I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the 2019 GS9 Club Event that was recently held in Tokyo. Founded in 2015 the GS9 Club is a group created for Japanese residents who purchase Grand Seiko models from Grand Seiko Boutiques, Grand Seiko Salons, and Grand Seiko Master Shops in Japan. The Club has a roughly biannual magazine called GS9 that highlights new Grand Seiko models, some of the history behind the brand and other companies from the food or fashion industries that are associated with the brand. The Club has a dedicated website for members and hold number of experiences throughout the year including organized factory visits, guest presentations and special events.
One of these special events was the "GS9 Club Event 2019 ~ Feast UTAGE" that was held in Tokyo and Sapporo. Despite not being a Japanese resident and hence ineligible for GS9 Club member, I was able to receive an invite through my friend at the Seiko Museum. I was very fortunate to be able to attend the GS9 Club salon in 2016 and was very excited to be able to go to another.
On Saturday the 13th of July I headed to the upmarket Roppongi Hills Club in central Tokyo. I met my friend from the Museum at the train station and we headed off to the event that was held on the 51st floor of the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower.
The event had approximately 180 attendees and there was both a lunchtime and early evening session, I attended the first lunchtime session. When we arrived at the 51st floor there was a cloak room to leave bags and coats and a reception area for guest check-in. Each guest was given an individually numbered badge before being shown into the main room. Upon entry there was a selection of an alcoholic or non-alcoholic blue signature cocktail. In the center of the room were a series of plinths with various Grand Seiko models on display, The window side to the room had a small stage area and this was flanked either side by a table with wine or sake tasting.
At approximately 30 minutes into the session a Seiko staff member gave a welcome address detailing an outline of the event and introducing representatives from the wine and sake brewers. These companies had been featured in the tenth issues of the GS9 magazine. The wine was from the NIKI Hills winery located in Hokkaido and the sake from the Daishinsyu Sake Brewery that is located in Nagano. The product from each of the companies was exceptional and was enjoyed by the event attendees.
In a smaller room located to the left of the main area were a number of dedicated demonstration areas that had been setup for the different artisans and Seiko staff.
The first display area featured a presentation by Isshu Tamura, a Maki-e master who was demonstrating the creation of the dials for the new SBGK002 and SBGK004 models from the Grand Seiko Elegance collection. These dials have Maki-e hour markers, GS logo, and the numerals at twelve and six applied to the Urushi dial. During the presentation, conducted by a Seiko staff member, the process of creating the dial was described and at the same time Tamura-san demonstrated the process of creating the dials gold GS logo. The demonstration lasted about 25 minutes and during this time Tamura-san finished the G character of the GS logo. During the actual production process when not showing the techniques to viewers, it still takes approximately 15 minutes to add just the GS logo to a dial.
The dials for both the SBGK002 and SBGK004 have an Urushi finish. The SBGK002 features an amber Suki-Urushi lacquer finished dial with a Mount Iwate pattern (seen on previous GS models), with platinum Maki-e hour markers and GS logo. The SBGK004 features a black Urushi dial with platinum Maki-e hours markers, and 18K gold Maki-e 12 and 6 markers and GS logo.
The Urushi used for these dials was produced from the sap of trees grown in Joboji, an area located just near Mt. Iwate. These trees take approximately ten years to grow to a suitable size and once mature each tree will produce an average of only 200ml when the material is harvested. On display were some of the tools used to create the base urushi finish on the dial. This included a spatula type of tool, made from the horn of a water buffalo, that is used to scrape and move the urushi when applying it to the dial.
To apply the Maki-e finish to the dial Tamura-san first paints the area with Urushi, this has to be done extremely precisely to control the shape and thickness of the final result. The brushes used to paint the markers were handmade made by him with the handles from bamboo grass from the mountains of Kanazawa. The brush tips and tools are made from various materials including human hair and even the downy hairs from a roof rat.
After the area is painted either powdered gold or platinum is sprinkled onto the area where it adheres to the fresh urushi. To dispense the precious metal powder the shaft from a crane feather is used to sprinkle the powder via a light tapping gesture above the dial. Once the powder is applied the excess can be dusted away. At this point the finish has a relatively matte look to it, so it is then polished to bring out the natural shine of the material. To perform the polishing, a handmade tool using a tooth from a sea bream is employed. Just the right amount of pressure needs to be applied to maintain the consistent height of the Maki-e and to produce the polished finish.
It was incredible to be able to see in person this work done and the level of skill involved in the process. In the same area there was an example of a jewelry box that had been created by Takamura-san and it showed the wide range of textures and patterns that can be achieved using this technique.
