In 1881, Kintaro Hattori created a watch manufacture that would become Japan’s most powerful and innovative watch brand on the market today, Seiko. His Seikosha Factory, meaning House of Precision, started producing quality wall clocks and pocket watches, but always with affordability in mind. In 1960, however, things changed drastically with the creation of Grand Seiko, a sub-brand representing the best the Japanese manufacture could do on all levels. Today, in celebration of the 140th anniversary of the company’s foundation, Grand Seiko presents a new Masterpiece created by the renowned Micro Artist Studio, a watch made by an elite team of watchmakers combining the best in horological technology with hand craftsmanship. Meet the new Grand Seiko Masterpiece Spring Drive SBGZ007.
The Micro Artist Studio
Established in 2000 with the purpose of “uncovering, examining, and mastering the technologies and skills passed on by our predecessors for the production of luxury watches,” the Micro Artist Studio can be considered the Haute Horlogerie atelier of Seiko. This is where some of the finest Japanese watches are crafted, entirely by hand. Not only can the studio develop complex watch movements, but it can also embellish watches with its métiers d’art techniques (including gem-setting, hand-engraving and complex dial making). It is located in the same facility in Nagano prefecture as the Shinshu Watch Studio, where all Grand Seiko Spring Drive and quartz watches are made.
The Micro Artist Studio comprises a team of movement designers, habillage designers, engravers, dial makers and master watchmakers dedicated to creating some of Seiko’s most complex and exclusive watches. For example, the Studio is responsible for the most complex Spring Drive watches, under the names Grand Seiko Masterpieces or Credor – such as the Grand Seiko Spring Drive 8-Day, the Credor Eichi II, the 2006 Credor Spring Drive Sonnerie (the Studio’s first creation) or the 2011 Credor Spring Drive Minute Repeater. More recently, the brand presented the Spring Drive thin-dress series, including a fully engraved platinum watch, the SBGZ001, which features a movement designed by the Studio, the calibre 9R02.
Leading the Micro Artist Studio are two men, Masatoshi Moteki and Kazunori Hoshino. The first is in charge of movement design and research and development; the second is mainly in charge of planning, development, and design of Spring Drive masterpiece movements created in the Micro Artist Studio and Grand Seiko Spring Drive 9R movements. In addition, he also takes care of the exterior design and development of Micro Artist Studio creations.
The Grand Seiko Masterpiece Spring Drive SBGZ007
Grand Seiko’s latest Masterpiece watch, the SBGZ007, can be seen as a new take on the platinum Spring Drive Elegance “Snowflake” SBGZ001 launched in 2019. Indeed, although it is visually different and executed with new techniques for the case and the dial, the technical base and the movement are the same.
Albeit identical mechanically, the decoration and design play with different inspirations. In true Grand Seiko tradition, this new Masterpiece watch is once again inspired by Japan, nature and the environment surrounding Grand Seiko’s manufacture. For this watch, the Micro Artist Studio’s designer Kazunori Hoshino took inspiration from the night sky above Achi, up in the mountains of the southern part of Japan’s Shinshu region, a village that is famous for its spectacular night skies. Hence this new deep blue star-speckled dial.
The base for the case is the same as used in the GS Spring Drive Elegance Hand-Wound collection, a design introduced in 2019 and somewhat different from all previous creations of the brand due to the softness of the lines and the slender, curved profile. While many of Grand Seiko’s watches are sharp and faceted, these watches are more voluptuous and smoother, with an almost pebble-like feel.
As you can expect from a watch in the Masterpiece family, the new Spring Drive SBGZ007 is quite spectacular. And this starts with the materials and finishing techniques used for the case. It is made of 950 platinum, reinforcing the exclusivity of this model. Then comes the touch of the Micro Artist Studio with a case that is entirely engraved by hand using a small electronic grinder tool to create deep and rough grooves – each of them is made individually. Then, the engraver polishes each groove one by one to reveal the final texture. The grooves are not placed randomly but arranged in a way that creates bright stars. Although the pattern is very evident in our close-up images, it is actually more subtle from a distance and creates an impressively playful case that reflects or absorbs light, depending on the angle.
