Developing a brand that can sustain its core values for more than a century isn't easy.
Innovating a luxury breakaway brand is one route. We break down the ways that the Grand Seiko brand has helped Seiko Watch Corporation survive and thrive – and how you can do it, too. The dream for many founders is to create a product that disrupts an industry and build a brand that can last for a lifetime. Looking at heritage brands, there are lessons that can be learned and principles that can be applied to your own business.
Seiko Watch Corporation was founded by Kintaro Hattori in 1881 and has since revolutionized the watchmaking industry through innovations in movements, styles and designs – an approach that resulted in the first Grand Seiko timepiece in 1960. The first Grand Seiko watch focused on absolute accuracy, durability, wearability and a design like no other, which carved out a niche in the crowded watch market of the sixties.
Steering a long-established business into new territories is never easy. Creating Grand Seiko – striving for absolute watchmaking perfection through an artisanal approach – was a return to tradition but a step forward, adhering to Kintaro's vision for Seiko Watch Corporation. These are lessons that every founder should keep in mind, no matter what stage your business is in. If you're looking for longevity, here's what to keep in mind.
Seiko Watch Corporation has sustained its place as a leader in watchmaking by always staying one step ahead. Before you begin, ask yourself what you want your brand to look like in five, 10 and – in Seiko Watch Corporation's case – 140 years from now. Plot the stages that need to happen to take you where you want to go. One of Kintaro's philosophies was that his business should be ‘always one step ahead of the rest’ and that, to achieve success, you need to keep one eye on the future and the other firmly rooted in the present. Kintaro also believed that if you are ‘too many steps ahead, [you] will be seen as prophets, too far removed from reality.’
Find your niche and play up the unique elements of your business – like how Grand Seiko created a signature style based on both technical expertise and aesthetics. Its Evolution 9 timepieces follow certain design rules, maximizing the light that the watches reflect and refract – this is based on a framework that began in 1967 and gives the brand a recognizable style.
Grand Seiko began in 1960, with the aim of creating the most accurate handcrafted timepiece in the world. It took 28 years for one engineer to create the spring drive movement. Often described as one of the biggest innovations in recent watchmaking, it's a unique watch movement that marries the beauty of mechanical and the accuracy of quartz watchmaking. Yoshikazu Akahane dedicated almost three decades, 600 prototypes and countless setbacks to create the final movement. If true disruption is your goal, you need to master patience.
Taking inspiration from the natural world is at the heart of Grand Seiko's design vision. To really make something your own, embody a sense of place in what you create. Seiko Watch Corporation's identity is deeply rooted in the brand's Japanese heritage and its aesthetics are inspired by the surroundings of its workshops. This beauty connects Grand Seiko's timepieces to the natural world, and now its nature-inspired textured dials have become something of a signature. Find what makes you and your brand's story unique and use your surroundings to inspire whatever you create.
The respect given to the natural world in Grand Seiko's designs is mirrored in its efforts to work alongside local authorities to support, protect and sustain the birch forests in the Hiraniwa Plateau, which surrounds the brand's studios. One of the key ways that Seiko Watch Corporation has sustained itself over 140 years is its commitment to putting its ethics into clear deliverable actions. At Grand Seiko's manufacturing facilities, staff wellness is prioritized with rajio taisō, an exercise routine, and specialty-designed desks are made by a local carpenter.