The history of Grand Seiko dates back to 1960 when Seiko decided it was time for a more luxury-focused range of products. Suwa Seikosha, a Seiko subsidiary at the time, produced the Calibre 3180 that would be used in the first Grand Seiko watch, presented in 1964. Three years later, the legendary 44GS marked a design standard and style for any future Grand Seiko labelled watch. Now, 55 years onwards, the Evolution 9 code of design channels the spirit of the original design code set by the 44GS. But what exactly does this mean? We’re going to take you through it right now.
In 2017, Seiko CEO Shinji Hattori announced that Grand Seiko would from then on be positioned as a truly separate brand. This has allowed the Manufacture to focus on perfecting the luxury watch collections and not be tied in with Seiko’s wide range of styles and designs. From the early days, a Grand Seiko should be a luxury watch, produced at a high standard and finished mostly by hand. And in true Japanese fashion, there’s immense attention to detail, even to elements unseen to the naked eye.
With the introduction of the Evolution 9 collection, Grand Seiko commits itself to the “Grammar of Design” established with the 1967 44GS. The new range of watches is positioned between the Masterpiece collection and the Heritage, Sport and Elegance collections for now. So far, the collection encompasses 6 models in total, all constructed according to the 9 design standards.
- A flat dial
- Curved side profile of the case
- Double wide index at 12 o’clock
- Multi-faceted hour and minute hands
- Deep middle grooves on the indices
- Multi-faceted case with a flat upper surface and contrasting finishing
- Lower centre of gravity on the wrist
- A bracelet at least half the width of the case
- A bracelet with the right thickness and heft
While these essentially boil down to two groups, the exterior components, and the dial and hands, one element is seemingly left out: the movements. Yet, the new philosophy also impacts the mechanical side of things, as we’ll explain.
While the nine elements are pretty self-explanatory in their own right, it has everything to do with the overall aesthetics. Even in areas where you don’t see it at first, there’s a huge level of attention to detail. From the outside in, it starts with a more ergonomic case. The height is reduced under the Evolution 9 guidelines, resulting in a lower centre of gravity on the wrist and a more comfortable wearing experience.
An important element in any Grand Seiko watch is the finishing of the case. The Evolution 9 collection is no exception and follows the same basic case design of the original 1967 44GS. The sharp facetted cases feature a curved side profile with a flat top surface. The finishing is a mix of a fine hairline brushing and Zaratsu-polishing. As we’ve seen with the side-by-side comparison of the SLGH005 and SLGA009 models, there will be small differences between each model.
It’s determined that any Evolution 9 labelled watch will come with a bracelet or strap) at least half the width of the case. Ergo, when the case measures 40mm in diameter, the bracelet or strap will be at least 20mm wide for a balanced look. Any bracelet will also be of a specific thickness to create a nice flow and taper from the case to the clasp. Overall it results in a more pronounced look with a refined level of finishing.
Dials and hands
It’s no secret Grand Seiko often takes inspiration from nature surrounding the Shinshu and Shizukuishi studios where all watches are made. This isn’t purely limited to the Evolution 9 collection either, as Elegance models can also feature dials inspired by forests, mountains, water, seasonal changes etc. It’s just that with the Evolution 9 collection, this is so far the only reoccurring theme.
Each watch that falls under the Evolution 9 collection has a flat dial with large applied and faceted indices. Textures and colours will come from a lake’s surface rippling in the wind, birch trees, or tree rings to give you some examples. As far as the hour markers are concerned, each one will be faceted and given contrasting finishes to sparkle and catch the light. Each marker will feature a central groove with different textures as well, to further improve contrasts. The marker at 12 o’clock will be at least double the width of the rest of the indices, with a double groove.
As far as the hands are concerned, these will be finished in coherence with the central theme of each specific model. For instance, when comparing the SLGH005 and SLGA009 “White Birch” models, you’ll notice subtle nuances between the style and finishing of the hands. However, every single one will be faceted, polished and brushed, with the minute hand extending to the outer edge of the dial and touching the minute track.
While the Evolution 9 philosophy is primarily about the design of a watch, it is also of influence on the movements. The SLGH005 and SLGA009 White Birch gave us a perfect opportunity to compare both the 9S automatic and the 9R hybrid quartz-mechanical movements. Both of these feature the latest technological innovations from Grand Seiko, and both benefit from an updated and more refined construction and design.
On one hand, there’s the Hi-Beat 9SA2 automatic calibre, which is produced in the Shizukuishi watch studio in the Iwate prefecture in the northeast of Japan. This cutting edge mechanical movement features Grand Seiko’s Dual Impulse Escapement, running at a frequency of 36,000vph. Its modern construction results in a very comfortable power reserve of 60 hours. The finishing reflects the Shizukuishi studio’s surroundings, with gold-filled engraving, multiple bridges with anglage, finely applied vertical striping, polishes screws (sometimes blued as well) and an open-worked rotor.
On the other hand, we have the Spring Drive 9RA5 quartz-mechanical hybrid movement, which is produced in the Shinshu watch studio, situated in the Nagano prefecture in central Japan. It combines the best elements of both a quartz movement and a mechanical movement. On the back, there’s a power reserve, which indicates the 120-hour autonomy when fully wound. In terms of finishing, this is a bit more restrained but no less appealing. The bridges are frosted, with bevelled and polished edges. The engraving is filled with blue lacquer, and the screws have been blued as well.
All these elements combined result in some of the most refined Grand Seiko watches to date. The designs are balanced, with care and attention to every single little detail. The dials are again and again very evocative and show Grand Seiko’s skill to transfer the everchanging appeal of nature into a static dial. And best of all, it is still in tune with the “Grammar of Design” established all those years ago with the 1967 44GS.
For more information, please visit Grand-Seiko.com