Grand Seiko Elegance Limited Edition Steel SBGK005
The Grand Seiko Elegance Limited Edition Steel SBGK005 embodies the Japanese marque’s empathy for nature and incorporates peerless craftsmanship. Moreover, this article looks at three further variants of this model, each housed in a sumptuous gold case, the SBGK002, SBGK004 and SBGK006.
Every year, in March and April, legions of foreign travellers descend on Japan, eager to view the country’s legendary cherry blossom. However, while the ballerina pink hues attract many overseas visitors, their numbers pale when compared to the blossom-obsessed indigenous population. The Japanese enjoy cherry blossom viewing, often eating and drinking beneath a canopy of gentle, relaxing hues. Japan’s widespread appreciation of cherry blossom extends to works of art, where the fleeting nature of the beautiful blossom is captured for posterity.
Japan has always demonstrated a profound empathy for nature. Moreover, Japanese firms have sought inspiration from scenery, wildlife and various other natural phenomena. A few years ago, Grand Seiko captured hearts with its now legendary ‘Snowflake’ dial. The chaste white dial epidermis is enriched with a texture that emulates the appearance of freshly fallen snow. This watch remains a popular model for the brand’s many devotees.
In 2014, Grand Seiko won the ‘Petite Aiguille’ at the prestigious Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG). The honour was awarded to the Japanese firm for its Hi-beat 36000 GMT Limited Edition (SBGJ005), the first Grand Seiko timepiece endowed with a dial inspired by Mount Iwate. This motif featured a series of lines radiating from the centre of the dial, said to be inspired by the many ridged contours of the mountain.
Located near the foothills of the Mount Iwate is Shizukuishi Watch Studio. It is here where mechanical Grand Seiko models come into the world. Artisanal crafts abound. Watchmakers sit at bespoke benches, made to measure in order to ensure an optimal ergonomic relationship exists between time-served hands and the timepieces they lovingly create.
When exploring the external perimeter of the Shizukuishi Watch Studio, one cannot help but notice the large signs which list the plants and wildlife within the immediate vicinity. Once again, the company’s empathy for its immediate surroundings is manifest. It is this affinity with nature that influences the composition of several watches bearing the ‘GS’ logo.
Recently, a selection of new, hand-wound watches left the confines of the Shizukuishi Watch Studio including the steel Grand Seiko Elegance Limited Edition Steel SBGK005. While exploring this steel watch, I will also venture off-piste and discuss its siblings, each housed in a gold case.
In recent years, several watch brands have released timepieces equipped with blue dials. However, the dial of the Grand Seiko Elegance Limited Edition Steel SBGK005 stands apart from the crowd, sporting a muted shade of Aegean blue. Indeed, ‘muted’, ‘discreet’ and ‘subtle’ are all suitable adjectives for this softly-spoken timepiece.
The dial is enriched with the brand’s Mount Iwate motif. The aforementioned Hi-beat 36000 GMT Limited Edition (SBGJ005) sold like proverbial ‘hot cakes’ when it was unveiled, hence those readers already succumbing to the charms of the SBGK005 should bear this in mind. Lines emanate from the fulcrum of the dial, conferring a fascinating texture for the onlooker’s delectation. This is a dial that enchants the wearer, but not at the expense of conveying time. Indeed, the Grand Seiko Elegance Limited Edition Steel SBGK005 is a paragon of readability.
Dauphine hour and minute hands proclaim the prevailing time with absolute clarity. The hands have faceted edges which efficiently coax light, conferring a useful quotient of brilliance. The minute hand features a curved profile, designed to follow the domed contour of the dial. Each hour is represented with a gleaming, faceted index. Positioned in between each index are short, crisp strokes allowing the wearer to easily read-off individual minutes.
Adjacent to 3 o’clock, the dial is marked with a crescent-shaped scale. A lone, elongated hand collaborates with said scale to indicate the available energy held within the spring barrel. Interestingly, Grand Seiko has, once again, bent the hand of the power-reserve indicator in order to hug the dial’s contoured profile. The brand’s attention to detail is breathtaking.
A small seconds display at 9 o’clock acts as a counterbalance for the power-reserve indicator. Indeed, the scale and position of the small seconds display and its neighbouring indication, confer both balance and a notable sense of cohesion. However, the inclusion of both indications does nothing to impair the proclamation of hours and minutes. Every element of the dial composition is clearly the consequence of careful and protracted consideration.
Alternative dial options in Urushi lacquer
While the Grand Seiko Elegance Limited Edition Steel SBGK005 is endowed with a blue dial, the Japanese firm also offers alternative models in gold, each paired with a distinctively hued canvas.
Image – Mount Iwate
The SBGK002 is presented in an 18-carat rose gold case. The dial, enriched with Urushi lacquer, is described by the brand as ‘amber’, however, I must confess when I cradled the watch in my hands, it appeared almost scarlet. The dial colour is made from ‘transparent and long lasting Urushi that comes from trees grown in and around the town of Jojobi that lies under Mount Iwate’. The Mount Iwate motif fills the dial, acting as a reminder of the model’s place of origin.