After the Maki-e demonstration my friend from the museum had to leave. It was fantastic that he was able to take some time from his weekend and I really do appreciate the time that he spent with me at the event.
Next was a presentation on the main stage with a discussion panel featuring Masayuki Hirota, Editor-in-chief from the watch magazine Chronos Japan and food journalist Takanori Nakamura. During the presentation they discussed the similarities to the approach for world class manufacturing of both Japanese watches, and sake and wine. This was an interesting discussion but as it was conducted totally in Japanese I was not able to get the most from the presentation.
Following the panel discussion on the main stage there was some free time to check out the watches on display and to mingle with the other guests.
After a short break master craftsman Ikukiyo Komatsu conducted a demonstration of the disassembly and assembly of a Spring Drive movement. Komatsu-san joined Seiko Epson in 1982, and in 1985 won a gold medal in the Japanese National Skill Olympic Games for watch-making. He has been responsible for training a number of other watch technicians and in 2014 he was recognized as a Modern Master Craftsman by the Japanese Government.
The assembly process was shown on a large monitor so could be viewed by all the onlookers in the crowd. While I have seen this process performed multiple times it is always nice to see such skilled technicians at work. In front of the work area was a display showing the individual parts of a 9R movement so viewers could understand the components they were seeing being assembled and appreciate the number of parts that make up the complete movement. Beside the bench were a few large models showing the construction of various components to help explain to viewers who may not have been familiar with the functioning of the different movement technologies.
Next to the Spring Drive assembly area was a small display with the new manual wind Spring Drive models highlighted. To celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the release of Spring Drive, Grand Seiko released a series of new manual wind models. These included the stainless steel SBGY003 and 18K SBGY002 with the 9R31 movement, and the 9R02 based SBGZ003 with the matte grained dial and SBGZ001 with a hand carved platinum case. As part of the display they showed a vintage Grand Seiko 56GA 046 (5641-5000) with the original snowflake dial that was used as the inspiration for the dial on the SBGZ001. There was a prototype of the new case design that had a traditional Japanses tsuiki (hammer tone) finish. I was reminded of this technique a few days later when I saw the door hardware on the main entrance to Kanazawa Castle. I would love to see this case finish used on some future model. This hammered design was dropped and changed to the hand carved version seen on the final production model.
In the same room as the assembly and maki-e demonstrations there was a table from the service department. Here the staff would examine visitors watches and performed basic checks like accuracy and if the watch had been magnetised. There was a display showing the types of service work that could be performed including general repairs and case and bracelet finishing.
Heading back to the main room there was a large buffet of various foods and a desert section featuring a couple of Grand Seiko themed cakes.
In the central section of the room attendees were able to see a wide range of new models and limited editions arranged on a circle of plinths. The models included the SBGE248, a two tone model that had been announced just two days earlier. This has a distinctive gold bezel, crown, hands and indices that are paired with a blue dial and bezel insert. This model has a 9R66 Spring Drive movement with GMT complication.
Moving around the circle the next display showed the three new models from the Elegance collection. These were the steel (SBGY003), gold (SBGY002) and platinum (SBGZ001) hand wound Spring Drive models. These models were announced at Baselworld this year and have amazingly finished movements and cases, dials and hands, even when compared to the level we have come to expect from Grand Seiko.
The next display was for the ladies models, with the steel STGK007 and STGK009 models with zaratsu polished cases. There was also the white gold STGK003, yellow gold STGK004 and rose gold STGK006 models each featuring 55 diamonds on the dial, bezel and crown. All of these models are based around the new compact 9S27 automatic movement.
Moving around the display you arrived at the quartz 9F61 200m diver models. The three colorways in the collection were all on display. The 800 piece Limited Edition SBGX339 has a black dial with yellow chapter ring, the standard model SBGX337 has a blue dial and chapter ring, while the SBGX335 has a black dial and chapter ring. These watches are supplied on a bracelet but also come with a rubber strap that was on display alongside the watches.
The SBGC229 commemorates both the 20th Anniversary of Spring Drive and the 50th Anniversary of the Nissan GT-R. This model has a blue and white color palette reflecting the same color scheme of the anniversary Nissan Skyline 2000 GT-R. The model has a ceramic outer case around a titanium body housing a 9R96 Spring Drive chronograph. The display back shows off the movement and the gold Nissan GT-R logo on the rotor medallion.
