Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 V.F.A. SBGH265
At Baselworld 2018, Grand Seiko unveiled three ‘hi-beat’ watches including the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 V.F.A. SBGH265, a highly precise timepiece delivered in a peerless platinum case. Angus Davies discusses this latest addition to Grand Seiko’s impressive collection of watches.
This detailed review of the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 V.F.A. SBGH265 includes specification details and pricing.
Regular readers of ESCAPEMENT will note the terms ‘frequency’ or ‘vph’ are often used. I have assumed that fellow horophiles are familiar with the meaning of these terms, however, I concede that this may not always be the case.
The balance wheel within a watch is similar to a pendulum within a clock. The balance wheel and hairspring collectively form the regulating organ of a mechanical watch. Assuming the watch is wound, the balance wheel will oscillate to and fro, clockwise and counterclockwise.
Each swing of the balance is referred to as a ‘vibration’. The combination of a swing clockwise and then counterclockwise is referred to as an oscillation i.e. two vibrations. Hertz (Hz) is used to describe the number of oscillations per second, whereas vph refers to the number of ‘vibrations per hour’.
Typically, watch movements will have a frequency of 18,000 vph (2.5 Hz), 21,600 vph (3Hz) or 28,800 vph (4Hz). Higher frequencies prove more challenging to achieve. The challenges encountered when making high frequency movements include: increased stress on the escapement, high consumption of lubricants and greater energy consumption, leading to shorter power reserves. It is for these reasons that few companies have produced watches with a frequency of 5Hz or above.
However, Grand Seiko is one company which has overcome the technical challenges of making a high frequency movement. In 1968, Daini Seikosha, a company now known as Seiko Instruments Inc, released its first Grand Seiko hi-beat watch. The balance within this watch had a frequency of 36,000 vph (5 Hz), a remarkable feat at the time and one which still remains impressive today.
A high frequency movement proffers various benefits. The high vibration confers greater accuracy. Furthermore, the movement is more stable, exhibiting greater resistance to impacts. Many watches are tested for precision in static conditions, however, the hi-beat movement delivers less fluctuation in precision when the watch is held in different positions. This latter trait is especially relevant when the watch is worn.
In 1998, Grand Seiko unveiled its 9S mechanical calibre. Completely new at the time, it was designed to deliver ‘high precision and excellent durability’. Over the years which followed, the 9S calibre evolved, embracing the brand’s Spron alloy technology, used for balance springs and mainsprings, and MEMS technology a technique used to produce components with incredibly small tolerances. Grand Seiko has used MEMS technology to create an unusually-shaped escape wheel and open-worked pallet lever. The intricately formed teeth on the escape wheel and pallet lever hold on to the lubricants longer, mitigating wear and reducing friction.
The 9S calibre forms the basis of all Grand Seiko mechanical calibres, including the brand’s 4Hz and 5Hz movements.
To mark the 20th anniversary of the 9S calibre, Grand Seiko has unveiled three limited edition timepieces, each containing a hi-beat, 5Hz movement. My favourite version of this Japanese trio is the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 V.F.A. SBGH265. This watch is housed in a platinum case and accords an impressive degree of accuracy.
Hi-Beat 36000 Special: SBGH266 – 18-carat yellow gold
To own a Grand Seiko is to understand what makes the watch special. One of the attributes of any Grand Seiko is the readability of its dial. The Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 V.F.A. SBGH265 proves to be no exception.
The sword-shaped hands have faceted edges, deftly ensnaring the light to deliver matchless lucidity. Each hour marker is bevelled, gleaming brilliantly and aiding interpretation. In addition, the elongated form of each hour marker guides the wearer’s eyes to the focal point of the dial, the hour and minutes indication.
At 3 o’clock, the date is proclaimed via a framed aperture. The typography of each numeral on the date disc is optimised to augment legibility.
The dial epidermis incorporates a motif once ‘used to designate the watches by the team at Daini Seikosha’. This elaborate dial decoration consists of small characters, arranged in curved rows which emanate outwards from the centre. The texture of the dial piques interest with its unusual appearance.
While the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 V.F.A. SBGH265 is a new model, the Japanese company has not abandoned many of the elements appreciated by its customers. Indeed, this watch is equipped with the brand’s impressive ‘dual-curved sapphire crystal’, a specification detail which augments ease of read-off.
Hi-Beat 36000: SBGH267 – stainless steel
The 39.5mm case is an evolution of an earlier design, created by Nobuhiro Kosugi. It is notable because the case-band and lugs fuse in an effortless continuum. The brands Zaratsu polishing is ubiquitously presented. Few watch companies can deliver the same matchless polishing. Indeed, I would describe a Zaratsu polished surface as being akin to glass, such is its profound smoothness.
