At Grand Seiko’s 60th anniversary celebration last Friday, the luxury watch brand brought in master craftsman Takuya Nishinaka all the way from Japan. Since he joined Seiko in 2009, the stellar watchmaker has garnered several accolades for his work, including a gold medal from the 2012 Japan Technical Skills Olympics and a 1st Level National Certificate.
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Nishinaka-san was flown in to assemble a Grand Seiko timepiece in front of a live audience. Anyone who’s witnessed how a watch is made understands that the art of watchmaking is an exercise in focus and precision, demanding a distraction-free working environment well-lit enough to view every miniscule part—screws, springs, jewels, gears, among others. Eagle eyes and steady pairs of hands are required to create a functional timepiece. Flex too little pressure, and the components won’t budge at all; be too forceful, and the watchmaker risks breaking a gear or two. I understood that Nishinaka-san, with his professional expertise, would be used to the trade by now, but how could he possibly pull off this stunt in such a frenzied event?
Watch and learn
The watchmaker arrived in a sleek black Lexus, complete with dramatic music, flashing lights, and paparazzi-style videographers to boot. Unfazed by the fanfare, the master craftsman and his interpreter walked toward the workstation setup. In front of him was a disassembled Grand Seiko Snowflake, one of the brand’s most coveted timepieces, called as such because of the dial’s multiple layers that create the textured effect of snow. Nishinaka-san hunched over the components and went straight down to business. A macro camera was set up on top of the unfinished watch for us to view the master craftsman’s work on the screen.
Nishinaka-san’s interpreter explained the steps as the Snowflake was being made. From time to time, the artisan held up the parts in front of the camera for us to understand how miniscule they were. Some of the gears were smaller than a fingernail, and the screws could pass as a grain of sand. For a time, it looked like the artist was just piling up components on top of each other. In a matter of minutes, however, the springs and gears locked into place, and wheels started to turn, drawing a collective gasp from the audience. He finished the watch’s movement in just 10 minutes.
After assembling the internals, Nishinaka-san attached the razor-sharp watch hands on the snowflake dial. Even as the interpreter explained that this was a challenging task—even the slightest deviation of the minute hand from the hour hand would result in incorrect time—he placed the two markers pointing exactly at 12 o’clock. The second hand was the scene stealer, however. When the watchmaker attached it on the dial, it didn’t tick—instead, it glided smoothly around the dial. This, the interpreter explained, is the special feature of the Snowflake’s “Spring Drive” movement, which combines mechanical, electrical, and electromagnetic power to control the precise motion of the second hand.
After setting all moving parts in place, Nishinaka-san applied the finishing touches, incorporating everything into the timepiece’s patented polished case. As the master craftsman held up the working timepiece, the audience burst into a roaring applause. In front of our eyes, we witnessed a Grand Seiko Snowflake come to life in just under 18 minutes.
Tests of time
“I find joy in events like these,” Nishinaka-san says with a composed smile, showing no signs of stress or nerves at all—a stark contrast to everyone’s anxious faces during the live watchmaking. “It’s great to meet Grand Seiko enthusiasts and witness their love for the brand.”
Indeed, he was like a rock star that night, with collectors following the master craftsman around for an autograph, selfie, or mere minutes just to share with him their love Grand Seiko timepieces. (One die-hard collector even wanted an engraved autograph on his watch.)
I ask how does he see the future of handmade luxury watches amid the growing popularity of smartwatche. “Brands like Grand Seiko will continue to exist, even with smartwatches around,” he says with conviction. “Both technologies have great functions and features, and smartwatches can even be the way in for younger generations to appreciate timepieces. As they grow older, they can move on to understanding the finer aspects of watchmaking.”
For more information on Grand Seiko, visit Grand-Seiko.com/ph.