Asking Akio Naito – President Of Seiko Watches – About Grand Seiko In The USA

Asking Akio Naito – President Of Seiko Watches – About Grand Seiko In The USA

By: Malaika Crawford


Grand Seiko is a brand that I have yet to fully wrap my head around, at least aesthetically. This is not meant in a pejorative sense, it’s just my reality, having only entered this industry a few years ago. I haven’t really stopped and taken the time to understand Grand Seiko, perhaps beyond understanding the difference between a cherry blossom dial and a snowflake dial, because, well, there are only 24 hours in a day, and I am not a wizard.

Last week, I got to meet Seiko Watch Corporation president, Mr Akio Naito, and attend the opening of the brand’s first US flagship boutique. This gave me a little more context as to how the brand plans to continue to operate in the US and appeal to the younger demographic that Mr. Naito highlights as actually accounting for the bulk of their Stateside sales.

GS store

But let’s rewind a little because I had to do my homework before meeting Mr. Naito. I started by reading some old Hodinkee articles about GS’s idiosyncratically Japanese approach to high precision and minimal design, which made a lot of sense.

I got to thinking about Japan’s period of transition during the Meiji Restoration of 1868. It was a period of socioeconomic growth, a reconfiguration from feudalism to industrialism, which of course, led to extreme material development. Architecture transitioned from wood to brick, and later, in the early 20th century, notably in urban areas, came the emergence of steel-reinforced concrete. This resulted in a number of large stone landmarks. Prolific Japanese architecture by the likes of Kenzo Tange and, later, Tadao Ando represented the purity of design.

Eventually, Japanese urban development became a cross-pollination between Western industrialization and traditional Zen philosophies. It’s important to note that many of these structures with Western forms were built with techniques of production from the Japanese tradition. Western infrastructure was imposed, but it was a Japanese interpretation.

Madison Ave GS Store

I figured it could be helpful to reflect on the mix of tradition in Japanese architecture in an effort to try and humanize my understanding of Grand Seiko watches. So the body of the watch – the case, the bracelet, the finishings of the metal – are minimal and modern and set up for the contemporary consumer. The nature-inspired dials are a quiet reflection of heritage. Reverence for the natural world is an intrinsic part of Japanese culture. Gazing into your textured dial is a moment for pause and calm.

In keeping with my search for Japanese purity in design through watch design, I fell down the obvious Taro Tanaka rabbit hole. I attempted to familiarize myself with his Grammar of Design because that felt like the most relatable part of understanding Grand Seiko, at least for me. I could totally get on board with a man who had a clean aesthetic vision and who understood that design was equally as important when competing against your aesthetically refined Swiss competitors. Naturally, I started looking up vintage 62GS models, which helped me better understand the new SBGH341 “Sakura-Kakushi” and SBGH343 “Sakura-Wakaba” – through references to the 62GS. I decided to pick apart the new releases in tandem with Mr. Naito’s explanation of Grand Seiko’s direction for the future in the U.S.

62GS 1967 watch

1967 Grand Seiko Day Date ’62GS’ Ref. 6246-9001

Based on the case of the original 62GS, the SBGH341 and SBGH343 are both made from high-intensity titanium. The watches have a case diameter of 38mm and a thickness of 12.9mm. This makes sense, a sporty watch in a smaller case size. It’s sort of a no-brainer.

And no this is not an OP colored dial reference. This is Grand Seiko. They were making pink dials before most really wanted pink dials. The same goes for green. These watches feel less trendy than an OP derivative and more in line with Grand Seiko’s continued use of color and texture. They really just love a pastel.

SBGH341 and SBGH343 watches

Of course, the watches have nature-inspired dials. Texture is a design pillar for this brand. The light green dial “mirrors the fresh hues of “Sakura-Wakaba” (cherry blossoms and young leaves), inviting one to savor the gentle green beauty of sunlight penetrating young leaves interspersed with cherry blossoms.” The pink dial “encapsulates an enchanting scene of the Tohoku region known as “Sakura-Kakushi” (hiding cherry blossoms). It elegantly reflects the ephemeral beauty of snow-blanketing blooming cherry blossoms.” Grand Seiko’s words, not mine.


The 38mm size does feel like an attempt at diversification in service of a more modern consumer. The SBGH341 “Sakura-Kakushi” and SBGH343 “Sakura-Wakaba” aren’t “tool” watches, but they are sporty in looks. Grand Seiko sits in this versatile middle ground where enthusiasts know them for being dressy, and yet most of their current offerings are sort of the opposite. Their dress watch offerings now have morphed into a diluted dress watch/sports watch hybrid.

If the bulk of their product is a sport/dress hybrid, then how does Grand Seiko define a dress watch? I asked Mr. Naito if they even saw the need to draw a line between the two. “I don’t think we create a dress line just for the sake of an expansion or providing variety to the consumers. We always try to be faithful to the brand’s core functional value as a timepiece, meaning legibility, ease of use, and functionality.” This didn’t really answer my question, but I understood that this approach was maybe an attempt to keep the brand’s identity unified aesthetically, which I admire, like my obsession with uniform dressing. You know the formula; you know what works. And in a sea of brands, you want consumers to be able to identify your product with ease.

Back to this “younger demographic.” Where does their interest in Grand Seiko spring from exactly?  “The millennial generation or Gen Z are obviously information savvy. They know how to [extract]  information. They are actively involved in SNS.” Mr. Naito went on to explain, “They are constantly looking for something which they find as a true value in their mind as opposed to their parent’s generation who worshiped brands; that’s a major difference.”

SBGH343 watch dial

I always think of Grand Seiko as an exercise in intellectualism. One must understand the brand in order to feel like they’ve transcended ordinary watch knowledge. A Grand Seiko customer superiority complex. Mr. Naito was more optimistic, “Today [the younger demographic] are information savvy. They are constantly seeking out what’s genuine.” He went on to add, “I think young people are really curious. They are even interested in manufacturing.” This new store is certainly a large investment in this younger-leaning US consumer base. It’s large and slick, and I’m sure very expensive.

“The very first boutique we opened in New York was back in 2013. In those days, my dream was to be able to sell one Grand Seiko a day,” Mr. Naito laughed, “It’s been a long journey in reaching this size of investment.”

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