Grand Seiko 60th Anniversary Limited Editions.
It’s hard to believe that Japan only opened its borders in the 1850s. To allow it to conform with the rest of the world, its patriots and residents had to change many aspects of the way they had conducted their lives. One of these fundamentals was time telling. Up until this point Japan had utilised a variable hours system with traditional Wadokei clocks. This protocol is compared to the 24 hour system below. I’m sure it made perfect sense to them.
In the last twenty years of the 19th century a new generation of Japanese horologists and timepiece manufacturers emerged. Created in 1881, Seikosha (meaning House of Exquisite Workmanship) was one of these new brands that transpired under the adroit leadership of the forward thinking and motivational 21 year old Kintaro Hattori.
In typically respectful grace his workforce took to heart his most famous saying “Always stay one step ahead of the rest”. Soon retitled simply Seiko, this horological power-house created:
- Its first wall clock in 1892
- Japan’s first pocket watch in 1895
- Japan’s first wristwatch in 1913
- Japan’s first in-house movement when it became independent in 1940 with the creation of its first anti-shock and anti-magnetic hairspring
- Japan’s first wrist chronograph in 1965
- Timepieces that would beat the Swiss in the Neuchatel Chronometer competition in 1968 with the first three places (before being kicked out of the competition)
- The world’s first quartz watch in 1969
- The world’s first automatic chronograph, again in 1969
- The world’s first Kinetic movement in 1988
- The revolutionary Spring Drive movement in 1999
- The world’s first analogue GPS Solar watch in 2012.
In amongst all this endeavour and brilliance came the eponymous Grand Seiko in 1960. A brand within a brand like no other. The concept and philosophy for this new branch of the industry behemoth was to create the ideal timepiece born out of pure watchmaking, with precision, beauty and legibility as its watchwords (if you’ll pardon the pun). Seiko recently realised that they had created something truly exceptional with their high-end offspring when they announced that Grand Seiko was to become its own entity.
This year, 2020, marks the 60th year since we were witness to the first ever Grand Seiko. The number 60 is always an important one in horology but it has a deeper meaning to the Japanese who relate it to new energy and re-birth.
This illustrious history commenced with the first ever Grand Seiko which was exquisite in its design and finer details. The style of Grand Seiko was augmented in this very model with the famous diamond polished, sharp-as-a-sword, hands and applied markers. The movement had a level of accuracy that was equal to the recognised chronometer standard of the time.
These first models are now highly sought after and stand up to the closest of scrutiny over half a century later. This embodies the attitude of the Grand Seiko team from day zero: To create something that will last for ever, both in design and mechanically. Paradoxically, these early Grand Seikos can be considered timeless. This first model, introduced in December 1960, was produced with a hand polished gold case. A platinum version was also available, costing 140,000 yen (or just over £1000, the equivalent of £20000 today). This brave decision was immediately vindicated when they sold out quickly. This must have seemed a mind-boggling amount for a wristwatch to most people in Japan at the time. However, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, times they are a changin’, constantly. Grand Seiko’s latest platinum watch, the limited edition SBGW263, retails for £87000 and they’ve all sold out.
The full Platinum SBGW263
As successful as the original Grand Seiko was the conglomerate of professional artistes were not assembled to rest on their laurels. In 1964 the Self Dater was released as a more practical alternative. It had a date function and was water resistant to 50m.
Grand Seiko Self Dater
1967 was an important year for Grand Seiko. Possibly the most important. The infamous and much heralded 44GS was released. The movement was the most accurate 4Hz mechanical watch on the market. However, it was the contemporary aesthetics that would establish the design philosophy for Grand Seiko going forward.
In the very same year the 62GS was released which was the first Grand Seiko with an automatic movement. The placement and recessed architecture of the crown emphasised the advantages of this.
In 1968 the first Grand Seiko Hi-Beat was released. This revered movement (then the 61GS, now the 9S85) is still the only production manufactured 5Hz movement in the world.
Another year, another significant model. In 1969 Grand Seiko created the 61GS VFA (Very Fine Adjustment) which was regulated to an unprecedented 1 minute per month. Accuracy of this level was unheard of in a production timepiece at this period. That was, of course, until parent brand Seiko released the Astron Quartz on 24th December of the very same year. The horological world was never the same again.
Speaking of quartz: 1988 witnessed Grand Seiko start to develop their own quartz regulated timepieces. Straight away the 95GS was accurate to a ridiculous 10 seconds per year, which far exceeded any other quartz movement available.
However, it wasn’t until 1993 that the Grand Seiko quartz movement, the 9F series, that we all know and love today was released. For me this movement epitomises the mind-set and aspirations of the Grand Seiko unit. It is described in-depth through my very own Grand Seiko 9F quartz here:
2003 saw the release of a Grand Seiko capable of withstanding 40000A/m magnetic force (the equivalent of 500 Gauss). This far exceeded the minimum requirement tenfold.
