Grand Seiko Movements: A Complete Guide
Three unique movements lie at the heart of Grand Seiko: the Caliber 9F Quartz, Caliber 9S Mechanical and Spring Drive. A fully integrated manufacture, Grand Seiko produce all components in-house at their Shizukuishi Watch Studio in Morioka, Japan.
Grand Seiko Movements: The Three Families
Three unique movements lie at the heart of Grand Seiko: the Caliber 9F Quartz, Caliber 9S Mechanical and Spring Drive. A fully integrated manufacture, Grand Seiko produce all components in-house at their Shizukuishi Watch Studio in Morioka, Japan. In this article, we discover each of these pioneering, hand-assembled movements and consider the technologies employed and the advantages of each one.
Caliber 9F Quartz Movement
The first thing you need to know about the Caliber 9F is that not all quartz movements are the same. In the world of watches, quartz movements are often looked down on by “watch types” and seen as inferior to mechanical movements. Mass-produced and designed to be replaced rather than repaired, a quartz caliber wouldn’t the first choice for many watch aficionados.
However, the Caliber 9F is no ordinary quartz movement. As the pioneers of quartz timekeeping (Seiko created the world’s first quartz wristwatch in 1969), it’s hardly surprising that Grand Seiko remains significantly committed to quartz technology. With the Caliber 9F, they have elevated the quartz movement to its highest level. Hand-assembled with jewels and mechanical parts (much like traditional mechanical movements), the 9F has unparalleled accuracy and build quality.
How Does a Quartz Movement Work?
To fully understand the 9F Quartz Calibre, let’s first look at how a quartz movement works. Quartz watches use a piece of quartz to regulate timekeeping and are powered by a battery. The quartz oscillator vibrates at precisely 32,768 times per second. An integrated circuit detects these vibrations and sends out an accurate time signal every second to the step motor. In accordance with this signal, the step motor accurately rotates a series of gears and the watch hands.
The main advantages of quartz movements are that they are accurate, tough, and relatively hassle-free with only periodic battery changes to worry about. The downside for many is that the movement is not usually a thing of beauty with no micro-machinery to gaze at through the caseback.
Advantages of the Caliber 9F
With the Caliber 9F, Grand Seiko has created one of the world’s most sophisticated quartz movements. With full metal construction, it’s engineered alongside mechanical movements with the same levels of care and precision. Importantly, it’s designed to be serviced.
Firstly, all components are produced in-house. Grand Seiko even grows and ages its own quartz crystals, with only the highest quality crystals being selected for the 9F calibers. As quartz is sensitive to temperature, Grand Seiko also tests every crystal for its response to fluctuations in temperature. Each crystal is then paired with an integrated circuit that is programmed to work with the properties of that crystal.
In terms of accuracy, compared with an average quartz movement which has a deviation of +/- 15 seconds per month, the 9F has an impressive accuracy of +/- 10 seconds per year.
A whole host of features and technologies distinguish the Caliber 9F.
Firstly, the Instant Date Change Mechanism changes the date display at lightning speed. This technology only previously existed in mechanical movements with enough torque to deliver instant date changes. Grand Seiko is a pioneer of this feature in a quartz watch.
Similarly, the 9F can move the long, broad hands only normally associated with mechanical movements. This is thanks to the Twin Pulse Control Motor which makes two consecutive steps per second, triggered by two successive pulse signals. Increasing the number of pulse signals increases the output torque from the rotor. Undetectable by the naked eye, the two-step process appears as a single, one second step.
Furthermore, the Backlash Auto-Adjust Mechanism ensures that the seconds hand lands precisely on each marker without the wobble normally seen on quartz watches. This adds to the precision with which the time can be read.
Also of note, a protective shield ensures that the rotor, the heart of the quartz movement, is encased in a highlight airtight environment. This ensures that dust cannot enter the movement during battery changes or adversely affect the lubricating oil (which extends its life).
We could go on. The list of cutting-edge technologies and refinements is impressive, to say the least. Even in terms of aesthetics, the 9F Quartz Caliber scores highly. With its striped finishing and jewels, it’s intended to be seen and appreciated.
Calibre 9S Mechanical Movement
In their quest to push precision in watchmaking to the limits of timekeeping technology, The Grand Seiko Calibre 9S is the perfect balance of traditional craftsmanship with cutting-edge technology. It is available either with automatic or manual winding.
An automatic mechanical movement is self-winding and powered by a rotor that spins as you move. Automatic movements have a definite cachet and are usually the preferred choice of watch lovers, offering horological mastery without the perceived hassle of winding by hand.
How Does an Automatic Movement Work?
Mechanical watches utilise an escapement that draws its power from the force of a mainspring. It also uses this power to regulate the speed at which the spring unwinds. A wound-up mainspring exerts force to turn gears at a set speed as it unwinds.