The case itself is compact, elegant and relatively thin – in fact, much thinner than most watches produced by Grand Seiko. With its diameter of 38.5mm and height of 9.8mm, it can easily be categorised as a dress watch. In addition, the case feels even thinner than its specifications, as the watch is topped by a highly domed sapphire crystal, adding to the overall thickness. The central case profile is actually much thinner.
On the wrist, the compact case compensates for the weight of platinum and makes the watch extremely comfortable. Furthermore, the texture and the way the case reflects light is unique and enhance the exclusivity of this watch. It might not be consensual or classic, but it really is a special object. The Grand Seiko Masterpiece Spring Drive SBGZ007 is worn on a discreet dark blue crocodile strap, closed by a 950 platinum folding buckle.
The other important element in this watch is its blue starry sky dial. Once again, it has two faces. From a distance, it appears to be a glossy deep blue dial with depth and a delicate sparkling effect. Discreet and not at all ostentatious. Look closely, and the dial reveals its true nature. The dial is the result of a unique manufacturing and finishing technique combining stamping, plating and painting, which gives it a different aspect at each and every viewing angle. The technique is similar to the one used for the Grand Seiko Spring Drive 8-Day SBGD202.
On top of this dial are classic Grand Seiko elements. The hour and minute hands and hour markers are made of 14k white gold to ensure that their brilliance endures. These are finely polished and faceted, again with a level of precision that has made GS watches so appealing. Also, on this watch, the GS logo is not applied but etched onto the dial’s surface, adding to the complexity of the manufacturing process.
The hand-wound Calibre 9R02 Spring Drive
The back of this Grand Seiko Masterpiece Spring Drive SBGZ007 reveals a movement as finely executed as its habillage. Inside is the calibre 9R02, a movement specifically developed for Masterpieces and unveiled in 2019. Its architecture is based on the movement created for the Eichi II, the Calibre 7R14, yet with many technical improvements reinforcing power reserve. Technically speaking, this movement relies on the brand’s unique Spring Drive technology, a hybrid between the beauty of mechanical watches and the precision of quartz regulation.
About Spring Drive
This proprietary technology combines the high torque created by the unwinding of the mainspring with electronic watchmaking technology. The rotation of a glide wheel connected to the end of the gear train generates tiny electricity through a coil block. The electricity activates the IC and the quartz oscillator. Based on the signal from the quartz oscillator, the IC adjusts the speed of the rotor by applying an electromagnetic brake that regulates the speed of the glide wheel and hands. Spring Drive delivers a precision of one second a day and allows the seconds hand to glide smoothly around the dial without a ticking sound.
The power storage of the calibre 9R02 is a highlight of the movement. It features two mainsprings set in parallel within a single barrel. It also uses the unique Torque Return System, meaning that when the mainspring has been fully wound and the torque output is at its highest, approximately 30% of the available power is not needed to maintain the precision of the watch and is in effect wasted in a normal movement. The Torque Return System uses this energy to rewind the mainspring, resulting in an increase in the power reserve. In calibre 9R02, this system is activated for 48 hours after the mainspring has been fully wound.
As for the decoration, this movement is Grand Seiko and Micro Artist Studio at its finest. All parts are meticulously finished by hand using traditional techniques. For example, the bridges are executed with a fine hairline finish – which is done by hand by brushing the surface multiple times – that contrast with the shine of the polished holes for the rubies and the screws. In the same vein, the edges of the bridges are decorated with handmade anglage using a bercé technique (thanks to Mr Dufour, who trained the watchmakers of the Studio) and sharp angles.
Some details also add great charm to this movement, such as the hand-engraved plaque in 18k yellow gold with “Micro Artist” text (which can be replaced with a personalised message), the tempered blue screws or the nicely designed barrel. Its shape echoes that of the bellflower that is the symbol of Shiojiri, where the Studio is located. Here too, the bevels are polished by hand.
Even though this movement is built around modern and advanced technologies, it displays refined horological credentials. It is finished with superb attention to detail to a level the rest of the industry would call Haute Horlogerie. Refined, delicate and typically Japanese.
Availability & Price
The Grand Seiko Masterpiece Collection SBGZ007 Spring Drive 9R02 140th Anniversary Limited Edition is a limited edition of 50 pieces. It will be available exclusively through Grand Seiko boutiques from August 2021. It will be priced at EUR 80,000.
For more details, please visit www.grand-seiko.com.