Precise Rhythms: Akio Naito, President of Seiko Watch Corporation

Collectors matter, and nowhere is that extra evident than within the rocketing profile of Grand Seiko. The Japanese watchmaker was as soon as a little-known secret — treasured by watch collectors, and unknown to most outdoors its residence market. Grand Seiko received its begin in 1960, and was solely launched on the worldwide stage in 2010 – it solely turned a full model in its personal proper in 2017. The Seiko Watch Corporation itself by no means critically pursued a advertising technique for Grand Seiko past Japan, which implies that those that received themselves hyped-up for a Grand Seiko watch needed to do a variety of heavy lifting. Never thoughts having to journey to Tokyo seeking Grand Seiko watches as a result of first you would need to know such watches existed. Imagine, if you’ll, having to study concerning the watches, for which no supplies had been broadly out there in English.

To hear collectors inform it, it was a little bit just like the wake of the worldwide success of the anime Akira, which introduced Japanese animation to worldwide consideration. For worldwide audiences eager to discover the bewilderingly huge world of anime, disappointment adopted as a result of only a few sequence and options obtained worldwide distribution. Anime fan communities did their very own distribution, even when it was in legally doubtful territory. They even did their very own subtitles for choose sequence and movies.

ˆThe drawback for Grand Seiko was not solely exterior although, as Seiko Watch Corporation (SWC) President and Grand Seiko Asia-Pacific Chairman Akio Naito informed the Financial Times earlier this 12 months. “The notion amongst our workers was that Grand Seiko didn’t have a powerful attribute, like Richard Mille or Hublot,” mentioned Naito. “It wasn’t eye-catching. Our personal individuals virtually gave up selling the model.” When we first spoke with Naito in 2021, he had simply been appointed to his function at SWC, however had been answerable for Grand Seiko in each North America and Europe since 2018. He informed us that he knew, first-hand, the difficulties for the collector’s favorite in these areas. After all, that Grand Seiko watches had been so extremely regarded outdoors Japan had all the pieces to do with how collectors had been speaking them up, and virtually nothing to do with how SWC was advertising them.

The editors of this journal had already observed this by 2005, as a result of if one needed to function Grand Seiko watches at the moment, it was essential to shoot them at BaselWorld (the now-defunct world watch honest that Seiko and all its imprints used to point out at). We know this immediately as a result of we’ve got an archive of press kits, and there’s nothing on Grand Seiko from that point; I additionally know this from expertise, having spoken with the WOW photographers in 2008 at BaselWorld. This is to not recommend that Grand Seiko was an afterthought for SWC, by any means, as Naito reminded us in our most up-to-date dialog with him. “When Grand Seiko was born in 1960, it was meant to be the (maker of the) finest timepieces ever from Seiko at the moment. A Grand Seiko watch needed to be essentially the most exact… essentially the most legible… and essentially the most sturdy for on a regular basis use. In all these elements, Grand Seiko needed to be the last word.”

In this respect, it’s doable that Grand Seiko is, DNA-wise, no totally different to than it was in 1960. What has modified although, is the rise of executives comparable to Naito, who recognise that the horological world would possibly simply be Grand Seiko’s oyster. We mentioned this, the model’s 2022 novelties, and the start of Grand Seiko’s direct engagement with the Asia-Pacific area in our dialog. We will launch immediately into that from right here, as it’s fairly lengthy. For a little bit of background on Naito, we advocate our personal story on him from final 12 months, in addition to that FT article we referenced above.

Congratulations on the SLGT003G Kodo, the primary complication from Grand Seiko! Did the Kodo title come from the character of the watch and did you will have the sound of the watch in thoughts if you had been growing it.

Well, I feel you (and your readers) are already accustomed to the technical designer who designed
(SLGT003G) Kodo, who was knowledgeable guitarist. [Naito is referring to Takuma Kawauchiya,
who received the 2022 GPHG Chronometry Prize with him in Geneva for the Kodo – Ed]. He was a
musician earlier than he joined Seiko, or Grand Seiko, and it took him greater than seven years from (the
motion’s) inception to give you the prototype motion T0. And he was, from the very
starting, very specific, concerning the sound that the watch creates. He paid particular consideration to, you
know, the watch making a selected sound. Therefore, the title Kodo or heartbeat was from the
very starting the nickname that he and the crew had in thoughts. 

Right, so I suppose the reference to the taiko drum can also be intentional. 

Yeah, it was after all intentional. So we weren’t simply making a complication watch (for the sake of
making a watch with a excessive complication), the very first Grand Seiko complication watch, however for the
picture or the idea of a selected technical development; the sound it made was very, very
vital for the one that created the watch. 

So, after all we had been requested by the media (and) the Grand Seiko followers when the model would give you a complication mannequin… and for fairly a while we had been on that form of quest. Of course, technologically we had been able to producing a Grand Seiko complication mannequin, however we needed to create a (true) Grand Seiko complication. It needed to be in keeping with the model’s DNA; it needed to be correct when it comes to the precision of the motion, and (have glorious) legibility and sturdiness. When all these crucial standards for the model had been met, we thought we had been able to unveil the primary Grand Seiko complication mannequin, and that occurred to be the (SLGT003G) Kodo.

Does this signify a change for Grand Seiko?

Well, I don’t say it’s a change or transition; I might name it evolution. The complication mannequin Kodo displays the DNA of the model, and we imagine that regardless that the dial or the look of the watch appears sophisticated or crowded, however it may nonetheless inform the time (very clearly)… legibility is one thing our engineers attempt to obtain (regardless of the look of the complication). So the DNA or the conditions of the model haven’t been misplaced in arising with the complication mannequin.

