Grand Seiko Blue Ceramic Hi-beat GMT Special Limited Edition
The Grand Seiko Blue Ceramic Hi-beat GMT Special Limited Edition SBGJ229 has been launched by the Japanese brand to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its iconic 9S movement.
This detailed review of the Grand Seiko Blue Ceramic Hi-beat GMT Special Limited Edition includes the specification and pricing.
In 1998, Grand Seiko unveiled its now-legendary 9S mechanical caliber. This year, the Japanese watchmaker, celebrating the 20th anniversary of this movement, unveiled the Hi-Beat 36000 V.F.A SBGH265, a timepiece equipped with the Caliber 9S85. This platinum watch stole the show with its beautiful appearance, platinum case and incredible precision of +3 to -1 seconds per day.
Simultaneously, the brand launched the Grand Seiko Blue Ceramic Hi-beat GMT Special Limited Edition. This watch proved equally impressive but for other reasons. The case combines titanium and ceramic to confer a striking aesthetic, the dial is adorned with an unusual motif and the high-frequency movement delivers an accuracy of +4 to -2 seconds per day, surpassing the already exacting Grand Seiko standard.
I openly admit to being a huge admirer of Grand Seiko watches, however, on first seeing Blue Ceramic Hi-beat GMT Special Limited Edition, I was unsure of its scale and profuse use of blue ceramic. It was only after placing the watch upon my wrist and spending time admiring its form that I warmed to its distinctive appearance.
Grand Seiko has always produced impressive dials, often featuring sublime textures which augment interest e.g. the ‘snowflake’ dial. With this new Blue Ceramic Hi-beat GMT Special Limited Edition, the Japanese company has delivered a rich blue dial, decorated with a pattern composed of the text ‘GS9S’, repeated a multitude of times. Furthermore, the text curves and varies in size. The resultant dial surface is fascinating to behold. From some angles it appears blue and then, once repositioned, it appears purple.
Peerless readability is a key part of Grand Seiko’s DNA. A few years ago, I visited the company’s production facilities and marvelled at the design and construction of its watch hands. The dauphine-style hands are faceted and, as such, gleam brilliantly along their edges. Each hand is lined with luminescent fill, improving legibility in restricted light. The indices are blued with luminescent centres. Each index is faceted, capturing light and aiding visibility.
Grand Seiko has a rich history of producing GMT watches, some of which feature Hi-beat movements. This particular limited edition timepiece features a tempered steel hand with a red luminous tip in order to display the time at home. The blue ceramic bezel is marked with a 24-hour scale and, when used in conjunction with the GMT hand, allows the wearer to ascertain if the ‘home’ time is day or night.
The chapter ring features one-second markings with strokes in between, denoting 0.2 second intervals. The 0.2 second intervals are consistent with the frequency of the movement i.e. 5 Hz.
A date aperture is located at 3 o’clock, however, this is no ordinary date display. The design and scale of each numeral on the date disc is optimised for readability. Moreover, the scale of the indication is sufficient to confer ease of read-off.
Positioned at the base of the dial is the word, ‘SPECIAL’. This indicates that the precision of the movement has met the Grand Seiko ‘Special’ standard.
There is no escaping the fact that the Grand Seiko Blue Ceramic Hi-beat GMT Special Limited Edition is a horological leviathan. With a diameter of 46.4mm and a case thickness of 14.6mm, I suspect the scale will alienate some potential clients. However, I found the watch affords a comfortable fit. I suspect this is because the case-back sits close to the wrist at all times. A further reason for the impressive levels of comfort relates to the titanium used for the case-back which is both light and hypoallergenic metal.
In 2017, Grand Seiko released its Spring Drive Chronograph GMT SBGC221, featuring black ceramic and titanium. This newer watch forgoes the chronograph function and sets aside the Spring Drive movement, but shares the same marriage of ceramic and titanium.
The inner watch case is made of titanium with blue ceramic panels affixed to the case-band. Zirconia ceramic is ‘seven times harder than steel’ and ‘is virtually impervious to scratches’, making it an ideal material for shrouding the titanium core.
The central links of the bracelet are also made of blue ceramic. They sit higher than the neighbouring titanium links. The benefit of this approach is that only the scratch resistant parts are subject to contact with surfaces, ensuring the comparatively vulnerable titanium links are less susceptible to annoying marks.
Grand Seiko is renowned for producing highly polished cases. Zaratsu or blade polishing grants an incredibly smooth finish to titanium and, in some instances, an exceptional gleam. Interestingly, some of the titanium parts, e.g. the metal surrounding the sapphire crystal to the rear, are highly polished, while other surfaces are brushed – see the underside of the case-band. The blue ceramic is presented with a smooth, shiny finish with beautifully defined edges.
As its name implies, the Grand Seiko Blue Ceramic Hi-beat GMT Special Limited Edition features a high-frequency 5Hz movement. While other companies offer high-frequency movements, they are few in number.
A movement with a high frequency of 36,000 VpH (5Hz) offers superior accuracy when contrasted with a 4Hz movement. This is particularly noticeable when in dynamic use, as the position the watch is held is less prone to influence the rate. An additional benefit of the Caliber 9S86 is that it offers superior stability, mitigating the adverse effects of physical impacts.
The oscillating weight fitted within this watch is very different from the rotors I have encountered on Swiss watches. It is a combination of titanium and tungsten. The titanium part of the oscillating weight is treated with an anodic oxidation which provides it with its distinctive blue hue.
The bridges are adorned with a striped motif, similar to Geneva stripes, and the main-plate is decorated with a circular-grained pattern. The movement contains 37 jewels and the power reserve is sufficient to deliver 55 hours of autonomy.
The superb legibility, impressive wearer comfort and fantastic precision set this watch apart from many of its competitor models.
The size and styling of the Grand Seiko Blue Ceramic Hi-beat GMT Special Limited Edition are likely to polarise opinion. Quite simply, Grand Seiko has not chosen to play it safe. The watch showcases cutting-edge know-how and impressive watchmaking. With its thought-provoking dial and case ensemble, it is a fitting model to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 9S mechanical caliber.
- Model: Grand Seiko Blue Ceramic Hi-beat GMT Special Limited Edition
- Case: Titanium and ceramic; diameter 46.4mm; height 14.6mm; sapphire crystal to front and case-back; water resistant to 10 atm (100 metres)
- Functions: Hours; minutes; central sweep seconds; date; GMT
- Movement: Caliber 9S86; self-winding movement; frequency 36,600 vph (5Hz); 37 jewels; power reserve 55 hours
- Strap: High-intensity titanium and ceramic bracelet with three-fold clasp
- Price: £13500 (RRP as at 7.6.2018)