Introducing the High Moon and Night Birch with Grand Seiko UK Brand Manager, Rob Brook
Grand Seiko continue to dazzle watch enthusiasts with the newest additions to both the Heritage and Evolution 9 collections this August 2022: introducing the ‘High Moon’ and the ‘Night Birch’.
In conversation with Rob Brook – Grand Seiko UK Brand Manager – we discuss the intricate designs of the new pieces, the inspiration behind them, and what we can expect from Grand Seiko next…
Great to be speaking with you, Rob. It has been an exciting year for Grand Seiko, only set to become even better with the introduction of both the “High Moon” and “Night Birch.” How has the year been for those at the heart of the company?
Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be speaking with you again. For us here at Grand Seiko, there is a real feeling of excitement for the future and gratitude for the journey so far. As a brand, we’ve been around since 1960 but only launched outside Japan in 2010. Quality and innovation have always been – and will always be – fundamental to our watchmaking and it’s great that we’re in a position where people are discovering more about our brand worldwide.
We always advise people to get hands on with our watches, so coming off the back of uncertain times, it’s been fantastic to be able to showcase our designs with our great retail partners, such as yourselves, and at prestigious shows such as Watches & Wonders in Geneva this year. It’s great to have these platforms to highlight new timepieces, such as the High Moon and Night Birch.
In your opinion and from considerable experience, what champions the brand perception for Grand Seiko?
I’ve always found that our partners, fans, and clients of Grand Seiko are the best possible ambassadors we could have, and their sincere appreciation of the brand speaks volumes in helping to tell our story with us. The biggest stories that we have to tell are around how we create our watches, the designs themselves and the people who create them.
In terms of people, the Hattori family – the founding family - are still involved in the business and our watches are created by the fine watch manufacturing in-house capabilities that they have built in Japan. The watchmakers - the skilled Takumi artisans – who create our watches by hand are intrinsic in our brand development through their continuous striving to create the most accurate timepieces possible. I believe that this has a big impact to ensure we continue to push the boundaries of what the brand was built upon without compromise. It’s all about balancing the brand’s heritage and future through retaining quality and driving innovation.
For our watch designs, we ensure that every Grand Seiko focuses on the pillars of ‘Beauty, Precision, Legibility and Ease of Use’ to create the ideal luxury watch, inspired by the Japanese view of the very ‘Nature of Time.’ An example of this continued pursuit by our Takumi craftspeople is a recent addition to our high-beat calibre watches, which now have a patented style of escapement - the dual impact escapement - which increases efficiency. This, among many other enhancements, is featured in our new aforementioned “Night Birch” watch.
We’re huge fans of the new additions to the Evolution 9 and Heritage collections. Can you tell us a little more about these releases?
We’re excited too, as the two new additions to our collections celebrate both our past and our future.
The “High Moon” celebrates the 55th anniversary of the original release of the 44GS watch from 1967. The 44GS was the first design to really embody the “Grand Seiko Style,” – a framework to create a recognisable Grand Seiko ‘look’ - which has influenced every Grand Seiko watch design since that date.
The “Night Birch” is based upon our recently introduced Evolution 9 design concept, which takes the original 44GS “Grand Seiko Style” framework with our ever-evolving capabilities and modernises it for the next generation through nine key principles, continuing our beautiful Japanese heritage aesthetic with even higher levels of comfort and wearability.
There is huge Japanese cultural inspiration within the Evolution 9 Collection. Could you explain the concept of ‘the nature of time’?
I feel a bit of an imposter when I speak on behalf of Japanese traditions and culture, being a Yorkshireman, but to hear our Japanese colleagues speak on the subject really gives a different meaning to the watch and the craftsmanship that has gone into it. It gives me a deeper appreciation and view of the passage of time, being someone who is often chasing time!
‘The Nature of Time’ is part of Grand Seiko’s brand philosophy, so not really a “theme” as such. It celebrates the Japanese view of the spirituality of time that is deeply inspired by nature. The passage of time and its ties with nature are an important tradition in the culture of Japan.
We showcase the ‘Nature of Time’ largely in two ways. One is the way we express the nature of time in our timekeeping and the passage of time itself. We feature three types of movements within Grand Seiko watches: Quartz, Mechanical and Spring Drive - all of which express the passage of time in different ways and are visible to see when you watch the Second hand.
Secondly, we see the ‘Nature of Time’ as being the beauty of the watch design itself, which takes inspiration from the natural beauty of Japan and how this changes as time through the day evolves and the seasons pass. This is represented by the play of light and shadow, along with dial inspirations – often textures and colours - to capture a moment in nature.
Our studios, such as the recently announced expansion of the Shizukuishi Studio which was designed by Architect Kengo Kuma, echo this brand philosophy. Through wide windows and as much natural light as possible giving views of the surrounding countryside, it really connects our Takumi craftsmen and women with the natural world to ensure it is embodied in every watch.