The precision of the system is dictated by this speed and the escapement mechanism, comprising the balance, pallet fork, and escape wheel. The pallet fork sets the pace for the revolving escape wheel, and it operates in accordance with the oscillating balance. The balance rotates back and forth like a pendulum, ensuring that the mainspring unwinds at an even speed over an extended period. In doing so, the balance affects the steady rotation of the hour, minute, and seconds hands.
Advantages of the Calibre 9S
Firstly, with an accuracy of +5/-3 seconds per day, the Calibre 9S is more precise than a chronometer. To put this into context, a chronometer is a mechanical watch that has been independently tested and certified by the COSC for its accuracy. In 1966, Grand Seiko introduced its own, higher standard. The latest version of this standard, the New GS Standard, was established in 1998.
Calibre 9S movements are put through a rigorous 17-day testing process and are tested in six positions compared to the COSC’s five. Similarly, their temperature tests are also more stringent.
To achieve such incredible levels of precision, Grand Seiko ensures every individual component is near-perfect. Using Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) to manufacture its escapements, components have the highest possible levels of consistency. Also, parts are lightweight. This means less power is required to turn them which in turn conserves power.
Also, in terms of assembly, only the most skilled craftspeople hand assemble each watch. Able to adjust parts by hand to tolerances of one-hundredth of a millimetre, it’s the combination of technology and craftsmanship that ensures precision.
The Manual Wind version of the Calibre 9S shares much of the same technology and components as the Automatic version. The purist’s choice, it has no rotor to power it. Instead, it’s wound manually by hand via the crown. The advantage of a manual wind is that there is no rotor obscuring the view of the movement. Also, some like to feel the torque of the movement as it winds.
With a power reserve of approximately three days from fully wound, the accuracy in use is +10 to – 1 seconds per day.
Caliber 9R Spring Drive Movement
Spring Drive is Grand Seiko’s exclusive hybrid movement. Combining the best of quartz timekeeping with the best of mechanical watchmaking, it’s a state-of-the-art caliber that lacks the weaknesses inherent to both movements. With an accuracy of +/- 15 seconds per month, it was developed over a 20-year period and first utilised in a watch in 1999.
How Does a Spring Drive Movement Work?
Powered by a mainspring, a Spring Drive movement transmits a precise signal through a quartz oscillator to an integrated circuit (as in a quartz movement) instead of using a hairspring to govern timekeeping. Spring Drive movements use a proprietary piece of technology in place of a traditional escapement: the Tri-Synchro Regulator. At the end of the gear train a small disc called the glide wheel uses two electromagnets to slow down the release of energy from the mainspring. It does this without the friction a traditional mechanical escapement experiences because it doesn’t stop and start.
The glide wheel creates an electrical current as it spins. This runs through an integrated circuit and quartz oscillator. The frequency produced by the quartz is a signal for the integrated circuit which compares that signal to the speed of the glide wheel. If it detects that the glide wheel is running too fast the circuit regulates by applying an electromagnetic break.
Advantages of the Calibre 9R
In terms of accuracy, the Caliber 9R Spring Drive Movement is accurate to an incredible +/- 1 second per day. Also, it offers an impressive power reserve of 72 hours.
Aesthetically, the movement looks a lot like a mechanical movement which is why it is so appealing to many.
What is the Best Grand Seiko Movement?
Grand Seiko offers a choice of three movement types for good reason: they are one of the only watch manufacturers who can truly be considered as masters of both quartz and mechanical watchmaking. Each of their three calibres pushes the horological envelope and all three are hand assembled and finished in-house to the highest possible standards. Therefore, the calibre you choose is purely a matter of personal taste and depends on your criteria.
Best for Accuracy
If accuracy is the factor you consider most important then the Caliber 9F Quartz movement is for you. Accurate to +/- 10 seconds per year, its precision is unrivalled.
Best for Traditional Watchmaking and Aesthetics
The Grand Seiko Caliber 9S with Automatic Winding is the movement of choice for lovers of traditional watchmaking. For anyone who wants to see and appreciate horological artistry at work, the 9S is the perfect balance of traditional craftsmanship with cutting-edge technology.
Best for the Purists
The Caliber 9S with Manual Winding is for the purists. Traditional through and through it has an impressive 3-day power reserve.
Best Combination of Traditional Watchmaking with Precision
The Caliber 9R Spring Drive Movement appeals to anyone who wants a mechanical movement but with the precision of a quartz movement. Combining the best of both worlds, for many it’s the perfect solution to the dilemma of which Grand Seiko movement to choose.
Grand Seiko at Wallace Allan
Wallace Allan stocks a wide range of Grand Seiko watches. Whether you’re looking for a specific model or interested in viewing several options, our Grand Seiko watch experts are here to help. Visit us, start an online chat, or contact us via phone, email or online form.