The thing about nature is that you are almost always no more than a step away from one element of it or another. The sky, a gentle breeze, a shimmering lake or the dappled shade of a tree; all can be found in a great many environments regardless of the continent on which you find yourself. The surrounding natural elements for the watch designers at Grand Seiko’s Micro Artist Studio in Shiojiri have been central to 2021’s offering from the brand. One certain thing about nature is that it changes and the subtle changes in the seasons are celebrated in Japanese culture, through 24 different times of the year, known as Sekki. The four main seasons are each divided into six phases, each a subtle and incremental change that occurs as the annual cycle creeps apace. These fine changes and nuances are key to the Japanese aesthetic and tie-in with the fascination with the endless spectrums that exist between light and dark; the shadows that are so important in their reflection of light.
This celebration of shifts in seasons has been celebrated through a key release this year. The collection sits in the Elegance GMT line and there truly is a dial for every season. The Sekki chosen for these watches are Shunbun (Spring), Shōsho (Summer), Kanro (Autumn) and Tōji (Winter). As spring is in the air currently, the Shunbun (SBGJ251) feels very current with its green dial with rose gold accents that represent the mountain cherry trees with vibrant pink blossoms that signal the spring equinox. Our locked-down eyes are firmly fixed on the promise of summer which Grand Seiko has interpreted in Shōsho (SBGJ249) that has a blue dial with a wave pattern that is inspired by the shimmering sunlight on the plethora of lakes and ponds that exist throughout Japan.
On the subject of water, Grand Seiko has again this year launched an impressive masterpiece collection piece that is beautifully executed with such intensity of detail. The watch designers at Grand Seiko’s Micro Artist Studio in Shiojiri used as their inspiration, a local landmark, the Mishaka Pond when designing this platinum and gem-set watch. The Mishaka Pond is renowned for its clear water that reflects the surrounding forest’s greenery. It is this aquatic scene that is the inspiration for the new limited-edition piece of fifteen watches. The dial is the centrepiece of this watch which is white gold with green mother-of-pearl. The hour markers are set with 12 baguette-cut green garnets which are interspersed with a total of 48 tapered baguette-cut diamonds. On the outside of this arrangement is a seconds or minutes track that is highlighted by another 12 garnets with diamonds between them. All these gems equate to 2.23 carats of diamonds and 0.63 carat of garnets that in typically polite Grand Seiko style, whispers bling instead of shouting it across the rooftops…or treetops in this case!
Talking of trees, the Japanese white birch or to give it its correct name the Bbetula platyphylla ‘Japanica’ is an important tree in Japan and is key to Grand Seiko’s 2021 releases. The tree is known in Japan as shirakaba, which literally translates to shira meaning white and kaba being the combined written character (kanji) for wood and beauty. The pureness and beauty of the shirakaba is interpreted in the dial of the new Grand Seiko SLGH005, known colloquially as the White Birch. Featuring a texture that mirrors that on the bark of the white birch, the dial is designed to bring the observer as close to the mysterious nature of these trees that grow profusely around the Grand Seiko Studio Shizukuishi where these watches are created.
The influence of the iconic GS44 from 1967 is evident and lives on in the White Birch, with its strong case and hour markers. Grand Seiko are calling this case profile the Series 9 Design, which takes styling cues from its GS44 forefather but in a fully contemporary execution that will be key for the brand into the future. The signature Zaratsu polished surfaces are in full evidence with contrasting mirror-polished and hairline finishes; the common theme being only two-dimensional angles to avoid any unnatural distortion of light. The naturally occurring shades and interplay of light give the watch a look that is unmistakably Grand Seiko, at once beautiful and yet utterly functional thanks to its low centre of gravity and highly legible dial designs.
The White Birch is powered by one of Grand Seiko’s most important movements. Launched as part of the brand’s 60th anniversary in 2020, the calibre 9SA5 automatic movement is, in Grand Seiko’s own words, their finest mechanical movement ever. The project of developing this Hi-Beat movement took nine years and was led by Hisashi Fujieda who stated aim was to, “achieve high accuracy and long-lasting performance, and to bring about a revolution in mechanical watches.” The ‘S’ in the 9S series signifies superior movements that contain over 200 components that are hand-adjusted to tolerances of one hundredth of a millimetre.
Fujieda’s revolutionary movement achieves its two main objectives, longer-lasting performance and enhanced accuracy, by utilising two key innovations: A Dual Impulse Escapement and twin barrels. It was the former that Fujieda dedicated his efforts to most. The escapement and the balance are central to a mechanical watch’s accuracy and the Dual Impulse Escapement transfers the energy from the mainspring to the balance more efficiently. Another key component in the watch’s accuracy is the hairspring, on which a great amount of time was spent. As part of the development process 80,000 different designs were tested before the final overcoil design was settled upon. The resulting calibre boasts an impressive 80-hour power reserve thanks to this efficiency.
It is this fusion of the very latest and cutting-edge technology, combined with the heritage of Grand Seiko and the naturally occurring elements that have inspired the newest ranges from the brand that make the watches shine with that sparkle of quality both inside and out.