Hands-On: A review of the Grand Seiko SBGA387

There’s a lot that can be said for Grand Seiko and the watches that they produce. They’re beautifully made works of art with a level of detail, refinement, and finishing that make most of their Swiss competition look bland by comparison. But there’s one problem…

BACKSTORY: Born in 1960, Grand Seiko (GS) was the result of Daini Seikosha Co, Ltd and Suwa Seikosha Co, the two companies producing Seiko watches at the time, and their desire to compete more directly with Swiss manufacturers. It was no secret that during this time, watches coming out of Switzerland were believed to be of the highest quality. Challenge accepted.

https://www.grand-seiko.com/us-en/about/history

The very first Grand Seiko was made by the latter of the two companies mentioned above, while the other went on to produce a line of watches known as King Seiko. The heart of the 36,000 units produced was an 18,000vph, hand-wound, 25-jewel chronometer movement (cal 3180) that was accurate to a standard of +12 to -3 seconds per day and had an advertised 45hr power reserve. The caseback was snapped on to a 34mm wide, non-waterproof, 18k gold case (some platinum cases were also produced). It was the first Japanese watch to be compliant with the standard of excellence of the Bureaux Officiels de Contrôle de la Marche des Montres – whatever that is.

A lot has changed since then, but one thing has stood the test of time; Grand Seiko makes a killer watch. Fast forward 50 years and we’re taking a look at one of their latest creations. This SBGA387G is number 272 of 558 total pieces produced specifically for the U.S. market, which is a first for GS.

THE DIAL: Calling this dial striking would be a gross understatement. Inspired by the Kira-zuri method, a painting technique utilized in Ukiyo-e paintings – often used to provide textures for Kabuki actors and their creative backgrounds. Highly textured and in most scenarios a lighter shade of blue that looks unlike anything I’ve ever seen, the dial seems to change personalities as the day/night goes on. Covered by a dual-curved sapphire crystal that’s been treated with an anti-reflective coating on the inner side, the dial isn’t the most legible, but it’s perfectly acceptable. The highly polished, dauphine style hands are sharp and void of any noticeable imperfections. The beautifully faceted indices are hand applied, just as flawless, and reflect light like the finest of jewels. The date window at 3 o’clock is well done and easy to read, and there’s a nicely detailed power reserve indicator at 7:30. It’s asymmetrical, but not in a bothersome way. To put it simply: this is one of best dials I’ve ever seen.

THE CASE: 40mm in diameter, 12.5mm tall, with a lug-to-lug measurement of 46mm, the watch wears well on my flat, 7.25″ wrist. Not too big, not too small, not too tall – just right. The 44GS case is something that has to be seen to fully appreciate. Just as the hands and indices are, this case is finished to a very high level. Switching between multiple finishes (brushed and polished), and with more angles than a geometry test – this thing shines. Every surface of the case is finished so that the mirror finishes have no visible distortion. This blade finishing process is referred to as Zaratsu polishing, or black polishing, has taken decades to perfect, and is something that only the most skillful and experienced craftsman are permitted to perform. The signed, screw-down crown is proportional, and fits in with the overall design of the watch nicely. It’s also worth mentioning that this piece is rated for 100m of water resistance. My only complaint here would be that the sharp edge of the fixed bezel is a magnet for dents and dings.

THE BRACELET: The part-brushed, part-polished 5-link bracelet fitted here is nice, but like many other Seiko bracelets, is nothing to write home about. End links are sized at 20mm, and there’s a very slight taper down to the clasp resulting in a bracelet that drapes somewhat nicely over the wrist. Full and half links included, it’s also relatively easy to size, with links being screwed together, instead of the awful pin and collar setup found on many of Seiko’s lower end models. The milled, push-button release clasp is a standard tri-fold affair that is beautifully signed and works as it should. No complaints.

THE MOVEMENT: Shown beneath a sapphire caseback is the “Spring Drive” caliber 9R65A – a joint effort of traditional mechanical watchmaking and some electronic ingenuity. The blued second hand sweeps around the dial in an eerily smooth fashion. The stand-out stat to me has to be the accuracy. In the time I’ve been wearing this machine, it’s been incredibly accurate – running less than one second fast per day. A conventional escapement is nowhere to be found. Instead, it has been replaced with a device that Seiko calls a Tri-synchro Regulator, which regulates the unwinding of the mainspring. This manages the three different types of energy produced by the movement. The result of this hybrid set-up, if you will, is one of the most accurate (mostly) mechanical movements that money can buy.

CONCLUSION: This watch is beautiful, accurate, comfortable, and unique. BUT, there’s a problem – I can’t tell what it’s trying to be. Sure, Spring Drive is neat, but it just seems a bit disingenuous. This movement, to me, lacks the character and originality of the entry level 9F, or the flagship High Beat, which would be the two my money would be spent on. The rotor makes the noises you’d expect to hear out of a sub-$100 Seiko 5 as it spins on your wrist, and the sound of handwinding it is even worse; it’s a combination of whiny and gritty. I’m telling you.. it’s bad, and we’re talking about a watch that retails for $6800!

The Grand Seiko SBGA387 is incredible; I just don’t know if I’d want to own it. Luckily, a dear friend is the keeper of this one, so maybe I’ll borrow it again sometime and toss it back on my favorite grey NATO. Maybe that time I’ll feel differently. *shrugs*

-V


For more information on the Grand Seiko SBGA387G, visit https://www.grand-seiko.com/us-en

NATO Strap – Gunmetal Supreme NATO, courtesy of https://www.crownandbuckle.com/


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