Grand Seiko Breaks New Ground with its Evolution 9 Collection
The Evolution 9 Style is the latest expression of the Grand Seiko Style that encapsulates the Grand Seiko design philosophy. As well as extending the design to a new collection, Grand Seiko has also incorporated the philosophy into a new line of sport models. With this latest evolution, Grand Seiko now offers a new and distinctly Japanese take on the sport watch, maintaining the proud traditions of Japanese craftsmanship that have supported the brand through its history.
Having brought the Evolution 9 Style to the world with the SLGH005, the next challenge for Grand Seiko was how to develop the style. Kohei Egashira, who is in charge of product planning at Grand Seiko, remembers: “We had the idea of creating a sport model, as an extension of the Evolution 9. But we knew there was no sense in just turning the existing Evolution 9 Style into a sport watch. We started by getting back to basics and asking ourselves what makes a watch a sport watch in the first place.” There were good reasons for this. “Evolution 9 is Grand Seiko’s leading collection. That means a sport model of the Evolution 9 needs to be a watch that truly embodies the concept of what a sport watch is all about.”
Grand Seiko has released sport models in the past, including the Spring Drive GMT in 2005 and the Spring Drive Chronograph in 2007. However, these models did not advertise themselves as sport watches. As Egashira freely admits: “Within the development team, we didn’t really think of these sportier models of Grand Seiko’s watches as sport watches per se.”
Egashira’s requirements for a sport watch are clear. “The Heritage Collection is for people who walk, and the Elegance Collection is for people who are standing still. The Sport Collection is for people on the move, people who are constantly running. They should be able to read the time easily while running, and the watches have a design that allows users to check the time instantly on the move.” But the road to this goal was not always smooth.
“Since Grand Seiko became independent as a brand, Japanese values have come to attract more attention around the world. The “Snowflake” dial is one good example of how this has been reflected in our watches. I thought it would be an interesting idea to incorporate more Japanese values into sport watches as well,” Egashira says.
Egashira drew up a schematic matrix illustrating the Japanese sense of aesthetics, into which he incorporated the Japanese approach to sport. “I realized that sport is not a separate entity in the Japanese aesthetic. It’s all part of the same thing. For example, the martial arts are closely connected to the tea ceremony and poetry. At the center of all these pursuits is time. Whether it is the martial arts, the tea ceremony, or poetry, we find beauty in the changes we perceive with the passage of time.”
The keyword he eventually decided on was “discipline.” Egashira emphasizes the connections between Grand Seiko design, the Japanese view of nature, and discipline. But why is discipline such an attribute of the Japanese approach to sport?
“Kiyotaka Sakai, who designed the Evolution 9 Collection models, practiced kyudo (Japanese archery) in school. He always says that the best way to hit the target is not to aim at it. If you can keep your mind balanced and calm and follow the correct procedures, your arrow will naturally find the target. What is important is performing a series of fixed actions in the correct way. It is not about competing for points or beating others. It’s about improving yourself and rising above things that have held you back in life so far. Listening to him speak, it occurred to me that this encapsulated something essential about the Japanese approach to sport.”
The Japanese approach to sport that Egashira refers to is built on the twin ideas of discipline and kata, or proper form. In his watches, the concept is embodied in such elements as legibility, operability, and robustness. Of course, all these are also characteristics of the Grand Seiko lineup as a whole. But Egashira wanted to lift them to another level.
“Sport watches tend to emphasize uplift and excitement. You can almost feel your pulse quicken when you wear them. But a watch is something that accompanies the person who uses it. That’s why we included the following elements in our new Grand Seiko sport watches. The time should be easy to read even when during movement or other vibrations, the operations should be intuitive, and the watch needs to be sturdy,” Egashira says.
The SLGH005 was the precursor of the Evolution 9 style. The designers deliberately made the index at 12 o’ clock thicker and more prominent, with a width 2.5 times larger than that of regular indexes. This prominent index plays an instrumental role in successfully giving the watch the dignity required of a flagship model.
But the sport models of the Evolution 9 Collection have larger indexes not only at 12 o’clock, but all the way around the dial. And all the grooves are charged with Lumibrite, a luminescent material.
“The Evolution 9 Style is the platform for everything. Especially in terms of legibility, we took it up another level,” says Egashira.
One aspect that demonstrates this well is the unique font used in the sport models of the Evolution 9 Collection. The font used in previous models were boldface versions of existing fonts. This time, Grand Seiko’s designers reworked the font from scratch. Egashira says this is not the first time this has been attempted, but it is highly unusual. The decision was taken to achieve better legibility.
The same is true of the hands. The original Evolution 9 design had a truncated hour hand and a slightly elongated minute hand. The truncated hour hand makes it possible to see the hour instantly. The minute hand, which reaches as far as the indexes, is then used to check the exact time. In addition, the sport models of the Evolution 9 Collection have slightly thicker hour hands and thinner minute hands. The tips of the minute and seconds hands are tilted to improve legibility when viewed from an angle. The new design makes it possible not only to see the hour at a glance but to determine the time precisely by looking more closely.
