As HODINKEE readers are well aware, this year has been something of a coming-out party for Grand Seiko, which is now its own independent brand, rather than existing as a collection under the overall Seiko umbrella. The most visible manifestation of this shift is of course the removal of the Seiko logo from the dials of Grand Seiko watches, which now carry only the Grand Seiko logo.
Grand Seiko is as much an approach as it is a family of watches, and Seiko has applied this approach to both quartz and mechanical watches, with offerings ranging from the high-accuracy 9F quartz movements, to in-house mechanical movements which include 36,000 vph high frequency calibers as well. One technology unique to Seiko, however, is Spring Drive. Seiko uses it not only in Grand Seiko watches, but also in the Prospex line as well as the Credor Eichi line of watches; it is the only type of movement that Seiko uses for its Credor chiming complications as well (the Spring Drive Sonnerie, and Spring Drive Minute Repeater).
Spring Drive can be hard to “get” because it’s really a hybrid technology. There are quartz watches that have a mechanical component, of course Swiss auto-quartz movements, as well as Seiko’s own Kinetic, use a rotor borrowed from an automatic winding system to generate electrical current; this charges a rechargeable battery in what’s otherwise a standard quartz movement. Spring Drive however is something different.
A Spring Drive movement has a completely standard mechanical gear train going all the way from the mainspring barrel right down to where you’d ordinarily expect to find an escapement and balance wheel. However instead of either, a Spring Drive watch has a “glide wheel” which contains a small, powerful permanent magnet. This rotates between two electromagnets, generating current to power a quartz timing package which in turn, controls (via the same electromagnets) how fast the glide wheel turns. This controls the speed at which the wheels in the going train turn under the impetus of the mainspring. There’s no battery or capacitor, and visually, the signature of a Spring Drive watch is a seconds hand that doesn’t jump; instead it glides smoothly (and silently) around the dial.
This gold-cased Grand Seiko is actually the second to use the 8-Day Spring Drive caliber 9R01. The first watch to house the movement was a platinum 8-Day Grand Seiko Spring Drive watch, which was launched in March of last year.This new version offers a very different aesthetic from the narrow palette of the almost white-on-white platinum version, with an 18k rose gold case, and black dial dusted with tiny gold particles that Seiko says intended to represent stars twinkling in the night sky.
The caliber 9R01 has a number of special features. It’s adjusted to 0.5 seconds per day and the three mainspring barrels all run in jewels there are 56 total in the movement, and they’re made from single crystal synthetic rubies for deeper color. Two barrels are stacked under the third and this configuration allows all three to be wound from a single ratchet wheel. The single movement bridge offers, says Seiko, better rigidity and resistance to disruption from shock; it’s made of maillechort (German silver) and hand beveled and decorated. The indication for the power reserve is on the movement bridge, rather than on the dial, and the outline of the bridge is a stylized representation of Mount Fuji.
At launch the price will be $42,000 which as with the platinum model (priced at about $55,000) is a considerable premium above most Grand Seiko models; however these are also clearly not typical Grand Seiko models. It would be easy to assume that these are watches targeted specifically for well-heeled Seiko fans but I think they’re also a bit of a statement of intent specifically to reinforce Grand Seiko as a luxury brand, along with the ultra-rare high end Credor Eichi and chiming watches, but also to make a wider audience aware of what Grand Seiko represents.
The Grand Seiko Spring Drive 8 Day Power Reserve SBGD202: 18k rose gold case, 43mm x 13.2mm, with box-shaped sapphire crystal; screw down display back, 10 bar/100 meter water resistance. Movement, caliber 9R01, hand wound 8 day Spring Drive adjusted to 0.5 seconds per day/10 seconds per month, power reserve on the movement bridge; bridge made of hand-decorated maillechort/German silver. Antimagnetic to 4,800 A/m (amperes per meter). 37mm x 7mm overall. Price, $42,000. For more check out all the U.S. market Grand Seikos, right here.