Review: My First Grand Seiko (SBGH005)

Grand Seiko Front Angle 2

It is very easy to be seduced by the “Swiss Made” allure of watchmaking. At a certain point in time, the Swiss managed to convince the world that they were the only teeny country in the world that could produce timepieces of prestige. No one who knows anything about watches is immune to the reliability and quality that stands behind a Rolex or the words “Certified Chronometer” on a dial. To their credit the Swiss have been able to guard this like a hawk for a generation, as the market has been content to buy complex components such as hairsprings rather than innovate on their own. Fortunately that is rapidly changing and watch companies have begun investing heavily in R&D and starting to use new materials and methods to produce ever more reliable “in-house” movements, but what might come as a surprise to many is that Seiko has been doing this for decades already and in many respects is ahead of the vast majority of Swiss companies. One could convincingly argue that they are the most advanced watch company as both their Quartz and Mechanical movements stand among the best of timekeeping and is unequivocally on the cutting edge of technology.

Unfortunately for the brand, they shot themselves in the foot by never widely releasing their top of the line watches such as the Grand Seiko, King Seiko, or Ananta in the US. As a result they came to be known as the company that produced mass-market low-end quartz watches. With the recent release of most of their pieces in the US, the opening of a high-end boutique in Manhattan, a strong marketing campaign, and a devoted vintage collector base they are hoping to climb the ladders of perception. I can say that after a few months of my new Grand Seiko Hi-Beat on the wrist I really think they are really bringing their A-game to the US market.

When the time came to add a new high-end watch to the collection, I was bouncing between something new and less known or a standard collection addition (Rolex or Omega.) After a great deal of thought I decided to add a Grand Seiko to my growing collection. I had often tampered with the idea of getting a vintage one on eBay but figured if I wanted to fully appreciate a Grand Seiko at its absolute prime I would have to go with a new one. I originally tried on the SBGR053 and the SBGR057. The first one was too small for me. At 37mm it is perfect for people who are anti-big watches . On the SBGR057 I just was not a fan of the crown guards, but that’s just me. Then I tried the SBGH005 and fell in love. At 40mm it was perfect on my wrist, and I had to have it.

The way this watch plays with light is really something that needs to be seen in person to really be appreciated. Everything from the lug lines to the textured dial to the mirror polished edges of the hands catches light differently and is seducing in its own way. The one double-edged sword with this particular form of design is that a single smudge is much more apparent than against a matte or fully brushed finish. Smudges aside, this is one of the most beautiful and different pieces that exists in the under $10k chronometer world.

Grand Seiko Dial Grand Seiko SideGrand Seiko Hands Grand Seiko Crown Down

The movement is their high-beat 36,000 bph 9S85. It goes without saying that a movement of this caliber is going to be beautiful. Both the rotor and the plates are decorated with Geneva Stripes (funny that a Japanese movement has them.) It is smaller in diameter but thicker than comparable Swiss calibers. It has a precision and sturdiness and precision in design and build that is what one can only describe characteristically Japanese. It is clean, utilitarian, and beautiful without being over the top. You can tell that more goes into the mechanical development and the accuracy than the decoration, and its not a bad thing aesthetically or functionally.

Grand Seiko Movement 2 Grand Seiko Movement 1

While the COSC will only certify movements that are “Swiss Made” Seiko has made it clear that not only is their movement worthy of the title of chronometer, it exceeds the Swiss requirements. The first Grand Seiko received stellar timing results from the COSC back in the 60s when they were still testing foreign movements, and they have kept their standard just a notch higher ever since. With a +5/-3 accuracy limit in any position it is slightly more accurate than what is required by the COSC at +6/-4. Their 17-day testing regimen ensures that every Grand Seiko that leaves the factory is going to be of a quality that compares to if not exceeds the accuracy of other Swiss movements at a comparable price point and above.

Finally on the movement, Seiko is one of the very few who can consider their entire movement “in-house.” It is a term that gets thrown around far more loosely than it should be but when it comes down to it Seiko makes everything in this movement including the most difficult parts that many companies outsource such as the mainspring, the hairspring, and the escapement. While the power reserve is not the most impressive thing at 55 hours, just how hard that is to achieve on a 36,000 bph movement cannot be understated.

With all the marketing around the supposed quality of “in-house” movements and “Swiss Made” watches, its tough to confidently take a step off the beaten path with a new purchase but for those who seek them, there are some hidden gems of horology. For my newest high priced acquisition I wanted more out of my new addition rather than just “hey look, I got another Rolex, but this one has a different dial and bezel” or “look at the different costume on my ETA chronometer.” My new Grand Seiko and the whole line in general represent a pinnacle of both chronometry and in-house manufacturing that is arguably unmatched at the price point. The refined and timeless styling make it a watch to keep in the collection for many years to come, and the incredible movement will ensure it will be accurate the whole time.

