Seiko’s story is way more sophisticated than most individuals may suppose. It is a producer that not solely adopted a development, however truly created a few of its personal, capitalizing on experience, information, and expertise that have been virtually the mom of necessity for this producer situated so far-off from the established European facilities of watchmaking.
Opposite to standard perception, Seiko’s historical past didn’t start with the quartz watch within the 1970s, nor has it ended there. This Far Jap large has banked on innovation for the final 138 years and now masters extra sorts of watchmaking than some other firm making timepieces in the present day.
Seiko is in my view essentially the most numerous watch producer on the planet – notably since 2000 when its personal fashion of haute horlogerie was referred to as to life. However earlier than we discover that extra, I’d wish to assessment a couple of salient historic factors of this veritable large of watchmaking.
A bit of Seiko historical past
Seiko’s lengthy historical past started with Kintaro Hattori’s watch retailer established in 1881 on the Ginza, Tokyo’s swanky procuring avenue. That store nonetheless exists in the present day, embedded in luxurious division retailer Wako, a division of the Seiko Holdings Company, and continues to hold a number of the world’s most luxurious Swiss watch manufacturers.
There was no watch trade in Japan on the time of Hattori’s institution; all of the watches supplied on the market have been purchased in Switzerland, Germany, and even the US, which had a vigorous pocket watch trade throughout that interval.
In 1892, the Hattori household based a manufacturing facility to make clocks and referred to as it Seikosha, which will be translated as “precision manufacturing facility.” A brief three years later, in 1895, the corporate started making pocket watches.
In 1913, Seiko added mechanical wristwatches to its repertoire in accord with the development of sporting transportable mechanical timekeeping on the time. From right here on out, Seiko, which now includes three firms (Seiko Devices, Seiko Holdings, and Seiko Epson), can boast greater than a century of mechanical historical past on the wrist.
Seiko is probably finest recognized for making the quartz watch inexpensive and wearable from 1969 – by the way the identical yr the corporate got here out with an built-in automated chronograph with column wheel and vertical clutch, launched at nearly the identical time as Heuer and Breitling’s joint-venture Caliber 11 and Zenith’s El Primero. Nevertheless it shouldn’t be missed that the corporate continued to make mechanical watches all through this era and past, even studying methods to manufacture each element in-house as suppliers have been briefly order.
As lately as a decade in the past, mechanical watches by Seiko have been usually obtainable solely in Asia. Since 2010 the Grand Seiko sub-brand has been obtainable worldwide and has been steadily gaining in fame and recognition.
Moreover, Seiko continued so as to add different groundbreaking know-how to its roster because the introduction of the quartz watch, together with the Kinetic from 1988, an autoquartz know-how that converts the facility of the wrist’s motion into electrical energy. Ten years in the past, the Kinetic, whose assortment encompasses a minimum of 23 calibers, made up the lion’s share of Seiko’s worldwide gross sales.
However maybe extra necessary has been the Spring Drive motion.
Seiko Spring Drive
The late 1990s set the scene for the Spring Drive, a know-how patented in 1978. Its inventor, a younger Seiko Epson engineer by the identify of Yoshikazu Akahane, bought the concept for it from a bicycle coasting on a slope at fixed pace.
Although the primary prototype was launched in 1982, Seiko devoted 20 years to analysis and improvement earlier than being glad that the Spring Drive know-how was prepared for serial manufacturing.
The conclusion of the Spring Drive as soon as once more hinged on Seiko’s uncanny skill to fuse the previous with the brand new. This motion combines a mechanical hand-wound or automated motion with an ultra-modern generator for mechanical, electrical, and electromagnetic vitality that doesn’t emit a ticking sound, justifying and explaining the corporate’s tagline, “the quiet revolution.”
The purpose was to make a exact watch – astoundingly exact, inside one second deviation per day – requiring no battery substitute.
