We sat down with Grand Seiko USA President Brice Le Troadec to talk about the brand’s strategy and why collectors can hardly resist the Japanese brand. Le Troadec joined the team of Grand Seiko USA chairman and CEO Aiko Naito in May 2017, shortly before the creation of the Grand Seiko of America company in fall 2018.
During your three years with Grand Seiko, what personal highlights stand out?
I think that the one achievement that stands out is the brand’s perception and its swift evolution. In 2017, the brand was not perceived properly by the U.S. trade and consumers, but we knew there was a huge underground cult following Grand Seiko. It was just amazing to see how quickly the perception changed thanks to the appreciation of our core collectors and their influence on the watch trade and the extended watch community. From the misconception on fine Japanese watchmaking, it quickly turned to be this “hot” and different brand that came into the equation at the perfect time to enlarge the scope of interest of the watch connoisseur. I remember in May 2017 we were doing a presentation of Grand Seiko to a very important collector who wasn’t into buying Japanese watchmaking at all. After an hour explaining about the uniqueness of the brand, he became totally captivated by the Spring Drive technology 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. Since this day on, we decided to focus on educating our audience about Spring Drive and it rapidly became a major success in our collection. These past three years flew so fast. I’m the happy member of a wonderful team composed of the most energetic and dedicated experts I’ve ever had a chance to be working with, including the GS U.S. Team with which I spend all my days, and our team in Japan. The USA has been a top priority for our senior management since 2017 and I can tell you that their support is tremendous!
What type of watch buyer does the brand attract?
Today, the Grand Seiko customer is definitely open to discover an alternative option to Swiss-made, and more attracted to functionality and craftsmanship vs. investing in a timepiece for the sake of its brand name. What attracts new customers to GS are our core values such as our image, messaging and technology. There is no real profile or age to qualify a GS customer, however, the common points between all of them are a strong interest and understanding for real watchmaking, the extreme attention to detail, the quality of finishing offered with each GS timepiece, and the uniqueness of Spring Drive technology. So we can conclude that the GS customer is tech oriented and has a great sense of aesthetic. There’s a new level of excitement about our portfolio that we expect to increase over the next couple of years as more and more consumers become familiar with Grand Seiko. Just like the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen, we are always on a journey to create the best version of Grand Seiko, in craftsmanship, beauty, accuracy and precision.
Why is it so important to have boutiques, especially for a brand like Grand Seiko?
Our mission for the past three years has been to educate our partners, our audience and our clients on the specifics of this very unique brand. We are proud to have a team that has this deeper level of knowledge of our history and craftsmanship than with most of the renowned and established brands in order for them to promote it successfully. It also takes extra efforts for our audience and consumers to understand the subtle but deep values of Grand Seiko. This is why we decided to focus on communicating the core values of our brand, such as its inspiration based on the cultural, artistic and natural elements of Japan. Grand Seiko boutiques are the primary source to discover these fundamental pillars that are reflected in the design of our watches, manifested through the art of hand-finishing while also experiencing ‘Omotenashi,’ or selfless hospitality. From a technical standpoint, we decided to promote the Spring Drive technology as one of Grand Seiko’s unique features, but also the most technical and difficult to explain.
Why are mechanical watches more relevant than ever?
Mechanical movements embody our life and the time which passes, strong, accurate and intriguing. The Japanese traditionally appreciate and respect the passage of time, symbolizing the cycle of life. I think that we all need to be reminded of that and mechanical watches are certainly the most traditional timekeepers, present in our life for generations. The relation between you and your mechanically powered watch is certainly far more human than with a computerized device. But here we talk about two completely different topics and items.
What was your first real watch?
My grandfather was some kind of watch geek. He was always passionate about new technologies. He had some fine and beautiful Swiss-made timepieces (my father curates them now) … but when Seiko invented the quartz watch movement, he was all about this new technology. My very first watch was actually a Seiko quartz he gave me much later. Then I remember my first trip to NYC (in 1997). One of the first things I did to set up for a three months’ stay was to buy a quartz watch in a small store on Fifth Avenue. This was my very first acquisition, and I’ll let you guess which brand it was — Seiko. Seiko has always been somewhere in my background. So, it’s somewhat natural I am back to it now.