“But the aim was not to maximize the discipline or functionality of a sport watch. I also wanted to incorporate the dreams of the wearer and Japanese elements into the watch,” Egashira says. The dial of the SLGA015 diver’s watch provides the perfect illustration of this.
“The diver’s watch incorporates elements of the Japanese view of nature. Japan is surrounded by the sea, of course, and the enormous ocean currents that sweep along the coasts have had a profound impact on the country’s climate and culture, and brought the blessings of nature to the country. I wanted the watch to bring out something of the strength and generosity of nature and Japan’s maritime setting.” The pattern used in the dial represents the Kuroshio Current, also known as the Black Stream. The designer deliberately chose an abstract pattern, reflecting Egashira’s conviction that “the Japanese way of looking at things tends to be abstract rather than figurative. Japanese aesthetics often makes deliberate use of empty space within abstract designs. The pattern on the dial is so abstract that most people wouldn’t recognize what it represents without being told.”
The dial finish was also revised for these new models. The dials are finished with a thick coating of polished lacquer, a process familiar from previous installments in the Grand Seiko line. However, unlike previous lacquer finishes, the surface is deliberately dulled to give it a rather restrained finish. Legibility is further enhanced by bringing out the contrast with the mirror-finished indexes. But simple legibility was not the designers’ only concern. Egashira says: “By giving the dial a finish reminiscent of frosted glass, we were able to ensure that the dial kept the kind of depth we were looking for.”
The operability of the watches has also been further modified and improved. For Egashira, one of the qualities of the Sport Collection is that the watches should allow the wearer to check the time while running, and the sport models of this latest release in the Evolution 9 Collection show the time clearly when subjected to violent jolting. To aid this, the crown is now a high-grip crown with accentuated grooves to make it easier to grasp, and is protected by the crown guard. “Ideally, the case and the crown guard would be two separate parts: that makes them easier to polish. But that would make the case too big. We decided to integrate the case and crown guard into one piece.” Despite the crown guard, the crown is still easy to access. These details show the remarkable consideration and planning that went into the design of the watch and ensuring that it was user-friendly as well as attractive to look at.
Another illustration of the remarkable operability of the series is the adjuster clasp used on the diver’s watch. The three-fold clasp with slide adjuster can adjust the length of the bracelet. This itself is a function that was already present on previous Grand Seiko diver’s watches, but the thin design of this clasp allows the diver’s watch to be worn comfortably without getting in the way of deskwork. This degree of attention to operability and wearability is one of the outstanding characteristics of the Grand Seiko watches.
The same is true of the push buttons on the chronograph models. In the past, Grand Seiko has added the protections around the push buttons to minimize the risk of slippage or dislodging. The new sport chronograph models in the Evolution 9 Collection lose these protective frames for improved operability, and instead come with buttons that have been made as large as possible. The short stroke and large button size mean that the chronograph can measure time even more accurately than ever.
Egashira says that one of the most important considerations for his team when designing the Evolution 9 was to provide long-term value. This led to certain decisions in terms of the robustness and wearability of the materials. “For the sport models for the Evolution 9 Collection, we wanted materials that were light and hard, and that led to the choice of high-intensity titanium as the main material. This was decided from the outset.”
The high-intensity titanium used for Grand Seiko watches is of a higher quality than titanium alloys generally used, making it stronger and more robust. This made it the perfect choice as a material for the sport models in the Evolution 9 Collection.
Another aspect of these new models is the care taken over the wearability and feel of the watches. The use of light materials already gave the sport models of the Evolution 9 Collection lightness and excellent wearability. The development team further enhanced these qualities by using slightly protruding box-shaped glass on the Spring Drive GMT, dual curved glass on the Spring Drive Chronograph GMT, and flat glass on the Spring Drive 5 Days Diver’s model. “We were looking for the optimal shapes that would match people’s movements. The Spring Drive GMT uses box-shaped glass to lower the center of gravity and ensures excellent strength and robustness. The Spring Drive Chronograph GMT, with its rotatable bezel and stopwatch function, is the most multi-functional watch in Grand Seiko’s history. The watch has been reduced in weight and design size, in order to increase its comfort and wearability even further. For the Spring Drive 5 Days Diver’s watch, we used a ceramic material for the bezel display plate.” These points, individually tailored to each model, were based on careful consideration of human actions, and a painstaking pursuit of the ideal dimensions and materials for optimal wearability.
This emphasis on wearability was one aspect that drove the evolution of the design for the sport models in the Evolution 9 Collection. One thing that stands out in comparison to previous models in the Grand Seiko to date is the emphasis on flat surfaces. The lugs in particular are much shorter than in previous models.
“One of our aims was to achieve a cleaner design where the lugs would not clash with the rest of the design. You could almost describe it as a flat design. We really trimmed back the tips of the lugs. And since we limited the volume of the mirrored face parts at the same time, this produced quite an austere, restrained design,” says Egashira.
The sport models of the Evolution 9 Collection mark the latest expansion of the new Evolution 9 platform. Grand Seiko has skillfully taken elements of the Japanese approach to sport, such as discipline and form (kata), and incorporated them into the watches in the form of readability, operability, and robustness. This is a collection that will continue to evolve into the future. There is no question that this latest installment will create a major stir and shake up the world of sport watches as it has existed until now.