In Japan, an artisan is called Shokunin (職人). Artist Tasio Orate explains it best: “The Japanese apprentice is taught that shokunin means not only having technical skills, but also implies an attitude and social consciousness. The shokunin has a social obligation to work his/her best for the general welfare of the people.
This obligation is both spiritual and material, in that no matter what it is, the shokunin’s responsibility is to fulfil the requirement.” Indeed, as Grand Seiko celebrates the opening of its first boutique in Singapore with a resounding tribute to its Japanese roots, expanding its presence in the AsiaPacific region and showcasing the brand’s signature design philosophy for understated elegance and exacting refinement – what newcomers to the brand actually discover is a “secret cult” of aficionados drawn to its undeniable value when it was only available as Japanese Domestic Models (JDM).
That said, Grand Seiko has “grown up” in recent years and during a brief conversation at lunch with Akio Naito, President of Grand Seiko (whom we spoke to last year), he intimated that the eventual plan was to move Grand Seiko into a positioning to rival Rolex while moving King Seiko into a segment currently occupied by Tudor; setting the context for the brand’s plans for its global introduction.
Speaking with Senior Executive VP Yoshikatsu Kawada, we gained a deeper understanding of what makes a Grand Seiko masterpiece and a true emblem for nature’s beauty as interpreted by human hands.
Has social media today placed finishing at the forefront of watchmaking?
Yes, for sure. Grand Seiko is completely in-house from mechanical and even Spring Drive movements. When it comes to quartz, we have a special type of finishing for it that is comparable to our mechanical calibres even when they’re not usually seen behind the caseback. We use the best materials for the exterior and interiors and it is the same approach we take for our finishing.
It’s been a fan favourite of the Japanese domestic market and now that Grand Seiko has become a truly global brand in recent years, will there be changes to the brand’s marketing and communications since “the secret is out”?
Yes, the brand outside of Japan really grew into a cult that appealed to certain groups of people, but now that it’s more widely available, I find that we have to appeal to a wider group of consumers. Yet, the fact remains is that our philosophy at Grand Seiko always comes back to its roots which are durability, precision and craftsmanship. We haven’t forgotten this. The aesthetic philosophy now addresses the nature of time, so we are creating many references inspired by nature like white birch; we are communicating on the new facets of the brand by establishing the brand’s DNA alongside this original concept.
When it was a “secret cult”, Grand Seiko was more affordable and it became one of the easiest brands to recommend to first-time watch collectors. You could get a Grand Seiko with peerless finishing but yet pay a fraction of the price. Nowadays, the pricing strategy matches your European counterparts. Is that part of product strategy?
We have intentions to elevate the price ranges but not only that, we are improving tangible values as well, like the calibres by introducing the next generation of mechanical movement and even the spring drive as well as using next-generation materials. We are always looking to innovate.
Your European counterparts have difficulty meeting market demand and now that Grand Seiko is no longer JDM, what does it means for your production capacity?
You didn’t really find our watches outside of Japan in large numbers in 2010 and we knew that we needed to meet demand from wider audiences as we globalised. And so to meet these needs, we made major investments to the production line to accommodate bigger demand. For now, the establishment of Grand Seiko Studio Shizukuishi allows us to have stable production numbers on campus.
For the most strident anti-quartz watch collectors, I’ve found that they don’t have a negative thing to say about Grand Seiko’s quarts references. What do you think this means?
As far as references are concerned, Grand Seiko serves the entirety of the spectrum from quartz to high-end mechanical references so consumers can choose whatever they like. That said, on the exteriors, we spend so much detailed attention on all models, mechanical or not, like Zaratsu polishing and dial finishing that purchasing process is made all the more compelling when it comes to Grand Seiko’s appeal and attractiveness even when it is a quartz model.
Credor is also a “secret club” – how will that affect its positioning relative to Grand Seiko?
We are working on Credor and still working out how we introduce the brand to the world; it’s currently still only available in the Japanese domestic market. The characteristic of Credor is more like an art or a masterpiece. We are still in the process of identifying the right time to introduce Credor to the international market.
The Kodo Constant Force Tourbillon was a completely unexpected novelty for the brand. Is it the first of many tourbillons to be introduced by Grand Seiko?
We are working on it! Stay tuned! That’s the only thing I can say at this time [laughs].
Will this mean the introduction of more classical complications to Grand Seiko like minute repeaters and perpetual calendars?
We didn’t do this in our history, but we would like to explore the boundaries of watchmaking technologies. There’s long tradition in the industry; all the development is deep in our Japanese roots and we will continue to grow in accordance of our brand philosophy.
(Images: Grand Seiko)