Grand Seiko crashed onto the horological scene in 1964 when they released their first mechanical movement. The timing of that release was not coincidence, Japan was hosting the olympic games, and Seiko were to be their official time keepers. At the start of the 18th Olympic Games in Tokyo, Seiko was ready with just over 1200 official time keeping stop watches. These watches had been tested and were found accurate 1/10th of a second between examples. Accuracy was paramount to Grand Seiko and that was very clear.
The Spring Drive movement was announced in 1997 after nearly 20 years in development. This was a sure sign of a company that saw the potential and accuracy of traditional mechanical movements, and wanted to take them a step farther. Before we get too deep into that, let’s go over some specs:
- Case: 44mm
- Case Thickness: 14.7mm
- Lug to Lug: 50mm
- Lug Width: 21mm
- Weight: 6.24oz
The Grand Seiko GMT is a larger watch, with a 44mm width, and 50mm lug to lug. The thing that makes the SBGE001 comfortable, is the way the it hugs your wrist when you wear it, this is largely due to the case thickness. It rides low and and close to your wrist. The way the watch is designed spreads the weight of the case out, I think an accurate way to describe it would be to say it’s like wearing a flying saucer on your wrist. As is common with Seiko’s they have put the crown at 4 o’clock, this prevents it from pressing into the back of your hand while you’re wearing it. I was continually reminded of a spaceship when I wore this particular piece. Maybe I just watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind too many times as a kid, but whenever I’d see this watch on my wrist in profile I kept thinking, “Mothership.”
One of the biggest draws to the Grand Seiko line of watches is their Spring Drive Movement. Often characterized by the power reserve on the dial, the Spring Drive is known for it’s unbeatable accuracy in the mechanical watch world.
There seems to be some confusion specifically in whether the Spring Drive movement is mechanical or quartz. The simple answer to this question is, “Yes.” The entirety of the power needed to drive the movement is generated by the mainspring, which is wound in the same way an automatic mechanical movement is. From that point on, however; the movement differs significantly. There’s a complicated system of brakes and regulators that replace the traditional gear train, and what that adds up to on the user’s end is an accuracy that is advertised as +/- 1s/week, but in reality shakes out to be +/- 1s a month. It’s incredible, and by a LONG margin the most accurate watch I’ve put on my wrist.
This particular Grand Seiko Spring Drive also has a GMT module on it, allowing you to track a second time zone. The 24-hr scale is printed both on the bezel and chapter ring, technically allowing you to track three separate time zones by turning the bezel. It’s pretty cool, if you live in one zone, work in another, and need to keep track of a third. The GMT-scales are printed with odd/even numbers, even numbers on the bezel, and odd numbers on the chapter ring. The movement sets as a typical “flying” GMT would, you set the GMT to your local time zone at home, then the you get off a plane you can adjust the local hour hand in 1-hour increments without effecting the GMT time. This is opposed to a “calling,” GMT which features a quick-set feature of the 24-hr hand (allows you to quickly set it to a time-zone you need to track briefly).
The 9R66 movement has a 72hr power reserve, this is evident by the trisected power reserve dial.
I’ve always heard people compare the finishing of Grand Seikos to some of the finest watch brands coming out of Switzerland. Well, I’ll be the first to tell you they aren’t exaggerated. The steel case is beveled and polished in way specifically designed to catch the light, this watch will sit on your wrist and shine like a jewel. The top of the bracelet lugs are brushed, with a very fine grit that borders on a polished finish, it then transitions to a polished finish down the edges. The watch is extremely lustrous sitting on your wrist, it will attract attention.
The crown is signed GS in a flowing script that sets it apart from other Seiko offerings. Grand Seiko went to great lengths to have their logo sit separate from other Seiko offerings you’d never mistake the two. It’s a screw-down crown, as you’d expect from a watch with a 200m depth rating. When winding it, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever handled, it winds up like a toy. That sounds negative but I don’t have another way to put it, it feels like one of those wind-up cars you had when you were a kid. As you wind the watch you can watch the power reserve fill up, which is also very cool. I’m always looking for ways interact with my movements, from hand-winding, to using chronographs, and a power reserve is a great way to do that.
