Grand Seiko is the doyen of Japanese watchmaking. It used to be the best kept secret among high end watch collectors, but perhaps not anymore. We have certainly been responsible in helping the world outside of Japan understand and appreciate the Grand Seikos. And it was with a pleasant surprise when this Baselworld 2016, Seiko unveiled the new Grand Seiko SBGD001 Spring Drive 8 Day Power Reserve in platinum.
For the longest time, the Grand Seiko was kept for domestic consumption. It was first introduced in Japan in 1967, but it was not introduced to the world till Baselworld soft launch in BaselWorld 2006, and full global launch in BaselWorld 2010. Read our analysis of the Grand Seiko marque here, where we discussed the birth of the Grand Seiko, how it was launched for global markets.
The various models of the Grand Seiko were equipped with mechanical automatic, hand wound and quartz movements. The higher end series were equipped with their Spring Drive movements. And even higher end Micro Artisan Studio watches were branded Credor. Those carried the special Spring Drive movements crafted to a higher level or finishing. We reviewed the Eichi, the Minute Repeater from this series, and will carry a review of the Eichi II soon. And for now, we discuss and analyze the Grand Seiko SGBD001 Spring Drive 8 Day Power Reserve.
The Grand Seiko SBGD001 Spring Drive 8 Day Power Reserve
Essential reading: Introducing the Grand Seiko SBGD001.
The watch is made available only in platinum, and features the 9R01 Spring Drive caliber, and is the first Grand Seiko to be produced by the Micro Artisan Studio.
The case, dial and hands
The case is 43mm in diameter. Quite large for a Grand Seiko. The only other Grand Seiko Spring Drive with this case diameter of similar proportions are the Chronograph SBGE001 and the Anniversary Spring Drive Chronograph Limited edition SBGC013. The SBGD001 is also the only one to be made in platinum. Seiko have previously reserved platinum for their Credor series of ultra high end watches, and this is the first time we are seeing it on a Grand Seiko.
The platinum used is not an ordinary platinum but one which is proprietary to Seiko. Standard 950 Platinum is soft and when polished will not achieve a high gloss finish. To achieve this high gloss finish, Seiko developed a special platinum alloy and used their zaratsu polishing technique. The zaratsu technique is an ancient method of polishing samurai swords or katana and though was originally developed for polishing steel, works well when applied to platinum. The resultant finish is very smooth, mirror like surface and displays little optical distortion.
The case is also cold forged, where the metal is pressed into shape using a press weighing several tonnes. Cold forging is used instead of casting or machining which are more common techniques used in case making. In cold forging, the metal is shaped at room temperature by huge presses, which forces the metal into the shape desired. As it does so, the internal grain deforms to follow the general shape of the part. As a result, the grain is continuous throughout the case, giving rise to a piece with improved strength characteristics. In contrast, in hot forging, the metal is heated to a temperature above its crystalization point, molded into shape and allowed to cool and recrystalize. This negates the grain alignment achieved in cold forging.
The dial is also rather special.
The technique creates a dial which Seiko calls “diamond dust”. This aptly describes the way it catches the light. It has a texture which is granular, and sparkling. Quite beautiful, yet simple and elegant.
The hands are also special and hand finished. They are five faceted, with each facet achieving a high mirror polish. The same detail is also observed in the applique indices. A special feature of the Grand Seiko hands are that they are also mirror polished on the under side. This can be observed as the hands pass over each other, and the bottom of the minute hand can be seen through the mirror finish of the hour hand.
Also special is the seconds hand is in flame blued steel, and is hand rolled at its edges so that it is closer to the dial to reduce parallax error. And as the watch is equipped with a Spring Drive movement, the seconds hand moves in a smooth sweeping action which is rather mesmerizing to watch.
Small details abound on the case, dial and hands, and makes the Grand Seiko SGBD001 quite special, and the more one examines the watch, the more the attention to detail strikes. Amazing.
The movement: Spring Drive caliber 9R01
As the watch is created at the Micro Artisans Studio in Shiojiri, where they also make the Eichi, Sonnerie and Minute Repeaters, the design and finishing is top drawer.
Let’s start first with the size. At 37mm, the caliber is rather large. But it needs to be so as to be able to carry the 3 barrels to achieve the huge 8 day power reserve.