With its massive physique of expert and proficient technicians and watchmakers, Seiko naturally doesn’t relaxation on its laurels. The subsequent step, nevertheless, might have come as a shock to many for it represented as a lot of a step again into the annals of watchmaking historical past as a leap ahead.
Haute horlogerie from Seiko’s Micro Artist Studio
Although the concept of the collective is mostly the norm in Japan, and Seiko doesn’t essentially wish to put the highlight on people, credit score have to be given the place it’s due. And so Kenji Shiohara, like Akahane earlier than him, is justifiably credited for kicking off one thing new that merged the standard with the trendy, seemingly a specialty of Seiko.
Because the starting of Seiko’s quartz period, this firm had primarily pursued effectivity and automatic manufacturing. Expert craftsmen, although nonetheless to be discovered inside Seiko Epson, have been now not a necessity.
Shiohara was a part of the final group of Seiko technicians to amass mechanical watchmaking expertise to develop into a First Class Expert Watch Artisan, a Japanese nationwide qualification that corresponds to the established title of grasp watchmaker and contains expertise wanted to correctly regulate a mechanical watch and make issues. Seiko is very proud that he additionally received a gold medal within the now-defunct Worldwide Ability Olympic competitors.
In 1999, one thing extraordinary occurred. The corporate’s president on the time owned a filigreed mechanical watch made and bought underneath the aegis of the Swiss Jean Lassale brand, which had been owned by Seiko since 1979.
This hand-wound specialty, a mere 1.2 mm in peak, was in want of restore, and Shiohara was referred to as to carry out. On the time, he was most likely the one one at Seiko capable of efficiently restore the piece to its former glory.
Shiohara found not solely a brand new facet to his personal creativity by means of the restore of this sophisticated timepiece, but in addition started to suppose onerous about methods to improve the longevity of a watch. These ideas led him to voice his opinion to his superiors, one thing not essentially executed inside the hierarchical system of the Japanese tradition.
Because of this, Shiohara was inspired to discovered the Micro Artist Studio in February of 2000. “A excessive bar was wanted; extra issue, problem,” Shiohara recalled to me throughout a visit I took to Japan to see him as I used to be researching 12 Faces of Time in 2008. “Elevating the bar is to enhance watchmaking expertise.”
Shiohara was alone within the Micro Artist Studio at the start. Little by little, although, he discovered like-minded colleagues: some approached him, and others he approached about becoming a member of him within the newly based division that was allowed free rein. The division is now residence to 9 artisans.
Positioned in Seiko’s Shiojiri manufacturing facility in central Japan’s Nagano prefecture, the Micro Artist Studio is correct subsequent to the division that focuses on the Spring Drive – which is fortuitous, for the Micro Artist Studio makes use of the Spring Drive motion in its extraordinary creations.
Mentor from Switzerland: Philippe Dufour
Shiohara turned tremendously within the historical past of mechanical watchmaking, fascinating to him as a result of it was a horological fashion that allowed a watch to final for generations, and commenced researching by inspecting classic mechanical Seiko watchmaking from about 1960. He discovered that older watches had very sturdy elements.
“The talent that went into that polished metallic contained the condensed knowledge of watchmaking,” he defined to me. “Expert watchmakers could make watches sturdy, give them longevity.”
Studying books, Shiohara delved into Swiss-style watchmaking. Impressed by what he was seeing, he needed to be taught from Switzerland. It was thus he learn interviews with and articles on impartial watchmaker Philippe Dufour, hailing from Switzerland’s Vallée de Joux. Dufour shouldn’t be solely eminently revered in Japan, insiders all around the world think about him a residing legend.
Coincidentally in 2002, Shiohara noticed a tv program that described the small universe of impartial watchmakers after which in October of the identical yr Dufour got here to Japan. In an interview Shiohara discovered that conventional Swiss watchmaking can lengthen the lifetime of a watch.
Shiohara felt that he and Dufour have been very like-minded and he organized to fulfill him. He discovered that Dufour’s perspective and manner of educating others watchmaking was not restricted to only one tradition or mind-set; an ideal supply of Dufour’s satisfaction is educating his fashion of watchmaking to the following generations.
