Mobilizing all the efforts of highly skilled craftsmen and cutting-edge technology, Seiko Watch Corp. is releasing another masterpiece watch; a new version of the Eichi II from its luxury Credor line this summer.
Watchmaking in Suwa
Released in 2014, the Eichi II is a handmade, platinum watch with a Spring Drive movement and hand-decorated porcelain dial. The new version is made with a rose gold case to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the original 2008 Eichi. As eichi means wisdom in Japanese, the creation and evolution of the Eichi and Eichi II are part of an ongoing quest to realize the ultimate beauty of simplicity in watchmaking at the Shiojiri factory of Seiko Epson Corp. in Nagano Prefecture. Seiko Epson, formerly known as Suwa Seikosha Co. Ltd., has been an important supplier of Seiko watches, and it is the very place where “made in Japan” watches were first developed after World War II.
Originally a components manufacturer for Seiko watches, it was founded in 1942 in Suwa, Nagano Prefecture; coincidentally, Seiko moved its facilities to remote areas outside greater Tokyo, including Suwa, for safety during WWII. During the postwar period, the manufacturer developed into watchmaker Suwa Seikosha through utilizing the remaining facilities.
After the decline of local silk filature production, the Suwa area transformed into a precision machinery hub as factories relocated to the area during the war. Located near Lake Suwa and the surrounding mountains, the area is blessed with crisp air and clean water, essential for working with minuscule parts, and sometimes dubbed the Switzerland of the East.
In the age of Japan’s high-speed economic growth, the Suwa factory made the first Japan-designed Marvel watch in 1956 and the first Grand Seiko high-quality watch in 1960. The company improved precision in mechanical watchmaking, garnering Seiko watches and its watchmakers high evaluations at Swiss observatory chronometer competitions held in the late 1960s.
Suwa Seikosha also developed the world’s first portable quartz timer in 1963 and the world’s first quartz watch, the Seiko Quartz Astron, in 1969. Thanks to these innovations, the company has developed into the present-day Seiko Epson, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of computer printers, information-related equipment and electronic devices. The company’s watchmaking facilities then shifted to Shiojiri, also in Nagano Prefecture. Watchmaking remains a major source of pride as its origin and base of its technology.
Spring Drive evolution
The Spring Drive movement that combines the high torque of mechanical watches with a high-precision integrated circuit (IC) control system in quartz watches is one of Seiko’s most prominent technical innovations.
The idea was pioneered by Yoshikazu Akahane, an engineer who worked at Seiko Epson, as early as 1977 and who patented it later. However, with no existing technology to save energy consumption, the development of the Spring Drive movement was temporarily abandoned.
After 20 years of trial and error marked by repeated resumption and suspension, Akahane, who became head of the Shiojiri factory in 1997, decided to revive the Spring Drive project and create watches run by the same power as mechanical watches, with the same precision of quartz watches. In other words, it is a self-generating energy cycle structure where the physical movement of the mainspring activates the watch while also generating electric power for the quartz timing package.
“Thanks to the more efficient power-generating technologies and a lower power consumption IC system as low as 25 nanowatts developed through our automatic quartz watches, known as the Kinetic watch series, Seiko finally exhibited a sample of the Spring Drive movement publicly at the Baselworld fair in April 1998,” explained Osamu Takahashi, an engineer who worked on the Spring Drive project. “It was just before Akahane passed away that August,” he added.
In 1999, the first commercially available Spring Drive watches were released. Although explaining new technology can be difficult, Spring Drive technology has gradually gained recognition partly because of the way the second hand glides so smoothly across the watch face.
Another element that enabled the Spring Drive’s commercialization and implementation in Grand Seiko and other high-end watches was the traditional mechanical watchmaking technique of grinding miniature wheels to reduce the friction that prevented a loss in power transmission.
Horologists in Shiojiri
The entire watchmaking process, from design and component manufacturing to assembly, tuning and inspection is done at the Shiojiri factory today.
Responding to worries that the tradition of mechanical watchmaking would vanish, the Micro Artist Studio was established in the Shiojiri factory in 2000 to pass on skills to the next generation. Bringing together a dozen experts and master craftsmen, the studio has produced new timepieces, making use of Seiko’s original Spring Drive movement.
The Micro Artist Studio produced the Eichi and Eichi II in pursuit of sophisticated beauty, inspired by the Simplicity watch made by the legendary Swiss watchmaker Philippe Dufour, who visited the studio to exchange views and ideas on finishing techniques.
The many tiny components of the Spring Drive movement for high-end watches can be only assembled by hand. Master watchmaker Yoshifusa Nakazawa, who won first prize in watch assembly and repair at the 1981 World Skills Olympics held in Atlanta and was awarded the Medal with Yellow Ribbon award in 2015, has worked at the studio since 2005.
Anyone familiar with the components can assemble them. However, what is difficult is sensing and detecting the slightest difference with your eyes and fingertips when something is strange,” Nakazawa said. “This is not something that I can just teach or make manuals for.”
One of his pupils, Chitose Masuda, was in charge of highly technical assembly requiring high techniques and repair for 10 years before moving to the Micro Artist Studio 10 months ago.
“It is a series of trial and error, while also consulting with master Nakazawa,” Masuda said.
The logo and indices are hand-painted by resident painter Tetsuo Oguchi on the pure white porcelain dial. For the new version of the Eichi II, Oguchi created a delicate blue-gray color to complement the rose gold case. In addition to technical ability, the process requires strong concentration; only one dial can be made each day.
The new version’s rose gold case has an extremely sharp finish that is only possible thanks to a cold forging process and extensive polishing technique. Veteran polisher Yuji Kuroki painstakingly burnishes its elegantly curved and mirrored surface into brilliant sharpness, void of distortions, as requested by the new Eichi II designer Kazunori Hoshino.
Close communication makes every process an unwavering exercise in exceptional care.
The fruit of these labors is the Eichi II, priced at ¥4.3 million, through which time flows serenely as its second hand glides across its porcelain surface.