on Hodinkee.

As Seiko-watchers will be aware, Grand Seiko has increasingly become a distinct, and distinctive, entity; one of the most important developments at Grand Seiko was the decision, in 2017, to make Grand Seiko its own brand, rather than a sub-brand under the larger Seiko banner. The removal of the Seiko logo from the dials of Grand Seiko watches did away with what had always been a bit of redundancy (the dials no longer say "Seiko Grand Seiko" which fans of cleaner dials will applaud) and although the gesture was largely symbolic, it does say something about how Grand Seiko sees itself evolving in the years to come.

Grand Seiko has not, historically, been a brand whose reputation was driven by limited editions; instead, the natural scarcity of Grand Seiko in the USA lent Grand Seiko watches an organic exclusivity. However, in recent years, Grand Seiko limited editions have begun to appear, with unusual dials and in some instances, in precious metals – and at price points – which are something of a novelty for Grand Seiko in the U.S. market. At the Couture Time in Las Vegas (a luxury watch trade fair which is, like the SIHH, not open to the general public) we had a chance to see something quite interesting: the very first Grand Seiko limited editions that are U.S. exclusives. Not only are these the first U.S.-only limited editions from GS, they're also Spring Drive watches. The three models we were shown are late pre-production prototypes so some aspects of the watches remain to be finalized before they're officially launched later this year, but GS USA was kind enough to give us a first look at what's coming – in particular, the new dial designs that are the starring attraction of the new LEs.

The 44GS-style cases (40mm x  12.5mm x 46.2mm lug to lug length) will be offered in steel, 18k rose gold, and platinum, and each will feature a variation on a new dial design. The dials have a very intricate pattern which, like the fan-favorite Snowflake dial, are not a literal illustration of anything, but are instead a kind of abstraction of organic forms that can evoke many different things. The Snowflake dial doesn't tell you what you're looking at; instead, it invites your interpretation, which I think is the secret of its success. These new dials have the same appeal – they remind me of things as diverse as rice fields, the texture of woven silk, or the interwoven straws of a tatami mat.

The dial was inspired by one created for the reference 6145-8030, which was a Hi-Beat model that from what I've been able to find, was in the Grand Seiko catalogue only in 1970 and which featured, in addition to this unusual dial, a very beautiful hammer-textured gold case (if you aren't familiar with the model and happen to do a search for it, by the way, be prepared to have an instant new favorite vintage GS; it's stunning, and also extremely hard to find). 

The steel model will use the Spring Drive caliber 9R65, which is rated to ±15 seconds per month; the gold and platinum models will use the higher precision caliber 9R15, which is rated to ±10 seconds a month, thanks to a more finely tuned quartz crystal. The rotors on the 9R15 models will feature a yellow gold Grand Seiko lion medallion for the platinum model, and a rose gold GS Lion medallion for the rose gold-cased model.

Of the three, the steel model has the an especially eye-catching dial – the dials for all three models are very absorbing visually, but the steel model has a light blue finish with an especially gemlike quality, shifting in color and saturation depending on the direction and intensity of the light.

 

Pricing, production numbers, and release date are all TBD for the moment, but I'd expect these to launch sometime this fall; it seems reasonable to guess that prices will more or less approximate those of the Baselworld Hi-Beat limited editions, in platinumgold, and steel. As with the elimination of the Seiko logo from Grand Seiko watches, these are symbolically interesting watches as well – a statement of the importance with which GS views the U.S. market for the further development of Grand Seiko. 

If you're a GS fan going way back, you probably view the increasing visibility of Grand Seiko with somewhat mixed feelings – they used to be so hard to find (you had to order them from online third party retailers, or go to Japan, or know someone who was going to Japan and would take time out of their presumably busy schedule to indulge your inexplicable fascination with an extremely niche kind of watch). One feels a bit like an indy-band fan watching those scrappy kids land their first deal with a major label – you hope they aren't spoiled by success. However, I don't think Grand Seiko is in any danger of having a "what happened to you man? You used to be all about the music!" moment. The quality remains as inexplicably high for the price asked as ever, and for the moment, they remain a bit of an insider's watch – if not exactly a well-kept cult secret, then at least a token of discernment, and an open-minded willingness to see quality for what it is.

Visit Grand Seiko USA right here.

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