The new Grand Seiko Katana Collection debuts new dial textures inspired by katana artistryZach Blass
- This new Grand Seiko 44GS steel Spring Drive trio uses katana artistry as a muse for their dials
- The SBGA489 and SBGA491 introduce a new dial texture inspired by Japanese tamahagane steel
- The SBGA493, a limited edition of 500 pieces, has a fiery red dial that encapsulates the emanating sparks from the forging of a katana
One of the initial misconceptions people have upon their introduction to Grand Seiko is that their trademark Zaratsu finishing is some sort of samurai technique applied to watchmaking. It is not. ‘Zaratsu’ is the Japanese pronunciation of ‘Sallaz’ – the name of a European company that used to make black-polishing machinery. So, there was a bit of distancing from the imagery of samurai and swords when it came to Grand Seiko communicating releases. Today, however, Grand Seiko embraces the katana with a new ‘Katana’ Collection of three watches inspired by the artistry behind crafting these legendary Japanese swords. The new Grand Seiko SBGA489, SBGA491, and SBGA493 are each U.S.-exclusive releases, with 100-metre water-resistant, stainless-steel 44GS cases that are 40mm in diameter, 12.5mm thick, and 46.2mm lug-to-lug. Furthermore, all powered by 9R65 Spring Drive movements. Two of the releases, the SBGA489 and SBGA491, debut brand new tamahagane-inspired dials. The limited edition SBGA493, however, re-interprets a very rare Grand Seiko dial texture in a striking fiery red hue.
The Grand Seiko SBGA489 & SBGA491 introduce tamahagane-inspired dials
“What is tamahagane?”, you may be wondering. Grand Seiko explains: “The katana derives from nature but can only come to be through craftsmanship. The raw materials used in its creation are earth, fire, water, and air. Iron sand is drawn from the Earth and then heated using fire and air in a furnace known as the tatara. The melted sand forms the Japanese steel known as tamahagane. From tamahagane, two variations can be found. One is the high carbon steel used for the outer sharp edge, known as kawagane. The other is the strong inner core of the blade, shingane. The shards of metal are then stacked individually; heated to a glowing yellow, orange, and red colour; forged; folded; and quenched in water until the inner core is welded within the hardened exterior. Forming the katana is a demanding and exacting art, yet it creates the foundation of a perfectly balanced and beautiful sword.”
Now, I know people like to poke fun at the brand descriptions of their nature-inspired dials at times. But, if you pause, take a breath, and fight the urge to unnecessarily partake in horological hooliganism, the nature of the tamahagane steel is well-encapsulated in the dial – it is not merely buzz phrases or fluff. And, even if you want to toss the nature connection aside, what we ultimately have is a new, never before used, frosted texture that brings a whole new avenue and dimension to the sizable Grand Seiko collection. With the black-dialled SBGA489, the parallel to the tamahagane steel pictured above is immediately clear – its grained surface is almost like a macro shot of the steel. The green-dialled SBGA491, however, may initially be a bit more puzzling. Is it just green for variation’s sake?
Grand Seiko explains: “The hardness and beauty of kawagane inspire the black dial of SBGA489, and the resilience and strength of shingane are represented in the dark green dial of SBGA491.” With that explanation, the choice of green as a foil to the black dial makes more sense. For better or for worse, Grand Seiko does not colour-match their date windows to their dials. To be fair, with their expansive range of dial hues and textures it is a tall order. Aptly, Grand Seiko has elected to use a white font on a black date disc for the SBGA489, making for a better tonal fit. The green SBGA491, however, uses the standard black-on-white date disc. Both dials have applied diamond-cut indices and razor sharp central hour and minute hands, with a rich hairline brushed surface so that these surfaces remain brighter against their darker backdrops. Remember, Grand Seiko strategically determines the best finishes to use, ‘light’ being brushed and ‘dark’ being distortion-free mirror polished in order to increase the legibility of their dials. The recess of the power reserve indicator and the gliding central seconds hand take on a golden hue for each model – evocative of the katana blade glowing bright yellow while in the fiery forge.
