Situated in Shiojiri, Nagano prefecture, nestled between the idyllic Japanese Alps, is the Shinshu Watch Studio, home to Grand Seiko Spring Drive and quartz. Here, watchmakers and artisans of all stripes produce the necessary componentry to create a Grand Seiko timepiece from start to finish. But within the halls of Shinshu is another dedicated atelier, one keenly focused on distinct, cutting-edge horology and artistry. Here, a small group of highly skilled watchmakers bring to life some of Grand Seiko’s finest timepieces, pushing the brand to new artistic and technical heights. This is, of course, the Micro Artist Studio, the birthplace of the new SBGZ007.
The Micro Artist Studio was born in 2000, established with the purpose of developing and passing on to the next generation the highly specialized skills required in the watchmaking craft. Expressly, the projects pursued by the watchmakers of the Micro Artist Studio would push the boundaries of their skill, and to that end technical experts from an array of different fields were brought together, touching on everything from initial design to finishing. Since the Studio’s founding the output has been nothing short of amazing, with notable accomplishments such as the Credor Spring Drive Minute Repeater, Sonnerie, and Eichi watches garnering industry-wide acclaim. In 2016, the watchmakers of the Micro Artist Studio produced SBGD001 (now SBGD201), their first timepiece for Grand Seiko.
The development of the former SBGD001, now the current SBGD201, began with caliber 9R01, a technical and aesthetic powerhouse harnessing the full potential of Spring Drive. It offers a precision rate of 10 seconds-per-month and a notable 8-day power reserve thanks to a system of three barrels arranged in sequence. A single solid bridge is used to ensure the movement’s stability and to secure any wheels from becoming displaced in case of shock. The visually stunning layout and finishing of the caliber are inspired by the scenery of Lake Suwa. The bridge traces the contours of Mt. Fuji, the glide wheel represents the sun sitting behind the mountain, the rubies and tempered blued screws evoke the lights of Suwa city at night, and the power reserve indicator echoes the shape of Lake Suwa. The caliber is hand-finished with convex beveling along the edges of the bridge, and the top surface is done in a beautiful linear graining known as “hairline finishing.”
Reference SBGD201 features a stunning case rendered in platinum 950, made denser and hardened via a process called cold forging. The case features Grand Seiko’s trademark Zaratsu polishing thanks to a special technique created specifically for working with platinum. The dial has a distinct “diamond dust” texture, emulating the snow crystals that blow in winter across the slopes of the mountains that surround the Micro Artist Studio. A second reference, SBGD202, features an 18k rose gold case, also with Zaratsu polishing, and the dial emulates the shimmer of the stars on a crisp winter night in Shiojiri.
Following up on the impressive 9R01, the Micro Artist Studio unveiled caliber 9R02 three years later in 2019. The goal with the new caliber was to develop a compact, manual-winding Spring Drive movement for a Grand Seiko dress watch without sacrificing power reserve, accuracy, legibility, elegance, durability, and shock resistance. They found their solution in a movement that combines a Dual Spring Barrel with the Torque Return System first implemented inside the acclaimed Credor Eichi II.
The Dual Spring Barrel achieves a greater power reserve by housing two mainsprings in one barrel, keeping the movement compact. These two springs, which are longer and thinner than a typical mainspring, extend the power reserve without diminishing the torque by unwinding simultaneously.
The Torque Return System optimizes the higher torque of the movement to more effectively harness the release of energy and extend the power reserve. In any caliber, when the mainspring is fully wound and the torque output is at its peak, approximately 30% of the power is not needed to maintain precision and is effectively wasted in the transmission of energy. The Torque Return System captures this energy and uses it to rewind the
mainspring, effectively increasing the power reserve for 48 hours after the mainspring has been fully wound. Together, the Dual Spring Barrel and Torque Return System extend the power reserve to 84 hours.
Like 9R01 before it, 9R02 is finished to an incredibly high standard, and it too is inspired by the natural splendor surrounding Shiojiri. On the barrel is a bellflower, the symbol of Shiojiri, and the channel between the two bridges evokes the river that feeds into Lake Suwa. Both bridges feature beautifully hand-applied convex beveling and a fine straight grain across the top surface. Altogether, caliber 9R02 is a masterpiece of technical creativity and hand craftsmanship.
