The first Grand Seiko Spring Drive 8 Day watch was announced in March of 2016 (as reported by Ben Clymer) and it made a strong impression on the Grand Seiko fan community immediately, to put it mildly. This was a kind of maximalist watchmaking that heretofore hadn't been seen from Grand Seiko a mid-five figure timepiece, with an eight day power reserve, in a large, 43mm x 13.2mm case, in platinum, no less. It was and is an imposing watch no matter how you looked at it, and it was followed by an equally if not more striking, and disruptive, rose gold model, in 2017. These are statement watches on several counts firstly, thanks their size and dramatic wrist presence, they're going to be statement watches for anyone who wears one. Secondly, they were the clearest statement yet from Seiko, that it regards Spring Drive as not merely a niche curiosity technical hybrid appealing primarily to movement nerds, but as a powerful foundation for luxury watchmaking from Seiko, and as a mechanism capable of producing highly characteristic aesthetic effects in its own right (not that any Seiko-watcher needed to be reminded of that after the introduction of the Eichi watches).
Since the watches launched, however, we hadn't had a chance to get them into the office for a longer get-to-know-you period, and late last year we finally got both 8 Day Spring Drive models into the studio for a closer look.
The 2017 rose gold model.
So far 2019 has been something of a banner year for mulling over whether or not one can or should draw firm conclusions about watches from photographs (official press photos or otherwise) but I'm here to tell you, if you thought from earlier press images that these were going to be watches with some real heft in the metal, in every sense of the word, how right you are. They're so imposing in person as to be almost monumental and it's not just a question of size although for sure, 43mm x 13.2mm worth of gold or platinum is not going to make for a watch with a retiring, introverted personality. Equally clearly, that was not the intention here. These aren't chamber pieces, they're full-throated operatic expressions of everything Grand Seiko represents, and everything Spring Drive represents, turned up to 11.
The original platinum version from 2016.
At the same time, they're unlike any other large statement watch in precious metal that I've ever seen. There really isn't anything quite like these 8 Day Spring Drives, and that is I think owing to the degree to which, as is always the case with Grand Seiko, absolutely no effort has been spared to give every part of the watch the highest possible degree of both functional and aesthetic finish. Grand Seiko watches in general live in the details, and the expansive size of both watches makes it easier than it usually is with GS watches to notice the obsessive attention to detail. If you love Grand Seiko watches for the degree to which they represent total absorption in the execution of craft, you're going to love the 8 Day Spring Drives. The obvious attention to excellence in what many other hands would be rather ordinary details, gives the 8 Day Spring Drives an incredible depth of character that goes far beyond the ostentatious social signaling that's the endpoint (and eventual source of the exhaustion of pleasure and creeping disappointment) of so many so called statement pieces.
It's perhaps an easy and obvious comparison to make, but the similarity between the aesthetic impact of Grand Seiko watches in general, and the traditional Japanese sword, the katana, is something that occurs to me every time I examine a Grand Seiko watch. I'm lucky enough to live in New York, where there are museums with wonderful examples of the art of Japanese sword-making at its height (and I've visited a swordsmith's studio in Japan, where doing things the old fashioned way is not just a matter of tradition, but of spiritual cultural heritage) and the parallels are pronounced. In both cases, there is no real sense that aesthetic effects are being pursued for their own sake. This is not to say that Seiko doesn't sometimes make watches that do reach overtly for aesthetics (Fugaku Tourbillon, I'm looking at you) but in general, the 8 Day Spring Drive watches are classic Grand Seiko playbook their size and unabashed wow factor notwithstanding, they still come across as serene as a carp pond reflecting cherry-blossom laden branches at dawn.
One of the rare instances we know of, in which a platinum cased watch has drilled lugs.
That spareness, which acts in counterpoint to the luxurious general tone of the proceedings, is carried over very much onto the movement side of the watch in fact, if anything, it's even more pronounced. The movement is an almost unbroken expanse of very lightly brushed metal the upper movement bridge holds all the functional train pivots as well as the pivots for the three mainspring barrels that provide the 8 day power reserve. As with the Credor Eichi II, the power reserve indication is on the back of the watch. The whole thing struck me when I first saw it as almost too barren but it grew on me over the course of the several days we had both these watches in the studio. Yes, there's the outline of Mt. Fuji in the shape of the upper bridge the truncated cone is a stylized representation of one of the world's most famous and picturesque volcanos but I think what really drew me in was the lateral brushing. It's easy to cheat with Geneva stripes, but the brushed finish on caliber 9R01A 2 doesn't leave any room for superficial dazzle it's incredibly clean and consistent across the entire width of the bridge, as if it were a huge field of snow stretching from horizon to horizon that had been smoothed by a steady winter wind.*
Subtle cues referencing the natural world are a big part of the larger Grand Seiko design vocabulary, although it's never done in a directly illustrative way. Instead, certain formal aspects of the natural world are abstracted, though never to the point of pure abstraction, which gives the watches a subtly organic quality (and of course, this presence of the natural world in even the most modern and technological environments is very much a part of Japanese culture as a whole).*
It's present in the snowfield dial of the platinum 8 Day Spring Drive and in the night-sky radiance of the rose gold version, but of course, it's also present kinetically, in the smoothly gliding motion of the seconds hand, which is a feature only of Spring Drive watches. The Seiko Micro Artist Studio's master watchmaker, Yoshifisu Nakazawa, has said, "I think it is very Japanese to associate quiet movement with the way things move in nature," and the integration of this aspect of Spring Drive technology, with the aesthetic presence of the watches, gives them a very deeply Japanese character.
On the wrist, the Grand Seiko Spring Drive 8 Day watches make the sort of impression that you'd get from being in a major business meeting, with all and sundry present in their business formal best, when the big boss enters the room if the big boss were a guy who long ago gave up any desire or need to impress anyone with outward expressions of ego, and whose reputation has so much preceded him that all he has to do is show up to make the kind of splash for which most other mortals would need a lead-in from a marching band. Yes, they're statement watches; yes, they have the kind of imposing bulk that very much says "special occasion" but these aren't so much watches to be worn only on special occasions they're watches that make any day a special occasion when you put one on.*
If it's not totally obvious by now, I'm pretty into these guys. Quite honestly I had my doubts at first. Forty to fifty thousand dollar Grand Seikos, I thought; I felt like a guy who's followed a top-notch outsider indie band for years, and found out that in the aftermath of finally scoring a huge contract, they've become monsters of narcissism "what happened to you, man? You used to be all about the music!" But these watches, I think, are not signs of impending decadence; they are instead an indication that moving forward, Grand Seiko is going to be painting on a much larger canvas, and is free to pursue more ambitious goals. The first choice for me was at first glance the rose gold model, but by God I'm warming up to that platinum model as time goes by. For full specs check out both models at grand-seiko.com.


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