Baselworld 2019: Hands-On With Grand Seiko’s Sexiest Spring Drives
To celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Spring Drive Movement, the Japanese watchmaker is celebrating with four fantastic timepieces.
It’s hard to believe that Grand Seiko’s game-changing Spring Drive technology is 20 years old. For such a significant achievement (it combines the best bits of quartz and mechanical precision and without the need for a battery), it still amazes that many consumers remain unaware of what this mechanism can deliver.
The same can be said for Grand Seiko in general. Amongst the cognoscenti, the Japanese brand can hold its own amongst the most admired luxury Swiss watchmakers. Maybe the company has been humble to brag about their accomplishments (both technical and aesthetic) but we're more than happy to sing the praises of the special edition Masterpiece Collection Spring Drive Caliber 9R02, Elegance Collection Spring Drive Caliber 9R31, and Sports Collection Spring Drive Caliber 9R96 and 9R15 timepieces presented at Baselworld.
First up are two Masterpiece Collection Spring Drive Caliber 9R02 timepieces. These are more formal, three-hand watches. And while they look luxurious, the design is a reflection of the function (and vice versa).
As we mentioned, the Spring Drive debuted in Baselworld in 1999. That year, Grand Seiko’s Micro Artist Studio made its first appearance in Basel with an 8-Day Power Reserve Spring Drive watch. This year, the team presents the Caliber 9R02, a new manual movement with an 84-hour power reserve.
The size of this new movement matters because it allows for a thinner (the case is just 9.8mm thick), more elegant silhouette. The 9R02 has two mainsprings set in parallel within a single barrel and uses the unique Torque Return System to deliver the power reserve. And it’s nice to have a hand-winding option in the Spring Drive family because you don’t really need an automatic in a watch you don’t wear every day and with an 84-hour power reserve, you really don’t need to fuss about keeping it wound.
While no one would describe Grand Seiko as a minimalist brand, they do have a purity of spirit in the materials and design. For example, the cases of the two 9R02s are made of platinum. The hour and minute hands and hour markers are made of 14k white gold. The Grand Seiko name, the minute markers and all the other markings are etched into the dial. These details are meant to ensure that the watch will look as fresh even 20 or more years down the road.
One of these two dress watches also features Grand Seiko’s famous silvery Snowflake dial—inspired by the natural surroundings of the Micro Artist Studio in the Shinshu region of Japan. And the case has been exquisitely engraved for a harmonious feeling.
This version is limited to 30 pieces. On both watches, through the sapphire crystal caseback, you can observe the power reserve indicator (a nice touch because moving it the back keeps the dial uncluttered) and the symbol of Shiojiri, where the studio is located. We could go on, but there are more new timepieces to obsess about.
Dress For Success
Grand Seiko also presented the Elegance Collection Spring Drive Caliber 9R31. Like the 9R20, these two watches feature long lasting power reserves that allow for a more slender case.
The top-of-the-line, limited-edition version comes in an 18k gold case with a snowflake dial while the alternative is in stainless steel with a Sunday surface.
The difference between these two hand-winding movements is a slightly shorter power reserve (approximately 72 hours). Otherwise, it has the same precision (+1 second a day) and the same dual mainspring accuracy as the 9R20.
King of the Jungle
Sport Collection Spring Drive Caliber 9R96 and 9R15
Perhaps the most talked about pieces in this anniversary capsule is the Sport Collection.
Visually these watches are absolute winners.
Fans would gush about them even if they had no gears inside. Grand Seiko says that the design is inspired by the strength and power of the Grand Seiko lion symbol, first introduced in 1960. These sport watches certainly roar! Their cases are meant to invoke the powerful forelegs of the lion but is also angled inwards to ensure a soft fit on the wrist. The lugs are meant to represent lion claws with a flat effect provided by Zaratsu polishing and hairline finish.
But it’s the dial that is really fierce. Each face has a texture that represents a lion’s mane. A second hand with glide motion unique to the Spring Drive slides gracefully on the lion's mane. There are two versions of the limited edition 9R96 GMT watch — one in 18K rose gold (100 pieces) and one in titanium (500 pieces). And the time and date 9R15 is available in titanium. Both series feature automatic movements with a power reserve indicator on the front.
Grand Seiko is on an absolute tear this year, and if Baselworld 2019 is any indication, it's going to be a very good year.
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)