Nestled within the mountainous landscapes of Iwate Prefecture, a journey of over two hours north of Tokyo via the Shinkansen bullet train, brought us to the charming town of Shizukuishi, the birthplace of mechanical watchmaking in Japan. It’s here that we visited Grand Seiko’s Morioka studio in a very quaint and quiet setting in Shizukuishi.
The visit was quite fascinating and gave us in-depth insights into Grand Seiko’s core values, rich heritage, and the intricate watchmaking techniques that go into producing each precision timepiece.
Established in 2020 and designed by Japanese artist Kengo Kuma, this studio is exclusively for the production and assembly of all 9S mechanical Grand Seiko timepieces – everything from the more accessible 9S85 model to the cutting-edge dual-impulse escapement 9SA5. In contrast to the Seiko/Epson facility, which is dedicated to Grand Seiko Spring Drive and quartz creations, among other endeavors, Studio Shizukuishi offers a more accessible and engaging experience. Enthusiasts and collectors have the opportunity to arrange guided tours of the facility, making it a more public and immersive destination.
A Mountain Retreat: The Nature Of Time
In keeping with Grand Seiko’s motto “ The Nature of Time”, Morioka studio, the home of all things 9S mechanical, is nothing less than a luxurious mountain retreat. Mechanical watches spring into existence amidst expansive windows that offer vistas of verdant landscapes and a distant view of Mount Iwate, a sacred site in both Buddhist and Shinto traditions. In this room, you’ll find rows of highly skilled technicians, attired in white coats worn over their jumpsuits, sporting white headgear and gloves. In absolute silence, they diligently assemble and fine-tune watches at their desks, each desk meticulously crafted by the traditional woodworking artisans of Iwayado Tansu in Iwate.
During our tour of the studio’s surrounding areas, it became evident that a deep reverence for the natural environment and a commitment to Japan’s well-being were integral values. One noteworthy initiative that left a lasting impression was the establishment of several ‘insect hotels,’ thoughtfully designed in collaboration with yet another renowned Japanese architect. These efforts underscored the studio’s dedication to both nature and the local community.
Following our journey down the watchmaker-lined hallway, we ascended to the Studio Shizukuishi salon, where their mechanical masterpieces were not only on display but also available for purchase. The salon featured an extensive array of timepieces for a hands-on experience, all set against the majestic backdrop of Mt. Iwate, a profound source of inspiration influencing both their dial and movement aesthetics.
The Rigorous Training of Grand Seiko’s Master Craftsmen
At the Grand Seiko Manufacture, there is a strict hierarchy that artisans progress through – from apprentice to technician to specialist to master craftsman. Each artisan trains extensively in their specific craft, be it assembling Grand Seiko’s intricate mechanical movements, machining individual components with absolute precision, or decorating the flawless dials Grand Seiko is renowned for. Additionally, there are gold, silver, and bronze levels.
It takes a minimum of two years of rigorous, intensive training just to join the ranks of the Manufacture. The craftsmen themselves hail from diverse backgrounds, including Olympic athletes whose natural dexterity and steadfast dedication equip them perfectly for the delicate intricacies of mechanical watchmaking.
Once on board, the artisans spend many dedicated years honing their skills even further to reach Grand Seiko’s lofty standards. Only after this lengthy period of perpetual improvement do the very best attain the ultimate rank of ‘Meister’. Meisters personally train the next generation of apprentices. In Grand Seiko’s long history, only one Meister has ever been demoted, demonstrating the lifetime commitment attaining this rank demands.
Overview of Grand Seiko and Its Core Values
Grand Seiko sits at the very pinnacle of Seiko’s watchmaking prowess. The Seiko Group consists of several companies like Wako Co. Ltd which is in the retail space, Seiko Time Creation Inc. which focuses on clocks, sports timing, etc, Seiko Solutions Inc. which focuses on System Solutions, Seiko Instruments Inc., Seiko NPC Corporation and Seiko Watch Corporation which focuses on the watches. It adheres closely to Seiko’s core brand values of innovating relentlessly, enriching lives, and connecting emotionally with customers across the globe.
Grand Seiko’s relentless pursuit of perfection manifests in its meticulous dedication to mechanical watchmaking. The caliber 9SA5 that forms the beating heart of every Grand Seiko mechanical watch perfectly encapsulates the brand’s innovative spirit. It delivers an exceptional accuracy rating of +5 to -3 seconds per day thanks to cutting-edge technologies like MEMS engineering and a high beat rate of 36,000 vibrations per hour.
What truly struck us during our time at Grand Seiko was the genuine humility exhibited by their employees. Here, there was no ostentatious self-promotion or claims of unparalleled superiority. Instead, Grand Seiko subtly let their accolades speak for themselves. The focus remained firmly on their craft, dedication, and the genuine love they poured into every timepiece.
If you do wish to visit the Grand Seiko Shizukuishi Studio, register here.