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Continued commitment to excellence

The always-evolving Morioka Seiko Instruments blends new technologies with old-school ways

Assembly of mechanical movements at Shizuku-Ishi Watch Studio. photo: photographer

As intelligent robots assemble quartz watch movements in an automated assembly line, in parallel, certified technicians work on handcrafting mechanical timepieces in a watch studio under the same roof at Morioka Seiko Instruments located in Shizukuishi-cho in Japan's Iwate Prefecture.

While starting the quartz revolution, Seiko strengthened its mechanical watch arm at this plant, which began operations in 1970, one year after the launch of Seiko Astron, the world's first quartz watch.

"Morioka Seiko Instruments started by making watch parts, then mechanical watches in 1972. Not only the parts, we also make tools in handling them," said Ryoji Takahashi, director and general manager of Shizuku-Ishi Watch Studio located within the site.

With a view of the volcanic Mount Iwate, the watch studio is dedicated to producing Grand Seiko, Credor, Presage and certain Prospex models.

The mechanical watches feature innovative Spron mainspring and hairspring exclusive to Seiko. Developed jointly with Tohoku University's Metal Materials Laboratory, Spron (a blend of spring and micron) is a cobalt-nickel alloy whose properties include superior elasticity, great strength and resistance to high heat and corrosion.

"Seiko has been manufacturing mechanical watches for over a century. From the very first pocket watch, many components were already made in-house in the 1890s. That was the first step towards becoming a fully-integrated manufacturer of timepieces," said Takahashi.

Today, the Spron springs are made in-house along with metal work for main plates and wheels, and injection moulding for plastic parts among many other components.

Escapements are manufactured involving the Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) technology, which enhances mechanical accuracy through microfabrication.

"Besides the manufacturing technology, the craftsmanship is as important in assembling and adjusting some 200 to 300 individual parts to ensure the precision of a mechanical watch," he said.

Adjusting the hairspring -- the key to precise timekeeping -- is one of the tasks performed by the skilled craftsmen seated on ergonomically-designed chairs at customised workbenches in the watch studio.

Working on the coiled hairspring, they insert pincers into the spaces within the coil to make adjustments by hand with a precision of one-hundredth of a millimetre -- thus providing accurate timekeeping.

Seiko mechanical movements have long been recognised in Europe. In the mid 1960s, they were submitted to the Swiss observatory chronometry trials. The brand was even awarded the overall prize for best mechanical watches in the 1968 Geneva observatory competition.

More recently, the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 GMT Limited Edition with a green dial received the "Petite Aiguille" award at the 2014 Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève -- Seiko's third win at the prestigious event.

Launched at BaselWorld 2017, Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 Professional 600m Diver's is powered by Calibre 9S85, whose faster vibration rate (36,000 vibrations per hour, 10 beats per second) makes the watch more accurate and resilient to shock.

The mechanical movement is made, assembled, adjusted and tested at the Shizuku-Ishi Watch Studio. Each one is tested individually before being built into its case and protected by L-shaped seals ensuring impermeability to dust, water and helium gas.

Fine mechanical watchmaking is also showcased in the Presage collection, whose new models with an enamel dial draw inspiration from Seiko's and Japan's first pocket watch and wristwatch, Time Keeper (1895) and Laurel (1913),

The pocket watch's roman numerals, minute track and graceful lines have been transferred to Presage Multi-hands Automatic 6R27 and Automatic Chronograph 8R48 available worldwide this month.

Traditional enamel work lends beauty to the long-lasting white lustrous dial. Japanese craftsmanship is further demonstrated by the tips of the minute and second hands curved by skilled craftsman and hour markers painted 10 times for a three-dimensional effect.

Presage's precision is driven by Trimatic technologies comprising three Seiko inventions: Spron spring, Diashock shock-resistance device and Magic Lever. The V-shaped lever increases winding efficacy and contributes to the longevity of the watch.

"The in-house expertise is everything in mechanical watchmaking. Additionally, the in-house processes from watch design to assembly and finishing makes Seiko a true manufacture," said Takahashi.

Mechanical watch movements. Photo

Presage Enamel Multi-hands Automatic 6R27. Photo

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