Which features of the ‘High Moon’ speak to the serene aesthetics behind the name of the timepiece?
As we were just discussing, the ‘Nature of Time’ which is part of our brand philosophy, the “High Moon” is a great example of this. We combine many inspirations of the Nature of Time when creating a timepiece.
The ‘Tsuki Tenshin’ or ‘High Moon’ diffuses light over the night sky over the Shinshu mountains. The deep navy blue dial expresses the shadows created by the moon and is expertly showcased by the sunray pattern on the dial which diffuses light even further, just as moonlight reflects off the mountain’s surfaces. Shinshu is where all Grand Seiko in-house exclusive Spring Drive calibres are created and these movements have a perfectly smooth gliding Second hand, which is in gold on this timepiece to bring harmony to the serene feeling of the high moon over the night sky.
The ‘Night Birch’ dial is a huge focal point to the design. Could you explain the character behind it?
The textured dial is inspired by the darkness of the highland birch forests near to the Grand Seiko studio in Shizukuishi, where all of our mechanical calibres are made. This timepiece is the latest addition to the Birch forest-inspired pieces, the first being the White Birch, with which we were very proud to have won the GPHG award for Men’s category last year.
This dial has a very different feeling to it with the dark ridges and the way it plays with the light. I would highly advise people to go view this piece in the metal to get a real appreciation of this dial. The case is in high-intensity titanium in the Evolution 9 design, which really compliments the dial. The watch features the high-beat calibre 9SA5 and sweeps around the dial at a very high frequency, giving it a very different feel of place and time than the High Moon.
There’s a notable emergence of a ‘trio’ evolution within the ‘Night Birch’ in legibility, comfort, and aesthetics. What tiggered this development?
Our brand pillars have always been focused around legibility, comfort and aesthetics – not just creating the most accurate watch possible, but also a beautiful, wearable and practical one but the stories haven’t always been told outside of Japan. I believe it has really come to light over the past year due to the development and launch of our new design philosophy, Evolution 9.
I also find that, as the brand only went global outside of Japan in 2010, most original Grand Seiko owners were real watch aficionados who were early adopters and had an in-depth understanding of our movements and the craftsmanship that goes into creating such timepieces in a vertically integrated manufacturer. It is only in recent years we’ve really had the global platform to talk about our design philosophies and influences and show the level of attention to detail our timepieces have in all aspects.
It’s great to see the amazing craftsmanship to ensure high legibility in these timepieces. How do you think the two timepieces ‘High Moon’ and ‘Night Birch’ compare in precision?
Both the High Moon and the Night Birch have outstanding movements, whilst very different! The High Moon features our iconic Spring Drive movement, which is a unique and completely in-house movement. It was designed to have the romance of a mechanical timepiece, by being mechanically driven, but with the accuracy of a quartz watch. I’ve seen it referred to as a breakthrough in modern watchmaking, or “the best of both worlds.” It took one engineer over 20 years to develop Spring Drive in-house and this particular piece has a tolerance of +/- 1 second per day. The “High Moon” 9R31 calibre is a manual winding calibre and allows for a slim case to give it a very sophisticated look on the wrist, while being exceptionally accurate and very robust.
The “Night Birch” features our latest high-beat mechanical calibre 9SA5. Most modern day luxury watches run at a frequency of 28,800 VPH, while the “Night Birch” has a very high frequency of 36,000 VPH. This allows the balance to be more stable during wear and we have found high-beat calibres to be very effective timekeepers. Amazingly it has a power reserve of 80 hours, which is very impressive for a high-beat calibre. It also features our previously mentioned patented dual impulse escapement, along with an overcoil and free-sprung balance. The tolerance is at -3/+5 seconds and the watch comes with a Grand Seiko testing certificate, which is more stringent than COSC testing.
Finally, Rob (if you can give the game away!), what can we expect from Grand Seiko next?
As you can imagine, there's only so much we can say, but I’ll try not to give too political an answer by avoiding answering the question altogether!
We’ve all seen Grand Seiko have continued to make leaps forward over the past few years, in terms of movement enhancements, developing clear design philosophies and aftercare. We also announced at Watches & Wonders the creation of a new watch studio in the centre of Tokyo, Atelier Ginza, where Grand Seiko created a world’s first, a constant force tourbillon on the same axis within the same structure, to really showcase the Takumi’s creative talents. In another break with tradition, we also decided to simply refer to this incredible reference by name only – “Kodo,” which means “heartbeat” in Japanese.
It’s fair to say that the brand will continue on its journey of no compromise to enhance our offerings under the pillars that the brand stands for. To go full circle, I’ll close off with a quote from the founder of the corporation, Kintaro Hattori who adopted, “Don’t hurry, don’t stop,” as his life-long philosophy explaining: “You should aspire without limits and move forward step by step, neither stopping nor hurrying. It is better to do something continuously, perpetually and untiringly than to hustle and fail. If you hurry, you must rest, if you want to keep going without resting, then you mustn’t hurry.”