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

3D Printed Horology (The 1000% Tourbillon)

NM Tourbillon Feature 2

Horology and 3D printing share one of the same common misconceptions: neither of these activities is as easy as they may appear from the surface. We are led to believe that all you need is a 3D printer and your child will never need a new toy. The reality, like the gears or electronics behind the watch dial, is far more complex. 3D printing does however come with very significant advantages. Bottom up manufacturing means that once the hugely time consuming design and manufacturing phase is complete, you transfer the file over to your printer and the rest is no-waste, automated manufacturing requiring little to no human intervention.

Given the amazing ingenuity of watch and clock mechanics it was only a matter of time until someone took the time to engineer and reproduce watch complications in huge magnification so that their innovation can be fully appreciated. Huge tourbillions for educational purposes are ironically much more rare than the actual tourbillions in breathtakingly expensive watches, and are a sight usually seen only in watch schools after hours upon hours upon hours of hard and precise manual labor. Someone finally took the time to combine two difficult skills and is now making 3D printed horological models has shattered this status quo of hard to obtain educational/entertainment models for horology.

To explain what a tourbillon does is far easier than explaining how. It is not a far-fetched claim to say many people who buy them do not fully comprehend the mechanical intricacy of the complication that is on their wrist. For one thing, it’s incredibly hard to see in its entirety by virtue of its size. Fortunately, with scale, complexity becomes understandable, it just took someone with the skills to put it all together; an engineer/watchmaker.

Nicholas Manousos has used 3D printing to create the awe-inspiring Tourbillon 1000% model. More than just any tourbillon he has created a Daniel’s (co-axial) Symmetrical Tourbillon. It is truly a sight to behold. Seeing a Tourbillon at 1000% scale in motion really puts into perspective the complication involved with horological innovation and fabrication.

Originally educated as an engineer, Nick decided to take the plunge and go to Watchmaking School. After that, he dropped his tweezers, metal movements, and bench and started his lab where he now devotes his full time to designing and building 3D printed complications.

I had the chance to have coffee with Nicholas to talk about his perspective on horology, 3D printing, and to see the model in person. All three were fascinating. It took him 3 years of design, prototyping, and improvements to land where he is today, but he still sees it as an ever-evolving innovative process. The advantage of 3D printing is that you modify, print, try, and repeat until its right. I am pretty sure that since we had coffee he has made several tweaks to the design. The result is a stunning model that very quickly rekindled the mechanical fascination that got me into watchmaking in the first place. Rarely does one think of such beautiful innovations coming in plastic, but it is truly awe-inspiring.

Because of its size and construction, I was able to disassemble it (at Nick’s encouragement) easily and look at the various components, and reassemble it. It seems strange, but it was easier to assemble the 1000% Tourbillon than it is to assemble many simple clocks. It seems so simple, but there was so much that went into it. One can only imagine what Nick’s graveyard of gears must look like this far into his work. Fortunately, unlike physical fabrication, the reproducibility of 3D printed objects is far easier, and all one has to do is print. Therein lies the promise of this combination of technology with horology, but it is a double-edged sword.

NM Tourbillon Screws NM Tourbillon Balance NM Tourbillon Escape Wheel NM Tourbillon Escape wheel Close UP

What makes complicated watches so expensive is a combination of marketing, rarity, and difficulty of manufacture and assembly. Mechanical innovations come at very steep prices (think about the GP Constant Force Escapement or the Patek Philippe Advanced Research pieces.) The reproducibility of pieces like Grande Complications are very difficult and each new one must start from pieces of metal that are shaped by incredible machines and more incredible humans. Design and prototyping takes a very long time because after something is conceptualized, it must be fabricated by machine and hand and tested. Finally, rarity is maintained because of the various different set of expertise involved with creating these masterpieces. 3D printing jumps over these manufacturing steps and potentially allows for anyone with a printer to manufacture their own (or someone else’s) creations with some plastic and the push of a button and for just the cost of the polymer and whatever extras there may be. While the technology is still very far from being able to let people print even the simplest wristwatch, it should not be too long. It will take a huge increase in the resolution of the printer, but it is certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

Given the speed of the rendering relative to the old-school manufacturing process, one can easily reproduce and improve on designs. The improvements that may be recognized by this process and by being able to have a nearly infinite amount of horologists and engineers print, analyze, and improve designs. Unfortunately this means that the dollar value of innovation is drastically decreased, and the value of being a first-mover can be nil. Nick is acutely aware of the potential and the dilemma he is creating by being able to prototype, build, and share his innovation so rapidly and at such a large scale.

At the end of the day to really make a difference will require more people like Nick, who have the skills to push the bounds of horology with this new method of manufacture, and a nurturing group of experts to help would be innovators over the steep learning curves of both horology and 3D printing expertise.

In the meantime, I am fully content to watch Nicholas’ tourbillon oscillate while I wait for his next creation.

(I am also getting a printer…….)

I encourage you to visit his site to see more about his process and his lab at and if you are interested, drop him a line about purchasing one.

NM Tourbillon Cased NM Tourbillon Printer NM Tourbillon Printing NM Tourbillon Case

Before I Start….

Before I start this process in earnest (as it will take about 1 week per new full watch restore) I figured a good first post would be a sample of works I have done in the past. Please feel free to browse, ask questions, or give recommendations for new projects! I am currently working on another Omega bumper automatic which should be done in the next week or so, so check back often!