Grand Seiko Clasp Grand Seiko Crown UpGrand Seiko On Wrist Grand Seiko Flat

20 comments on “Review: My First Grand Seiko (SBGH005)

  1. M says:

    Such a beautiful piece, I do hope Seiko/GS earn the praise they deserve in the west now that they are making that effort. I know if you wear your new Hi-Beat on a visit to Japan, you’ll get many knowing nods & respect.

  2. D.Curgenven says:

    Great post ! really enjoyed the read.

  3. ophis says:

    These are far better finished than mass-produced Rolexes, both inside and out. (See Walt Odets’ detailed analysis of the innards of a new Rolex today).

    Congrats!

  4. John Molitor says:

    Thanks for the review – excellent! Where can one purchase such Grand Seiko’s in the U.S.? Which web site would you recommend?

  5. NW says:

    Enjoyed the article and appreciated your views of (and the technics behind) the Grand Seiko. Thanks.

  6. M says:

    There’s also a new Seiko boutique in NYC

  7. Mark says:

    Aaron, I managed to find an original Grand Seiko Diashock 6246-900 62GS 39 Jewel Automatic Day-Date model in excellent condition, which was released in 1967. This was the first Automatic Grand Seiko released from the Daini Seikosha factory and is very rare, as there were only around 19,000 of them ever made only for the Japanese market. Heaven know how my one ended up in South Africa.

    When you see the original Grand Seiko, one can really appreciate the fine understated craftsmanship that the Japanese watchmaker was able to produce. They far exceeded COSC standards at the time, and apparently these models really upset the Swiss fraternity, due to their superior performance.

    I have had my watch recently serviced and it runs unbelievably accurately for a mechanical watch. It is a thing of beauty to look at, especially when the light catches the batons on the dial or the multi-faceted understated hands. I specifically asked the watchmaker to leave the case unpolished, and polishing really ruins the ‘character’ of a watch. With this particular watch, polishing would irreparably destroy the fine angles of the case, which adds so much to the overall beauty of this watch.

    When I acquired this watch, I spent many happy hours doing research on the Grand Seiko watch and it’s history. It is one of my favourite watches in my collection today. It never fails to amaze me how those brilliant craftsmen were able to create such a mechanical movement of such beauty and accuracy, without the assistance of modern day computers to calculate each interactional tiny component of this beautiful timepiece.

    Best regards

    Mark

    • aberlow says:

      I would love to see some photographs of that watch! As far as the repeatable accuracy of timepieces before modern technology I’m with you. Both grand Seikos and American railroad chronometers are shockingly accurate for the time they were made. With polishing I tend to agree, but if you find a good detailer, the watch will come back looking factory new as they have the skill to maintain the lines and add metal if needed. This definitely removes a bit of the “character” but is great for museum worthy pieces or pieces that are not intended for much wear. My Girard Perregaux Quartz was one example where the detailing really took that piece from amazing to stunning.

  8. klimasikk says:

    I appreciate your review of this watch. Gonna bookmark your website.

  9. Mark says:

    Aaron,

    I must send you some nice pictures of my Grand Seiko commented on above, as it really is a stunning watch with unbelievable accuracy for a mechanical watch from 1967.

    I recently stumbled across a treasure trove of NOS vintage Seiko watches from the same period, which are quality timepieces and very stylish. They were discovered in an attic in an old jewellry wholesalers shop, which had been boarded up for over 30 years.

    Keep up the good work on your excellent and informative website.

    Kind regards

    Mark 😀

  10. Ar444 says:

    Just like yourself I wanted something different. I picked up the same watch you have but with the white dial and blue seconds hand. This smokes any of my Swiss watches including Rolex. I have never seen a mechanical watch this accurate in my life. It loses half a second throughout the day and resting on the crown at night it gains it back to be net +\- ZERO! That’s right. ZERO!!! I also like that the average joe has no idea what a GS is and I love not having attention around what’s on my wrist. Honestly I would pickup a GmT black dial and sell one of my rolex’s. That’s how much I like this movement and brand!

  11. Amos.G says:

    Wonderful review! Grand Seiko is just awesome, truly a completely understated watch and value for money. I won’t be surprised if they increase their pricing in future.. Just hope they do more strategic marketing so more people are aware of their pieces and can appreciate their watches.

  12. dave says:

    I can appreciate anyone who has a passion for timepieces, you sir have my respect! I don’t think Seiko wants (or needs) market proliferation of the GS brand. With so much competition out there in every segment of watches, Seiko endures and competes with the Swiss. Even the Swiss have taken up with far east mfg, at least as far as quartz is concerned. I look forward to some of you additions and restorations. Consider your site bookmarked! p.s. Tell Mark from SA I’d be interested in some of those NOS ‘vintage’ Seikos.

  13. Mark says:

    Hi Arron,

    Glad to see that there are still a lot of fans out there for vintage Grand Seiko watches. I was trying to post some pictures of that GS that I acquired, mentioned above and a recent King Seiko “Superior Chronograph” that I acquired. I’d be grateful if you could let me know how to post pictures of them, as well as some of the other NOS vintage Seiko watches that I acquired.

    Kind regards

    Mark

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