Time and nature are primordial things. Since time immemorial, we’ve organised our lives around the passage of time, marked by the cadences of nature. When the sun rises and sets, when the leaves change colour, when buds flower and bloom, when the temperatures shift—the two have always gone hand in hand. That’s one of the core philosophies behind the Japanese luxury watchmaker Grand Seiko, which elegantly combines a reverence for the beauty of nature and the artistry of horology.
Though the brand is technically rather young—it was launched as its own entity in 2017—Grand Seiko has a considerable heritage. It was first created in 1960 as a single timepiece that was meant as a peak of precision, durability, comfort and beauty at the time. An important designer, Taro Tanaka, would also introduce a ‘Grammar of Design’ in the same decade that continues to guide the brand’s designs. It’s led by three tenets: flat edges and curves, legibility, and smoothly perfected surfaces.
These principles are still firmly in place at Grand Seiko today. In fact, much of the brand’s attention to detail is rooted in a kind of Japanese perfectionism, dubbed the takumi (artisan) spirit. It underlines the way watches are crafted at the brand, which is one of very few in the world that’s a true vertical manufacture able to design, produce and assembles all of its timepieces in-house. Most of the brand’s watches, in fact, feature sapphire display casebacks that show off the hand-assembled and adjusted movements.
This level of mastery has allowed the brand to implement its signature techniques with incredible consistency. One of these is the Zaratsu finishing, a mirrored polish that’s applied to the entire cases of Grand Seiko watches to ensure an even, brilliant finish. Just as well-known, too, is the brand’s ability to create inventively beautiful dials. This part of the watch is treated as a kind of canvas at Grand Seiko, allowing for a variety of colours and textures that evoke a variety of natural inspirations. And because the brand’s design language is built around graceful geometry and exquisite nature, most of its pieces are gender agnostic. Even the larger timepieces on steel bracelets wear well on smaller wrists because of the refined proportions and details.
Here, we take you through a journey of emblematic Grand Seiko watches that embody the changing of the seasons.
Autumn is perhaps the most visually dramatic season, when the leaves change colour and fall. Grand Seiko has captured the mood of these shifts with a “Flow of Seasons” range, styled with simple, elegant details that recall the original Grand Seiko from 1960. The SBGW287 model in deep burgundy is inspired by Boshū, the Japanese term for the transition from autumn to winter when trees shed their deep red leaves.
Also pictured here is the SBGX353 model, nicknamed the Skyflake for its unique dial texture. It’s a riff on the brand’s famous Snowflake dials, which have a soft, powdery surface that can look matte or radiant from different angles. This pale blue variation recalls cold winter skies and windswept snows, inspired by the very mountains and lakes around the brand’s Shinshu Watch Studio in Nagano where its quartz and Spring Drive models are made. Like all great dress watches, these models pack a lot of their maker’s expertise—in precision, durability and ease of wearing—into a slim and elegant case.
The Evolution 9 collection can be said to be Grand Seiko’s flagship line, housing the brand’s cutting edge innovations in its established design principles. This “White Birch” model, for example, features the high-beat movement 9SA5 inside which gives it a power reserve of 80 hours. But the real pleasure of a high-beat movement is that it makes the seconds hand ‘tick’ faster and make it sweep smoothly across the dial. Most fine mechanical watches run at 8 ticks a second—this model boasts 10, so to the naked eye it looks like more uninterrupted movement.
A smooth-moving seconds hand also enhances the beauty of the dial design that gives this model its name. The forests around the Grand Seiko Studio Shizukuishi, in the Iwate prefecture of Northern Japan, inspired this white birch pattern. It’s where all of the brand’s mechanical watches are produced, and the subtlety of its design has a distinctly Japanese character: understated and almost tonal from a distance, but vibrant and lustrous when viewed up close.
The springtime cherry blossoms of Japan are famous for their beauty. After the chills of winter come the promise of life anew. It’s this sense of optimism that drives the SBGA413 “Shunbun”. It’s powered by Grand Seiko’s proprietary Spring Drive calibre 9R65, a marvel of technical innovation which combines the best parts of an automatic mechanical movement—a spring-based source of power—with the accuracy and reliability of quartz technology.
It’s fittingly based on celebrated archival Grand Seiko models like the 62GS and 44GS from 1967, which were some of the first watches to utilise the brand’s ‘Grammar of Design’ philosophy. The edges of this watch are hand-finished with Zaratsu and hairline polishing, creating a sophisticated mix of mirrored and brushed surfaces. It also features a box-shaped sapphire crystal, mounted without a bezel, so that the dial looks wider and more open.
All the better, naturally, to admire the treasure of its design: the cherry blossom-inspired dial. The frothy, pale pink face of the watch is meant to transport one to Hana-Ikada, a moment just after the Spring equinox when cherry blossom petals, light as air, are carried by the wind and cover the surface of a river.
Life in Summer
Summer months are a time of vivacious life. With all of Grand Seiko’s heritage and technical expertise, the best thing for a mood like that is a watch that’s simply beautiful and easy to wear. That’s where the brand’s diamond-set, stainless steel automatics come in. A trio of dainty watches from the Elegance collection were introduced at Watches & Wonders this year, sized at 27.8mm, with diamonds set into the bezel, indexes, or both.
They may be small, but no less technically impressive with automatic movements that promise a power reserve of 50 hours. The dials, as you might also expect, are like works of art. There’s a subtly moulded and cross-hatched pattern on these models that recalls the woven lines of silk fabric. The colours are aptly soft too, with the option of pearlescent white, baby blue and cherry blossom pink—sunny and uplifting shades that echo the energy of summer.
Photography Chong Ng
Stylist Jasmine Ashvinkumar
Sogetsu ikebana Wilson Wang