The red dot award is one of the world’s most eminent design competitions, receiving more than 18,000 entries from design professionals and companies in over 70 countries each and every year. And while hundreds of products are annually awarded a prestigious Red Dot, only a select few make the competition’s “Best of the Best” list. Included last year in this lineup of the world’s sleekest and most stylish designs was a single wristwatch: the Grand Seiko Evolution 9 Collection SLGH005.
Part of Grand Seiko’s Evolution 9 collection — watches that adhere to a design manifesto of 9 distinct aesthetic benchmarks, from wide lugs to robust bracelets — the SLGH005 is a steel sports watch powered by Grand Seiko’s advanced 9SA5 “high-beat” automatic movement, but its most impressive feature is its dial. With undulating lines and an organic texture inspired by the white birches that grow near Grand Seiko’s Studio Shizukuishi (where all Grand Seiko mechanical watches are crafted), the dial evokes the alternating tranquility and wild motion of a forest. “To look closely at the dial,” says the brand of its award-winning creation, “is to experience the exact same feeling that the visitor to these forests receives, and to be brought closer than ever to the true and eternal nature of time.”
Grand Seiko has been in business since 1960 and spent much of the century’s second half quietly creating refined, relatively conservative watches for the Japanese market. Unlike its sibling, Seiko, which is dedicated to affordability and style, Grand Seiko is committed to creating traditional mechanical watches that are on par with the best Switzerland has to offer. These days, Grand Seiko is counted among the world’s most respected watchmakers, with its Zaratsu case polishing method, in particular, having become the stuff of legend. But its creations inspired by nature are what truly sets the watchmaker apart.
From wabi-sabi, the traditional aesthetic philosophy that encourages us to seek out beauty in imperfection, to Shinrin-yoku, the sensory practice of “forest bathing,” reverence for the natural world is an intrinsic part of Japanese culture. During the last decade, Grand Seiko has increasingly woven this way of life into its watchmaking process, producing models inspired by the oceans, the changing seasons, the mountainous surroundings of its studios, and sakura — the iconic cherry blossom.
However, this commitment to nature doesn’t end with the watches alone. The brand also contributes funds to help preserve the forests of the Hiraniwa Plateau, a remote corner of Iwate prefecture known for its pristine natural beauty, sparse population, and towering forests of white birches. Following the success of the SLGH005 (and its Spring Drive-powered sibling, the SLGH009), these trees have become something of a signature for the brand, symbolizing both the nation’s respect for nature and the skills of Grand Seiko’s craftspeople. And one of the brand’s latest collections, revealed earlier this year at the Watches & Wonders trade show in Geneva, shows just how diverse its nature-inspired creations can be.
Among the most stunning reveals was the SBGZ009, a 50-piece limited edition that showcases the skill of Grand Seiko’s artisans while returning to one of the brand’s favourite natural muses. It’s inspired by the white birch forests that stretch across the Yachiho Plateau at the foot of the Kita-Yatsugatake Mountains, and has a case and dial painstakingly carved out of platinum to mimic the pale and graceful lines of the trees’ slender trunks. Elsewhere, the new SLGA023 diver’s watch takes professional dive watch specs, such as water resistance to 200 metres and a high-intensity titanium case, and matches this with a dial the colour and texture of stormy seas. Introduced in 2022, this black “ushio” dial is specifically inspired by the flow of the Kuroshio and Oyashio currents of Japan’s coastal waters. But there are gentler pieces in the range and, on the more refined end of the spectrum, the Elegance Collection SBGY026 complements its 18K rose gold case with a pink dial, embossed to resemble cherry blossoms floating on the surface of a pond.
The star of the 2023 collection, however, was undoubtedly the SLGC001 “Tentagraph,” a new chronograph with a high-beat automatic movement and a three-day power reserve. It’s the first-ever mechanical chronograph to bear the Grand Seiko name, and thus has been built to the brand’s very highest standards. Rendered in a deep, ethereal shade of blue, the Tentagraph’s dial is subtly textured to suggest the ridged surfaces of Mount Iwate — the snow-capped peak that towers over the Grand Seiko Studio Shizukuishi. It’s a mountain that moves and motivates the craftspeople of Grand Seiko and reminds them to keep reaching ever-higher in the pursuit — and emulation — of the natural world.