For Olivia Briggs, it all started with a book, The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman. A best-selling primer on design, it is a reflection of how much thought and effort goes into making an object as simple and practical as possible, and an appreciation of small common items found in our lives, such as doorknobs, plates, and teapots. So closely is this theory tied to the elements of the Grand Seiko Style, a design language of simplicity, purity, and practicality, that it perfectly reflects the essential characteristics of Grand Seiko: precision, beauty, legibility, and durability. Form and function in perfect harmony. Together, these concepts charmed Olivia as she set off in her collecting journey.
It’s always interesting to discover how collectors learn about watches, and, more specifically, about Grand Seiko. In many cases it is a passion inherited from a family member; sometimes it begins as a deep dive into forums and watch sites where the community inspires; it can also be as simple as a friend making the introduction, showing off their newly acquired timepiece.
Mechanical pencils were Olivia’s starting point, which naturally led to a healthy obsession with fountain pens. “I fell in love with products from Rotring and Uni,” she says. “I then moved into fountain pens, which exposed me to many aspects that I love in watches, like vintage collecting, artisans who spend months making a single piece, and details like being able to pair each instrument with particular inks to produce a completely different end result.”
This tactile passion soon trickled into Olivia’s discovery of mechanical keyboards, where she learned the complexity of small-scale production, the different surface treatments and designs that could be applied to modify the clacking sound of the keycaps, and the various switches that produce different handling experiences. These multi-sensory occurrences of different levels of frictions felt and sounds heard are so closely related to the functions of a keyboard – for the watch lover, it is akin to the experience of winding a watch every morning. This was a natural springboard for Olivia’s discovery of watches in general, and of Grand Seiko soon after.
“On a lark, I did a watchmaking lesson with the Horological Society of New York,” Olivia remembers. “During the lesson, you learn to disassemble and reassemble a pocket watch movement. Understanding the complexity and precision of the movement gave me a new appreciation for watch movements.” Only after understanding the mechanics of the watch, Olivia set off to Zürich and visited a watch museum. Witnessing beautifully made watches and clocks that were centuries old, preserved, and in working order was not only impressive for Olivia, but also surreal, as so many modern devices are expected to becomes obsolete in a matter of years.
This realization, along with her appreciation of craftsmanship, led to Olivia’s first Grand Seiko acquisition, an SBGK002. “Urushi, for example, is used in some higher-end fountain pens, as it adds a unique vibrancy and depth to how the pen looks. The technique is also used in one of my favorite GS timepieces, the SBGK002.” From there, Olivia has gone on to acquire the Japan Seasons Collection SBGA413, which, to her, possesses such a unique dial surface finishing. That, combined with the pink hue, makes for a perfect representation of the Sakura blossoms in Spring.
For Olivia, watches represent snapshots of relationships, moments, and journeys. “Having a physical memento that you can wear and pass down for generations is such a romantic and wonderful idea,” she reflects. “Every piece has a story of how it was found and my motivations for acquiring it.” Olivia’s collection is a reminder to appreciate the experiences we see and feel and to live a present life, a theme closely tied to the Grand Seiko philosophy The Nature of Time. Regardless of the hobby, or the simplicity of an object, take the time to appreciate good and thoughtful design.