Photographing Grand Seiko's Master Watchmaker at Work

Photographing Grand Seiko's Master Watchmaker at Work

Photographing interesting people will forever be a love of mine. But photographing a person who is unambiguously an expert at his craft while he works was all kinds of fascinating.Those who are familiar with my commercial work will know that I work a lot with watch brands, as well as writing for aBlogtoWatch. My love for horology formed from no obvious source; my family didn't own expensive watches or even had an interest in them. Nevertheless, from childhood I would gaze longingly through every jewelers' window picking out my dream collection. I would go to Spain on holiday with my family and spend all my pocket money on a fake Rolex or Tag Heuer that would turn my wrist green, which was a fitting color really.

My love photography came later and as some of you will know, I started on my journey with a camera from an unusual starting point: I saw a chap on a car forum taking pictures of insects close up and I wanted to try. It took me far to long to realize that my love and acquired skills for macro photography and my love for watches could be married up. When the penny finally fell, I charged in to the industry with my heart on my sleeve. Late last year an opportunity arose that took me a slightly different direction that normal, when aBlogtoWatch asked me to interview Yoshifusa Nakazawa, Grand Seiko's master watchmaker.

Yoshifusa Nakazawa, Master Watchmaker

On a crisp but sunny winter's morning I made my way to Japan House in Kensington, London. The building, which had been open less than a year at the time, is a beautiful Art Deco construction and Grade II listed. It hosts a library of affluent Japanese products and acts as a sort of epicenter for (slightly idolized) Japanese culture. I was lead past a velvet rope blocking the way to a grand stair case which lead to a basement of sorts. At the foot of the stairs was a bright — almost sterile feeling — room which housed a live video feed of watchmaking, and the man himself, Mr. Nakazawa.

You couldn't tell from his quiet and humble demeanor, but this gentleman is as artisan at watchmaking as anyone could every hope to be at anything. In 1981 is won the gold medal in the World Skills International Competition and in 2008 the Japanese government gave him the title of Contemporary Master Craftsman, a highly coveted commendation. Most recently, in 2015, the Emperor of Japan presented him the Medal with Yellow Ribbon which is "awarded to individuals who, through their diligence and perseverance while engaging in their professional activities, became public role models."

Yoshifusa Nakazawa working on a feat of watchmaking: the Grand Seiko Spring Drive movement.

I wasn't allowed to bring an arsenal of lighting equipment, so I had to sadly make do with bouncing an on-camera flash. The room was surgically bright, but as anyone who has done macro photography knows, "bright" isn't enough. This is even more true when I immediately became enchanted with the intricacies of his fine work and wanted to capture it. Mr. Nakazawa just sat perfectly still and utterly silent, assembling piece after piece of this three dimension puzzle without so much as a hint of inaccuracy. He didn't even make it look difficult as he scooped up wheels and cogs mere millimeters in size and layered them about the case with exactitude. I padded around him being desperately careful not to let my movements influence his work in any way.

Mr. Nakazawa gently affixes the rotor and rotor bridge in place.

Mr. Nakazawa's specialty is assembly Grand Seiko's patented Spring Drive movement which took decades to develop and is what he is demonstrating in these images. I won't bore the non-watch enthusiasts with why that particular movement is so special, but for those interested, read about it here. To give a sense of the difficulty involved in balancing and assembling a Grand Sieko Spring Drive Chronograph watch, it is made up of around 400 components. Despite this, he can make 2-3 movements per day.

Mr. Nakazawa furthering the surgeon theme for a quick snap in between tasks.

The dedication and skill that has been cultivated over decades of hard work and focus is not only astounding, but inspiring. There is inspiration to be had from committing to a skill so wholly that you are honored at the highest levels and regarded as one of the elite. As a shoot it was challenging with time, spacial, and lighting constraints, but one I won't forget in a hurry.

To read my full interview with Yoshifusa Nakazawa, click here.

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5 Comments

Michael Jin's picture

As I don't have a particular fondness of watches, this does nothing for me, but I am glad to hear that you got a chance to photograph someone whom you clearly admire very much.

Nils Heininger's picture

Very nice report! I love the way you captured his surgical accuracy even in the moments, where he is not working.

Andy Barnham's picture

Shame that Grand Seiko only offer a 10 year guarantee of spare parts for repair, despite claiming it’s a watch for a lifetime. If you’re going to spend this much on a watch I’d hope the brand offer servicing for much longer. The brand refused to repair my Grandfather’s GS.

Spy Black's picture

You may be able to find an individual shop that may be able to repair the watch. There's a lot of old craftsmen still tinkering away, you may need to search a bit but it's probably do-able.

Andy Barnham's picture

I’m trying trust me. Not helpful when GS didn’t even detail what was wrong with the watch. Just a flat ‘no’.