Hitting upon a winning design is perhaps the most challenging aspect of watchmaking. You might have incredible mechanical fireworks inside the case, but if the watch looks like it has sprung out of the blue, a brand’s identity can start to crumble. It took Grand Seiko seven years to consolidate a design code that would define the brand’s identity, a set of style mandates that would allow it to navigate the decades intact. The watch that established the “Grand Seiko Style” was the 44GS of 1967. Turning 55 this year, we’ve seen Grand Seiko’s landmark 44GS appear in a Hi-Beat GMT model, with a gorgeous pink dial SBGW289 and two Hi-Beats in ever-brilliant steel cases. Today GS releases a limited edition time-only model with an evocative deep blue dial and Spring Drive technology, the new SBGY009.
1967 – Birth of a Legend
In December 1960, the dream of a small team of Seiko’s finest watchmakers to create the best watch imaginable materialised and was appropriately named Grand Seiko. Seven years after its birth, the Grand Seiko style was consolidated in the 44GS model. Designed to express a unique Japanese idea of beauty, strict rules regarding proportions, finishings and angles governed and still govern the design tenets of Grand Seiko today. These have to do with a very Japanese obsession with light and shadow. Shadow in Japanese aesthetics is as important as light, and the play of light and shadow on a perfectly polished surface is the essence of harmony. The nine core style elements of the Grand Seiko Style, governed by “sharp lines and the sparkle of quality”, were established by designer Taro Tanaka in 1967 in his “Grammar of Design”. These mandates included the case shape with a flat front surface brought to life with distortion-free Zaratsu polishing, inwardly slanted case sides, a crown set deep into the case, a flat dial and multifaceted hands and hour markers to reflect even the smallest ray of light.
Nature is a cornerstone of Japanese culture and a predominant theme at Grand Seiko. Even the settings of the Japanese brand’s manufactures are intentionally studied to inspire the takumi (artisans). The Shinshu watch studio, where Spring Drive movements are made, is located in the Nagano Prefecture and offers the takumi views of the Jonen and Hotaka mountain ranges. Like so many Grand Seiko models, the colour of the dials is directly inspired by nature. The deep blue shade chosen for this Grand Seiko Heritage is intended to capture the beauty of a full Moon glowing in the night sky above the Shinshu mountains. To recreate the gentle sparkle of the Moon over the landscape, the dial is decorated with a deeply etched sunray pattern that plays with the light.
True to the design principles laid down in the “Grammar of Style”, the applied rectangular indices (double index at noon) of the SBGY009 are multifaceted and polished to catch the light on one side and produce a shadow on the opposite side. The sides of the sharp hour and minutes hands are cut diagonally and then polished, contrasting to the brushed top surface. Both the minute and seconds hands are shaped by hand and curve slightly at their tips to meet the peripheral track. Thanks to the Spring Drive movement, the seconds hand glides smoothly across the dial and is golden to match the GS logo at noon. Like the original 44GS, the sapphire crystal protecting the dial is box-shaped.
With a diameter of 40mm and a thickness of 10.5mm, the stainless steel case features predominantly mirror-polished surfaces with a touch of brushed finishings on the case flanks. In keeping Tanaka’s style guide, the case has flat, sharp surfaces that are enriched with mirror-polished finishings to increase the contrast between light and shadow. As you know, GS uses the Zaratsu polishing technique to create distortion-free mirror-polished surfaces to achieve the desired “sparkle of quality”. The semi-recessed crown, inward-slanting bezel and case sides create a lower centre of gravity, allowing the watch to sit comfortably on the wrist.
The movement inside the GS 44GS 55th Anniversary Limited Edition SBGY009 is the manual-winding Spring Drive calibre 93R1 made in-house at the Shinshu Watch Studio. It relies on the brand’s proprietary Spring Drive technology, which merges the precision of quartz regulation with the beauty and perpetuity of a mechanical calibre. Fusing the brand’s experience in mechanical and electronic watchmaking, this groundbreaking technology first appeared inside a GS movement in 2004. This in-house movement shares the same dual mainspring structure as calibre 9R02 but doesn’t use the Torque Return System. This results in a slightly lower but still sufficient power reserve of 72 hours. Precision remains unchanged, however, at the highly accurate rate of ± 1 seconds per day ± 15 seconds per month.
Availability & Price
The Grand Seiko Heritage Collection 44GS 55th Anniversary Limited Edition SBGY009 will be made in 1,500 pieces. It comes on a dark blue crocodile strap with a triple folding clasp with push-button release. The watch will be available in August at Grand Seiko Boutique and selected partners worldwide and retails for EUR 8,200.
More information at www.grand-seiko.com.