Caliber 9R02 made its debut in two references, SBGZ001 and SBGZ003, both celebrations of the 20th anniversary of Spring Drive. Inspired by the hammered finish of select Grand Seiko cases from the ‘70s, Micro Artist Studio designer Kazunori Hoshino envisioned a case and dial for SBGZ001 that would embody one of Grand Seiko’s best-known symbols, the snowflake. Not only does the dial of SBGZ001 (shown here) have the brand’s snowflake pattern, so too does the platinum case, featuring a hand-applied finish that showcases not only horological know-how, but also true artistry. SBGZ007, the watch Grand Seiko is introducing today, is the natural successor to SBGZ001.
A limited edition celebrating the company’s 140th anniversary, the new SBGZ007 masterpiece conjures the night sky of Achi, a village in the southern part of Shinshu that, due to its elevation, is well-known for its clear, star-studded night skies where the stars above appear to be within arm’s reach.
To achieve this mesmerizing effect, the dial goes through a multi-step manufacturing process that includes pressing, plating, and painting through multiple complex processes to achieve a dial that reflects light at multiple angles and has tremendous depth. The final result is a deep-blue dial with sparkling specs that appear differently depending on one’s viewing angle, an effect that masterfully evokes the Achi night sky. Omitting any of the aforementioned steps would result in a dial that is significantly less dynamic, and it is worth noting that the dial of SBGD201, which is known as the “diamond dust” dial, goes through a similar treatment to achieve its unique glimmer.
The hour and minute hands and hour indexes are made of 14k white gold, which is denoted by the star symbol above six o’clock. The GS logo is carved into the dial itself.
The case, rendered in platinum 950, measures 38.5mm in diameter and 9.8mm in thickness. Known as the “Dress Series,” this case design was first introduced in 2019. The inspiration for the form came from the shape of a wind-filled sail, and the goal was to create a slimmer curved case that could easily slip under a shirt cuff.
To finish the case to Grand Seiko’s exacting standard, a new adaptation of Zaratsu polishing had to be developed to address the challenge of creating a distortion-free finish on a curved surface. This approach, which involves polishing a curved surface against a flat disc, is far more labor intensive and requires great dexterity from even the most experienced artisan. Furthermore, the case being platinum posed additional challenges, because platinum, being a softer metal, is harder and more time-consuming to finish via the Zaratsu method.
The case of SBGZ007 is first polished, and the engraved with a distinct geometric pattern using a very fine grinding tool. Unlike the snowflake finish of SBGZ001, which has the texture going in a single direction, the pattern here is done in different directions. According to Mr. Hoshino, the aesthetic is inspired by patterns dating back to Japan’s Edo period. Altogether, it takes nearly twice as long to execute this case when compared to the case of SBGZ001.
Before applying it to a watch case, the pattern was first tested and fine-tuned on a flat surface. When executing it on a case, the engraver rotates the case while applying the motif. Because the grinding tool leaves behind rough, deep-set grooves, each groove is then polished by hand to achieve the desired look and feel. Due to all the handwork that goes into the case, no two cases are alike.
Accompanying the case is a dual curved sapphire crystal that measures approximately 2mm in height. It adds a vintage touch to the timepiece, but like all sapphire it remains scratch-resistant and, due to its distinct shape, the curved shape does not distort the dial, a key tenet of Grand Seiko’s design ethos.
Of the roughly ten elite craftsmen and women currently working in the Micro Artist Studio, assembly for SBGZ007 is performed by two individuals, one of them being Katsumi Nakata. Mr. Nakata has been recognized as a Contemporary Master Craftsman and is now the third member of the Micro Artist Studio team to receive the Medal with Yellow Ribbon from the Japanese government.
Caliber 9R02 incorporates an 18k yellow gold plaque on the lower bridge, which carries the engraved words “Micro Artist.” If the owner wishes, this can be replaced with a word of his or her choice.
SBGZ007 is a limited edition of just 50 watches, and it will be available for $79,000 USD exclusively at Grand Seiko Boutiques starting in August of 2021.
Case: Platinum 950
Dimensions: 38.5mm in diameter x 9.8mm in thickness x 43.7mm in length
Movement: 9R02 Spring Drive
Availability: August 2021, inquire with Grand Seiko Boutiques and the GS9 Club Shop