We recently published an article about non-Swiss watches as a reminder that the watch industry exists well beyond Switzerland’s borders. While Swiss watches tend to grab a majority of the headlines, there are plenty of world-class timepieces being produced around the globe. Today, we’re departing our familiar European waters and taking a more in-depth look at another great watchmaking nation: Japan. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the world of high-end watches from the Land of the Rising Sun.
Grand Seiko Elegance SBGE227G
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: The quality of Seiko timepieces is highly underrated despite their widespread popularity.If you don’t believe me, go check out their watches for yourself. While it didn’t become its own brand until 2017, Grand Seiko has been crafting true luxury watches since 1960. Their timepieces are a combination of precision, beauty, and durability. The current catalog contains a wide range of high-end quartz, mechanical, and Spring Drive watches.
This particular Grand Seiko Elegance comes with a Spring Drive caliber. This kind of movement combines the beauty of a mechanical caliber with the precision of a quartz movement. It is probably the most widely used movement type in Grand Seiko’s catalog. Like a mechanical caliber, the gears are driven by a mainspring. However, an electronic regulator has replaced the traditional balance wheel and escapement used to regulate the speed of energy transfer. This means that instead of taking multiple steps per second, the second hand of a Spring drive movement glides smoothly around the dial.
The movement in this timepiece boasts a 3-day power reserve. You can see how much of its energy remains by checking the power reserve indicator at 7 o’clock. There’s also a GMT function, which makes the watch an excellent travel companion. This allows you to tell the time in a second time zone using an additional central hand and a 24-hour scale around the outside of the dial. A date display at 3 o’clock rounds off this timepiece’s functionality. If you flip the watch over, you can view the automatic 9R66 Spring Drive movement through the sapphire glass case back.
The stainless steel case measures just over 40 mm in diameter and is mounted on a crocodile leader strap with a folding clasp. Combining a leather strap with a folding clasp is relatively uncommon, but I like how easy it is to put on. The dark brown dial features a beautiful sunburst finish and applied hour markers that are polished to perfection.
The Grand Seiko Elegance SBGE227 has a list price of $5,600. Other similar timepieces are also available, including some versions on a metal bracelet.
Minase claims to be Japan’s smallest watch brand. Minase is an offshoot Kyowa Co., Ltd., a manufacturer of cutting tools founded in 1963. Located roughly 500 km north of Tokyo, this company specializes in drill manufacturing and metal cutting. This eventually attracted the interest of watch companies, who require precision drilling. Upon realizing they had all they needed to build their own watches, Kyowa Co., Ltd. established the Minase brand in 2005. Considering their high level of craftsmanship, and the fact that Shinzo Abe, Japan’s Prime Minister, wears their timepieces, this brand certainly deserves some attention.
These watches may seem a bit overwhelming at first glance. There’s a lot going on, and you’ll need a little time before the individual details begin to stand out. However, the more you look at these watches, the more you’ll admire them. From the front, you’ll first notice the case-in-case construction. The hour markers do double duty as anchors for the dial and movement, thus allowing light to shine around the dial’s edge. Each timepiece combines brushed and polish surfaces across its case, bracelet, dial, indices, and hands.
When viewed from the side, you’ll find a narrow slit running the length of the case where the upper and lower portions of the case and lugs meet. This unique construction gives the Divido its name. In Esperanto, the term divido means partitioned. The crown is also striking thanks to its polyhedral design. Finally, Minase looked to traditional Japanese wooden puzzles when crafting the bracelet. There are no pin holes; instead, the individual pieces screw together on the wrist side of the bracelet.
The company uses so-called “sallaz” polishing on each of the cases’ surfaces. Today, this technique is almost exclusively found in high-quality Japanese watches, and the results are fantastic. It’s worth noting that this polishing style gets its name from the Swiss company that once produced these machines. Highly skilled craftsmen do the polishing by hand and can even apply it to surfaces only 0.7 mm wide. When it comes to the Divido, Minase uses sallaz polishing on 14 different surfaces of the case.
Despite the fact that this watch comes with a modified Swiss movement (so it’s not entirely “made in Japan”), we still think it’s worth a mention, especially considering the price range. The Divido costs around $3,200 on a rubber strap and $4,300 on a metal bracelet.
Seiko Presage SPB075
However, not every high-quality Japanese watch comes with a price tag of several thousand dollars. Take the Seiko Presage SPB075, for example. This limited edition features a stunning enamel dial and the automatic caliber 6R15 with a 50-hour power reserve. While this movement isn’t quite as refined as those found in Grand Seiko watches, it still has some nice finishes.
The true highlight of this timepiece is its patterned enamel dial with Roman numerals. This timepiece is a great example of how the Japanese earned their reputation for excellent craftsmanship. Seiko uses Shippo enamel, which originated in 17th century Japan. Unlike porcelain-based enamels, Shippo enamel uses a glaze that is heated to 1,472°F (800°C) degrees multiple times and then polished. At only 1 mm thick, this dial is extremely delicate. Seiko gets their Presage Shippo dials from Ando Cloisonne, a company in Nagoya, Japan with over 100 years of experience.
With a price tag of only $1,400, you’re getting a lot for your money. This watch is sure to put a smile on your face whenever you check the time. Though, to be honest, I usually just look at my wrist to admire my watch. In fact, I often have to look down again because I forgot to check the time. That’s just about the biggest compliment you could give a watch.
The more you look into watches and watch brands, the more interesting pieces you will come across. You’ll soon find that purchasing a nice watch doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. My personal collection continues to evolve over time, and I find myself more excited than ever thanks to my ever-expanding breadth of watch knowledge. Like most people, I also buy watches on a budget. In the past, I used to sell watches; however, today my collection remains relatively consistent in size. No matter where my watch journey takes me, one thing’s for sure: It will always include a high-end piece from Japan.