The lugs feature juxtaposed polished and brushed surfaces, each delineated with a crisp line. It is this degree of exactitude which distinguishes Grand Seiko’s artisans as exceptional.
A pane of sapphire crystal, gracing the rear of the watch, confers sight of the self-winding movement within.
The Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 V.F.A. SBGH265 incorporates three special letters within its nomen, ‘V.F.A’. The abbreviation stands for ‘Very Fine Adjusted’. The term was first used in 1969, ‘it defined a Grand Seiko watch that was adjusted so skillfully that it achieved a precision rate far in excess of the Grand Seiko Standard’.
This latest Grand Seiko model, which sports ‘V.F.A’ on its dial, has been adjusted to +3 to -1 seconds per day, ‘a level achieved by the highest level of adjustment and a testing program extended to 34 days.’
Clearly, the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 V.F.A. SBGH265, housed in a platinum case, attracts commensurate pricing. Regrettably, this may prove beyond the financial grasp of many would-be buyers. As previously stated, this watch is one of three limited edition models made to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Grand Seiko 9S mechanical calibre. As for the other two limited edition models, one is presented in 18-carat yellow gold, while the other is in stainless steel, both proving more affordable.
Hi-Beat 36000 Special: SBGH266 – 18-carat yellow gold
The Hi-Beat 36000 Special: SBGH266, the gold model, is adjusted to an accuracy of +4 to -2 seconds per day. The Hi-Beat 36000: SBGH267, delivered in stainless steel, is regulated to an accuracy of +5 to -3 seconds per day. It would appear the case material and degree of accuracy determine the price commanded.
Hi-Beat 36000: SBGH267 – stainless steel with special oscillating weight
Broad, parallel lines, similar in concept to Côtes de Genève, adorn the bridges and feature on the oscillating weight. The words ‘Very Fine Adjusted’ appear on the rotor, differentiating the movement from its siblings. In addition, an 18-carat gold lion emblem adorns the oscillating weight. This emblem is said to be a ‘symbol of enhanced accuracy’.
Grand Seiko is an exemplar of engineering thoroughness. The company does not try to emulate German or Swiss watch brands, it always chooses to pursue its own unique path to greatness. This is manifest with the dial of each Grand Seiko watch. The company will often use a textured surface to bestow interest. While such a dial surface may not always be to everyone’s taste, it will always be original and provide a suitable backdrop for the time indications.
Readability is an attribute found with every Grand Seiko. Features such as the dual-curved sapphire crystal, faceted sword-shaped hands and bevelled hour markers, all collaborate to deliver sublime legibility.
Zaratsu polishing, or blade polishing, confers a high degree of smoothness which surpasses the finish found on most watch cases. Indeed, I struggle to think of another case I have encountered which can match the excellence of a Grand Seiko case.
Whilst witnessing Zaratsu polishing first hand, I was surprised to see how much skill was needed to achieve the end result. In addition to its smoothness, the metal exhibits a mirror-like gleam, superbly manipulating light and shadows.
Platinum is widely regarded as a challenging material to work with. It is therefore amazing that Grand Seiko can realise a case in this noble material with so many crisp and clearly defined lines.
Ultimately, I have to return to the movement. The high frequency of a Grand Seiko hi-beat yields several benefits, including greater precision. However, the accuracy of Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 V.F.A. SBGH265 is even more impressive, courtesy of the painstaking regulation and extensive testing programme to which it is subjected to. The result of +3 to -1 seconds per day surpasses the requirements of COSC chronometer certification, -4 to +6 seconds per day, illustrating the impressive precision of this particular timepiece.
Beyond the many technical attributes of the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 V.F.A. SBGH265, the watch is beautiful, imparts information clearly and proffers superb precision. Coincidentally, these were some of the objectives of Grand Seiko when the company was founded in 1960, goals which the brand has ably fulfilled over the years. Indeed, this watch perfectly encapsulates everything I admire about Grand Seiko and reinforces why I hold this company in such high regard.
- Model: Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 V.F.A. SBGH265
- Case: Platinum 950; diameter 39.5mm; height 13mm; sapphire crystal to front and case-back
- Functions: Hours; minutes; central sweep seconds; date
- Movement: Hi-Beat 36000 V.F.A calibre; self-winding movement; frequency 36,000 VpH (5Hz); 37 jewels
- Strap: Crocodile strap with three-fold clasp with push button release
- Price: ‘Approximate recommended retail price in Europe – €53,500
- Limited Edition: 20 pieces
- Approximate prices of other models: €27,000 (gold), €6,300 (steel)