Dial, Crystal, & Bezel:
Let’s start off by talking about the crystal on this particular piece. The sapphire crystal on the SBGE001 is a large polished sapphire crystal, lightly domed, with an AR coating on the underside of the crystal. The bezel is also coated in a sapphire crystal, the bezel and the dial are separated by a polished steel ring. All of this basically adds up to a very reflective face on the watch. It catches light and reflects it like crazy, just adding to the jewel like quality of this piece. Having sapphire covering both of these elements on the face of the watch is pretty great, you’ll likely never encounter a deep gouging scratch on your bezel, but if you do somehow manage to get one, it’ll be a much bigger deal. That’s the tradeoff with sapphire, it’s very hard to scratch, but if you do, it’s MUCH more expensive to deal with.
The dial itself is busy, but done so strategically. The hour markers are polished indices, with the 12, 3, 6, and 9 markers being larger with lume inlayed into the tops. The hands are polished steel in the same way, with strips of lume running down their centers. The GMT hand is red, large, and lumed at it’s arrow point. The date window takes the place of the 4 o’clock marker, and features a LARGE numeric dial for today’s date. One of my favorite features on the SBGE001’s dial is the power reserve indicator that sits between the 8 & 9 hour markers. The PR is divided into three sections representing the three days of the power reserve. If you’re a multiple watch owner this detail is valuable, you can simply look at the dial and know how much longer this particular watch will be running accurately.
The one criticism of the SBGE001’s dial is the triple signing. It says along the top “Seiko,” then below the mid point it has “GS,” and “Grand Seiko” that paired along with the Spring Drive and GMT markings is a lot of text on the dial. As of the writing of this article, Seiko just released at Basel World 2017, that Grand Seiko will begin to operate independently of Seiko-Proper, and the models they are releasing have redacted the “Seiko,” marking. The simplification of this detail would really improve the aesthetic for me.
Alright, lastly the Bezel, as stated earlier it’s a sapphire coated bezel that overhangs the case. The edges of the bezel are serrated slightly for grip texture, and it turns easily. The example I had turned very easily, and it wasn’t unusual for me to see the dial turned accidentally throughout my day. This isn’t as critical of a detail as it would be on a dive watch, but is annoying to have to reset your GMT scale after it’s been bumped out of alignment on accident. Now, the cool part of this bezel is that the numerals are lumed so you can see the bezel at night. This detail makes it VERY cool for night Instagram shots.
Let’s get this out of the way quickly: Grand Seiko’s bracelet work is some of the nicest I’ve seen and it easily stands up to the modern Rolex Oyster bracelets that I have experienced. Traditionally, Seiko’s bracelets are generally where their watches start to show some quality differences between them and high-end Switzerland. That is not the case once you cross over into GS territory. The links of the SBGE001 bracelet are screw together, with two small cap screws on either side and a small separate rod in the middle. The bracelet has brushed center and outer-links with small polished details separating the two (reminicent of the speedmaster bracelet). The clasp is a fold-over brushed clasp with the “GS,” logo in the middle. The clasp is push button and closes extremely secure. Unlike the MM300 bracelet links, the GS links articulate in three places, this allows for a very comfortable drape over your wrist.
Grand Seiko SBGE001 – Final Thoughts
Grand Seiko is a polarizing watch brand. They suffer from something I call the “Seiko Syndrome,” which basically means that people have difficulty wrapping their mind around spending $5k for a watch that comes from the same company that sells a watch for less than $100. All of that considered, the quality is there, and the watch delivers what you’d expect out of a piece of this price point. Another fair point to make is the act of owning a Grand Seiko will separate you from other watch folks, it’ll show that you are a true horology appreciator.
I wore this watch while on a trip to Italy, and that proved to be an apt test for the accuracy, ease of adjustment, and different features of a traveler’s watch. It was a joy, easily legible, and was very cool be able to glance at the dial and see what the local time was back home. If you’re wanting something different from traditional Swiss luxury watches, and something that would be good for you to travel with, look no further than the SBGE001.
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