The Art Of Craftsmanship: Yamazaki Whisky And Grand Seiko

The Art Of Craftsmanship: Yamazaki Whisky And Grand Seiko

Japanese products are revered for their quality and design. Today, we take a look at Grand Seiko and Yamazaki whisky, a match made in heaven.

By Kristen Shirley

Forget matching your watch strap with your shoes. In a new series for Watchonista, we’re pairing watches with unexpected brands that complement their values and aesthetics, beginning with two exquisite Japanese brands dedicated to craftsmanship and tradition: Grand Seiko and Yamazaki. Both have adopted foreign products — Swiss watches and Scotch whisky — and added unique Japanese twists to create masterpieces that have earned their place on the global stage.

Brand Curator for Grand Seiko Corporation of America Joe Kirk agrees the two brands make an ideal match. Speaking to Watchonista, Kirk said, “Although watchmaking and whisky making are fundamentally different crafts, Grand Seiko and the Yamakazi distillery share several common bonds in terms of history, Japanese craftsmanship, and dedication to perfection.”

Japanese Craftsmanship and Design

Both companies imbue a distinctly Japanese sensibility into their creations as well as a deep reverence for nature and living in harmony with their environments. As Kirk explained, “The founders of each company, Kintaro Hattori [Grand Seiko] and Shinjiro Torii [Yamazaki], are recognized as pioneers of watchmaking and whisky in Japan and were deeply dedicated to perfecting and refining the fundamentals of their respective crafts. Both Grand Seiko and Yamakazi innately embody the spirit of Japanese craftsmanship and are inspired by nature, making the two brands a perfect pair.”

For example, at Yamazaki, pure water, the surrounding climate, variable humidity, and the unique flavor profile produced by Mizunara (Japanese oak) casks create the distinguishing characteristics of Yamazaki whisky. The whisky made at the Yamazaki distilleries is a product of its environment, literally, and could never be reproduced anywhere else, so protecting and honoring its surroundings is of paramount importance to the brand.

And at Grand Seiko, nature, particularly the Japanese seasons and landscape, is a perennial source of inspiration for the brand’s watchmakers as well as an integral part of its identity. Its timepieces pay homage to the delicate changing of the seasons in special-edition timepieces, and there are several motifs inspired by nearby mountains that appear on dials.

Of course, Japan is renowned for its commitment to the highest quality craftsmanship and venerating the time and commitment required of an individual to master a craft. Both Grand Seiko and Yamazaki epitomize this devotion to quality and excellence.

At Grand Seiko, it is evident from the distortion-free mirror finish of its Zaratsu polished cases and the brand's subtle and refined design aesthetic. For Yamazaki, this devotion is evinced with each hand-crafted cask made using traditional techniques and the distillery craftsmen who continue to innovate while continuing to practice skills passed down through the generations.

The Pairing

We’ve chosen to pair a Grand Seiko Urushi masterpiece from the Elegance collection with the Yamazaki 12 Years Old whisky. The company’s signature single malt whisky is elegant and has a multi-layered profile with notes of fresh fruits, including peach, pineapple, and grapefruit, alongside spice from Mizunara oak. Moreover, the golden color of the whisky perfectly complements the rich amber Urushi dial.

Urushi is a rare art form that requires patience and a light touch. Artists train for years to master the craft, and it takes days (or even months) to create a piece. Artists paint layers of a lacquer made from the sap of an Urushi tree (a member of the poison oak and poison ivy family). Each layer must fully dry and harden before applying the next layer, making it a time-consuming process.

On this gorgeous, amber-colored dial, artists used Suki-urushi lacquer. Visible beneath it is a pattern inspired by Mt. Iwate, a mountain near the manufacture. The hour markers were created using another form of Urushi artistry, the maki-e technique, crafted by Urushi master Isshu Tamura. After applying layers and layers of lacquer to achieve a three-dimensional profile of the numbers and markers, Tamura added 24K gold powder atop the lacquer to create a delicate luster.

Beneath the beautiful dial is a slim manual-winding movement, the Caliber 9S63, which was released in 2019. There’s a small seconds sub-dial at 9 o’clock and a discreet power reserve indicator at 3 o’clock.

The Grand Seiko Elegance Urushi (ref SBGK002G) is priced at $29,000. Bottles of Yamazaki 12 Year Whisky can be found starting at $160.

Learn more about Grand Seiko at their official website.

Visit Suntory’s official website to learn more about Yamazaki whisky. (21 and older)

(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)

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