WHEN A LOCAL chapter of the RedBar Group, the world’s largest watch enthusiast and collector community, told Tom Dixon, owner of Schwanke-Kasten Jewelers in Milwaukee, Wi, that Grand Seiko was an exciting brand, Dixon decided to introduce the crowd-pleasing watch to Wisconsin. It was a departure for Tom and his son, Charlie Dixon, who had previously carried only Swiss-made watch brands.
In October, dozens of watch aficionados gathered in the store to closely observe every move made by Yukie Miyosawa, a master craftswoman from the Iwate Prefecture in Japan, while she demonstrated the intricacies of a Grand Seiko timepiece.
Her visit marked the launch of the partnership between Grand Seiko and family-owned Schwanke-Kasten Jewelers, which has sold watches since its inception in 1899 and is the only authorized dealer of Grand Seiko in the state.
Grand Seiko is a luxury brand that offers timepieces made by master craftsmen in its two watchmaking studios in Japan using exclusive movements and high-grade materials. The brand was launched in the 1960s with the intent to create timepieces that find the harmonious balance of form and function.
The response to the brand launch has been enthusiastic. “Local watch enthusiasts thought this event was very interesting,” Charlie Dixon says. “They really like the mechanics behind the watches. They are thrilled that Grand Seiko is in Wisconsin.”
The watchmaker, explaining her actions with the help of an interpreter, was taking apart and putting back together an unusual hybrid spring-drive movement that involves a quartz crystal. The revolutionary spring drive is known for accuracy.
Grand Seiko catered the event by serving sushi and hired a calligraphy artist who created custom works of art in Japanese characters for those attending.
Schwanke-Kasten has become known as a comfortable hangout for watch enthusiasts. “None of our sales staff is on commission, so people come to us and don’t feel pushed to make a purchase,” Charlie says.
Store associates connect with collector groups and other influencers on social media. “We also try to optimize our site as best as possible for search so that if one of them searches ‘Grand Seiko near me’ in Milwaukee, we appear,” Charlie says.
In the past, Schwanke-Kasten has hosted Baselworld release previews or parties, most recently for Tudor in May. For another event, a vintage watch night, they collected and restored 20 to 30 watches and showcased them.
The Dixons are planning to build a second-floor reception space so they can host events with regularity and perhaps meetings of the local chapter of RedBar.
Besides making collectors comfortable, the Dixons make sure their staff is well educated on each watch brand they carry. Brand trainers visit the store or lead immersive training in Chicago.
“For Grand Seiko, we did a crash course,” Charlie says. “There is a lot of different vocabulary associated with a Japanese fine watchmaker.” For example, Grand Seiko uses the technique of Zaratsu polishing, which creates the sharply defined edges and seamless mirror finishing that is the signature of the brand.
The brand launch did lead to sales, most of which occurred after the event. “This was more of an education event; we have to introduce people who aren’t familiar with this watch brand,” Charlie says.
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