Grand Seiko’s whirlpool-inspired SBGH331 Oceania limited edition has got Antipodean watch fans in a spinJamie Weiss
Grand Seiko is an unabashedly Japanese watch brand, with all of its watches explicitly inspired by elements of Japanese nature and culture. However, the brand has an uncanny knack for making its fans all across the world feel special with considered regional limited editions, which inspire loyalty among enthusiasts in different countries (and envy among those eyeing other countries’ cool local GS limited editions) while remaining quintessentially Japanese. For example, their recent Katana Collection was only available in the US, but you don’t need to be a Japanophile to see just how Japanese those watches are…
Enter the SBGH331, Grand Seiko’s first Oceania limited edition (that is, it’s exclusively available in Australia and New Zealand). A handsome mechanical three-hander that introduces a few firsts for Grand Seiko, it too is inspired by an undeniably Japanese natural phenomenon – yet its inspiration weirdly makes sense for a watch earmarked for the Antipodes.
Now, before we discuss the SBGH331’s dial, it’s worth pointing out that it’s only the second regional exclusive that Australian Grand Seiko fans have been blessed with (sorry NZ). The first was the SBGJ269 “Pink Flannel Flower”, which rather unusually for Grand Seiko, was inspired by an element of Australian nature as opposed to Japanese nature. Time+Tide has it on good authority that the SBGJ269 will be the first and only Grand Seiko to be inspired by something other than Japan, making that watch rather special.
So, with that in mind, the SBGH331 is a bit of a return to form, and has a very clear Japanese inspiration: it’s inspired by the famous whirlpools found off the coast of Naruto in the south-west of Japan. As you may have guessed, these whirlpools, which are some of the largest and fastest in the world, also indirectly inspired one of Japan’s most famous mangas, Naruto. Pretty hard to get much more Japanese than that. That said, I think it’s also a pretty fitting concept for a watch destined for Aussies and Kiwis. Whirlpools have also been known to occur in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand, so in my mind, it kind of makes sense for our market.
Naruto’s whirlpools are captured in the SBGH331’s ice-blue dial, which features a crisp radial spiralling pattern. It’s similar to the pattern used in the popular SBGR311 “Cookie” which came out in 2018, but unlike that watch or other Grand Seiko pieces with radial dials, the SBGH331’s pattern doesn’t feature little Grand Seiko logos – it’s actually the first to do so – which makes it particularly unique. A contrasting gold seconds hand and Grand Seiko logo at 12 o’clock completes the package.
The SBGH331 “Naruto Whirlpools” features a classic Heritage Collection case design imagined in the brand’s “ever-brilliant steel”, which not only features a brighter lustre compared to standard 316L stainless steel but also higher corrosion resistance. Sporty yet not ostentatious, it features a pleasant combination of Zaratsu-polished and brushed surfaces, with the case’s polished bezel and lug tops perfectly framing the similarly brilliant dial.
The SBGH331 “Naruto Whirlpools” is powered by the in-house high-beat mechanical 9S85 movement, which can be admired through the watch’s exhibition caseback. Accurate to +5 to -3 seconds per day (which is more precise than COSC standards), the 9S85 has a 55-hour power reserve and beats at 36,000 vph.
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The Grand Seiko SBGH331 Oceania Limited Edition features a standard-for-Grand Seiko three-link steel bracelet with a folding clasp, which also features a combination of brushed and polished surfaces. It’s a perfectly serviceable bracelet, but I feel in general that GS’ bracelets are somewhat of a letdown compared to the high standard exhibited in the rest of their watches. It’s not a dealbreaker by any means.
I remember feeling very jealous of Thai Grand Seiko fans when the Thailand-exclusive SBGY025 “Hikari” dropped last year. Now, I feel as if it’s the rest of the world’s turn to feel jealous about us Kiwis and Aussies. The SBGH331’s ice-blue dial is almost Tiffany blue in appearance, but the sharpness of the pattern adds an element of depth that similarly-coloured watch dials just can’t match – photos don’t do it justice (especially GS’ press photos). It’s kind of a perfect ‘one watch’, especially Down Under where you can get away with wearing something a little bit sporty like this as a dress watch. It’s a cracking limited edition and one that I’m sure will sell out quickly.
Grand Seiko SBGH331 “Naruto Whirlpools” Oceania Limited Edition pricing & availability
The Grand Seiko SBGH331 “Naruto Whirlpools” is exclusively available in Australia and New Zealand and is limited to 150 pieces. Price: A$9,250, NZ$10,650.
|Model||Heritage Collection “Naruto Whirlpools”|
|Case Dimensions||39mm (D) x 13mm (T) x 47.5mm (LTL)|
|Case Material||Stainless steel|
|Water Resistance||100 metres|
|Crystal(s)||Sapphire front and back|
|Dial||Light blue with radial whirlpool pattern|
|Strap||Three-link steel bracelet, folding clasp|
|Movement||Grand Seiko Calibre 9S85, automatic|
|Power Reserve||55 hours|
|Functions||Hours, minutes, seconds, date|
|Availability||Oceania limited edition, 150 pieces|