And so it adopted that Dufour even visited the Shiojiri manufacturing facility to impart a few of his knowledge within the space of ending to Shiohara and his colleagues. Ending, because the Swiss have recognized for hundreds of years, extends the lifetime of a watch by defending its parts.
Subsequently, the Micro Artists now make use of a number of the strategies Dufour taught them for ornamental high quality functions and to realize the principle purpose of extending the lifetime of a wristwatch.
Nevertheless, at this level it have to be underscored that the Micro Artists, as residents of the world and mental watchmakers, are all in favour of studying from everybody, however don’t want to imitate. The timepieces which have emerged from this workshop underneath the identify Credor are distinctly Japanese in really feel and cultural ties.
Merely put, there may be nothing else like them on the earth of haute horlogerie.
So whereas Shiohara, who’s now retired, reached his authentic purpose of incorporating haute horlogerie watchmaking into his creations and passing his information on to youthful generations, he additionally succeeded in creating one thing totally new and modern: a set of timepieces realized with the help of haute horlogerie rules that merge Japanese tradition ever so flippantly with established European cultures of mechanical watchmaking.
Credor tremendous watchmaking
The Micro Artist Studio proudly launched its first restricted timepiece in 2003 to widespread acclaim within the markets through which it was obtainable. The Credor Spring Drive Skeleton, adorned by a Japanese engraver at one other of the Seiko factories, was solely obtainable in a ten-piece version plus one distinctive piece that includes Japanese lacquer. Shiohara and his crew credited this watch as a direct results of studying Dufour’s ending strategies.
This timepiece was rapidly adopted in 2005 by the Credor Moon Section, a lunar timepiece adorned in tones of silver that emits a definite Japanese really feel.
However the true hammer was Shiohara’s pet venture, launched in 2006, which solidified not solely the extraordinary will of the Micro Artists, but in addition their deserved fame amongst collectors. Maybe essentially the most Japanese of the Spring-Pushed trio launched to that time, and positively essentially the most sophisticated, the Credor Sonnerie stays a masterpiece of know-how and custom.
In Japan it has historically been the sound of a bell emitted by temples that has offered a reckoning of time. The sound of a gong has a particular that means to the Japanese, and the temple gong gives a lingering sound that may cross massive distances. Sounds are necessary to the Japanese.
Realizing this makes the revolutionary motion of the Spring Drive much more significant: not solely do its palms transfer in a pure gliding movement, it doesn’t tick. Like planets and orbits, it represents a pure move of time.
The Micro Artists thus looked for a technique to sound the time in a different way from common repeaters in a smoother, extra stress-free, quieter, and extra peaceable manner. The thought was to breed an orin bell present in Japanese temples set to ring each three hours at 12, three, 6, and 9 o’clock. No imply technical feat, the lingering sound of the gong inside the Sonnerie wanted a large number of prototypes to realize.
The Micro Artists looked for essentially the most “snug” interval for the repeater and located that three seconds is essentially the most agreeable size for his or her ears. The three-hour interval of the Sonnerie is nearly the identical as that of the temple bell. The Sonnerie will be set to a few totally different capabilities: sonnerie mode (chimes each hour), “authentic” mode (chimes each three hours beginning at 12:00 as described above), and silent mode.
It was necessary that this be a watch conveying a way of peace and quiet with a pure move of time and Japanese sensibilities. Subsequently, it contains another distinctive traits: because the Credor Sonnerie has no dial to talk of, it’s simple to see the position of the bridges among the many 617 parts organized to represent a flowing river.
Caliber 7R06’s spring barrel cowl, outstanding on the 12 o’clock place, is skeletonized to symbolize a Japanese flower referred to as kikyo. Apparently, and fairly coincidentally, the phrase kikyo interprets as bellflower, a hardy bloom famend for non secular therapeutic.