Also housed in an 18-carat rose gold case, the SBGK004 employs the same lacquer as its ‘Amber’ sibling, however, iron is added to the mix bestowing the dial with a deep abyss-like shade of black.
Both these models are enriched with Maki-e, a traditional technique used for a variety of high-value Japanese goods such as luxury fountain pens. The process involves applying numerous layers of lacquer to the surface to form an undercoat. Thereafter, the hour markers and ‘GS’ logo are ‘drawn’ on the surface using fine brushes. Powdered gold or platinum is then sprinkled on the surfaces. Finally, said surfaces are polished by hand in order to bestow a shimmering, three-dimensional appearance to the indexes and logo.
When Grand Seiko chose to endow these models with Maki-e dials, it turned to Urushi master Isshu Tamura in Kanazawa on the west coast of Japan’s main island. The artisanal prowess of Tamura is clear to see. Indeed, each marker, presented in relief, shares the same height despite the curved profile of the dial.
The SBGK002 and the SBGK004 share the same dial layout as the Grand Seiko Elegance Limited Edition Steel SBGK005. Both the SBGK002 and the SBGK004 are limited to just 150 pieces each, conferring a high degree of exclusivity.
Where the previously mentioned models incorporate intricate dials, the SBGK006 favours absolute conservatism. Presented in an 18-carat yellow gold case, this watch exhibits a slightly ‘retro’ appearance.
Image – SBGK006 (to be released in July 2019)
Despite sharing the same dial topography as the aforementioned watches, the SBGK006 looks decidedly different with its blemish free, pure white dial. Its chaste dial provides the perfect backdrop for the expression of time. Nothing inhibits understanding.
In July 2019, the SBGK006 will be released for general sale and will form part of Grand Seiko’s permanent collection.
The case of the Grand Seiko Elegance Limited Edition Steel SBGK005 subscribes to the company’s famous house style. The term ‘curved sideline’ is used by the Japanese firm to describe the trajectory of the caseband. The lugs are integrated into the caseband, melding together in a seamless arcing strip of steel.
A half recessed crown nuzzles into the caseband, underscoring the discreet persona of the watch. Scrutinising the case closely, one discovers the brand’s ‘reverse slanted bezel wall and case side’. This description is used to relate the way the caseband, positioned towards the rear of the watch, tapers inwards as it nears the dorsal flank of the case. Not only does this heighten the aesthetic allure of the watch, but it also allows the wearer’s wrist to articulate more freely, augmenting wearer comfort.
Measuring 39mm in diameter, the Grand Seiko Elegance Limited Edition Steel SBGK005 sits unobtrusively upon the wrist. Owing to the absence of an oscillating weight, this hand-wound timepiece proves slimmer than its automatic counterparts, measuring 11.6mm in height.
A key attribute of any Grand Seiko model is the mirror-like finish of the case. This gleaming appearance is the result of ‘Zaratsu’ polishing. Only after approximately three years of extensive training is a Grand Seiko employee deemed ready to polish cases using this technique.
In order to achieve the flawless finish synonymous with Zaratsu polishing, the case is placed in a holder. This holder is unique to the artisan and allows them to position the case against a revolving wheel. The wheel is brushed with a liquid containing a coarse abrasive compound. After prolonged polishing with one compound, an alternative liquid is used which features finer particulates. As the wheel rotates, the artisan manipulates the position of the holder, changing the angle of interaction between the case and the wheel. At all times, the artisan has to exercise great care not to change the shape of the case. While this process may appear protracted, the peerless result justifies the effort made.
A sapphire caseback affords sight of the Caliber 9S63 movement. The pane of sapphire is embellished with the Japanese firm’s blue lion mark.
When Grand Seiko unveiled the SBGK005 and its golden siblings, it proclaimed, ‘It has been eight years since the last manual-winding caliber in Grand Seiko and it has been worth the wait’. While this statement ably conveyed meaning, it seemed almost boastful and out of character. I suspect it was the consequence of an overzealous copywriter. My reason for making this comment is that the company is incredibly modest. Its achievements are many, often revealed merely in passing.
The Calibre 9S63 is a hand-wound movement containing 33 jewels. Similar to some of the other Grand Seiko watches, the movement incorporates parts made with MEMS technology. This know-how, often referred to as LIGA technology in Europe, allows Grand Seiko to produce components to infinitesimal tolerances using a combination of lithography, electroforming and moulding.
Grand Seiko uses MEMS technology for producing the escape wheels. The elaborate design of the wheel would be difficult to realise using conventional milling techniques. The teeth of the escape wheel incorporate small reservoirs which retain lubricant, mitigating wear. Furthermore, the lubricant reduces friction and, by default, minimises energy consumption. Each tooth of the escape wheel is openworked, reducing mass and, again, reducing energy consumption.
In terms of the escapement, weight reduction is of critical importance. The pallet lever, sometimes called the ‘anchor’, features a series of intricately shaped holes. This design reduces mass without losing torsional strength. Once again, the benefits of MEMS technology comes to the fore.
