Grand Seiko SBGA029

Angus Davies reviews the Grand Seiko SBGA029, a diver’s watch featuring the brand’s highly impressive Spring Drive movement.

This detailed review of the Grand Seiko SBGA029 includes live images, specification details and pricing.

Grand Seiko SBGA029 - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

Japan has a rich tradition of diving. The Ama are Japanese female divers who, with their lungs filled to capacity, free dive for up to a minute collecting pearls in often freezing waters. Historically, it was felt that ladies were physiologically better suited to diving than men because they could hold their breath for longer and they benefit from an additional layer of fat to insulate them from the cold waters. This type of work is tough and treacherous, necessitating a robust character to meet the challenge.

Venturing beneath the ocean’s waves can take its toll on the human body and just about every other object which comes in contact with the corrosive salty waters. Diver’s watches appeal to me because of their tough, resilient construction, they are built to withstand the hostilities of water, pressure and salt. Indeed, there is an honesty and integrity to a diver’s watch which I find most appealing.

Grand Seiko SBGA029 - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

Seiko Professional 600m Hi-beat Calibre (circa 1975)

Seiko developed its first diver’s watch in 1965, water resistant to 150 metres. Thereafter, it continued a relentless development programme, releasing ever more impressive watches, such as the Seiko Professional 600m Hi-beat Calibre pictured abovecapable of tolerating increasing depths beneath the waves. While I admire the practicality of these timepieces, the design at times does appear somewhat utilitarian. By contrast, the Grand Seiko SBGA029, to my eyes, is a very handsome diver’s watch, while still retaining an intrinsic strength which lends itself to subaquatic adventure.

The dial

The hour and minute hands are bold and lined with luminescent material. They differ from the usual razor-like hands I am accustomed to seeing on Grand Seiko models, clearly designed to be more visible underwater where light is restricted.

Grand Seiko SBGA029 - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

A slender central seconds hand interfaces with the markings depicted on the minute track and glides around the dial in a seamless sweep motion. The unusual gait of the hand is the result of the Spring Drive movement which includes an oscillator that rotates solely in one direction, unlike a conventional balance wheel in a Swiss lever escapement which moves to and fro. A luminescent circular counterweight sits on the central seconds hand, close to its fulcrum.

The hour markers are mainly circular, save for 6 and 9 o’clock, where rectangular batons feature, and noon where a triangular index is deployed. Each hour marker is outlined with gleaming metal work, providing clear delineation from the main black dial canvas.

An aperture is positioned at 3 o’clock, presenting the date in black text on a crisp white disc. Grand Seiko refine each numeral on the date disc to achieve optimum legibility and clarity.

Grand Seiko SBGA029 - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

In common with other Spring Drive models, a power reserve indicator is located at 8 o’clock, revealing the status of the mainspring.

This model has a maximum water resistance of 200 metres. While Seiko offer professional diver’s watches capable of withstanding greater depths, I suspect the water resistance of this Grand Seiko will prove more than adequate for the majority of watch consumers who seldom venture deeper than the shallow-end of a swimming pool.

A key strength of this dial is the user-friendly dial layout and ease of interpretation. The clarity of the dial design is excellent.

The case

The stainless steel case measures 44.2mm in diameter with a height of 14.0mm. This is larger than many Grand Seiko models, proving especially suited to my generously proportioned wrist. The size of the watch provides sufficient scale to aid read-off but doesn’t feel unduly large, according a comfortable fit.

Grand Seiko SBGA029 - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

A similar model, SBGA031 is offered in lightweight titanium, costing a few hundred pounds more, but I did not find the stainless steel option especially heavy, weighing 201g.

The bezel is stainless steel and unidirectional. The upper surface of the bezel is presented in black, hard-coated stainless steel.

Grand Seiko SBGA029 - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

Grand Seiko SBGA029 - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

Adjacent the crown are protectors reinforcing the sense of ruggedness. In addition, on the vertical surface of the crown, the letters ‘GS’ are proclaimed.

Grand Seiko SBGA029 - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

The bracelet has a superb substance to its creation with a three-fold clasp and an extendable section for wearing over a diving suit. There is a welcome sense of security provided by the clasp, which locks in position and is released with a push button.

Grand Seiko SBGA029 - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

Note – case back pictured with protective film affixed

Traditionalists will appreciate the solid case back, de rigueur for diver’s watches. However, there is a little part of me which misses the opportunity to see the movement within, such is its profound beauty.

The movement

The SBGA029 contains the Calibre 9R65 Spring Drive movement. While in this instance it is hidden from view, I have seen the uncased movement before and can vividly recall its splendid finishing.

The Calibre 9R65 Spring Drive movement features within the SBGA011 which I have previously reviewed and a detailed description of its specification and Spring Drive technology is provided for those of enquiring mind.

Needless to say, the Calibre 9R65 is a very impressive movement, delivering a degree of accuracy seldom encountered with self-winding watches. The watch has a stated accuracy of +/- 1 second per day which comfortably surpasses the COSC certification standard.

Closing remarks

I have never hidden my admiration for Grand Seiko. A recent trip to Seiko’s various manufacturing operations in Japan reaffirmed my respect for this brand and the watches which bear its name.

I appreciate the aesthetics of several diver’s watches and this Grand Seiko proves to be no exception. The display is clear and simple to interpret. The case and bracelet feel strong and deliver a comfortable fit. The movement is superbly finished and the Spring Drive technology provides an impressive level of accuracy.

The Grand Seiko SBGA029, similar to the Ama, appears born to dive. However, more pertinently, this watch seems ideally suited to life on terra firma, delivering an attractive mix of attributes and an appeal most profound.

Technical Specification 

  • Model: Grand Seiko SBGA029
  • Case: Stainless steel; diameter 44.2 mm; height 14.0 mm; water resistant to 20 bar (200 metres); sapphire crystal to front and solid caseback.
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; central seconds; date; power-reserve indicator.
  • Movement: Calibre 9R65, self-winding movement; Spring Drive; 30 jewels; power reserve 72 hours.
  • Bracelet: Stainless steel bracelet with three-fold clasp with secure lock, push button release and diver adjuster
  • Price: £5200 (as at 8.1.2015)

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