Its three leaves might properly symbolize the Sonnerie’s three capabilities. To carry out the Sonnerie’s chiming perform, the Micro Artists created a miniature orin bell enveloping the bottom of the motion, which emanates a transparent, pure, exact, lingering sound.
The Credor Spring Drive Minute Repeater adopted in 2011, the idea of which was primarily based upon the purity of sound. And it ought to come as no shock that this sound is distinctly Japanese in character, achieved by particular metal gongs made by Japanese steelmaker Munemichi Myochin, a specialist in wind chimes comprising two or extra hibashi tongs.
The repeater’s gongs mimic the sound of a Myochin wind bell, made potential by a singular silent governor that together with the soundless Spring Drive permits the gongs to chime the time in opposition to a backdrop of excellent silence.
Moreover, the Credor Spring Drive Minute Repeater is a uncommon decimal repeater, a much more intuitive system than a standard minute repeater: it chimes blocks of minutes in items of ten relatively than fifteen, simply the identical manner we learn them off on a standard analog watch or clock.
Eichi: Seiko for knowledge
The 2008 Credor Eichi is known as for the Japanese phrase that means “knowledge.” From the skin it appears to be like very very similar to conventional watchmaking, right down to its ending. Based on the Micro Artists, nevertheless, this watch appears to be like to the long run – a future evolution of watches that can be utilized by coming generations.
Its most evident ingredient is the porcelain dial made by Noritake, a well-known Japanese porcelain maker, whereas the three extremely seen, massive bridges are manufactured from untreated German silver organized in a Japanese shelf design symbolizing cultural asymmetry. The fabric’s pure yellowish coloration offers off a heat feeling that pleases its creators immensely, who determined to go along with the nice and cozy feeling over the scratch resistance that lacquering the metallic would have offered.
Seiko and Noritake are two corporations with comparable parts of their histories: each imported necessary parts from Europe of their early histories, and each have developed into technical powerhouses: amongst different issues, Noritake has developed ceramics for industrial makes use of in Japan.
The porcelain dial of the 35 mm Eichi – which appears to be like greater than it’s as a result of there isn’t any bezel, which will be thought to represent the nice energy of the Spring Drive – depicts snowy surroundings with its pure white coloration, whereas the blue coloration is hand-painted by Noritake craftsmen. The dial’s base consists of aluminum oxide, which makes the porcelain coloration pure white and helps forestall breakage.
In 2014, Seiko launched the Credor Eichi II, an much more extra puritanical tackle the perfect of the Eichi with a time-only porcelain dial that’s crafted proper within the Micro Artists’ studio.
When you think about that the craftsmen discovered within the Micro Artist division didn’t discover ways to end actions throughout their educations, nor was it a part of the corporate tradition of Seiko, it turns into obvious what an enormous achievement these developments are.
Nevertheless, above all, one should do not forget that the ending on these haute horlogerie wristwatches created in Japan was not utilized just for the sake of aesthetics, but in addition to boost the watches’ performance and sturdiness.
As Shiohara so aptly put it again in 2008: “Ornament is partly essential, however excellent functioning is far, way more necessary.”
Credor masterpieces of the Seiko Micro Artist studio
2003: Credor Spring Drive Skeleton
2005: Credor Moon Section with Spring Drive
2006: Credor Spring Drive Sonnerie
2008: Credor Eichi
2011: Credor Spring Drive Minute Repeater
2014: Credor Eichi II
For extra data, please go to www.seikowatches.com.
Fast Information Credor Spring Drive Minute Repeater
Case: 42.Eight x 14 mm, 18-karat pink gold
Motion: guide winding Spring Drive Caliber 7R11 with 72-hour energy reserve (with out repeater perform), 112 jewels
Capabilities: hours, minutes, seconds; energy reserve indicator, decimal minute repeater
Worth: 35 million yen (roughly $320,00zero)
This story was first posted on Could 15, 2019 at Visiting Seiko’s Haute Horlogerie Micro Artist Division.