Grand Seiko Manufacture Tour Part 1: Studio Shizukuishi – the home of 9S mechanical Grand Seiko Manufacture Tour Part 1: Studio Shizukuishi – the home of 9S mechanical

Grand Seiko Manufacture Tour Part 1: Studio Shizukuishi – the home of 9S mechanical

Zach Blass

Ever since I went down the rabbit hole of watch enthusiasm, truly well and down the hole, I have always wanted to visit the Grand Seiko manufacture in Japan – it was at the tippy-top of my horological bucket list. Then I got a phone call, like a pitcher waiting in the bullpen, from Andrew letting me know the day had finally come. I was not only going to Japan for the first time, I was going with Grand Seiko on a manufacture press trip. Over the course of five days, I would be visiting Grand Seiko’s various regional studios, as well as activities that would give me a better understanding of Japan, and its culture, as a whole. But, for now, I want to share with you the first stop on my trip: Grand Seiko Studio Shizukuishi – the home of all things 9S mechanical.

Grand Seiko Studio Shizukushi

The studio, which opened in 2020, is the location where all 9S mechanical Grand Seiko watches are manufactured and assembled. Everything from the, for lack of a better phrase, entry-level 9S85 to the latest-gen dual-impulse escapement 9SA5 is taken care of inside this studio. Whereas the Seiko/Epson manufacture that is the home of Grand Seiko Spring Drive and quartz creations (among other things) is a bit more private, Studio Shizukuishi is much more of a public experience where enthusiasts and collectors are able to schedule a tour of the facility.

The studio was opened to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Grand Seiko brand in July 2020, and was designed by renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. With the Grand Seiko motto “the nature of time” in mind, Kuma sought to find a way to ensure the studio was not a structure that would interrupt the nature around it – rather it was to be incorporated into the surrounding nature. This is why much of the surfaces you will see in the first floor of the studio are made of wood, imparting a sense of nature within the building itself. The result is a very serene space in which both the watchmakers, and visitors of the studio, can really connect with the idea of ‘the nature of time’, Grand Seiko philosophy, and their master-level craftsmanship.

While the Seiko Museum in Ginza is home to the widest array of Seiko and Grand Seiko creations, many historical and current timepieces are available for viewing in Studio Shizukiushi. This offers visitors meaningful context of where Seiko and Grand Seiko watchmaking began and where it has come. Seiko, and Japan’s, first watch, the ‘Laurel” is proudly displayed within a case, and nearby a 1956 “Marvel” and 1959 “Crown” are showcased next to the first Grand Seiko watch from 1960, clearly displaying a lineage and through-line.

As a member of the industry, this was by no means my first manufacture visit and press event. Something that really stood out to me was how humble the Grand Seiko employees were when discussing their work and history of the manufacture. Often, upon arriving at a manufacture, guides will rattle off all of the achievements of the brand – records in complications,  leading figures, famous clientele – and boast what makes their product superior than the rest. This was not the case with Grand Seiko at Studio Shizukuishi and throughout my visit to their other studios as well. This is not to say their accolades are not on display, nor that they are not proud of their work. You are free to discover awards like their 1967 certificate from the Neuchâtel Observatory and the Bronze, Silver and Gold Meister certifications bestowed upon their roster of watchmakers.

Grand Seiko Studio Shizukushi

They take immense pride in what they do, but they do so without ego. It is not about bragging about what they can do, rather conveying the standard they hold themselves to for internal validation and deriving satisfaction from a job done right. The whole point of displaying these Meister certifications is to give context towards the manner in which Grand Seiko watchmakers and specialists are continually honing their craft and pursuing the essence of time.

It also gives context to their stewardship within watchmaking, as each Meister is expected to appoint and mentor a successor in order to ensure these crafts and standards are passed onto the next generation.

Grand Seiko Studio Shizukushi

This gave new meaning to the idea of “the nature of time”. People love to harp on about Grand Seiko’s connection to nature, zeroing in on their various muses like sakura blossoms, mountains, and icy or flowing waters. But, nature for them also extends to the nature of being as well. How their artisans approach creating timekeeping, the fabrication of their components, their finishing, and assembly. The result, at least in my view, is a very unified front, with a team all working and striving towards the same goal. They are not concerned with making the best timepieces in the world, in a competitive and comparative sense. They are simply interested in presenting the best they can offer. Not to sound cringey, but for them it’s about knowing they gave their 110% when it comes to casing and completing a watch.

