“The Grand Seiko customer is open to discover an alternative option to Swiss-made,” Grand Seiko’s USA President Brice Le Troadec tells watchtime.com,“[they’re] more attracted to functionality and craftsmanship vs. investing in a timepiece for the sake of its brand name.” There’s a lot to unpack there . . .
What does Mr. Le Troadec mean by “functionality?” Grand Seikos tell the time. If GS’s top U.S. exec means complications, huh? Grand Seikos are some of the least complicated watches money can buy. The Japanese brand doesn’t even make a moon phase watch.
The limited edition Grand Seiko 60th Anniversary Limited Edition Spring Drive Chronograph GMT and the SBGC229 are as complicated as the brand gets. The LE costs a staggering $44k. Staggering because it competes with big name Swiss luxury watches.
And yes, GS kicks major league Swiss ass in terms of craftsmanship. As do many if not most if not all of their Japanese-made watches. Simply put, there’s no better built watch than a Grand Seiko. Every detail is perfect. Period.
Perhaps Mr. Le Troadec meant buyers are attracted to Grand Seiko watches’ “functionality” as in their superior accuracy and quality of timekeeping relative to their Swiss competition. That’s also true.
Grand Seiko’s engines are so good the Swiss killed long-standing horological competitions to prevent GS from humiliating the home team. That’s without considering Spring Drive, GS’s exclusive electromechanical movement with its mesmerizingly smooth sweeping second hand.
Mr. Le Troadec’s assessment of his customers gets hinky when he disses buyers of Swiss watches like Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe.
His suggestion – they’re “investing in a Swiss timepiece for the sake of its brand name” – implies that a) their primary concern is money and b) they’re brand snobs.
A great deal of watch community attention focuses on watches that maintain their value and/or appreciate (e.g., the panda-faced Rolex Daytona). This “financial return” is a key qualifying characteristic of a “grail watch.”
Would aficionados hold the Daytona or the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak in the same high regard if they depreciated like a stone? Chicken and the egg I know. But still . . .
How many buyers of expensive luxury Swiss watches view them as an investment? Our man Adams has debunked that idea (A Watch is Not An Asset). I think the majority of people who purchase a stainless steel Patek Philippe Nautilus (or similar) have at least as much insight into money management.
Put another way, if you’ve got 80 grand in disposable income, you probably didn’t achieve that financial position by “investing” in watches. And if you buy a relatively non-expensive, non-grail Swiss watch, depreciation is a thing.
Moving on, how many buyers who eschew a Grand Seiko for a Swiss luxury watch do so “for the sake of the brand name” rather than the fact that . . . wait for it . . . they like the watch?
Sure, snobbery. It’s out there. You know it. I know it. Rolex sure as Hell knows it. But so is an appreciation for Swiss horological history, design and quality. While many luxury Swiss watches have [unacknowledged] Chinese-made parts, the words “Swiss made” still possess a profound allure. And, I’d say, rightly so.
Grand Seiko has all that, too. Maybe not as much history, and certainly no Chinese parts, but an equally illustrious backstory. Well, to those who know the brand. And that’s where the rubber doesn’t meet the road.
As I pointed out in Rolex versus Grand Seiko, the Japanese watchmaker does a miserable job of marketing. The kind of man who buys a Grand Seiko is the kind of man capable of ignoring the brand’s downmarket association with “Seiko” and can see past Costco-level product presentation.
A $185k nameless watch next to a $12,200 watch? As they say in the state where I spent my formative years, geddowdaheah! “In 2017, the brand was not perceived properly by the U.S. trade and consumers,” Mr. Le Troadec opines. Connect the dots. Whose fault is that?
“After an hour explaining about the uniqueness of the brand, [a wealthy watch collector] became totally captivated by the Spring Drive technology,” Mr. Le Toadec relates, “and stated that it would be sold with an additional zero on the price tag if it were the property of any major Swiss group.”
An hour! A whole hour! With one customer! Clearly, Grand Seiko’s U.S. meishu is frustrated by the anti-Japanese watch bias holding back his brand. I wouldn’t be surprised if the spirit of urami (resentment) bedevils Grand Seiko’s corporate culture. Why can’t gaijin (outsiders) see that our watches are better than the Swiss?
Thankfully, enough do to keep Grand Seiko afloat. But I’d suggest that most Grand Seiko buyers – especially those who purchase GS’s above $20k – already have a number of expensive Swiss watches in their collection. They grok Grand Seiko quality, but they buy a Grand Seiko because it’s different.
I reckon Mr. Le Troadec should tackle this Swiss-is-best issue head on. And not on a one-to-one basis. First, drop the Godzilla and Nissan GTR shtick. That’s Seiko-level pandering to fans of lowbrow Japanese culture. Second, send a few watches to TTAW to review. Then promote the hell out of the reviews. JK. But not really.
Grand Seiko should exploit the brand’s “huge underground cult following” by positioning themselves WELL outside the watch industry mainstream (as we do). Market their watches as an attitude, not a “better product.” Wearing a luxury Swiss watch means something. Class. Taste. Sophistication. Wealth. What does wearing a Grand Seiko mean?
Which brings us full circle: what kind of man wears a Grand Seiko?
He/she/it/they/them aren’t your average luxury Swiss watch buyer. The man who wears Grand Seiko is an iconoclast. Someone who doesn’t give a damn whether or not people recognizes his watch. Someone who’s attracted to a Grand Seikos’ quintessence.
If Grand Seiko issued a brand unique wake-up call to that guy – appealing to his (or her) desire to be different without calling attention to themself – they’d double their sales. Vanity sells. Meanwhile, do something about that vanilla website, willya?