The belles of Grand Seiko’s Baselworld ball this year were three takes on the first Grand Seiko, a buttoned-up dress watch that managed to be both effortlessly timeless and very of-its-time, all at once. Grand Seiko released steel, yellow gold and platinum takes on the classic, but they also released a completely new interpretation, the SBGR305, a watch very much in the same vein, but with numerous contemporary touches, such as the larger 40.5mm case, the brilliant hard titanium case material (a proprietary, extra hard version of the lightweight metal), and the addition of a date. The dial, too, is what we’ve come to expect from Grand Seiko: crisp, with a fine, hammered texture that’s hard to beat. So if you like the old stuff and the new stuff, you’ll like this one. Grand Seiko SBGR305 Australian pricing and availability Grand Seiko SBGR305, limited to 968 pieces, $10,400
If you were looking for a go-anywhere-do-anything type watch (and honestly, aren’t we all?), then a stylistically versatile steel GMT on a bracelet would tick a lot of the boxes. And as far as versatile steel GMTs go, there aren’t too many options that offer quite as much as Grand Seiko’s SBGJ203. It’s got the looks: a distinctive, angular and exceptionally well-finished 40mm case, paired with a rich dial that sets an exceptionally high bar for the competition. There’s fine detail at play, but it’s not a watch to peacock its virtues, or to sacrifice comfort and function in favour of style. And then there’s movement. Grand Seiko’s 9S86, released in 2014, is a connoisseur’s choice, a well-finished automatic that beats at an accurate 5Hz rate, with an antimagnetic balance spring and 55 hours of power reserve. Not to mention the user-friendly GMT itself, which shows two time zones from central hands, and allows for quick, hour increment adjustments of the local time, a more logical implementation than the GMT hand adjustment, which is more common. The SBGJ203 is the sort of watch that has me going out of my way to find flaws. You might find the finishing –… Read More
Fundamentally, there’s not a whole lot of variation in watch movements. Sure, the peripheral details might vary, but basically you’re either looking at a purely mechancial movement, with a mainspring and escapement setup that’s remained pretty much unchanged for the last few hundred years, or you’re looking at a battery-powered quartz watch that’s come to dominate mass market timekeeping over the last 50 years. And then there’s a few genuinely novel outliers, technologies such as Zenith’s recently announced Defy Lab and, the one we’re looking at today — Seiko’s Spring Drive technology. Spring Drive had a long gestation. It was first conceived in the late ’70s, but didn’t see a commercial release till 1999. Fundamentally, Spring Drive is a hybrid technology that takes the autonomous, perpetual power capacity of an automatic movement, and melds it with the impressive accuracy of quartz. Like any uncommon technology, it can take a while to get your head around, which is why we’ve put together this handy (and hopefully informative) explainer. Everything you need to know about Spring Drive, in just under two minutes.
