How Abraham-Louis Breguet And A Japanese Vase Inspired The New Grand Seiko 9SA5

How Abraham-Louis Breguet And A Japanese Vase Inspired The New Grand Seiko 9SA5 Calibre

During the brand's recent virtual Grand Seiko Summit, we met with the 9SA5 Calibre's creator to better understand how this revolutionary movement came to be.

By Josh Shanks

Grand Seiko is a brand on the move. Despite the current global situation, the brand has innovated and adapted to an ever-changing reality. From our recent Nature of Time Open House to a fully-virtual Grand Seiko Summit, the brand has embraced change while continuing to elevate its watchmaking prowess.

Case in point, the new Calibre 9SA5 movement. Based on the workhorse Grand Seiko 9S mechanical movement, this newly re-designed calibre is worthy of a second look.

Case in point, the new Calibre 9SA5 movement. Based on the workhorse Grand Seiko 9S mechanical movement, this newly re-designed calibre is worthy of a second look.

Designed by Hisashi Fujieda, Grand Seiko’s Chief Movement Designer, the 9SA5 is a movement nine years in the making. This new calibre's basic premise is to offer increased accuracy while delivering a longer power reserve and prolonged service intervals.

9SA5 Innovations

To achieve this feat, Fujieda and his team set their sights on three primary areas of development. First, an entirely new Dual Impulse Escapement was created. This patented development features an entirely re-designed escapement using MEMS technology. The Dual Impulse Escapement transfers power in two directions, first to the balance wheel and secondarily to the pallet fork. The primary purpose is increased efficiency and reduced power consumption.

Secondly, a new free-sprung balance wheel was designed for the 9SA5 calibre. Featuring an overcoil design to optimize performance in all positions and provide ample protection against shock and friction. These updates all serve the primary purpose of increasing precision and accuracy.

Lastly, the 9SA5 calibre features a re-designed gear train. In order to achieve this, Fujieda and his team have changed the layout of the existing gear train to a more horizontally designed format. The result is a 15% reduction in slimness than previous 9S calibre gear trains.

The Inspiration

As watch journalists in the time of COVID, we often find ourselves invited to a multitude of Summits, Zoom sessions, and the occasional socially distant gathering. Having experienced the Grand Seiko Summit in Japan in 2018 (read HERE), I was curious about how the brand would structure a fully-virtual version of a very well-polished in-person event.

When attending this virtual summit between United States-based journalists and the Grand Seiko team in Tokyo, Japan, the brand's humility and passion for craftsmanship shone brightly. One of the more significant interactions I had was with Hisashi Fujieda, Grand Seiko’s Chief Movement Designer.

After an inspiring presentation on the new 9SA5 Calibre, I had a better understanding of the movement's design but wanted to know more about the inspiration behind this impressive calibre. While an ordinary designer will usually tell you something along the lines of beauty, form follows function, or luxury aesthetic, Fujieda had a unique inspiration for the 9SA5 Calibre. A Japanese Vase.

The Vase - Waves Of Clouds

When visiting an art museum in central Japan in 2010, Fujieda came upon artwork from sculptor Osumi Yukie. The piece, named 'Waves of clouds,' was a hand-sculpted metal flower vase made from silver and gold with a painted motif surrounding the vase's midsection.

Through an interpreter, Fujieda remarked, “This particular artwork by this artist utilized silver and gold, and it was so beautifully made that I was extremely inspired and touched by it.”

When Fujieda sat down years later to begin work on the 9SA5, the artwork immediately came to mind, “when I began designing the new movement, this artwork by Ms. Osumi that I'd seen at the museum came back to me. And that was the actual source of inspiration for the new design.”

“The artwork was both very traditional but also very modern in its expression. And when I designed the new movement, I also wanted to infuse traditional elements and modern elements. “

This design philosophy inspired multiple elements of the 9SA5 movement, including the bridge layout and rotor. As you'll see in the images, the curved bridges mimic the peak of Mt. Iwate and its glacial river, the Shizukuishi River.

Fujieda continued, “When I designed the new 9SA5 movement, I thought, okay, this is the sort of image [the vase] that I want to recreate in the movement’s design. This is so special because, in this artwork, it has both very traditional artistic elements as well as a kind of modern taste and feel to it. Which is very important for Grand Seiko - where both tradition and revolutionary watchmaking are very key components of Grand Seiko's watchmaking.”

Abraham-Louis Breguet

While much has been written about Philippe Dufour’s impact on Grand Seiko’s watchmaking (read our in-depth piece HERE), there’s another master watchmaker that helped to inspire the 9SA5 calibre. Abraham-Louis Breguet.

Fujieda explained that while in college, he studied mechanical engineering. When he joined Seiko Instruments in 2003, Fujieda was involved in making electronic metronomes, which led him to study Breguet's work.

“I was once told that a very famous watchmaker in the past was also involved in making mechanical metronomes. The famous watchmaker who was involved, was as you may know, [Abraham-Louis] Breguet," explained Fujieda

Produced approximately 200 years ago, Breguet’s Metronome clock was later sold to King George IV for the then-remarkable sum of £1,000. Fujieda further explained, “for me to be able to develop a new caliber that utilizes an overcoil - which Breguet [originally made] - and to be able to adjust the movement without touching the actual hairspring itself makes me feel a deep sense of connection with Breguet.”

(Images provided by Grand Seiko)

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