The Grand Seiko SBGC249 and SBGC251 are complicated additions to the Evolution 9 collectionBorna Bošnjak
Grand Seiko’s Evolution 9 collection greatly expanded at this year’s Watches and Wonders, with no less than five new additions. Among those we find today’s offering — the Grand Seiko SBGC249 and SBGC251 Spring Drive Chronograph GMTs. The idea isn’t exactly novel for Grand Seiko; in fact, one of the models celebrates the 15th anniversary of this style of watch. Over the years, the design has been refined and modified to include some added functionality, though the gist of the Spring Drive Chronograph (which I shall from now on refer to as the SDC) hasn’t changed much. As part of the Evolution 9 collection, the two new additions showcase some features present across the line-up, which we’ll get into shortly.
Lot goin’ on ‘ere
The SDC isn’t exactly what you’d call a classic layout; in fact, far from it. Forget your 3-6-9 and 6-9-12 chronograph orientations, as the SDC replaces them with a 1:30-4:30-9 arrangement, which is quirky to say the least. Between the minute and hour totalisers, we find a framed date window at 3 o’clock. It wouldn’t be a Grand Seiko without a power reserve indicator, which is squeezed in just above the 7 o’clock index, while the Grand Seiko logo and script sit off-kilter from the 12 o’clock index. We’re not done with the dial features yet, as there’s also a GMT complication to consider. It offers functionality of the ‘travel’ variety, where the GMT hand is set to your home time, and the main hour hand jumps independently during time-setting. Owing to the teeny 24-hour dial markings and lumed rotating bezel, the SDC lets you track two additional time zones, adding up to three in total. If you’ve been counting hands, you’ll note a grand total of eight that feature on (rather than grace) the dial of the SDC.
With the features and functionality out of the way, let’s take a closer look. Unsurprisingly, the execution is damn near perfect. The polishing of the hands and bevelling of the pinion caps are so sharp they’ll cut you if you stare too long, while the printing is as crisp as a cold beer (or so I’m told, I don’t drink beer). The rehaut has a lovely polish that reflects the GMT markings and the vibrant colours of the GMT hands. Speaking of colours, the limited SBGC249 opts for a blue look, with peachy accents, while the SBGC251 chooses an electric blue GMT hand to offset the black dial and bezel.
Though not its primary focus, the lume of the SDC is surprisingly good. The use of a sapphire bezel insert allowed Grand Seiko to add lume, which further aids the functionality, though it does fade relatively quickly as the numerals are quite thin.
Evolution for the Evolution 9
There’s a lot to like with most, if not all, Grand Seiko cases. The finish, while certainly not understated, is done to a tee. The Evolution 9 shape of the SDC has excessively thicc, polished chamfers which look like they’ve been sliced away in chunks from the angular case. I’m really impressed by the sculpted nature of the crown guards, which often look like an afterthought. On the SDC, they were clearly a consideration from the very start. I’ll always give bonus points for drilled lugs as well.
Apart from the overall shape, there are two notable changes from previous Spring Drive Chronograph models. The addition of a rotating bezel is the first, the functionality of which we’ve already discussed. Its side profile is really slim, with a slight conical shape, gradually increasing in diameter from bottom to top. The other is the shape and size of the chronograph pushers. Going back to the first Spring Drive Chronograph, the SBGC001, the pushers were always a bit of an eyesore if we’re being honest. Here, they’ve been totally refined to fit the case much better.
As for materials, we’ve already mentioned the sapphire bezel insert. The rest of the SBGC249 and SBGC251 is composed of high-intensity titanium, Grand Seiko’s alloy of titanium, niobium and iron, giving it a hardness greater than stainless steel. Titanium is a favourable choice here, as the case measures in at 45.3mm in diameter, with a 52.6mm lug-to-lug and a thickness of 15.8mm (though some of that thickness comes from the double-domed sapphire crystal). Yeah, this one’s a bit of a chonker.
What extra points I giveth for drilled lugs, I taketh away for the male end link, which will only increase the actual lug-to-lug distance on-wrist. The bracelet itself is also in high-intensity titanium, though, by the standards of the rest of the watch, seems a little plain. With no taper to speak of, it ends in a rectangular double-pusher clasp with four holes of micro-adjust.
Apart from the colour, the other difference between the SBGC249 and SBGC251 can be seen from the back — though you may miss it at first glance. The limited SBGC249 is powered by an ultra-special spring drive movement, the Calibre 9R96, whereas the SBGC251 houses a 9R86. The former is a souped-up version of the latter, with a quartz crystal that exhibited particularly impressive oscillatory performance. This amounts to an accuracy of +/- 0.5 seconds per day, as opposed to +/- 1 second per day in its “lesser” variant.
As for finishing, there’s a lot to like. Along with the beautiful striping, chamfering and frosting we’ve grown accustomed to from Grand Seiko, these Spring Drive calibres offer beautiful depth. Looking in, there are several planes that catch your eye, starting from the large winding rotor, going over the chronograph train plate, down to the polished column wheel and many levers that operate the vertical clutch system. You’ll also note the absence of a balance wheel, as the regular mechanical escapement is replaced by Grand Seiko’s Tri-synchro regulator and quartz oscillator, consisting of the glide wheel, stators and a printed circuit.
The SBGC249 and SBGC251 are impressive in both their quality of finish and mechanical marvel that is the Spring Drive system. Where they’ll find it difficult to appease the masses is their stature and design, as they’re both certainly polarising.
Grand Seiko Spring Drive Chronograph GMT pricing and availability:
The SBGC249 is available now as a limited edition of 700 pieces. Price: $18,500 AUD
The SBGC251 is a regular production version. Pre-orders are open now, dispatched in July and August 2022. Price: $16,950 AUD