The Nature of Time: Seiko Takes on Sustainability


Seiko logo

Clean Room © Courtesy of Seiko

The story of Seiko began in 1881, when entrepreneur Kintaro Hattori opened a shop selling and repairing watches and clocks in central Tokyo. Today, after more than 130 years of innovation, Seiko upholds the same dedication and care to every watch that made Seiko a leading name.

Known for its long line of milestone watches, Seiko is a leader in taking on innovation challenges, from pocketwatches to self-winding watches. In 1975, upon receiving a letter from a professional diver, Seiko engineers were shocked to hear how much strain was put on a watch by the athletes, diving to depths of 350 metres. Seiko took on the challenge, crafting the world’s first diver’s watch that would be resistant to helium and legible at great depths. Seiko is now taking on a new challenge: returning to nature. Nature is within time, and time flows within nature. This venture upholds the Japanese affection for nature and combines it with Seiko’s passion for capturing time in the craftsmanship of their watches.

Photo © Courtesy of Seiko

The Grand Seiko Studio Shizukuishi

Welcome to the Grand Seiko Studio Shizukuishi, the new home of Grand Seiko’s mechanical watchmaking.

In the town of Shizukuishi, with a panoramic view of Mount Iwate, sits the Grand Seiko Studio, which opened in 2020. The studio, like the location, feels in harmony with nature, with each element carefully selected to elevate the landscape and uphold long-lasting values.

“As an architect, creating a studio that brings to life the philosophy that underpins the watches was such an intriguing and pleasurable experience,” shared architect Kengo Kuma, who designed the studio. “There is rhythm created by the use of wood. Like the marking of time, the studio’s design should also have rhythm. When designing wooden construction, I like to emphasize the ‘rhythm’ created by the wooden material just as much as its texture. With this studio, the pillars’ rhythm and the traditional Yamato Bari layers of the wood come together as one in perfect harmony.”

Yamato Bari is a traditional Japanese style of layering wood panels so that each panel slide is slightly layered onto the next, creating a dimensional and rhythmic feel. The wood has a dual mission as well—with sustainability and long-lasting value in mind, the wood will look and feel nicer as the years go by.

“I think one can understand the oneness of nature and time intuitively, but the studio expresses both nature and time in a very literal way with the studio’s wooden construction and the mechanical watches created,” Kuma explained. “I would be thrilled if you feel, from wearing the watch, where the watch was made and the natural environment surrounding its birthplace. Wouldn’t it be delightful if you could feel closer to nature through a watch?”

The studio, which will produce Seiko’s line of mechanical watches, embodies sustainability, from the making of the structure to the manufacturing that takes place within. Watches are, in a way, a representation of sustainability. The power comes from the unwinding mainspring, a natural energy, and watches often outlive their owners.

“From the earliest stages of its development, we sought to ensure that this new studio embodies the very essence of Grand Seiko and the brand’s philosophy, The Nature of Time, an idea that expresses the Japanese spirituality of time deeply inspired by nature,” said Shinji Hattori, Chairman and CEO at Seiko. “This facility will house the watchmakers who assemble and adjust Grand Seiko’s mechanical watches. It will also be where our next generation of watchmakers will learn their trade and hone their skills. The studio was created to bring all who visit it closer to Grand Seiko and its spirit of craftsmanship.”

Sustainable Craftsmanship

Seiko’s mission to return to nature has three pillars: prioritizing sustainability, conserving its local environment, and protecting its community.

Through practicing Reduce, Reuse and Recycle initiatives, the studio strives to promote effective use of resources and waste reduction by using resources efficiently and practicing wastewater treatment to reuse its water. To prevent global warming, the factory strives to reduce CO2 emission levels by setting target values and carrying out continuous reduction activities, including a self-developed wireless sensor network system that monitors the temperature, humidity, illuminance, and current levels, all to promote energy-saving.

Situated in such a beautiful landscape, Seiko regularly maintains their local environment’s natural forests and habitats. Bird and squirrel houses are installed on-site, and regular maintenance is performed to observe, investigate, monitor, and manage the distribution and breeding status of alien species.

Employees and their families periodically participate in nature-friendly activities such as green maintenance, green zone tours, and creating insect hotels, which are boxes made from logs and grass to host insects of any species together. These boxes encourage the diversity of local vegetation.

Seiko also holds environmental briefing sessions for residents and government officials, studio tours, and information on environmental activities, including lectures on biodiversity and Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs).

Their work is being noticed, too. In 2019, Seiko received the “Chairman’s Award for Urban Greenery” during the “39th Green City Award Recognition,” recognizing their maintenance to improve the quality of local green spaces and biodiversity.

Photo © Courtesy of Seiko

The Beauty of Time

Part of the studio’s charm comes from the design choice to have clear glass walls so that visitors can look inside and see the watches being produced.

“The essence of Grand Seiko’s craftsmanship can be seen and felt through observing the watchmakers making the watches,” said Kuma. “One of the challenges we faced was making the glass transparent so visitors could clearly see the watches production. The beauty of Shizukuishi’s landscape and Mt. Iwate can be seen beyond the corridor.”

This design also echoes the beauty of time—visitors can see and feel the craftsmanship within the windows and, at the same time, can take a step back to take in the unyielding beauty of nature that inspires the craft.

“Our craftsmanship began 50 years ago in 1970 at this very special place,” said Yoshiaki Hayashi, President of Morioka Seiko Instruments Inc. “As a company, and as watchmakers, we were fostered by the rich natural environment that surrounds us. At Shizukuishi, the four seasons and their colours can be seen and felt clearly. The forest meets the desolate season of winter then comes back to life as the flowers bloom, and a world of fresh green appears and turns a deeper hue. In autumn, the leaves turn red, but only to fall as the land becomes white again with the winter’s snow. We are all so fortunate to witness the beauty of the changing landscape throughout the year from where we work.

“The Nature of Time speaks of the two meanings of nature; ‘essence’ and ‘environment,’ and to be together with the cycle of nature, and to pursue high precision watchmaking are ideas that coexist with one another. We will continue to realize the essence of Grand Seiko with our craftsmanship that takes inspiration from nature that surrounds us.”

Get your free copy of Global Heroes, jam-packed with positive news, straight in your inbox.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Built to meet the challenge of the oceans’ depths. In 1983, Seiko 600m diver’s watch was attached to the research submersible Shinkai 2000 to test its durability. It exceeded expectations withstanding water pressure at a remarkable depth of 1,062m. Today’s Prospex diver’s watches are also built to challenge the oceans’ depths. Experience counts.


Subscribe to our Newsletter and Access all issues of Global Heroes News straight in your inbox. 100% free, no purchase necessary, for life. Uplifting stories, highlighting the inspirational efforts of everyday people, celebrities, and organizations, who are diligently working together towards practical solutions to global problems.