The Grand Seiko SLGW002 and SLGW003 are classier White Birch evolutions The Grand Seiko SLGW002 and SLGW003 are classier White Birch evolutions

The Grand Seiko SLGW002 and SLGW003 are classier White Birch evolutions

Buffy Acacia

It wasn’t that long ago when Grand Seiko was barely whispered about outside of Japan, and savvy collectors were boasting about the incredible deals they could get for such high-end watches. Unfortunately for those savvy collectors, Grand Seiko has reaped the rewards of its own success, and its releases are some of the most anticipated every year. The new SLGW002 and SLGW003 tickled a lot of fancies when they were announced at Watches & Wonders, using familiar styles to house a brand new movement.

The case

Grand Seiko SLGW003 Case 1

Although the Masterpiece Collection is home to the most elaborate and expensive Grand Seikos, the Evolution 9 Collection is really what’s considered its flagship. The range’s focus is on the future, and doesn’t cater to trends of vintage resurgence, but it doesn’t alienate modern buyers either. The SLGW002 and SLGW003 are among its latest additions, and they bring a more sophisticated take thanks to a subtly altered case. The Evolution 9 case was originally designed with a sportier edge in mind, but in this slimmer and more compact take on the geometry, the thin bezels and elongated, sharply tipped lugs add a heightened air of elegance. Whether you opt for the 80-piece limited edition SLGW002 in 18k rose gold or the SLGW003 in titanium, the fine brushing on the case contrasts with polished bevels for an overall smart but hardy look.

Grand Seiko SLGW002 Case 1

Titanium’s lightweight properties are what makes it desirable, as the novelty of its ~40% weight reduction compared to steel is just as satisfying as the heft of solid gold. Usually that comes with the sacrifice of hardness, with titanium being much softer than steel, but Grand Seiko’s Brilliant Hard Titanium is a specific alloy which is both whiter than standard titanium and twice as hard as steel for superior scratch resistance. Where the SLGW002 and SLGW003 really set themselves apart is their dimensions, wearing quite humbly at 38.6mm in diameter, 45.4mm lug-to-lug, and just 9.95mm thick. The tradeoff with this smaller case is that they have a water resistance of 30 metres. So not exactly GADA-friendly, but appropriate for a dressier watch. Here is where an interesting query begins. The offering, whether in elevated rose gold or robust titanium, has remixed Evolution 9 design with the intent of catering towards dress watch purposes. But does the retention of the sportier cues create mixed messaging?

The dial

Grand Seiko SLGW003 Dial 1

The crisp, white dials of these two watches bear more than a passing resemblance to the famous White Birch which launched the Evolution 9 Collection, but with distinct differences. Both have a silvery tone that manages to retain an organic quality, like the undisturbed surface of an icy tundra or the glare from a sun-lit river. According to Grand Seiko, it’s still a tribute to the white birch tree, but this time with a horizontal grain. There’s also some irregularity to the bark that’s more distinctive than the original White Birch, feeling more like a natural timber, albeit much cleaner.

Grand Seiko SLGW002 Dial 1

The grooved, applied indices have been slimmed down compared to what you would find on the SLGH005, and the intricate facetting balances the complexity of the dial, ensuring that no single element feels too busy or too plain. But we still have the familiar Evolution 9 handset, which notably utilises a broad central hour hand. This works well in the context of a sportier design. In this dressier remix, however, the jury is out whether or not Grand Seiko fans will express a preference for the more standard handset. It looks good, but could it have looked even better? Lastly, regardless of the silver or gold details, the bright blue of the high-beat seconds hand beams out at you. The only other difference between the two dials is the use of the eight-pointed star on the gold SLGW002, signifying the dial’s special status and usage of precious metal for the hands and indices.

The movement

Grand Seiko SLGW002 Movement 1

The 9SA5 movement has been a topic of awe since its debut in 2020, representing a new era of Grand Seiko with the specifications to back it up. Sometimes an in-house movement can be impressive without looking all that special on paper, but the 9SA5 was not one of those. One glance at the sapphire caseback, however, and you’ll notice that this isn’t a 9SA5, after all. This rotor-less version has been dubbed the 9SA4, carrying the same high beat reat and long power reserve, just without automatic winding, and is also the first high-beat, manually wound movement that Grand Seiko has released in over 50 years.

Calling it a rotor-less 9SA5 might not be completely fair though, as the layout of the bridges has changed. Grand Seiko notes that 40% of the movement had to be redesigned. The brand understands that a manually wound calibre is more about connection with the watch than simply just how the mainsprings get wound, so special attention has been paid to the way the winding feels. You can even see that the click spring is in the shape of a little bird, the Japanese wagtail specifically, providing visual entertainment if you happen to wind the watch with the caseback facing you. In addition to its time-only display, 36,000vph beat rate, and 80-hour power reserve courtesy of twin mainsprings, there’s also a power reserve indicator on the caseback side.

The strap

Grand Seiko SLGW003 Strap 1

When a watch is this nice, an understated strap is the way to go. The hand-winding White Birch duo is paired with a crocodile leather with matching stitching – black for the titanium model and brown for the gold. A folding clasp in the matching material also bears an etching of the GS gothic-script logo. Should you want to experiment with other straps, you’ll have an easy time thanks to the 20mm lug width and yes, drilled lugs.

The verdict

Grand Seiko SLGW002 Verdict

It’s possible the SLGW003 will have a lot of White Birch owners biting their fists in jealousy, especially if their wrists are on the smaller side. The depth rating reduction means these watches serve a different purpose, however, leaning more on the dressy side. Dials are always subjective and the SLGH005 is arguably already a modern classic, but fans of dressier looks will definitely be more enamoured with these new models. A hand-winding movement is exciting as well, not just for the emotional connection but also for knocking off that extra bit of thickness. The US$1,600 price increase would normally be hard to justify for any reason other than novelty, but the use of Brilliant Hard Titanium does set it apart from the steel models in Grand Seiko’s catalogue. Most solid gold watches have a way of standing out, but the SLGW002 is far more subtle than you’d expect. There isn’t even the slightest element of bling about it, instead feeling like an old-school gold watch which doesn’t need to impress anyone but yourself. I suspect all Grand Seiko fans can agree the new 9SA4 movement is a unanimous win. Where there may be some contention, however, is whether or not certain Evolution 9 signatures, like the broader handset, best suit less casual styles.

Grand Seiko SLGW002 and SLGW003 pricing and availability

The Grand Seiko SLGW002 and SLGW003 are now available, with the SLGW002 in 18k gold being a a boutique exclusive and limited to 80 pieces. Price: US$10,700 (SLGW003), US$45,000 (SLGW002)

Brand Grand Seiko
Model Evolution 9 Collection Mechanical Hi-Beat 36000
Reference SLGW002
Case Dimensions 38.6mm (D) x 9.95mm (T)
Case Material Brilliant Hard Titanium
18k rose gold
Water Resistance 30 metres
Crystal(s) Sapphire crystal front and back
Dial Silver horizontal White Birch pattern
Strap Crocodile leather, case-matching three-fold clasp
Movement 9SA4, in-house, manual-winding
Power Reserve 80 hours
Functions Hours, minutes, seconds, power reserve indicator
Availability August 2024, SLGW002 limited to 80 pieces
Price US$10,700 (SLGW003)
US$45,000 (SLGW002)