Zaratsu Finishing - Not from where you (likely) thought

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Zaratsu Finishing - Not from where you (likely) thought

Post by 3Flushes » July 17th 2021, 1:26am

Recliner's thread on the Citizen Chronomaster piqued my interest...

MEET THE ONE-MAN SHOP RESTORING VINTAGE SEIKO CASES, ONE ZARATSU POLISH AT A TIME

JULY 18, 2019 WORDS BY ZACH KAZANPHOTOS BY KAMIL DUNKOWSKI

Kamil Dunkowski, an expert watch refinisher and restorer based in Poland, is obsessed with zaratsu polishing. “For me, zaratsu is all about reflection of the light,” he told me. “I believe zaratsu polishing is the identity of Grand Seiko.”

I stumbled onto Dunkowski’s work by accident. He has a small but growing following on Instagram (@lapinist_watchrestoration) where he showcases dramatic before and after photos of watches that have been sent to him from all corners of the world. It’s striking to see photos of beat up, seemingly-beyond-repair Seiko sports watches with close-ups of dings and scratches that might go a step or two beyond a desirable patina, alongside images of the same watch restored to catalog photography standards. There are videos, too, that showcase the unique characteristics of how a zaratsu polished lug, for instance, reflects light in motion. It’s something to behold, and a great Instagram follow if you’re a watch lover who appreciates excellent metalwork.

Dunkowski’s watch story is typical and will be familiar to many: at 18 he obtained his first mechanical timepiece, an inexpensive Seiko 5, and the rabbit hole was officially open. It wasn’t long before he graduated to more serious collector’s pieces in the Seiko range, and he gradually developed an interest in the unique Seiko style of case finishing. It was during the renovation of his personal watch, a Seiko 6139 chronograph, that everything clicked.

He had determined to source a new-old-stock case for his project, and when he finally obtained one, he was blown away by the level of finishing. The flat facets, perfectly even brushing, and mirror polish blew him away. “That was the moment I started wondering, ‘How is that possible?’ To keep all those edges so sharp but also polished at the same time.”

As a Grand Seiko owner, I have to admit, I’ve wondered the same thing. The finishing on these watches, and many classic Seikos, defies logic if you’re not intimately familiar with the artisanal process that goes into creating the unique look. The sharp bevels, crisp lines, and perfect mirror effect are intoxicating. As Ilya pointed out in his recent hands-on review of the SBGM221, the way that Grand Seiko artisans are able to create super clear definitions between elements of the case that don’t involve mixed finishing techniques is truly impressive.

The zaratsu polishing that Grand Seiko is known for, and that Dunkowski was so transfixed by and now excels at, is as misunderstood as it is beautiful. While it has become a signature of sorts for Grand Seiko as a brand, zaratsu is not a centuries-old Japanese technique (like, say, the tsuiki or “hammer tone” decorative process used on some recent high end G-Shocks, or for that matter many types of porcelain production that are offered in the Seiko Presage line). The word “zaratsu” is derived from engravings on the German machines used to create the polishing effect. “Gebr-Sallaz” becomes, phonetically, “zaratsu” on the Japanese tongue. The distinguishing aspect of these machines is that unlike on a traditional polishing wheel, where the front of the wheel is used to create a polished surface, the zaratsu machine uses the side. This allows the craftsperson to create those impossibly flat surfaces that meet at unexpected angles. It’s a skill that takes years to learn, and one that has almost zero margin for error...


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