Chapter 4

The superb finishing of Micro Artist Studio watches.

Of Grand Seiko’s Spring Drive watches, those that emerge from the elite Micro Artist Studio have earned the greatest reputation. Established in 2000 within the Seiko Epson Shiojiri facility to create watches of the highest quality, this center of handcraft and expertise has taken on an almost mythic status among enthusiasts. It is a place where Japanese craftsmanship and watchmaking are pursued without compromise to make timepieces that will endure for generations and be deservedly considered works of horological art.

In 2016, the Micro Artist Studio produced its first Grand Seiko movement, the Caliber 9R01 Spring Drive 8 Days. This superb manually wound movement uses three barrels arranged in sequence to deliver a long power reserve of eight days. In functional performance and aesthetics, this is a movement with few equals.

Engineered to minimize friction that leads to a loss of energy, Caliber 9R01 is notable for its design inspired by several landmarks as seen from the highlands of Takabocchi, in Shiojiri City. Its single bridge, which covers most of the movement while enhancing durability, traces the familiar contours of the iconic Mt. Fuji, while its glide wheel, partially obscured by the mountain, represents the sun. The ruby jewels are the sparkling lights of Suwa City, and the power-reserve indicator echoes the shape of Lake Suwa on this movement that doubles as a map of sorts. Craftspeople hand-apply a straight grain known as hairline finishing to the surface of the large bridge, and the edges are all hand-polished. Meanwhile, the screws are tempered to a beautiful shade of blue.

Caliber 9R01 powers the masterpiece reference SBGD201, whose case is Zaratsu-polished Platinum 950 and whose white dial elegantly shimmers thanks to its multiple layers and the multiple techniques employed in its making – all of which are performed in-house. The base dial is pressed and patterned and then plated with nickel and silver, with a special treatment on top. A transparent coating is then applied and polished to finish the dial, which appears to glimmer depending on the angle of the light thanks to reflections in each of its layers.

Such elegance and beauty are possible only because the Shinshu Watch Studio, which is located within the same Shiojiri facility as the Micro Artist Studio, uses a fully integrated dial-making process. This includes dial mold making, pressing patterns, plating, coating, printing, and hand-application of the indexes, which are themselves made in-house. The “diamond dust” textured dial, reminiscent of a winter morning in the Shinshu region, is worthy of a Grand Seiko watch with a movement made by the artisans of the Micro Artist Studio.

The Platinum 950 case, cold-forged to be denser and have a harder surface, has a distortion-free mirror surface as a result of the Zaratsu polishing method. Zaratsu requires years of training and is much more difficult to apply to Platinum 950 than to stainless steel, and polishing the SBGD201 case requires a special technique that takes 10 times as long as polishing stainless steel. But once this watch case has been polished, it has an aura all its own.

In 2019, the Micro Artist Studio developed its second 9R Spring Drive movement, Caliber 9R02. As with 9R01, this movement is manually wound, but its 4mm thickness allows it to power slender dress watches of classic proportions. Thanks to the Dual Spring Barrel and the Torque Return System, the latter of which recycles power that would otherwise be wasted, Caliber 9R02 will run for 84 hours when fully wound. This elegant yet powerful movement is superbly engineered, it is true, but it is at least as impressive for its highly refined aesthetics. The hairline finishing on the bridges and the polishing of the edges are every bit as high-quality as the finishing of Caliber 9R01. But, in addition, the inner angle of the larger of the two bridges of Caliber 9R02 represents a level of craftsmanship one is unlikely to encounter in movement finishing today. This is something that no machine can reproduce.

A platinum masterpiece powered by Caliber 9R02, the SBGZ003 is renowned for its slender profile and graceful, curved surfaces. Its beauty is enhanced thanks to the distortion-free polish that is the hallmark of the Zaratsu method. The hour and minute hands, as well as all of the hour markers, are made from 14-karat white gold, and the Grand Seiko logo, minute markers, and other markings are carved.

With these two movements from the Micro Artist Studio, Grand Seiko reaches its highest level of Spring Drive watchmaking. Each is matched to an exquisite case and dial to create a finished timepiece of the highest possible quality – in other words, a masterpiece.