The Empire Strikes Back

By Kristofer Dayne Penseyres

Could there be a new watch revolution on the way? Japanese powerhouse Grand Seiko and other high precision Japanese watchmaking brands are disrupting the industry with affordable luxury timepieces and mechanical movement innovations.

It is a familiar tactic, dating back some sixty years to the “Quartz Revolution” when Seiko released the Astron watch and Casio and Citizen followed with their own quartz versions that would subsequently take over the industry as a more precise and low-cost option to the traditional mechanical wristwatch.

This key advancement in electrical engineering shifted manufacturing to Asia and resulted in a significant decline in the Swiss watchmaking industry.

Fast-forward to the ‘80s and enter Swatch, the most instrumental watchmaking group in Switzerland, whose affordable and precision-driven pieces timepieces helped the Swiss watch industry regain its premium.

Then came the Grand Seiko’s turn to shine, be it the automatic, manual or Hi-Beat models with their extraordinary dials and Zaratsu polishing technique, they quickly carved out a niche in the luxury sector. With the release of the spring drive movement, Grand Seiko innovated the industry with the first battery-free electric-mechanical hybrid.

This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of Grand Seiko and the brand has opened flagship stores in London’s Knightsbridge and Place Vendômes in Paris, targeting Europe as the next market to lead the brand into a bright future and paving a way for a new mechanical revolution by offering visibility to smaller, independent brands such as Naoya Hida, Minase and Kikuchi Nakagawa. Hajime Asaoka’s new, affordable mechanical marvel Kurono is already trading for up to six times its retail value on the gray market.

Whether the next wave in watchmaking belongs to the Swiss or the Japanese, the countdown has begun.

Grand Seiko SBGZ001, Naoya Hida NH Type 1B, Minase 5 Windows “Unique Piece”, Kikuchi Nakagawa Murakumo White Dial, Hajime Asaoka Project T Tourbillon, Kurono Tokyo Classic “Reiwa”