Will there now be fewer quartz fashions? What different issues would possibly we count on in future?

Well, similar to (our progress with) mechanical actions, we’ve got been making progress with quartz. You know, when it comes to analysis and improvement the identical factor may be mentioned of Spring Drive too. Our engineers have been painstakingly engaged on the progress of how we will make the Spring Drive motion higher in varied elements of its expertise… So sure, we might be arising with one thing new in future.

(One the matter of) quartz for Grand Seiko, which we name the 9F motion (for instance), that’s not a traditional quartz, clearly. And we’ve got put specific emphasis on creating an final quartz (motion) and that is the 9F motion, underneath the Grand Seiko model. Just like mechanical actions or Spring Drive actions, we’re nonetheless engaged on quartz expertise. As the very first model (Seiko) to give you the quartz watch in 1969, we expect we’re answerable for bettering quartz expertise even additional into the longer term.

What different problems would possibly Grand Seiko pursue? 

Well, for the high-end, you realize the upper price-range watches, I feel we’ve got a number of concepts on complication fashions in future. I feel our Grand Seiko followers demand some iconic or attention-grabbing sports activities fashions. That’s one thing we’ve been engaged on.

So in future we will definitely give you extra complication fashions, and extra sports activities fashions. We have a historical past of pursuing accuracy (objectives) underneath Grand Seiko, so you realize Kodo is after all, one instance of accuracy. It is the achievement of accuracy via the tourbillon and fixed power mechanism, however aside from that we’re, or have been, additionally pursuing accuracy from the technological perspective [meaning how much time a watch gains or loses, versus an atomic clock for example – Ed]. 

So after we reach attaining a brand new stage of accuracy with a mechanical motion, that may be the time after we will unveil one other attention-grabbing and revolutionary product.

If you might outline it in a number of phrases, what’s the imaginative and prescient of the sports activities watch so far as Grand Seiko is anxious?

Yes, truly that could be a essential topic that has been debated internally inside Grand Seiko. As you say [in our full conversation, which has been edited to remove our own comments – Ed], we’ve got a protracted historical past or heritage in Seiko, with Seiko divers for instance, of sports activities timekeeping. But for Grand Seiko we didn’t actually have that form of a historic icon.

So how can we create a brand new Grand Seiko that’s interesting to our followers that’s devoted to our model’s DNA? This is the inner debate.

I might say luxurious sports activities is one class of watches sought-after by many followers within the watch group. But I’m not fairly positive how we will notice luxurious sports activities underneath the Grand Seiko label. That is one problem that we’ve got.

We sit up for seeing how Grand Seiko addresses that problem! Moving on, how was the Watches and Wonders Geneva expertise for Grand Seiko?

Well as you realize, we’ve got attended BaselWorld for a lot of, a few years. And it was an vital platform, each for Grand Seiko and Seiko, however with the modifications within the enterprise, the group, after which COVID… This made it very troublesome for us to speak with our followers all around the world (in a bodily world occasion). We had been lucky sufficient to have the ability to be a part of Watches and Wonders Geneva for the primary time as, you realize, a model from Asia to showcase our new releases at that platform. And we had been extraordinarily proud of the suggestions and reactions we obtained via that new commerce honest. We are assured, particularly with the commerce and customers in Europe, as a result of we had been ready to attract the eye of European retailers and European watch followers because of the honest.

Is Grand Seiko retaining tempo with the rising demand for advantageous timepieces? How do you deal with the stability between with the ability to create the sorts of items that you really want to have the ability to create, whereas additionally with the ability to provide individuals and hold them blissful?

Well to the primary a part of the query, within the final 5 to 6 years, we’ve got been experiencing super development of Grand Seiko as a model, particularly outdoors of Japan. Take the US for instance; between 2016 and 2021, for a interval of 5 years, the model has grown greater than 11 occasions when it comes to what it was (in that market previous to 2016).

And with the model turning into so well-known, not simply among the many core watch aficionados, however amongst wider watch group, I feel that affect reached different English-speaking nations or the markets the place individuals have a look at watch content material in English. And now’s the time for us to develop the model in English-speaking Asian markets like Singapore!

On the second query, sure, after all, as a model from a industrial entity we’ve got to chase each short-term features and long-term features. And generally these two could battle with one another. If we’re too hasty to fulfill the demand which is rising all around the world, then it could injury the long-term wholesome improvement of the model. That is at all times an important administration choice we’ve got to face. So far I feel we’ve got been capable of hit an excellent stability.

In the Asia-Pacific area, will you be making use of classes that you’ve got realized from the US market?

Yes, properly after I first arrived within the US in 2016, one of many points that I confronted was how I may develop or arrange a crew of consultants who’re skilled within the luxurious watch enterprise. I used to be lucky sufficient to recruit these individuals who had been able to making use of their expertise to develop Grand Seiko. That was 2018. In Europe, I took an analogous technique, recruiting people who find themselves able to rising Grand Seiko. That was 2020. [In both the US and Europe, Naito managed the split between the Seiko and Grand Seiko – Ed]. Now it’s time for us to do the identical factor within the Asian market.

We determined to create Grand Seiko Asia and recruited succesful administration to deal with the model. Because we’re a very totally different distribution and completely totally different viewers for Grand Seiko in comparison with Seiko, it’s crucial for us to utilize separate types of experience and a separate administration crew. This is in order that Grand Seiko may be totally developed.

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