Japanese culture is infinitely fascinated by the changing seasons and the environment found within its 47 prefectures. From the sea to the mountains, the terrain to the sky, the watches from Grand Seiko take this inspiration and translate it to their watches. The company has also furthered itself from making great everyday watches, to being a flagbearer for Japanese watchmaking – showcasing the talent from Seiko, and indeed the archipelago as a whole. At Watches and Wonders earlier this year, Grand Seiko unveiled the SBGZ009 – a member of the Masterpiece collection that encapsulates the aforementioned Japanese characteristics of watches from the region – inspired by the white birch forests near the Shinshu watch studio, which also showcases the talents of the watchmakers of Seiko’s Micro Artist Studio. Even thought it was launched at Watches and Wonders 2023 earlier in 2023, we’re talking about it now because it has persisted in the minds of the ISOCHRONO team since then!
Built by the Micro Artist Studio, this part of the Shinshu facility was first formed in 2000, with their stated purpose of “uncovering, examining and mastering the technologies and skills passed on by our predecessors for the production of luxury watches, so that world-class Japanese watches could be created. Their creativity and mastery of watchmaking techniques led them to their most notable watches, the Credor Minute Repeater and the Eichi and Eichi II models, showcasing an incredible mastery of finishing techniques and the craft of watchmaking itself. The Micro Artist Studio would then go on to make their first Grand Seiko watch in 2016, and 2019 would be the year that they unveiled the Calibre 9R02, which makes an appearance in this year’s white birch inspired model.
The SBGZ009 features a fully engraved case in 950 platinum, which is hand engraved by artisans of the Micro Artist Studio, inspired by the white birch forests of the Yachiho Plateau near the Kita-Yasugatake mountains.
Echoing the bark from these white birch trees, the engraved pattern on the case is also echoed on the dial of the watch that features engraved font for the Grand Seiko logo and the star indicator above 6 o’clock that denotes that the hour markers and hands are crafted from 14k gold. The watch is remarkably slim, at 38.5mm in diameter, and 9.8mm thick, with a curved sapphire crystal that accentuates the curves of the case.
Housed within the elegant case of the watch is the 9R02 calibre, crafted by the Micro Artist Studio. This differs from many of the Spring Drive watches that come out of the Shinshu Watch Studio, in that the finishing is a number of notches above a standard (if it can even be called that) Spring Drive movement. Featuring rounded chamfers and sharp internal angles, the Micro Artist Studio actually learned these techniques when Philippe Dufour came to visit the studio near the time of its inception. In the early days, this finishing was achieved with branches from an imported Swiss Gentian plant, however, the studio has long since found a local Japanese replacement, thus making this watch even more worthy of the title “Made in Japan”. The watch also features an 18k gold plaque that is hand engraved with “Micro Artist”, however this can be customised, should the owner wish for it.
The 9R02 calibre features an 84 hour power reserve, thanks to its double barrels and its Torque Return System, which recycles energy that is wasted due to high torque when the mainsprings are at a high state of wind. Regulated by the Spring Drive system, its tri-synchro regulator ensures the power of mechanical, with the precision of quartz, accurate to one second per day. A power reserve indicator can also be seen on the back – an apt placement that does not disturb the harmony of the dial-side symmetry.
Limited to 99 pieces worldwide, Grand Seiko continue to redefine what it means to be a watch made in Japan – pushing the boundaries of what their studios are capable of, and making watches that are distinctively Japanese. The Grand Seiko SBGZ009 is an exemplary model of this philosophy, taking inspiration from Japan and the skills housed within the Micro Artist Studio to the extreme, showcasing a truly Japanese watch. It is always exciting to see what this “cupboard under the stairs” produces out of the Shinshu Watch Studio, and this watch is another piece that demonstrates that this little atelier as part of the Seiko behemoth is capable of showing Japanese watches to the world.