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March 4, 2019 / 6:59 AM / 5 months ago

A Piece of Art That Stands the Test of Time

The lacquer artist Isshu Tamura applies a powder with either 24K gold or platinum to the hour markers on the face of an Urushi dial. He polishes each hour marker by hand, using his own special tools, because the new Grand Seiko watch is not just a timepiece but a continuation of tradition through time.

A watch—especially a precious watch of the kind Grand Seiko creates—is a choice of jewelry, a statement of taste, a work of art that one carries on one’s wrist. Like the best Japanese aesthetic, a Grand Seiko watch is simultaneously modern yet traditional. 

The Caliber 9S63 is the first new model in eight years in Grand Seiko’s manual-winding mechanical models. Discreet subdials show a small seconds hand on the left and the power reserve indicator on the right. With 33 jewels, the Caliber 9S63 comes in three models: the SBGK002 has a deep amber face; the SBGK004 is a jet black and the SBGK005 has a rich blue. 

Grand Seiko SBGK 004

The Caliber 9S63 may be a tool for marking time, but the time that goes into its craftsmanship means it is limited to only 150 pieces of the SBGK002 and 004, which have 18K rose gold cases, Urushi lacquer dials and crocodile straps with 18K rose gold buckles. The SBGK005 has blue tempered screws which can be seen through the sapphire crystal case back with stainless steel case; it is limited to 1,500 pieces.

Watch connoisseurs treasure hand-wound pieces because they are thinner, lighter and more elegant than automatic watches and because you can observe the mechanical movement through the transparent case back. Caliber 9S63 has a power reserve of 72 hours and delivers an accuracy rate of +5 to -3 seconds per day.

Attaining such perfection is an art in itself. 

Tsutomu Ito, Grand Seiko’s assembly and adjustment technical expert in Shizukuishi Watch Studio, where all the Grand Seiko mechanical watches are manufactured, delicately manipulates the balance spring on the Caliber 9S63 watch he is creating. It is one of the most difficult maneuvers in watchmaking—the piece that determines the watch’s accuracy. While watchmakers can adjust most parts, given enough time, very few can adjust the balance spring.

Tsutomu Ito

Ito has been a watchmaker for 28 years, 19 of them at Grand Seiko. The Japanese government named him a “Contemporary Master Craftsman” last year. The prefecture of Iwate awarded him the title of IW Meister in mechanical watches in 2013, one of only a couple of watchmakers so honored over the years.

“I liked to play with mechanics and machines since I was a child, disassembling clocks, for example,” Ito says. “I’ve always had interests in mechanical watches, so I feel very lucky, getting to work on watch assemblies.”

While adjusting the balance spring spiral, Ito observes the movement through a microscope to detect anything unusual. “This type of work is not so much about doing repetitive tasks, it’s mostly about quickly figuring out what is wrong and working efficiently,” he says. “The job is suitable for creative thinkers with a desire to produce the highest quality.”

In an era when people are chased by time, Grand Seiko is a master of time and of what endures. Since it was born in 1960, Grand Seiko has focused on perfecting each element of watchmaking. As one of the world’s few fully integrated manufacture, with in-house expertise in every area of watchmaking, Grand Seiko builds timepieces that are not only precise and durable but also as beautiful as possible.

Using the Zaratsu method, master craftsmen polish the cases to achieve sharp and soft textures, a signature Grand Seiko look. The mirror finish glows like a gem. The cases of these new models are polished by a special Zaratsu method created to accentuate the beauty of the curved surfaces. The dials and sapphire crystals curve for a classic look. The minute and power reserve indicator hands must also be curved by hand to the same contour. The sapphire glass is polished on both sides for exceptional transparency without distortion. 

The Dial Faces

The dial faces showcase traditional Japanese craftsmanship with Urushi lacquer. Urushi comes from the sap of the lacquer tree, and its history dates to before 400 BCE. The lacquer is applied, then heated in an oven, then polished before another coat, then another. Then a final polish with special charcoal, filing and another polish using an artisanal powder applied with a finger. And finally the dial face goes to Tamura, the lacquer master, for its markings.

Isshu Tamura

Tamura grew up in a lacquer workshop—his grandfather was an expert in Maki-e, and his father was a specialist in Urushi. Tamura uses the traditional Maki-e technique to apply the Arabic numerals, hour markers and “GS” letters to the curved dial. Maki-e is the term for sprinkling powdered gold or other metal on lacquer—in this case the powder consists of 24K gold or platinum—to impart a delicate shimmer that gives the markers optimal visibility as well as beauty. Precision work at such a small scale is delicate, especially on a curved surface. 

Urushi lacquer is luxurious and beautiful but also extremely hard and durable—the perfect blend for Grand Seiko’s pursuit of “beauty of use.” It makes the new timepiece a work of art that you keep with you for all time. 

The Reuters editorial and news staff had no role in the production of this content. It was created by Reuters Plus, part of the commercial advertising group. To work with Reuters Plus, contact us here.

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