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Grand Seiko Marks 20 Years of Its Most Revolutionary Movement With Two New Watches
Spring Drive is no longer a spring chicken.
Grand Seiko, the luxury brand offshoot of watch giant Seiko, has established a handful of signature traits over the course of its 64-year lifespan. There’s the fine, mirror-like polishing technique known as “Zaratsu.” The sharp-angled 44GS case. The wide range of colorful and textured dials inspired by the natural world of Japan. And, perhaps greatest of all, there is Spring Drive, the one-of-a-kind movement technology unique to the brand (and to a handful of Seiko watches).
Spring Drive first debuted back in 2004, meaning this year marks two decades of the revolutionary tech. A hybrid movement that combines the precision of quartz movements with the craftsmanship and beauty of a mechanical movement, Spring Drive powers some of the most desirable watches in Grand Seiko’s vast lineup. And now we can add two more references to the list, as the brand has launched a pair of special editions to celebrate Spring Drive’s twentieth birthday.
What is Spring Drive?
Spring Drive is best described as a hybrid movement. It derives its power from the uncoiling of a mainspring that has been wound either by winding the crown or via an oscillating weight activated by moving the wrist (Spring Drive has both hand-winding and automatic calibers). The power released by the mainspring then drives the gear train, which moves the hands of the watch.
In a mechanical watch, the uncoiling of the mainspring is controlled by the escapement — a delicate contraption made up of the balance wheel, pallet fork and escapement wheel. The escapement allows a watch to keep consistent time.
Spring Drive movements strongly resemble automatic movements.Grand Seiko
In a Spring Drive movement, there is no traditional escapement. Instead, the mainspring’s power is controlled by a Grand Seiko invention dubbed the Tri-Synchro Regulator. This device converts the kinetic energy of the mainspring into an electrical current, which does two things. One, it powers a quartz crystal oscillator — like you’d find in a quartz watch — that essentially functions as the escapement. And since a quartz crystal oscillates at a much higher frequency than a mechanical escapement, this means Spring Drive movements are more accurate than mechanical movements, matching the accuracy of quartz watches. Spring Drive movements are accurate about ±15 seconds per month, while the most accurate mechanical movements are about half as precise.
In addition to powering the quartz oscillator, the electrical impulse created by the Tri-Synchro Regulator also powers an integrated circuit that monitors the rate of the oscillations created by the quartz crystal and applies an electromagnetic brake when necessary to keep the rate consistent. This brake is applied to a glide wheel that controls the advancement of the hands, and the result is a perfectly smooth-sweeping seconds hand without any of the ticking or stuttering of either quartz or mechanical watch hands.
Celebrating 20 years of Spring Drive
The GMT contrasts its striking red dial with a black ceramic bezel. Grand Seiko
Grand Seiko SBGA497 “Pink Snowflake”
Grand Seiko SBGA497
Grand Seiko Spring Drive 9R65
Gorgeous textured dial
Lightweight reinforced titanium case and bracelet
Moving the power reserve to the back would result in a cleaner dial
If there is one watch that Grand Seiko can point to as its flagship, it’s the SBGA211, better known as the “Snowflake.” First introduced in 2005, just one year after Spring Drive technology, the watch quickly became a symbol for the innovative movement, with its blued steel seconds hand smoothly and silently gliding over its textured snow-white dial.
For the SBGA497, Grand Seiko has mostly kept the script intact. It’s still powered by the 9R65 caliber automatic Spring Drive movement, and the case and bracelet appear to be the same as on the SBGA211, both crafted from High-Intensity Titanium, while the dial has undergone a change. A pink hue has been added to the snowy dial, which Grand Seiko says is inspired by winter mornings near the Hotaka Peaks mountain range outside the brand’s workshop. The watch is limited to 1,500 units and will be available in March.
Grand Seiko SBGE305 “Morning Glow of Hotaka Peaks”
Grand Seiko SBGE305
Grand Seiko Spring Drive 9R66 GMT
Great color combination
“True” GMT functionality
Quite thick at 14.7mm
Although Grand Seiko is probably best known for its dressier models, the brand also has a robust catalog of sports watches. Among the most popular are its 40.5mm line of Spring Drive-powered GMT watches, which combine the smooth-sweeping tech with a dual timezone-tracking via a fourth hand and independent local jumping hour functionality. Standard versions include blue, green, black and brown versions, all of which match their dials to their fixed ceramic bezels.
For the anniversary version, though, Grand Seiko has mixed things up by combining a striking red dial with a stark black bezel. The contrast draws inspiration from the interplay between the Hotaka Peaks’ rocky surface, represented by the bezel, and the summer sunrise, visualized via the red dial. This bi-color version is limited to 1,300 examples and will go on sale this June.