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5. 14. 2021

Introducing Ref. STGK016, and the Story Behind the Grand Seiko Ladies’ Standard

Today, we take a closer look at reference STGK016, as well as the development of Grand Seiko's mechanical standard for women's watches.
Grand Seiko STGK016 gold ladies' wristwatch on leather strap

STGK016 is the latest addition to Grand Seiko’s line of women’s watches. A limited edition of just 60 pieces, STGK016 establishes the “Classic Series” as a new design foundation for Grand Seiko women’s models, one that is inspired by the overall case and crystal shape of the very first Grand Seiko timepiece from 1960. It is rendered in 18k rose gold, measures 29.5mm in diameter and 10.5mm in thickness, features a distinct knurled bezel and twelve diamonds on top of a deeply textured dial, and runs on the automatic in-house caliber 9S27.

Grand Seiko reference STGK016.

Despite its diminutive size, caliber 9S27 is a high-performance movement with an impressive mean daily rate of -3 to +8 seconds a day and 50 hours of power reserve. To achieve these specifications in a smaller movement, Grand Seiko’s engineers had to go back to the drawing board, beginning with caliber 9S25. Below, we’ll explore what went into creating this new standard for women’s watches.

Grand Seiko reference STGK002.
Grand Seiko reference STGK002.

Creating a New Grand Seiko Standard for Women’s Watches

In 2018, Grand Seiko unveiled reference STGK002, a limited edition ladies’ timepiece marking the 20th anniversary of Grand Seiko’s 9S calibers, and it did so with a new special movement – caliber 9S25. Smaller and slimmer (19.4 millimeters across and 4.49 millimeters thick) than other movements in Grand Seiko’s 9S family, 9S25 was developed to be used in women’s watches, and it was the first Grand Seiko movement built specifically for that purpose in about 50 years. It also served as the springboard for the aforementioned 9S27, released in 2019 and initially showcased in five distinct ladies’ timepieces.

The woman behind the development of 9S25 was Sayaka Yamada. Yamada joined Seiko Instruments Inc. (SII) in 2006. In 2009, she transferred to the W Product Planning Department of the Watch Division, and it was from her position there that in 2015 Yamada and her team began work on 9S25.

One of the primary goals in the inception and design of 9S25 was to achieve Grand Seiko’s standard for high precision, but to do so in a significantly smaller caliber. It is often the case that the smaller and thinner a movement becomes, the harder it is to stabilize its accuracy. This is largely because the balance wheel also needs to shrink down to fit within the smaller architecture of the movement, and a smaller balance is often not as resilient against external forces the way a larger one is.

Adjusting the balance.
Adjusting the balance.
Grand Seiko caliber 9S25.
Grand Seiko caliber 9S25.

Nevertheless, with 9S25, Grand Seiko was able to establish a new Grand Seiko Ladies’ Standard, one that outperforms COSC’s criteria for movements under 20mm. This new standard includes a precision of -3 to +8 seconds a day versus COSC’s -5 to +8. Additionally, all watches undergo Grand Seiko’s strict 17-day testing criteria, which includes testing in six positions rather than five, and secondary temperature testing (not done at all under COSC).

It was determined that the only way to approach miniaturization without sacrificing overall performance was to redesign all the main parts of the movement rather than simply scale them down. Specifically, there was a focus on increasing torque, and in maximizing efficiency of the gear train and the escapement.

Grand Seiko movement 9S68 next to 9S25
The larger caliber 9S68 alongside caliber 9S25.
The distinct, floral-inspired escape wheel found in calibers 9S25 and 9S27.
The distinct, floral-inspired escape wheel found in calibers 9S25 and 9S27.

Grand Seiko utilized MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems) to manufacture certain components for 9S25, among them the pallet fork and escape wheel, as well as other key parts. With these critical pieces being anywhere from 20-30% smaller than their larger counterparts, they could not be manufactured via traditional machine cutting.

The escape wheel is also rendered in a distinct design, modeled after the shape of a five-petal flower, so MEMS was necessary in achieving this unique structure. The execution is equal parts ornate and practical because the resulting form both strengthens the escape wheel while reducing its weight.

Close up of movement assembly

Because of the movement’s size, the gear train layout had to be rethought entirely. Part of that redesign included reworking the teeth on each gear to ensure maximum energy transfer through the train. This new train also needed to leave enough room for the barrel, and though it was reduced to about 72% of the barrel size of a larger mechanical caliber, Grand Seiko was still able to achieve a 50-hour power reserve, in part due to the use of the brand’s proprietary spring alloy, otherwise known as Spron.

Altogether, the total number of parts in caliber 9S25 is 236, which exceeds the number in an equivalent Grand Seiko men’s caliber. In addition to ensuring rigidity of key components to support long-term operation, previously integrated parts had to be separated due to their small size, resulting in a higher parts count.

It was determined that the only way to approach miniaturization without sacrificing overall performance was to redesign all the main parts of the movement rather than simply scale them down.

In charge of the assembly of all 50 units of 9S25 was a watchmaker by the name of Yuki Kudo. Kudo has been a member of Studio Shizukuishi since 2007, where she has worked on the assembly and accuracy adjustment of Grand Seiko men’s calibers.

Naturally, working with a notably smaller movement presented certain challenges. Kudo had to remake her tools, including her screwdrivers and tweezers, to deal with the smaller size of the componentry. This was especially important when working with a miniaturized balance spring, which has to be manually adjusted by a watchmaker to achieve optimal performance. A special tool also had to be developed to check the spacing between parts, because the traditional tool for doing so was far too thick to fit between the parts here.

Grand Seiko watchmaker assembling movement
watchmaker's tools

Naturally, one of Kudo’s biggest challenges was working the balance. With the men’s 9S calibers, there is over 20 years of solid know-how and precedent in place, but such wasn’t the case here, so it was a process of trial and error to get the adjustments right. The tilt proved to be especially difficult given the caliber’s size. Altogether, much of the assembly had to be done with the aid of a microscope.

Caliber 9S27 is visible through the exhibition back of reference STGK016.
Caliber 9S27 is visible through the exhibition back of reference STGK016.

The 9S27 caliber powering STGK016, which features an exhibition case back, boasts the same performance specifications as 9S25. Unlike 9S25, however, 9S27 is a continuous production movement, and it will serve as the benchmark going forward for women’s mechanical timepieces.

STGK016 on the wrist.
STGK016 on the wrist.

With its classic case and elegant dial design, STGK016 is an excellent showcase for the movement. The textured dial is subtle yet captivating, and the case features the same eye-catching standard for finishing one sees across Grand Seiko men’s watches. STGK016 comes on a brown crocodile band that pairs beautifully with the warmth of the case.

Price: $21,000
Case: 18k rose gold
Dimensions: 29.5mm in diameter x 10.5mm in thickness
Movement: 9S25 Automatic
Availability: LE of 60 pieces; available July 2021 at Grand Seiko Boutiques, Salons, and the GS9 Club Shop

Grand Seiko STGK016 soldier
Salon Model
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