The Grand Seiko SBGA493 brings a fiery-red remix of a rare GS dial texture
Speaking of the forge, this brings us to the 500-piece, limited edition SBGA493. Again, like the SBGA489 and SBGA491, it is a stainless steel watch in a 44GS case outfitted on their commonly seen five-piece link bracelet. It is also a three-hander with a power reserve indicator and date complication at 3′, and it also uses the 9R65. Where it deviates from the previous two, however, is that it has a fiery red katana forge-inspired dial that does not use the new tamahagane-inspired texture. Grand Seiko explains: “While still inspired by the katana, the SBGA493 expresses the determination and fiery spirit needed to craft the blade. The deep red colour with yellow gold-tone accents is influenced by the heated blade during the forging process. The pattern emulates the radiating sparks created when the hammer strikes the blade.”
At first, I thought it was simply a red remix of the Mt. Iwate dial texture seen on many of their beloved references. But then, I zoomed in closer, and arrived at a shocking conclusion. I consider myself very familiar with the modern Grand Seiko catalogue. Unless I am mistaken, the SBGA493 uses a dial texture that Grand Seiko has rarely used before on their SBGY025, Isetan Shinjuku Limited Editions, and a few other small-run regional limited editions. The SBGY025, for example, is a Grand Seiko Thailand-exclusive limited edition of 50 pieces that made Grand Seiko die-hards outside of Thailand very jealous, with its distinct Hikari ‘golden light’ dial. It is easy to confuse the texture of this ‘golden light’ dial with the Mt. Iwate texture, but, while it also has a sunburst effect, the pattern has a thicker nature and is much more pronounced. So, it very well could be the first time this dial pattern has made an appearance outside of rare-runs in Thailand, China, and Japan – its first debut in the USA. This texture, I would argue, was the perfect one to remix for the SBGA493’s dial. Considering it is inspired by the fire of the forge, the texture conveys the sparks radiating out of the blade each time it is hammered.
While a sizable run of 500 pieces, I think the SBGA493 will be very collectible for its distinct dial, colour, and overall aesthetic. As an added bonus, it is also worth mentioning that the SBGA493 is bundled with both the bracelet and an additional kimono fabric strap.
Grand Seiko often recycles their patterns – the White Birch, Mt. Iwate, ‘rock-pattern’, and ‘Snowflake’, are all great examples, in various colours. This is understandable considering how much thought goes into creating these hand-crafted stamps. This is what ultimately excites me about this new trio, as each of the new Grand Seiko ‘Katana’ U.S. exclusives bring refreshing dials that are either completely new (the tamahagane dials) or a first-ever for the U.S. (the fiery-red ‘golden light’ dial). I also appreciate how the muse for these dials, while nature-inspired to an extent, hones in on a prized element of Japanese culture. The biggest shame, of course, is that these are U.S. exclusives. Then again, the ‘Four Seasons’ collection was once a U.S. exclusive collection – only to be later made available worldwide.
Grand Seiko ‘Katana’ U.S. Exclusive collection pricing and availability:
The Grand Seiko SBGA489 and SBGA491 will be available starting this August, and the SBGA493 limited edition of 500 pieces will be available beginning this September. All three models will be available exclusively at Grand Seiko Boutiques, the Grand Seiko Boutique Online, and select Grand Seiko Authorized Retailers operated in the US.
Price: US$5,600 (SBGA489, SBGA491), US$6,000 (SBGA493, limited to 500 pieces)
|Model||‘Katana’ U.S. Exclusive Collection|
|References||SBGA489, SBGA491, SBGA493|
|Case Dimensions||40mm (D) x 12.5mm (T) x 46.2mm (L2L)|
|Case Material||Stainless steel|
|Water Resistance||100m (screw-down crown)|
|Dials||SBGA489: Black tamahagne
SBGA491: Green tamahagne
|Crystal||Sapphire crystal and exhibition caseback|
|Strap||Stainless steel bracelet with three-fold clasp and push-button release
Kimono fabric strap included with SBGA493
|Movement||In-house automatic Spring Drive calibre 9R65|
|Power Reserve||72 Hours|
|Functions||Hours, minutes, seconds, date, power reserve indicator|
|Availability||U.S. Exclusive, August (SBGA489, SBGA491), September (SBGA493 LE of 500 pieces)|
|Price||US$5,600 (SBGA489, SBGA491)