Grand Seiko’s famous ‘Snowflake’ has been with us for quite some time now (it was first released, as the SBGA011, in 2010), and it’s quickly earned a reputation as an exemplary everyday watch that manages to combine functionality and beauty in equal measure. Smartly, Seiko knew enough to leave one of the cores of the Grand Seiko collection well alone … until this year. The ‘new’ Snowflake is the SBGA211, and, thankfully, it’s virtually identical to the original — except for the dial. At the start of this year it was announced that Grand Seiko would be fully independent from Seiko — a move well overdue. The most obvious symbol of this change was that the characteristic (and idiosyncratic) Seiko/Grand Seiko double branding disappeared from Grand Seiko dials, resulting in cleaner, less confusing dials. In the case of the Snowflake, this simpler design is a big improvement, giving a more balanced look that allows the wonderful texture of the Snowflake to shine. While this impossibly rich and subtle dial texture is what initially (and continually) wows people about the Snowflake, I actually don’t think it’s at the heart of the model’s success. I’ve worn watches with incredible dials before, and… Read More
One of Grand Seiko’s most in-demand and instantly identifiable watches is the Snowflake, AKA the SBGA211. For many, this pure, and deceptively simple, watch epitomises the high-end Japanese maker, and it certainly exhibits all the Grand Seiko hallmarks: exceptional casework, precise finishing techniques, and those glimmering hands and hour markers. And then, of course, there’s the dial — textured like a field of fresh snow, that can, at a distance, be passed off as a simple white. Look closer though and you’ll find yourself sucked into the richness and serenity of its lustrous beauty. And then there’s the impossibly smooth sweep of that hand-blued second hand, a tell-tale marker of the Spring Drive movement whirring behind the scenes. Spring Drive, unique to Seiko, is an innovative hybrid of quartz accuracy and mechanical perpetuity that is as intriguing and ingenious as the titular dial, if not more so. Add to this the watch’s supreme wearability and it’s easy to see why it’s still such a popular option. Grand Seiko Spring Drive SBGA211 ‘Snowflake’ Grand Seiko Spring Drive SBGA211, titanium, $8400
Grand Seiko is known for many things: mirror-like finishes, incredibly crisp casework and a design style that veers from conservative to downright quirky. But this is not a brand that springs to mind when you think of professional-grade dive watches. Until now. At Basel this year Grand Seiko released this mighty beast that we (in the best tradition of Seiko-related nicknames) have dubbed ‘The Kraken’. Now to be honest, unless you’ve got arms like Dwayne Johnson, I’m willing to bet you don’t have the wrist presence to rock this 46.9mm-wide by 16.9mm-thick behemoth (which is surprisingly light, thanks to the titanium construction). However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a go, especially given the suitably grand level of fit and finish on display. And while the blue dial is our pick, it’s quite limited at 500 pieces, so the regular-edition black-dialled version might be the easier fish to land. Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 Professional 600m (refs. SBGH255, SBGH257) Australian pricing and availability Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 Professional 600m, ref. SBGH255, $14,200; the blue-dialled SBGH257, limited to 500 pieces, $14,600
To be honest, when I first saw Grand Seiko’s contemporary-looking new modular ceramic Spring Drives, I was on the fence. I didn’t expect it, and wasn’t sure what to think. Of course the quality and technical precision were very much in evidence, but the aesthetics were well outside the norm for the brand. But over time the slick looks grew on me – Grand Seiko’s trademark crisp lines look great in black ceramic, and the sporty style was well-suited to the Spring Drive Chrono. So in the lead up to Basel this year, I was looking forward to seeing where they’d take the nascent collection, and I was not disappointed. It’s fair to say the blue and gold limited edition requires a somewhat outgoing personality to pull off on a daily basis; this black version, while not quite stealthy given the 46.4mm case, is far more restrained on the wrist. I’d go so far as to say this watch has a certain menace about it. The deep black colour, titanium and black ceramic case and bracelet, and busy dial all combine to make it look like it’s out of this world, in the same way that concept cars and next-generation fighter… Read More
Editor’s Note: For all that the watch industry speaks about timelessness and classic design, it rides the winds of fad and fashion just like any other consumer-focused business. But that’s not always the case; there are some models that remain impressively unchanged, and pure to their origins. Watches like this simple and sophisticated Grand Seiko Automatic Hi-Beat 36000. The story in a second: Grand Seiko’s limited edition Hi-Beats are hot property, but the regular production SBHG005 is, not to overstate things in any way, a masterpiece of understated excellence. Most high-end watches are instantly recognisable as luxury objects. Your watch makes a statement about who you are and what you value. Rolex says one thing, IWC another. This is, of course, the point. Most people, upon spending thousands of dollars on a watch want you to know you’ve spent thousands of dollars on a watch. And then there’s Grand Seiko. Grand Seiko is the Japanese watchmaker’s premier line, and for years it was quite difficult to get your hands on outside of Japan. This rarity, combined with the line’s often-conservative style and the ubiquity of Seiko’s more accessible offerings meant that the statement you made wearing one was about rejecting the usual… Read More