Why, hello there! It’s nice to meet you – I’m Cait, and you may have noticed my byline starting to pop up in the HODINKEE shop beginning last October. While I may be a relatively new voice here, I’ve been around the industry for almost a decade at half a dozen publications, both digital and print.
As one of the few female voices in watches, I’ve often found myself tasked with writing about ladies’ watches, and in those instances, I was encouraged to embrace my female perspective – to give a woman’s take on a woman’s product. Makes sense, right? But today, inspired by my colleague Cara’s astute and poignant essay earlier this week, I’m here to wax poetic about a model that’s tugged at my heartstrings ever since a lecture at the Horological Society of New York in 2019 – spoiler alert, it’s considered a “men’s watch” and one with technical prowess to boot – The Grand Seiko Spring Drive.
At the time I attended the lecture, I hadn’t written much about Grand Seiko and, candidly, wasn’t too familiar, but afterward, I was smitten. A man named Joseph Kirk (who holds the very impressive title of Brand Curator and National Trainer for Grand Seiko Corporation of America) guided us through the development of Spring Drive from a technical perspective – ushering me into the complex yet poetic world of this incredible hybrid movement.
The clincher came in the final portion of the lecture when Kazunori Hoshino (Product Planner and Designer of Seiko Epson Corporation) drove home the Japanese ethos found in Spring Drive’s design, all led by the guiding principle: There must be beauty in functionality.
Complex, Yet Poetic
High-frequency mechanical watches, as well as quartz watches, first began to rise in popularity in the 1970s. A benefit of a well-crafted, high-frequency watch is stability, which can help reduce the margin of error and the impact of outside factors, like shock or temperature. However, the downside of high-frequency mechanical watches is the added wear-and-tear and, with quartz, the limitations of the battery. So, a Grand Seiko engineer named Yoshikazu Akahane set out to, in essence, create the “perfect watch,” combining the best of both worlds – the never-ending power source of a mechanical watch with a unidirectional regulation system using a quartz crystal to eliminate the most friction-heavy component of a mechanical movement, the escapement. The result was ultimately Spring Drive.
In the most basic terms, Spring Drive is a mechanical watch with the high accuracy, precision, and stability of a quartz watch, which notably results in that ever-so-pleasing continuous motion of the sweeping seconds hand. Like a traditional mechanical watch, the mainspring unwinds inside the barrel and delivers energy to the gear train. However, in place of the traditional mechanical escapement is a system called the Tri-Synchro Regulator. Instead of using a balance wheel that glides back and forth as in traditional mechanical watches, the Tri-Synchro Regulator uses a glide wheel that rolls in one direction. On the axis of that glide wheel is a permanent magnet along with a coil and coil block, integrated circuit, and quartz crystal oscillator, as seen in quartz watches.
This hybrid mechanical-quartz arrangement uses three forms of energy: Mechanical that generates current, electrical that powers the integrated circuit and the quartz crystal, and electromagnetic that applies a brake to the glide wheel. Let’s take a moment to pause there and nerd out like Bill Nye for a minute. Inside this watch movement of merely 30-something millimeters are three different forms of energy working in perfect harmony to create one of the most accurate, precise, and stable modes of timekeeping.
Beauty In Functionality
Now, they don’t call it the art of watchmaking for nothing – it’s equal parts mechanics and artistry. So, let’s get to that latter part, specifically as it’s epitomized in Spring Drive.
There’s always been an influence of nature in Japanese watchmaking, dating all the way back to the mid-seventh century with such timekeeping devices as the Rokuku or water clock, which, like Spring Drive, operated with continuous motion. Building on this tradition, Product Planner and Designer Kazunori Hoshino brings two key pillars to Seiko Epson Corporation’s Micro Artist Studio. The first is that there must be beauty in functionality, and the second is that you must have the ability to imagine something new through something existing. He exemplified these pillars through two Spring Drive models: The caliber 9R01A 8 days and the caliber 9R65.
Every Spring Drive watch has a story. The caliber 9R01A 8 days tells the story of a day gazing out from Seiko Epson Corporation’s Micro Artist Studio. The view is of Mount Fuji along with the city of Suwa and Lake Suwa. Each of these three elements is represented through the placement of the jewels and power reserve within the movement. Similarly, the design of the caliber 9R65 tells the story of the Japanese Alps that bisect the main island of Honshu and the woodlands and towns below.
Upon hearing these narratives, I was reminded that while technical prowess is often put at the forefront of watchmaking, it’s the poetic nature of design that gives us a visceral and emotional response to watches. Where many of us look at a watch movement and see a slab of metal, Hoshino saw a canvas on which to paint a depiction of his world.
The Grand Seiko Spring Drive GMT SBGE257
This brings us to the Spring Drive GMT SBGE257 we have here in the HODINKEE Shop. You may be thinking that Spring Drive sounds complex enough on its own without the addition of GMT functionality. But I’m a sucker for a complication, even if it feels intimidating to use at first. In particular, the GMT keeps me dreaming of the day I’ll finally be able to leave Eastern Standard Time and travel again. When I did a cross-country road trip two years ago, I desperately wished I had a GMT in my collection, knowing I’d be traversing a whole slew of time zones, and I’ll definitely be heading west again as soon as it’s safe to do so.
We offer this Spring Drive GMT in three colorways: blue, black, and green. As a New Yorker, I naturally have a wardrobe packed with blacks and greys – so the rich, velvety green color scheme not only livens up my at-times bleak clothing, but also drives home the influence of nature in Japanese watchmaking.
Inside the SBGE257, you’ll find the caliber 9R66. Sadly, there’s no exhibition caseback and Hoshino didn’t share the story behind the 9R66, so we’ll just have to write our own. I like to picture the mountains that make up nearly 80% of Japan and the water that surrounds the islands – this perfect balance of earth and water that mirrors the perfect balance of mechanical and quartz elements, beauty and functionality, within Spring Drive – but you should write your own story. Consider Hoshino’s pillar, look past this green hunk of stainless steel, and use your imagination to see something new.