In 1999 Seiko released the most accurate mechanical based movement ever seen, the triumphant Spring Drive. Grand Seiko adopted this movement in 2003, having elevated the fit and finish to extraordinary levels, as the world had to come to expect. However, in 2007 the 9R8 series was released which included a Spring Drive, Chronograph, GMT with date display and power reserve. What more could you possible expect from a mechanical movement? The perfect sweep of the chronograph seconds hand ensured it was the only stopwatch on the market that had a true reflection of your measured time, and not to the nearest 6th of a second. The movement was chosen for Space Traveller Richard Garriott’s watch which was designed specifically to go into space. This remarkable timepiece is discussed in depth here:
Grand Seiko remained as one of Asia’s best kept secrets until 2010 when the smart decision was made to offer the luxury branch of Seiko to all reaches of the globe. Horological cognoscenti the world over soon acknowledged and appreciated the flawless and exquisite models created by the artisans in Japan.
In 2014 Grand Seiko won the highly coveted Petit Aiguille award at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneva for the 9S86 which combined a Hi-Beat movement with GMT function.
2016 saw Grand Seiko make a major leap forward in respect of design and materials. The brand had been founded on the most beautiful classic timepieces. The full ceramic Spring Drive chronograph is still a gorgeous timepiece due to precise chamfered edges that plays with light and shade, which is a common Japanese design axiom.
2016 saw the release of the Spring Drive 8 Days Power Reserve. This was the first movement conceived and developed by the Micro Artists Studio, set up by Seiko to bring the best of the best together. Artisans included watch makers, enamel craftsmen, and lacquer artists. This group of extraordinary talents are most famous for producing the new line of Credor models. Please see here:
In 2019 Grand Seiko paid tribute the one of the greatest watch movements ever created, the Spring Drive. To commemorate this pioneering invention Grand Seiko released the 9R02 movement. With manual wind, 84 hours of power reserve from one single barrel and their brand new Torque Return System (which enables the 84 hour autonomy) this was an incredibly pertinent fanfare.
Alongside many luxury brands this may not seem like a substantial output for 60 years of hard toil. However, each new release is considered. It has to have a significant benefit to the wearer over previous models, not just a blue dial added here and a DLC case added here. Every single model highlighted above was not only a conclusion of in-depth research and development, that resulted in technological premiers, but also conformed to Grand Seikos original statement of intent: precision, beauty and legibility. This always benefited the end user.
The four new models
So, 60 years well spent and well worth celebrating. Four new Limited Edition models were introduced to commemorate this impressive birthday.
All of them sport a gorgeous dial in Grand Seiko’s corporate colour, blue. There are already blue dials within the catalogue, but none are as vibrant and as celebratory as these four stunners. Two models are variations on existing models. The other two are brand new, complete with the premier of their most recent movement.
The 9F85 has a practical and quick adjustment for the hour hand in integer increments. This allows the wearer to adjust for new timezones when travelling and also for daylight savings adjustments without losing the accuracy of a ridiculous 5 seconds per year for the SBGP007 and 10 seconds per year for the SBGP015.
The incredible accuracy of the SBGP007 is highlighted by the five pointed star above the six O’clock marker.
The rare vivid red seconds hand leaps from the unique dial to offer a striking contrast.
What is not immediately obvious is that the case is all new. The rounded curves of the current quartz collection have been replaced with sharp lines that refract light.
The case back is engraved with the individual Limited Edition number and decorated with a solid 18ct gold disc with the original Grand Seiko logo.
At 40mm diameter and 10.8mm thickness the SBGP007 is the perfect size for comfort and legibility. Only 2500 examples will be produced. Retail price is £3350.
The SBGP007 is further enhanced by the discrete ‘ghost’ pattern of 2020 throughout the dial.
The second of the new 9F85 powered models is the SBGP015, which premiers a new case design with a blue ceramic bezel that precisely mirrors the Grand Seiko blue dial. The angular contours and razor-sharp edges showcase Grand Seiko’s unique Zaratsu polishing.
The sports case is 40mm diameter by 12.4mm thickness and offers utilitarian credentials with a screw down crown, a water resistance of 200 meters and antimagnetic rating of 16000 A/m. The hands and markers are coated with Lumibrite®, which is far brighter and more efficient than the usual Superluminova® used throughout the industry. The SBGP015 is limited to 2000 pieces worldwide. Retail price is £3350.
To celebrate their diamond anniversary Grand Seiko have released a rare lady’s watch in the form of the STGK015. This stunning commemorative limited Edition has 45 diamonds across the bezel and hour markers. The Grand Seiko blue has been transposed to wonderful effect on the Mother of Pearl dial. This elegant and sophisticated lady’s timepiece has a powerful presence. The ethereal Mother of Pearl and the sparkling diamonds are constantly changing, to give a watch that will delight for a lifetime.
Despite the sapphire exhibition case back, highlighting the 9S27 movement designed specifically for the lady’s collection, the STGK015 has a water resistance of 100m. The case is 27.8mm in diameter and 11.2mm thick. This is a rare beauty with only 300 pieces created.
