Grand Seiko Black Ceramic Limited Edition SBGC017

The Grand Seiko Black Ceramic Limited Edition SBGC017 combines a chronograph with a GMT function, all powered by an innovative Spring Drive movement. Carl Eady gets ‘hands on’ and explains why this new timepiece is likely to appeal to a new audience as well as loyal Grand Seiko fans.

This detailed review of the  Grand Seiko Black Ceramic Limited Edition SBGC017 includes live images, specification details and pricing.

Image of Grand Seiko Black Ceramic Limited Edition SBGC017

Intro

Since its inception in 1960, Grand Seiko’s reputation in the watch world has grown exponentially. With formidable consistency, every Grand Seiko is true to the founding criteria of precision, legibility, comfort and durability. This ability to deliver quality without compromise has led Grand Seiko to acquire an army of loyal and passionate fans around the globe.  To an untrained eye, many of the marque’s creations have looked remarkably similar.  However, Grand Seiko’s new 2016 models were a true statement of intent. These watches appealed to a much wider audience and, increased Grand Seiko’s global popularity. The ‘Sports Design’ series is comprised of four limited editions all in black zirconia ceramic and, despite the use of new materials and larger case sizes than ever before, they are all unmistakably Grand Seiko.

Image of Grand Seiko Black Ceramic Limited Edition SBGC017

The Grand Seiko Black Ceramic Limited Edition SBGC017 is perhaps the most intriguing of the four in its styling owing to its inspiration. Every six or seven years (depending on the moon calendar), Japan’s Onbashira (Honoured Pillars) Festival takes place in the Lake Suwa region within the Nagano Prefecture, close to where the watch is produced.  For 1200 uninterrupted years this exciting, yet highly dangerous, ritual has seen armies of festival participants manoeuvre sixteen giant fir trees down a steep mountain, through the town, across the river to the four shrines at Suwa Grand Shrine. It is here where they are erected as a symbol of the Shrine’s renewal.  The festival lasts for two months and is one of the most fascinating cultural highlights in Japan.  Grand Seiko have chosen to honour the Onbashira Festival with an imposing and exquisite timepiece.

The Dial

Grand Seiko already have an enviable reputation for creating exceptional green dials.  The SBGJ005 gained the high accolade of the GPHG Petite Aiguille in 2014 and the gorgeous sunburst dial of the SBGE033 delighted the brand’s growing army of devotees.  In this latest series, the flagship model Grand Seiko Black Ceramic Limited Edition SBGC017 has a rich dark green dial adorned with a subtle fir trees motif.  Whilst it perhaps lacks the intense vibrancy of the aforementioned pieces, it is a fitting tribute to ‘Onbashira’ with its deep dial colour reflecting the giant fir trees of the forests of Shinshu. 

Image of Grand Seiko Black Ceramic Limited Edition SBGC017

The dial is split level, with the lower level conveying numerous features including a small seconds at 9 o’clock, a 12 hour chronograph, a date window at 3 o’clock, a power reserve, a GMT hand and, of course, the local time displayed by long elegant brushed hands. On many watches so rich in functions, legibility would surely be compromised, however, at 46.3mm the large case diameter is of sufficient scale to bestow a balanced and harmonious display.

The Movement

The Japanese philosophy of Kaizen is to continuously improve, a hugely respected ideology which absolutely flows through the core of Seiko.  A relentless pursuit of timing excellence took one Seiko engineer, Yoshikazu Akahane, on a 28-year journey which involved creating over 600 prototypes, but ultimately saw him realise his dream.  His notion of an ‘everlasting’ watch resulted in the creation of Spring Drive, which finally came to the market in 2005. 

In a Spring Drive movement, like most mechanical watches, the power is driven from a mainspring. However, instead of a traditional escapement mechanism, a ‘Tri-synchro regulator’ controls the release of power from the mainspring and, because it is quartz regulated, the accuracy achieved is exceptional. In this latest iteration, the 9R96 movement delivers a seventy two hour power reserve and +/- ten seconds per month accuracy, shaving an incredible five seconds per month from the previous 9R86 movement. 

