Grand Seiko – The Pinnacle of Mechanical Watchmaking Surpassing Even the Swiss

Before I begin, I’d like to highlight that the focus of this article would be purely on the quality of finishing seen on Grand Seiko watches. Their movements are a completely different – but no less amazing – story that will be touched upon in the future.

Today, it’s all about aesthetics. And with that, I’ll bravely proclaim that Grand Seiko offers the absolute highest level of finishing across other products within the same or even slightly higher price bracket; Swiss or otherwise.

The Grand Seiko ‘Problem’

This isn’t so much a problem with Grand Seiko than it is the perception of Japanese watches in general.

Much as we hate to admit it, the power of ‘Swiss Made’ is exceedingly strong; so strong that it shuts our minds and clouds our eyes to the possibility that one might find a better made product with better value outside the horological centre of the world.

And then, there’s the whole branding thing, which can be easily shown by a test: both watches below cost around SGD 8,000, assuming you had the money now and had to pick one, which one would you go for?

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It is safe to say that 95% of the time, the Rolex Datejust would be picked.

When you wear a Rolex, you wear the success and prestige that had long been associated with the brand. It is a badge of honour, an outward proclamation to the people who matter (and don’t) that this man has made it in life and it shows on his wrist.

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This man would pick a Rolex. Check out his YouTube channel ‘archieluxury’ to see an example of horology snobiety executed with extremely low class.

On the contrary, when you wear a Seiko (‘Grand’ or not), well, you just wear a Seiko.

‘Who knows and who cares?’ – a common response from my peers whenever this topic is brought up.

And their favourite retort, ‘Which one do you think people will recognise?’

But you know, not everyone is dying for the need for everyone else to know what watch they’re wearing and how expensive it is; not that 5% who’d pick the GS anyway.

The Beauty of Grand Seiko

Every Grand Seiko watch is assembled and finished by hand. This alone would put it right up there with some of the finest Swiss-made watches.

Have a look at some pictures showing the amount of thought and effort put into these watches; touches which you will not even notice if you don’t look extremely closely.

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Longer than usual brushed strokes on the hands resulting in an extremely even finish. The hands are faceted, not flat, it’s more like a trapezoid and the rim has a polished finish.
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Close-up shot on the hands. The number of angles cut into a component as ‘passive’ as an hour hand is amazing. Zaratsu – an ancient Japanese technique used to polish Samurai swords – is used and is apparent from the almost mirror-like quality.

 

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The number of facets cut into this hour marker is astounding. Without a loupe, you’d hardly notice the slight protrusion of the top layer ‘rectangle’ raised up like a step. That is why a Grand Seiko is so shiny as it reflects light from every direction through the staggering amount of angles present in each component.
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The tiny marker in the power reserve indicator is not ‘spared’. Another amazing tidbit: notice that the ‘wall’ surrounding the power reserve is also mirror polished? The aperture was cut out of the dial and had Seiko left it in its original material, nobody would so much as realize it. Such attention to detail is truly commendable.

 

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A different style of marker but no less impressive. See the pin sharp lettering?

 

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For comparison, a close up of a Rolex’s dial, hour marker and hour hand.

 

*All close up images above were taken from watchuseek forum user, Gerald_D.

The case of a Grand Seiko bears the same traits: multiple angles and bevelled edges all performed by hand. Here’s one showing the lugs:

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Image from David Tan. Grab the Swiss watches you own and give it a close look, I very much doubt that you’ll see this amount of detailing work.

 

Are Grand Seikos worth it?

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The ‘snow flake’. So named because of its dial resembling a snow coated surface, inspired by the landscape of snow which piles up every winter in front of Seiko’s manufacture in Shizuoka-shi. Retail price around SGD 8,000+.

The answer is a ‘yes’, a Grand Seiko is worth every buck; dollar for dollar, this is quite possibly the one watch that gives you the most return for your money from a quality standpoint.

I’ve only highlighted a few brilliant aesthetical marvels and focused primarily on the dial, there is so much more to the case, bracelet, the decoration of the movement, the ingenuity of the movement itself, the Spring Drive technology that had Swiss houses take their hats off and bow, its precision, and then some.

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That said, and as mentioned above, it boils down to the kind of person you are and what your intentions of being in the watch game are.

A Grand Seiko is the ultimate testament to the humility of Japanese master watchmakers who would go to such great lengths – well knowing that most of it would go unnoticed – to strive towards that perfect watch; not because they have to, but because they want to.

Integrity is doing the right thing on time, every time, even when no one is watching and this value is embodied in every Grand Seiko.

How else could you explain why the artisans spent 2 hours polishing the other side of the case which you will, quite possibly, not open up to see in your entire life?

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The next time you see someone with a Grand Seiko on his wrist in the streets, know that this man – once armed with the dollars and cents which could have allowed him a Rolex or Panerai – earnestly picked it well knowing that the average Joe would not know the difference between his watch and a regular $300 Seiko, and also the inevitable mockery he would get from his peers over the stupidity of spending $7,000 on ‘just a Seiko’.

This is a man who truly knows watches and not the ‘common’ brand heads who believe they can buy class with a Rolex.

Modern Grand Seiko watches start from SGD 6,000 and move upwards to very high prices. Preowned modern pieces can be had in the mid 4,000 range. Certain models of vintage Grand Seikos can be had for below SGD 2,000. 

http://www.grand-seiko.com/

DISCLAIMER: I like the Rolex brand, its story and its watches. They were used as a comparison simply because of the icons they are and for the status people associate them with.

Rolex has done a remarkably good job of automating luxury watch production, making millions of watches a year with machines they designed and built.

Their quality is reliable and commendable but it lacks the artisanal values of a hand-made timepiece.

 

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