Finally, we have the SBGH281. This Limited Edition of only 1500 pieces is based upon the flagship case design, first brought to prominence and made legendary in 1967 with the 44GS.
The vibrant sunburst blue dial works in unison with a bold red seconds hand and script. A unique detail, amongst these anniversary editions, is the solid 18ct gold GS logo which is hand applied at the top of the dial.
The highly regarded Hi-Beat 9S85 movement, which beats within at 36000 vph, offers a guaranteed accuracy of +5 to -3 seconds per day and a 55 hour power reserve, which is made possible by the in-house hairspring technology. The SBGH281 retails for £5350.
From the Grand Seiko website:
In honour of the 60th anniversary, the Grand Seiko symbol is in gold and the seconds hand is in a vivid red, colours that, together, symbolize a sunrise and all the new energy that a new dawn brings.
I love how the red script announcing the Hi-Beat movement pops right out of the dial. It’s announcing that the SBGH281 is powered by one of the greatest mechanical movements ever made.
All the Grand Seiko 60th Anniversary Limited Editions come in a special presentation box.
The desire to celebrate is redolent of the old adage, “Life is too short”. 60 years for us mere mortals is a long time, and it is definitely worth honouring this particular anniversary. What is most impressive about Grand Seiko getting to 60 years old is that they have stayed true to themselves and loyal to their original aspirations. This is the benefit of being associated with one of the world’s biggest watch brands. Let them follow the trends whilst constantly having to re-invent themselves to stay en vogue.
Grand Seiko has been astute with the release of these four models. They do not dilute the current catalogue in any way. Some brands just have way too many limited editions or commemorative pieces. 60 years of this incredible brand needed to be celebrated and Grand Seiko have successfully done this with their usual character, charm, eye for detail and ground-breaking technology.
The use of the Grand Seiko blue was a given and must have taken all but one minute of the original design meeting. It is the clever use of red accents in the gent’s models and the glorious and transmogrifying Mother of Pearl dial for the lady’s model where the design engineers earnt their bonuses.
Each of these triumphant releases are a celebration in themselves.
I’m not entirely sure I’m in touch with my feminine side, (my long hair is because I have designs on being a free-spirited hippy, not a lady-boy), but even I can marvel at the effervescence of the STGK015. It is simply beautiful to behold. I’m also delighted to see that the full manufacture 9S57 automatic movement has been employed here. Ladies are normally pampered to the point of being demeaned by watch brands with their high volume over the counter quartz movements in an expensive diamond shod wrist watch. Sophisticated females know how to operate and look after a mechanical movement. Grand Seiko are correct in allowing the fairer sex to enjoy and indulge in the hand made mechanical beauties from their brilliant watchmakers.
The SBGP015 is the revelation amongst this group. It stands alone within the entire Grand Seiko collection. It has a new movement with a useful and practical addition, a new case design and a ceramic bezel. The latter not only adds a unique aesthetic to the 9F line but is impervious to scratches and blemishes. This colour-matched bezel blends with the Grand Seiko blue dial effortlessly. I say ‘effortlessly’ with regards to our optical perception, but I imagine it took a great deal of exertion and determination from the tireless material researchers at Grand Seiko. The strong new case design highlights the millennia old technique of Zaratsu polishing with its multifaceted design.
The SBGP007 is the unpretentious ‘sleeper’ of the pack. Looking for all the world like a blue dial/red hand version of the current 9F line up, this remarkably able wristwatch also houses the brand new and intelligent jump-hour movement but has been hand regulated to +/- 5 seconds per year. If that doesn’t grab your attention, then how about the fact that it is guaranteed to be 99.99998% accurate! This world-class movement is only acknowledged by a small gold five-pointed star. The subtle aesthetics are also more involved than immediately obvious. The simplest dial here affords the largest real estate of sunburst Grand Seiko blue and the gold medallion on the back offers the lucky owner a discrete indulgence.
The SBGH281 is the most pertinent to Grand Seiko’s heritage as it recalls one of their greatest and most championed case designs and utilises, arguably, the best three hand movement in existence when considering finish, performance, craftmanship, reliability, accuracy and price point. The dial is my favourite amongst these fab four. The solid 18ct gold GS logo adds a touch of luxury and the red AUTOMATIC HI-BEAT 3600 script offers a confident flourish of contrasting colour to the dominant ebbing and flowing of the sunburst dial.
You will all have your favourite 60th Anniversary Limited Edition. This diversity is a reflection of the eclectic nature of these well thought out commemorative timepieces. Only the celebratory blue dial is homogenous. What is not subjective is the quality of design, finish and movements throughout. Each one has its own distinctive elements and character. Grand Seiko sings the blues.
Happy Anniversary Grand Seiko. I can’t wait to see what you come up with for your Sapphire Jubilee.
All words by Richard Atkins. All images by the author, Seiko or Grand Seiko, unless otherwise stated. This article may not be reproduced in part or in whole without the permission of the author.