Image of Grand Seiko Black Ceramic Limited Edition SBGC017

A distinct and very beautiful feature of Spring Drive is the serene glide motion of the second hands.  With the Grand Seiko Black Ceramic Limited Edition SBGC017, this is not merely restricted to the small seconds hand at 9 o’clock. Indeed, the glide motion also occurs with the actuation of the chronograph seconds, moving calmly and majestically across the dial.

The sapphire case back reveals finishing of an extremely high order.  Set into the oscillating weight is an 18k Gold Lion emblem, the symbol of excellence on the back of all Grand Seiko pieces. Inward angles, Côtes de Genève style stripes and fine polishing throughout are evidence that these timepieces are finished to the same exacting standards as all prior Grand Seiko watches. They are the culmination of years of devotion, refinement and improvement by some of Seiko’s finest engineers.

The Case

With the advent of the Grand Seiko sports range in 2016, perhaps the most radical change is the case. Using a five-piece case construction of extremely lightweight and durable materials this is a surprisingly light watch for its size.  The inner case and case back surround are high-intensity titanium often used in previous Grand Seikos. The outer case (including lugs) and bezel are made of zirconia ceramic.  On the Vickers scale, this material is seven times harder than stainless steel and makes it highly resistant to scratches. Just as important as the material strength is the finish that can be achieved with zirconia ceramic.  Grand Seiko watches are renowned for having highly polished surfaces and sleek lines.  The famed Zaratsu polishing technique used to achieve distortion free surfaces has been especially adapted for zirconia ceramic, resulting in a mirror finish and exceptionally sharp lines on the lugs.  The surrounding bezel is also ceramic and beautifully polished. It presents a 24-hour GMT indication and is almost glasslike to touch – a perfect encirclement to this exceptional dial.

Image of Grand Seiko Black Ceramic Limited Edition SBGC017

The Hands

The hands on Grand Seiko timepieces are arguably some of the finest in the watch world.  Razor like in their sharpness, the multi-faceted hour and minute hands sport a dauphine shape, however, they are flattened at the base which adds to the masculine look of this timepiece.  Given the larger case diameter, the hands have also been made to a proportionate length, with the minute hand extending well over the dial markers.

The chronograph hands complement the sports styling but perhaps lack the same elegance seen with the small second and power reserve hands.  In contrast, home time is displayed with a long, golden arrow hand with a pin sharp white head. This subtle, yet pleasing detail will, no doubt, appeal to many Grand Seiko fans.

The Strap

A thick crocodile band completes the imposing aesthetics of the Grand Seiko Black Ceramic Limited Edition SBGC017. Whilst the strap outer is jet black, the stitching and inlay are a vibrant green and provide complementary detail to the deep green dial. A 3-fold deployant clasp in stainless steel ensures that the watch fits very comfortably. It can only be released through the use of twin pushers, thereby providing owners the confidence that their investment is safe and secure.

Image of Grand Seiko Black Ceramic Limited Edition SBGC017

Closing remarks

It is truly pleasing to see a brand of such tradition being so adventurous in design whilst remaining true to its founding principles.  Time will tell if the new sports series is too bold a step for some of Grand Seiko’s more traditional enthusiasts.  However, fortune favours the brave and with a refined styling, an incredibly accurate movement and the highest quality finishing, these stunning watches will likely attract a new band of sporty and youthful owners.

Technical specification

  • Calibre – 9R96 Spring Drive Chronograph
  • Case – 5-piece construction in High-intensity titanium and zirconia ceramic
  • Case Size – 46.4mm
  • Case Depth – 16.1mm
  • Band – Crocodile with three-fold clasp and push button release
  • Glass– High definition dual curved sapphire with anti-reflective coating and exhibition case back
  • Power Reserve – 72 hours
  • Accuracy +/- 10 seconds per month
  • Water Resistance – 10 bar (100 metres)
  • Magnetic Resistance – 4800 A/m
  • Limited Edition – 600 pieces
  • Price – £10000 (26.1.2017)

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