It is rare for a watch company to make its own regulating organs (hairspring and balance wheel). Most German and Swiss brands purchase these components from external specialists. However, Grand Seiko has been making its own regulating organs for over 50 years.
A few years ago, the brand moved to a new alloy, Spron 610, for making hairsprings. The precise formula and fabrication process of hairsprings is always shrouded in secrecy. However, the key attributes are elasticity, strength, temperature stability and corrosion resistance. When Grand Seiko unveiled Spron 610, it stated that the new hairspring was less susceptible to shock and magnetism.
The balance wheel has to be made of a temperature stable material and must be corrosion resistant. Balance wheels must be made to exacting tolerances in order to mitigate any variances in inertia whilst oscillating.
Once the hairspring and balance wheel are paired, they need to be poised to ensure they run true. Thereafter, once installed, the rate is adjusted by moving the regulator towards or away from the stud. This has the effect of making the effective length of the hairspring longer or shorter and, by default, causing the movement to run slower or faster, respectively. A small index adjuster is fitted to the balance bridge to allow tiny rate adjustments to be made.
The stated accuracy for the Caliber 9S63 is +5 to -3 seconds per day in static conditions. When the watch is worn, ‘normal usage’, the precision is +10 to -1 seconds per day.
The balance has a frequency of 28,800 VpH (4 Hz) or 8 beats per second. One lone barrel, containing a mainspring made by Grand Seiko, delivers sufficient energy for 72 hours of autonomous operation.
Circular graining (perlage) adorns the main plate. The bridges are embellished with a shimmering striped motif, similar in concept to Côtes de Genève or Glashütte ribbing. Furthermore, golden engraved text spans the bridges and the ratchet wheel gleams resplendently.
Grand Seiko is admired by those in the know. The Japanese firm obsesses over ‘precision, beauty, legibility and ease of use’. Where some companies embrace the notion of ‘form follows function’, Grand Seiko clearly believes both characteristics are of equal importance.
The dial of the Grand Seiko Elegance Limited Edition Steel SBGK005 incorporates a small seconds display and power-reserve indicator. Both indications are sufficiently large to be legible but they do not mar the proclamation of the hours and minutes. The legibility of the dial is peerless.
On the other hand, the dial is suffused with a delightful texture and graceful hands. Beauty is omnipresent. Indeed, it is the successful marriage of beauty and function which makes this watch stand out.
However, I use the words, ‘stand out’ carefully. This watch does not flaunt its owner’s wealth or embrace brash styling, it is an exemplar of understatement. The size of the case, the nuzzling nature of the crown and the elegantly flowing lines of the caseband contribute to an unassuming, tasteful appearance. Quite simply, this watch is the very antithesis of conspicuous consumption.
A key pillar of the Grand Seiko paradigm is an appreciation of craftsmanship. The dial featured on the SBGK005 successfully references Mount Iwate with its many contours and ridges. Most notably, the Urushi lacquer dials found on the SBGK002 and SBGK004, use the sap of the Asian lacquer tree, grown close to Mount Iwate. This lacquer, when skilfully applied, grants a rich and glossy lustre.
Zaratsu polishing imparts a smooth, mirror-like finish to the case of each Grand Seiko watch. It requires deft use of hand to achieve the blemish free case finish, skills which necessitate several years of training. However, a discriminating, outstretched index finger is readily able to appreciate the glass-like evenness of the case, vindicating the protracted efforts made.
Sitting in concert with artisanal crafts, Grand Seiko is a ‘Manufacture’, making its own movements to exacting standards. Moreover, the company also makes its own escapements and regulating organs. This is unusual and differentiates the brand from most players within the watch industry.
While Grand Seiko has upheld artisanal crafts, it has also embraced cutting-edge know-how. MEMS technology imbues the Caliber 9S63 with a prodigious power reserve and, by featuring small reservoirs on the escape wheel teeth, prevents premature wear.
It is the marriage of tradition and modernity, form and function and style and comfort which permeates this Grand Seiko timepiece.
Perhaps, while momentarily escaping the hubbub of the daily commute and enjoying the cathartic ritual of winding your Grand Seiko, you can contemplate the many attributes which distinguish it as special. While this watch confers a becoming allure often found in nature, its beauty is not fleeting and its appeal will endure for many years to come.
- Model: Grand Seiko Elegance Limited Edition Steel SBGK005
- Reference: SBGK005
- Case: Stainless steel; diameter 39mm; height 11.6mm; water resistance 3ATM (30 metres); sapphire crystal to the front and sapphire caseback
- Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds, power-reserve indicator
- Movement: Caliber 9S63; hand-wound movement; frequency 28,800VpH (4Hz); 33 jewels; power reserve more than 72 hours
- Strap: Blue crocodile leather strap paired with a three-fold clasp with push button release
- Price: £6,600 (RRP as at 23.6.2019)
- Limited Edition: 1500 pieces