The history of the watch industry in Japan began in the Meiji era with the import and sale of Western watches. The late 1800s saw the birth of the first Japanese watch factories; among them was Seikosha, which was founded in 1892 and produced the first pocket watch in 1895. In the beginning, products modeled after western watches were mainstream, but following the end of WWII, importance was placed on precision instruments as a key industry contributing to Japan’s post-war reconstruction; watches were among the products selected. However, not only was Japan lagging far behind the West in technology, the latest machine tools were also unavailable due to import restrictions. Seiko thus needed to start by developing the necessary tools.
But why was Seiko in such a hurry to manufacture high-quality Japanese watches? One reason was the scheduled liberalization of wristwatch imports in 1961. High volume imports of quality watches could destroy the Japanese watch industry. It thus became paramount to develop and market high-precision watches that will be internationally competitive, and this challenge was addressed under the slogan, “Catch up to and overtake the imported watches.”
A hairspring material resistant to temperature change and a smooth balance wheel that creates less viscous friction with the air were crucial to enhance accuracy. Seiko was able to resolve this difficult issue through joint research with a university and the introduction of the latest tools. Additionally, the need for a shock resistance system to absorb shock on the balance staff was solved by Seiko’s proprietary Diashock, which supports the jewel with a spring. Having all the necessary components, however, is not enough to enhance precision. So that craftsmen and women can fully demonstrate their expert skills in grasping the distinctive trait of an individual watch and making proper adjustments for accuracy in each and every one, mechanisms that would facilitate this pursuit of precision were needed. The 1958 Lord Marvel had a movement that featured an easily adjustable, movable stud, but had a small diameter balance wheel. The balance wheel was enlarged and isochronism improved in the 1959 Crown, but the stud remained fixed. Caliber 3180 with a 12mm balance wheel and movable stud was then developed and placed in the 1960 Grand Seiko to facilitate the thorough pursuit of precision.
Grand Seiko was the culmination of Seiko’s proprietary technologies, born with the aim to be a globally competitive, high precision watch. Its birth also marked the moment when a Japanese watch was at last able to join the ranks of the world’s established watches after years of pursuit.
The first Grand Seiko (released in 1960)
Grand Seiko combined high-precision movement with a design that was both legible and luxurious. Featuring a dignified presence deserving of the name “Grand,” it was highly acclaimed despite its expensive positioning. Its perfection shines even now, over half a century since its birth.
The two pioneering models that laid the groundwork for Grand Seiko:
Released in 1958, the Lord Marvel was simple and robust, with large hour markers and hands for enhanced legibility. At that time it was Seiko’s premier model. It served as the model demonstrating Seiko’s technical prowess, with subsequent variations carrying the first domestically manufactured high beat movement.
The Crown was an elegant dress watch with sleek hands and hour markers, a case with a gentle profile, and narrow lugs. Released in 1959, this large movement watch emanated a graceful presence.