Grand Seiko celebrates a key milestone with the hot SBGE305 “Hotaka Summer”Jamie Weiss
If you’re a regular reader of Time+Tide, you’re no doubt familiar with Grand Seiko’s Spring Drive movements. For those who aren’t familiar, Spring Drive is a movement technology proprietary to the Seiko Group, which combines a conventional mechanical gear train with Seiko’s Tri-synchro Regulator system, through which power delivery to the watch’s hands is regulated based on a quartz reference signal. Basically, Spring Drive movements combine all the beauty and sustainability of mechanical movements with the precision of quartz movements, as well as feature a characteristically butter-smooth sweeping second hand.
Seiko released their first Spring Drive watch back in 1999: the Seiko SBWA001 which featured a manual-winding movement. (Check out Zach’s deep dive into that watch here.) However, it wasn’t until 2004 with the release of the first automatic Spring Drive movements, the 9R line, that Spring Drive really took off. Now, in 2024, Grand Seiko has celebrated the 20th anniversary of the 9R movement with two limited editions: the SBGA497 “Pink Snowflake”, and the watch we’re looking at today, the SBGE305 “Hotaka Summer”.
In classic Grand Seiko fashion, both watches are inspired by Mount Hotaka, a dramatic mountain range that backdrops Grand Seiko’s Shinshu Watch Studio, where all Spring Drive watches are made. Specifically, the SBGE305’s dark red dial takes inspiration from the vivid summer sunrises that emerge over Mount Hotaka – and while the Pink Snowflake certainly has its charms, I think the Hotaka Summer is a more visually distinct Grand Seiko piece.
So, let’s talk about the SBGE305’s dial. It’s deceptively simple: at some angles, it appears completely matte, with an almost bead-blasted appearance. But then, when it catches the light, a complex, grained sunburst finish is revealed, giving off a fiery glow that reminds me of a sweltering Japanese summer. Photos don’t really do it justice, but trust me: I own a SBGE257 – effectively the same watch as the SBGE305 – and I can tell you first-hand that these dials definitely have a sunburst finish; you just need to find the right angle and then it pops.
Grand Seiko has paired this enigmatic dark red dial with a shiny black ceramic GMT bezel, which focuses the eye towards the vivid red dial whilst adding to the SBGE305’s almost volcanic look. Being fully ceramic and therefore highly scratch-resistant, it’s also quite practical, protecting the watch’s crystal from glances and scrapes.
Grand Seiko has gone for an interesting design choice where the bezel features even-numbered numerals while the dual-colour flange features odd-numbered numerals for tracking a second time zone. Unlike some other models in the SBGE range, the SBGE305’s 24-hour hand is the same silver colour as the rest of the handset, so as not to distract from the red dial. The hands and indices, like the SBGE305’s case, feature a mix of brushed and Zaratsu-polished surfaces, with the cardinal indices and hands also featuring dabs of Lumibrite.
The date window lines up with the crown at the 4 o’clock position, while a power reserve indicator balances the dial somewhat at 8:30. Of course, dial-side power reserve indicators are a matter of eternal debate for Grand Seiko fans: some people really don’t like them, but I’m actually a fan of them, and I think a dial-side power reserve indicator makes particular sense on a sporty Grand Seiko like this one.
The SBGE305 “Hotaka Summer” is part of Grand Seiko’s Sports Collection which, unlike most of the brand’s other collections, has a somewhat inconsistent case design language. The SBGE305’s case has more in common with some Heritage Collection cases, save for the crown at 4 o’clock, which is a common design cue among Sports Collection GMT watches.
The Hotaka Summer features a Goldilocks-size 40.5 mm stainless steel case and a screw-down crown which grants 200m of water resistance. The tops of its lugs and bracelet feature satin-brushed finishes, while its case sides and bevels feature broad Zaratsu-polished expanses that are a pleasure to behold… They’re also massive scratch magnets, so keep that in mind.
The Grand Seiko SBGE305 “Hotaka Summer” was released to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 9R line, so unsurprisingly, it features a 9R movement – specifically, the 9R66. First introduced in 2006, the 9R66 is Grand Seiko’s first-ever 9R GMT movement. It’s what’s called a “true” GMT movement, which means that its 12-hour hand – i.e. the local time hour hand – can be adjusted independently, which is particularly useful for frequent travellers who might need to adjust their watch when changing time zones.
On top of that, the 9R66 boasts an accuracy rating of plus or minus ±1 second per day or 15 seconds per month and also features a weekend-proof 72-hour power reserve. My only gripe here is that the SBGE305 features a closed caseback, so we can’t admire the delightful “Shinshu stripe” finishing or glide wheel of its 9R66.
The Hotaka Summer comes mounted on a standard Grand Seiko three-link bracelet with a folding clasp. I’m on the record saying that Grand Seiko’s bracelets are somewhat of a weak point especially when compared to the high standard exhibited in the rest of their watches’ components: this three-link number is comfortable and finished nicely, but the pressed metal clasp feels less than substantial. But as I stated in my review of the SBGH331 “Naruto Whirlpools”, which has the same bracelet, it’s not a dealbreaker.
In my opinion, the SBGE305 encapsulates the three things that make Grand Seiko such a distinct and compelling brand. First of all, that dial. Grand Seiko does dials better than just about any other watch brand in the business, and the Hotaka Summer’s is particularly lovely. Secondly, it’s got nice big Zaratsu-polished case surfaces, which let you admire how distortion-free their reflections are. Finally, it’s got a Spring Drive movement, which is accurate, beautiful and practical, especially with the addition of a GMT complication.
Grand Seiko SBGE305 “Hotaka Summer” pricing & availability
The Grand Seiko SBGE305 “Hotaka Summer” is a limited edition of 1,300 pieces worldwide and is available now from Grand Seiko boutiques, retailers and online. Price: A$9,300.
|Sport Collection Caliber 9R 20th Anniversary Limited Edition “Hotaka Summer”
|40.5 mm (D) x 14.7 mm (T)
|Stainless steel, ceramic bezel
|200 metres, screw-down crown
|Dual-curved sapphire with inner AR coating
|Three-link steel bracelet, folding clasp
|9R66, in-house, automatic, Spring Drive
|Hours, minutes, seconds, date, power reserve indicator, GMT
|Limited to 1,300 pieces