Fast is Fine, but Accuracy is Everything

Claimed to be ‘a watch for a lifetime and longer,’ why does my Grand Seiko only tell the correct time twice a day?

Article by Andy Barnham

Seiko and Grand Seiko, I’ve heard of them, I think…
The company was founded in 1881 in the Ginza neighbourhood of Tokyo in Japan by Kintaro Hattori, initially as a watch and jewellery shop. The first wristwatches were launched in 1924 with all the components made in house by two subsidiaries Diani Seikosha Co. and Suwa Seikosha. The first Grand Seiko appeared in 1960. 36,000 units were made as a collaboration between Daini Seikosha and Suwa to challenge the perception of Swiss watch brilliance and change the domestic market. In their own words, “The idea was to build a watch that would be as precise, durable, easy to wear and beautiful as humanly possible.”

Presumably they were successful…
Yes, very. In true Japanese style Seiko kept refining and perfecting their Grand Seiko and in 1968 launched Japan’s first automatic 10 beat watch.

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Beat? And why is this important?
Picture a grandfather clock with a pendulum swinging backwards and forwards. In a wristwatch the function of the pendulum is handled by the balance wheel which rotates backwards/ forwards. Each rotation is considered a ‘beat’. Normal mechanical movements beat six to eight times a second. However, the higher the beat, the more resistant to shock a watch is and thus the more accurate it is. A 10 beat watch is considered to have a smooth action, but also places more strain on the internal components, so a high beat watch has to be more durable in order to deal with this.

And I’m guessing Grand Seiko’s achievements don’t stop there…
Indeed, no. In 1993 Grand Seiko released their 9F quartz movement, a movement so advanced competitors have not been able to replicate it today (*Ed’s note; we tried to feature the 25th Anniversary releases last year, but Grand Seiko declined involvement). Grand Seiko then presented the spring drive movement in 1998. With over 200 patents involved, the spring drive took 28 years and 600 prototypes to perfect. Powered by a mainspring, the movement is accurate to one second a day which translates into a continuous, sweeping, second hand. Other movements beat as many as 16 times a second to give the illusion of this feature.

This is pretty impressive. So why does your Grand Seiko only tell the time twice a day? Their website says it ‘is a watch for a lifetime and longer.’ 
Yes… my father recently tried to have his father’s (ie. my grandfather’s) Grand Seiko 6146-8000 Hi-Beat 36000 repaired. Sending the watch to Seiko, it was returned and he was informed;

‘… the parts required to complete a satisfactory repair are unavailable due to discontinuation.’

And was offered, as ‘a loyal customer’, 30 per cent off should he wish to purchase a new one, but from (some of) the Seiko ranges, however not including Grand Seiko or a Spring Drive.

Excuse me?
Price, circa 1970, when originally bought was approx 40,000Yen/ £285 or £4,300 in today’s money. And research suggests in the small print of Grand Seiko manuals there is only a 10 year guarantee of spare parts for repair for 10 years post manufacture. According to Seiko, this is because;

‘.. with the increasing demand for new parts, we regret we are unable to maintain stocks indefinitely of each component part of our earlier watches.’

Which means in worst case situation if you purchase a Grand Seiko today, and they stop manufacturing the watch tomorrow, your watch has a life span, should accident arise, of 10 years.

Why would I spend £4,000 or more on a watch that potentially lasts only 10 years..?
Yes, quite… While continuing to manufacture components for watches no longer on sale incurs inevitable cost, accidents are inevitable and repairs expected. Especially if a certain amount has been spent and the brand themselves promote the life span of their product.

Also, why even spend money on a vintage Grand Seiko which may not be repairable. Why have so much pride in creating a watch and display so little interest in the repair and maintenance. Why claim it ‘is a watch for a lifetime and longer,’ on the support page? Why…?  riddle_stop 2

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