The People Behind Seiko: Taro Tanaka
Seiko creates some of the best watches in the world, but these modern designs can be traced to a few important people.
One of the most influential names in Seiko’s history is Taro Tanaka who was the driving force behind Seiko’s global success in the 60s and 70s with his concept, “Grammar of Design.”
While most people outside the world of Seiko won’t know the name Taro Tanaka, almost anyone who likes modern watches will recognize his contribution to 20th century watch design.
Let’s look at how this man changed Seiko’s design direction!
Taro Tanaka - The Pioneer of Seiko Style
Back in the 1950s, although Seiko had achieved great success in Japan, its international sales and reputation was quite different. As Seiko designs are usually simple and minimalistic, the brand found that competing with the Swiss was difficult.
Source: Worn and Wound
All this changed in 1959 when Seiko hired a senior design student who had just graduated from university, Taro Tanaka, and the era of Seiko’s influence on global watch design began to manifest.
Graduating from the Chiba University Department of Industrial Design in 1959, Taro Tanaka was the first university graduate designer for the company.
The young designer is a hero in the watch industry and promoted Seiko's move into the high-end watch sector.
His first initiative to change Seiko started by investing time at the manufacturing sites, studying the materials for cases and dials, the manufacturing processes, and how to improve them.
From there, Seiko’s design process extended from dials to cover the entire watchmaking process.
Inspired in part by the art of gem cutting, Taro Tanaka explored the philosophy of watch design aiming to outshine the Swiss, figuratively and literally.
As a result, his set of rules called “Grammar of Design” was born in 1962.
Grammar of Design – The Most Popular Aesthetic in Seiko Watches
The “Grammar of Design” includes four basic principles. The first is that all surfaces and angles of the case, dial, hands, and hour markers needed to be flat and geometrically perfect to best reflect light.
Second, bezels were to be a simple two-dimensional polyhedral curve.
Third, no visual distortion was to be tolerated from any angle, and all cases and dials should be mirror-finished which could be achieved with Seiko's exclusive Zaratsu polishing technology.
Finally, all watch cases must be unique, with no more generic round case designs tolerated.
These new rules of design also included stricter manufacturing controls. Although these rules made Seiko’s costs rise, the designer believed that they were necessary to match the quality of Swiss watches.
Hail to The King
The “Grammar of Design'' started making changes at the top with the launch of Grand Seiko and King Seiko, which both received huge attention when they debuted. The first series of Grand Seiko watches to feature this design was the 44GS, launched in 1967.
Not only did these new rules guide design practices from 1962 to the late ‘70s on the premium lines, but the “Grammar of Design” also penetrated the entire brand, all the way to Seiko 5 and other low-end series over time.
Today, after half a century, this modern Japanese aesthetic appeal of the Seiko style still exists and attracts the love of watch collectors all over the world.
The Grand Seiko 44GS - Grand Seiko Heritage
The 44GS was a turning point in Grand Seiko history when it was brought to market in 1967. In fact, this Grand Seiko impacted not only Seiko design, but Japanese watchmaking.
The highly recognizable 44GS case was crafted according to Tanaka’s “Grammar of Design” and it has become a new standard for aesthetics at Grand Seiko. This model is now widely known as the original "Grand Seiko Style.”
Source: A Blog to Watch
Tanaka's approach on the Grand Seiko 1967 version involved emphasizing the importance of case geometry and finish, dial aesthetics for increased legibility, and creating an overall comfort in wear.
The watch’s surfaces and case lines are polished to a distortion-free mirror finish. Its hands are polished to razor-edge sharpness to catch even the faintest ray of light.
Meanwhile, the lugs combine polished and hairline finishes in a way that lets light create a subtle and uniquely Japanese effect.
Viewed from the front or side, you can see the blend of sharp angles, brilliant surfaces, and softly curved lines of the 44GS re-interpretation, which are presented with a range of expression through the interplay of light and shadow according to Japanese style.
Source: Monochrome Watches
As mentioned, Zaratsu polishing technology added a sparkle of quality to Grand Seiko watches. To date, the 44GS remains Tanaka’s masterpiece and homage to a revolutionary idea that changed watchmaking forever.
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