Another commemorative model is the SBGN009 released to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the first available quartz wrist watch. The model is powered by the 9F86 with a GMT complication and the blue dial has a pattern depicting the Seiko quartz logo introduced in the 1970’s. This logo is quite subtle and can only be seen at a specific angle. The same display area also had the new blue snowflake SBGA407 model.
Completing the line up of models presented was the group of the three new Spring Drive Sports models. The series all feature the very distinctive styling of the lion inspired highly faceted cases that received a mixed reaction from fans when announced at Baselworld. The titanium cased SBGA403 features the 9R15 Spring Drive movement while the titanium SBGC231 and rose gold SBGC230 models utilize the 9R96 chronograph calibre. These very distinctive models wear much smaller than their initial appearance and specifications would imply due to the relatively short lug to lug distance. The models must really be seen in person to appreciate the styling and stunning design of the series.
After checking out these watches I chatted with a number of attendees and staff members who shared some of their experiences with Grand Seiko and showed watches from their personal collections.
Towards the end of the event there was a giveaway of a range of different prizes for attendees. The prizes included Grand Seiko branded wooden boxes, sake glasses, paperweights, wrapping cloths and a selection of wines and sake from NIKI Hills and Daishinsyu Sake Brewery. The prize recipients were determined by a random drawing of the individual badge numbers worn by guests.
The event wrapped up shortly after the prize draw was concluded. Upon leaving the event each guest was presented with a Grand Seiko gift bag containing a booklet, cloth, brochure, and metallic collectors pin.
These collectors pins are something that has been presented at each of the annual GS9 events since their introduction and feature a key model from the years new additions to the line up. The pin this year featured the SBGA403, this will be a nice addition to my collection of pins from previous years events.
This years event was held in a smaller location than previous ones, so the number of attendees was limited. The division of the event into lunchtime and evening sessions allowed the number of attendees to be increased but it still remained quite exclusive with many more people wanting to attend than positions available. The layout of the event was well done and it was great to see in person the artists performing their crafts to gain a greater understanding of the work involved in the production of these models. It was fantastic to be able to handle so many of the limited editions and new models all in one location and proved to be an excellent opportunity to see what the models actually look like in person and feel on the wrist. This was much nicer than the models being secured in cabinets and allowed for more interactivity by the guests.
The pairing with the wine and sake companies was a nice one and I am sure there was a strong cross over with both companies customer base who appreciate well made handcrafted products. The event was very well managed and I am sure that all attendees had a fantastic time. It was a great opportunity for fans of the brand to meet each other and interact, sharing their passion for the brand.
The location was easy to get to and had an amazing view of the city but it was not really required with almost everyone focused on the watches and presentations. I would suggest having the event at a more cost effective location that could be as obvious as the exhibit space at the Wako building or annex, or even the SWC corporate headquarters in Ginza. I am sure that this would reduce the cost of conducting the event and may allow the event to be expanded to include more attendees or conducted over a couple of days. It would be great to see any addition of other artisans demonstrating their skills as there are so many different people that are involved with the production of the Grand Seiko line up. Another area that I would love to see more focus on would be the product designers, engineers and planners. In the past Seiko has had some very well known designers and engineers such as Taro Tanaka and Ikuo Tokunaga. It would be fantastic to see the current generation of employees raise their profile and hear the stores and inspirations behind the design of the latest models.
While I do understand the desire to focus on the new direction of the Grand Seiko branding, I would have liked to see a little more attention on the strong history of the brand and the innovations that came before. It was nice to see the small display showing the vintage Grand Seiko model being the inspiration for the new hand wound Elegance models, but with this year commemorating numerous significant anniversaries, it would have been a perfect opportunity to acknowledge the incredible depth of history behind innovations like Spring Drive and the quartz watch. The positioning of Grand Seiko as an independent brand from Seiko does make sense but it should not mean that a long and deep history of horological innovation is not be given the acknowledgement that it deserves.
Recently Seiko opened a dedicated boutique for Prospex in Japan, it would be fantastic to see a similar themed event held for this target audience, especially with the push into higher segments with the introduction of the LX series. This could include a presentation from LX designer Ken Okuyama or even the legendary Ikuo Tokunaga who was responsible for many of the innovations of the professional Seiko dive models. It would be great to pair with adventures who have used the Prospex products and even complementary equipment manufacturers.
I would like to thank again the staff members that made it possible for me to attend this event and who gave up their personal time on the weekend to accompany me. It was fantastic to see so many fans of the brand, get hands on with many exclusive models and to see artisans at the top of their field performing their work. This is the type of event that I would love to see replicated in other countries to continue to grow the brands awareness and bring together loyal fans.