This, however, is my own interpretation. During a presentation within the studio, Grand Seiko broke down their three perspectives, which, in summation, embody “the nature of time”. Grand Seiko explained: “The first is functional value, its performance and accuracy. This is a pursuit of the essence of the watch. The second is emotional value. This value appeals to the senses such as the Japanese sense of beauty and respect for nature. The third is social value, contributing to the prosperity of society and the happiness of people.” These three perspectives dictate all of Grand Seiko’s creations, methods, and external efforts to contribute to society.

Grand Seiko Studio Shizukushi

This sense of respect for the surrounding nature, and contribution to the prosperity of Japan, was very much imparted as we toured the surrounding areas of the studio. A standout effort was their creation of various ‘insect hotels’, and these hotels were designed with the assistance of yet another acclaimed Japanese architect.

While the tour offers a very in-depth overview of Grand Seiko philosophy and manufacture, you do not need to be a full-fledged watch geek to be able to follow along. From the basics of what hands are, to more advanced concepts such as their MEMS manufacturing, everything is clearly approached in a manner for all to understand.

Whether that is the components that make up their in-house calibres.

An explanation of various finishing techniques.

Concepts around MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems).

And, ultimately, what these various processes contribute to creating a watch up to their standard. This is just a taste of what is presented, I don’t want to spoil the whole tour – it surely an experience best had “in the metal”.

Grand Seiko Studio Shizukushi

Of course, you are able to walk down the hall to watch the watchmakers at work – painstakingly performing various parts of of the manufacturing process and assembly. I hope the watchmakers do not feel like zoo animals, being scrutinised through the glass, but each literal window offers a window into their craftsmanship. Within each window station, you will find a glass case beneath that details the certification-level of the watchmaker and what they are working on.

One case even showcased the efforts of a particular watchmaker, an effort that was not even instigated by Grand Seiko. Encased was a microscopic origami swan, created by a watchmaker as a self-test of dexterity. It is an absolutely mind-boggling accomplishment. I could not even create a normal size origami swan if I tried.

Grand Seiko Studio Shizukushi

Grand Seiko Studio Shizukushi

It was incredible to see even just a snippet of the process. For example, the case manufacturing and finishing was not something we personally saw on our visit. But, seeing models like the SLGH005 “White Birch” being assembled in real time is something I will never forget.

Grand Seiko Studio Shizukushi

It certainly gave context to just how easy they made it look, as I would later fail quite miserably to fluidly assemble and disassemble their entry-calibre 9S65. After passing down the hallway of watchmakers, we would then head upstairs to the Studio Shizukuishi salon where their mechanical creations are available not only for viewing, but for sale as well. There were a whole roster of pieces available to get a hands-on look at, all the while with the glorious Mt. Iwate, a source of inspiration for both their dial and movement aesthetics, as a backdrop.

But, what intrigued me the most were the selection of models produced with exclusive “Shizukuishi Limited” winding rotors. Some of these watches are models you can buy outside of the studio, exactly the same reference – just outfitted with a special rotor.

Grand Seiko Studio Shizukushi

But, one model, however stood out to me the most: the SBGH283. Sure, its exclusivity of only being sold at the Studio Shizukuishi offers a sense of alluring rarity. But, for me, the reference not only encapsulates and embodies Grand Seiko philosophy. Designed with Studio Shizukuishi in mind, its green vertically striped dial was crafted to encapsulate the essence of the studio and the surrounding region.

My Grand Seiko SBGH283 ‘Shizukuishi Limited’

Moved by the tour and experience, I felt purchasing the watch would be the perfect way to commemorate my visit and my first-ever trip to Japan.

Grand Seiko Studio Shizukushi

The watch purchase equivalent of “farm to table”, I bought a watch at the site it was literally manufactured and assembled – sized by a watchmaker who likely completed its assembly no less. It is such a unique and joyous experience, one I truly treasure. And, each time I look down at the watch I cannot help but be in awe and smile. Not just because of the handsome Zaratsu finishing and dynamic green striped dial, rather because I am transported back to my visit and all the joy it brought me. The studio, the people, the product, everything. I think it is fair to say my experience is a testament to their “nature of time” mission. Thinking back to the third perspective of “society” and bringing joy and happiness to people… well, I think my cheesy smile above says it all.