JAPAN SEEMS to have an obsession with time: its trains hardly ever come late, and when they do, the transportation authorities find it so atrocious that they feel the need to issue an apology. When BusinessWorld asked Grand Seiko Craftsman Takuya Nishinaka about the relationship between Japanese people and time during the 60th anniversary celebration of Grand Seiko held in the Lexus Showroom at BGC last week, Mr. Nishinaka chose not to answer the question. This is understandable — in order to answer the question, Mr. Nishinaka would have to delve deep into the history of the Japanese empire: including its meeting with the West, its navy, its school system, and its trains.
Grand Seiko exists as a brand under the Seiko holding company, which made its name in watches. The company’s history is tied to the Meiji Era, which saw Japan as an emerging power in the world stage. Scholars place the start of the Meiji period in 1868, the year the Emperor Meiji was crowned. Seiko, meanwhile, was founded in 1881. Grand Seiko, as a watch and as a brand, was first launched in 1960 to challenge the dominance of Swiss watchmakers in the market. It is still hand-assembled to this day, and all its parts come from its own manufacture. Mr. Nishinaka, through an interpreter talked about this as an advantage. “If something wrong happens, we can solve it by ourselves, because all the parts are from us, and all parts are assembled by ourselves. It’s one of the merits of manufacture.”
The brand has three collections, each designed with the premium craftsmanship combined with timekeeping technology: The Heritage Collection offers a selection of classic watches that once again brings to life the designs and style of the earliest Grand Seiko timepieces, re-interpreted with the very latest movements, manufacturing techniques and craftsmanship. The Elegance Collection has the strength and resilience to be worn every day while offering a special level of refinement that makes them the perfect choice for those landmark occasions in life where everything has to be just right. The Sports Collection diversifies the Grand Seiko brand to reach those who want to reflect a more active lifestyle, offering from divers to chronographs.
With a global theme that brings thoughtfulness to The Nature of Time, the launch also highlights the latest sought-after timepiece by global enthusiasts, the GS Snowflake. The luxury watch, familiar to collectors as the SBGA211, has a distinct dial inspired by the beauty that surrounds the dial workshop of the Grand Seiko Shinshu Watch Studio in Japan. This unique pattern resembles the snow surface blown by the rough wind in the severe winter of the Shinshu area, where the watch is made. This aesthetic, in addition to the Japanese precision movement that Grand Seiko is known for, offers a gorgeous timepiece that has a glide motion which mimics graceful movement.
Asked about the marriage between hand-assembly and the constant new technology frequently the hallmark of Japan, Mr. Nishinaka said, “It’s very difficult to answer your question here because this is also our challenge.”
Seiko’s longtime business partner in the Philippines, Timeplus Corp. President Karl Dy, meanwhile, announced in a press release, “We are proud to bring in the Grand Seiko concept store to the country, especially with the expertise that has been shared with us by Craftsman Nishinaka, to demonstrate the technology that goes inside each timepiece. Aside from the Snowflake, we are planning to bring in more styles in the future for our collections from the proud 60-year history of the brand.”
Previously, watch enthusiasts have had to search for the watches abroad. Some pieces are in the country, sold under Seiko boutiques (such as the one in SM Aura).
But back to time: According to a paper titled “Japanese Clocks and the History of Punctuality in Modern Japan” by Takehiko Hashimoto in the East Asian Science, Technology and Society International Journal, the Japanese obsession with time began in the tail end of the aforementioned Meiji period. Opening Japan’s borders brought in many engineers and professionals from the West, who were frustrated with the Japanese indifference to time as governed in the West: through cogs in clocks. Japan, prior to that period, measured time according to incense, temple bells, and the seasons (although clocks have been present in Japan at least since the 16th century). Punctuality was achieved through the government’s strict policies on time, starting them early by enforcing them in the new public school systems, the sudden large numbers of factories, the newly constructed railways, and government offices.
Mr. Nishinaka has won several awards and certificates for his craft, like the Gold Medal on Japan Technical Skill Olympics in Watch Repairing in 2012, and the 1st Level National Certificate of Skilled Watch Craftsman. As part of his job, he also trains new craftsmen for the company. He can be said to have time on his hands: he makes watches that show humankind’s attempts to grasp the concept of time — and each attempt costs hundreds of thousands of pesos The Snowflake, for example, can cost €6,000, or P339,000.
Answering a question about his own relationship with time (and not Japan’s), he had this to say: “Time is very important. We cannot buy time.” — Joseph L. Garcia