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Yoshikazu Akahane

Yoshikazu Akahane: The Genius Behind the Spring Drive Movement

The story of Spring Drive comes from a genius Yoshikazu Akahane. From early career to the birth of his revolutionary idea, explore here!
May 10, 2024

Yoshikazu Akahane is a name that resonates with innovation and engineering excellence in the world of horology. As a Japanese engineer and inventor, Akahane is renowned for his groundbreaking creation, the Spring Drive.

This revolutionary watch movement combines the precision of a quartz movement with the allure of mechanical timepieces. Akahane’s relentless pursuit of perfection and his unrivaled technical expertise have made him a legendary figure in the realm of watchmaking.

Early Career of Yoshikazu Akahane

The illustrious origins of the Spring Drive can be traced back to the late 1970s when a young and ambitious engineer named Yoshikazu Akahane embarked on his remarkable journey. 

Akahane’s career began at Suwa Seikosha, which is now known as Seiko Epson Corporation. He joined the company in 1971, just two years after Seiko had introduced the Astron, the world’s first commercially available quartz wristwatch. 

Initially, Yoshikazu Akahane focused on the development of batteries for quartz watches. However, it wasn’t long before he shifted his attention to the Twin Quartz project, a timepiece renowned for utilizing two oscillators. 

In this innovative system, the second quartz oscillator was employed to rectify any discrepancies caused by temperature fluctuations that might affect the accuracy of the first oscillator.

The Birth of a Groundbreaking Idea

The birth of the groundbreaking idea of Spring Drive isn’t such a smooth process. It takes countless trials and errors for Akahane and his team to finally reach the final version of the current Spring Drive movement.

Throughout the 1970s, quartz watches gained huge success around the world. That leads to Seiko focusing its attention to improve quartz timepieces. During that moment, the company managed to introduce some revolutionary inventions, such as solar power that later be known as Kinetic. 

Upon joining Suwa’s Development and Design Department, Yoshikazu Akahane introduced his concept of a Quartz Lock, which captivated the attention of his colleagues. 

The notion of developing a movement that could provide quartz-level accuracy while remaining self-sufficient, reliant solely on the wearer, intrigued Suwa Seikosha. Recognizing the immense potential of Yoshikazu Akahane’s idea, the company swiftly approved the project, paving the way for its realization.

Read also: Seiko Kinetic Watch: Greater Power Reserve, Better Accuracy

Working on the First Prototype

Yoshikazu Akahane began the first prototype in 1982 with his team which resulted in the first Spring Drive that can only run for about four hours. Regardless, it indicated that Akahane’s theory goes beyond just theoretical. 

However, a significant improvement in energy efficiency and power consumption, reducing it by nearly a hundredfold, was necessary for the practical application of the integrated circuit (IC).

The target was to reach a 48-hour running time, allowing the timepiece to function seamlessly without the need for winding even over the entire weekend. 

Unfortunately, by 1983, the project had to be temporarily suspended, awaiting the advancement and maturation of IC technology.

In 1993, the development of energy-efficient and low-power integrated circuits reached a significant milestone, reigniting the initiative.

Recognizing the hybrid characteristics of this innovative regulating system, Seiko Instruments Ltd. (now Seiko Watch Corporation), a renowned manufacturer of mechanical watches, was brought on board for the second attempt.

Despite noteworthy advancements made by the team, this joint endeavor did not yield commercially viable outcomes. 

The prototypes continued to consume excessive power, offering a power reserve of less than 24 hours. Consequently, in 1994, the project was once again put on hold.

Evaluating the Energy Efficiency

The Spring Drive project was started again in 1997 when Yoshikazu Akahane became the Deputy General Manager of the Watch Division at Epson. Regardless of the insignificant progress to reach the initiated power reserve, the team was put in progress.

This time, the team was asked to focus more on energy efficiency, both in the context of consumption and generation. After countless trials and errors, they found a way to harness the energy that had previously gone to waste during braking in earlier versions. 

As a result of their breakthrough, they developed a remarkably efficient integrated circuit (IC) known as the SOI-IC. This groundbreaking invention enabled the watch to generate more power than it consumed, thus clearing the path for the birth of Spring Drive.

Read also: Seiko vs Grand Seiko: The Highlight between the Leading Ones

Spring Drive: A Revolution in Timekeeping

Yoshikazu Akahane’s Spring Drive invention marked a paradigm shift in the world of horology. Unlike traditional mechanical or battery-powered watches, the Spring Drive movement utilizes a combination of mechanical, electronic, and quartz components.

The result is an unparalleled level of precision and smoothness in timekeeping. At the heart of the Spring Drive is the Glide Wheel, a crucial component that controls the unwinding of the mainspring

This controlled release of energy enables the watch hands to move with extraordinary accuracy, measured in increments of one second per day. 

The Glide Wheel’s unique design, combined with the Tri-synchro Regulator, ensures that the Spring Drive watch achieves an exceptional level of precision.

The Spring Drive movement also offers a seamless and sweeping second-hand motion, free from the familiar ticking found in quartz movements. This characteristic brings a captivating elegance and fluidity to the wearer’s experience, embodying the essence of traditional mechanical timepieces.

Yoshikazu Akahane’s Spring Drive has earned worldwide recognition and admiration for its remarkable innovation. The invention was presented at the Baselworld in April 1998 and many watch enthusiasts cherish the invention. 

In the following year, Seiko introduced three limited edition watches consisting of two watches powered by the groundbreaking caliber 7R68 and one Credor model labeled as the 7R78.

These remarkable timepieces marked a significant milestone in the watch industry as they were the first-ever Spring Drive watches and movements introduced to the market. 

Regrettably, prior to Seiko’s unveiling of the Spring Drive to the public at the 1999 Baselworld fair, Yoshikazu Akahane, the visionary behind Spring Drive and the guiding force behind the teams involved in its development, passed away at the age of 52. 

It was a profound loss, as Yoshikazu Akahane dedicated nearly 20 years of his life to bring his visionary concept to fruition. However, the significance of Akahane’s unwavering determination, perseverance, and unwavering commitment to an idea that faced numerous obstacles cannot be emphasized enough. 

It is thanks to his relentless efforts spanning two decades that the Spring Drive exists in its present form today.

Final Thought

Yoshikazu Akahane’s unwavering dedication to his craft and his groundbreaking invention, the Spring Drive, have left an indelible mark on the world of watchmaking. 

Through his pursuit of precision and artistry, Yoshikazu Akahane has revolutionized timekeeping by seamlessly blending mechanical and electronic components. 

Akahane’s legacy as a visionary engineer will continue to inspire future generations, driving them to push the boundaries of innovation and redefine what is possible in the realm of horology.

Read also: 4 Alluring Grand Seiko Watches with “Snowflake” Dials

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