And as the name suggests, it is a Spring Drive movement, which means that there is no oscillating balance wheel, but in its place a “Glide Wheel” is directly attached to the movement power train. The Glide Wheel moves in only one direction, and if allowed to spin freely, the entire power of the mainsprings would be discharged within a second. But the Glide Wheel is braked using a contactless electromagnetic braking system to regulate its speed. This allows the mainsprings to discharge at the exact rate to drive the second wheel on whose arbor is attached the hour hand to make one complete revolution every 12 hours, and the fourth wheel (before the Glide Wheel) to make one revolution every minute. The electromagnetic brake system is controlled by a quartz system, which is powered by the mainspring as well. The Spring Drive system is a very clever and neat technical alternative to age old Swiss Anchor escapement system. This innovation pays in terms of high accuracy. The 9R01 is guaranteed to an accuracy of ±10 seconds per month, in comparison to chronometer specifications for a regular oscillator balance wheel watch at +6/-4 s a day.
The rubies are also special. Most commercial rubies used in watch movements are industrially manufactured by specialists companies. But Seiko uses rubies made by growing aluminum oxide crystals in-house at Seiko Instruments. As a result, they are able to have full control over the quality of rubies, and ensure that they are almost perfect in shape, color and clarity.
The movement train is covered by a huge bridge, made from maillechort which is then rhodium plated. This provides a very stable platform for the train.
The bridge is finished with straight graining, and its edges traces the outline of Mt. Fuji. Visually, the highly polished rubies and tempered blue screws evoke the lights of the city of Suwa below the Studio’s home.
The finnisage is exceptional. While the finishing specification is simple. Straight graining, polished chamfers, anglage. The execution is near perfect. The edge of the bridge carries two beautifully executed outward angles. The anglage is a study in perfection. It is even across the entire edge, and is not a simple polished edge, but the anglage is subtly convex curved to show more of the polished edges. And as it catches the light in certain angles, it gleams. Other than on the Philippe Dufour Simplicity, we have not seen anglage done this way. Truly magnificent and a sight to behold.
The Grand Seiko SGBD001 has few peers. It is a time only watch, with an 8 power reserve with up/down indicator which is on the movement side. But it also sports a unique technology – the Seiko Spring Drive. It has a purpose built movement, the 9R01 is currently used only in the SGBD001. It is the product of immense attention to detail by the most obsessed of watchmaking grandmasters on the planet. But it is expensive. The asking price of S$75,000 can buy a lot of watch. Lets take a look at possible competitors.
The obvious comparison might be the Patek Philippe Ref.5200 Gondolo (US$59,400 about S$79,800 in white gold. The 5200 is not available in platinum). The pricing is similar, but yet the Patek is only available in gold and not platinum. There is always a premium for platinum, so arguably the Patek is a more expensive option. The Ref.5200, in addition to the 8 day power reserve (with indicator) also carries indications for the day and date. The finishing is standard Patek Philippe, which means it is also exceptional quality. It also bears the heritage and reputation of Patek Philippe and will likely command a high resale price due to demand on the secondary market which Seiko is unlikely to match.
Blancpain Villaret 8 Jours Manuelle (US$55,900 limited edition 75 pieces, approximately S$75,000) might be another comparison. The pricing is similar, but it is equipped with a date in addition to the power reserve indicator. The Blancpain caliber 13R1 is a traditional movement, and arguably less well finished.
Another comparison, perhaps a bit unusual, might be to the A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 (€ 42,300 about S$65,000 in platinum). The Lange is iconic of the German manufacture. But its power reserve is 60 hours, which is quite a big difference from 8 days (192 hours). But there are similarities in the movement. It is made from maillechort, although Lange chooses to leave it untreated. This gives it a warmish hue, and which will develop a beautiful patina over time. The rubies are also held in gold chatons secured by blued screws, and quite a spectacle to view. The three quarter plate is finished with Glashütte ribbing. The cock holding the fifth wheel is capped with a black polish steel cap, a very traditional method, and quite beautiful. And the balance cock is hand engraved. The finishing style is also more showy and elaborate than the austere, but immaculately finished Grand Seiko.
And perhaps the comparison might also be made, especially in the level of finishing, to the Dufour Simplicity. Long sold out, but the last known retail for platinum was CHF85,000, about S$118,000) makes it quite a bit more expensive. The pre-owned prices have retained their value, and we have personally witnessed a recently transacted piece at CHF95,000. The Simplicity has a power reserve of only 45 hours and lacks a power reserve indicator. But in terms of detailing and finishing, the Simplicity can draw some comparisons. Both are exceptionally finished by grandmasters. The Dufour style is more showy, and as a result the movement looks more beautiful. The Grand Seiko style is more subdued, and understated. But close examination will reveal that the basis are similar. The basic principles and the attention to detail is uncannily similar. Not really a surprise, as Philippe Dufour had spent considerable time with the team at the Micro Artisan Studios where he shared his techniques and principles. It is indeed a credit to the Grand Seiko team that they did not copy lock stock and barrel, but took the time to contemplate and make their own way, based on the principles set by Dufour.
Back to the comparison, Dufour does not make his own case, dial, nor hands. And the movement plates are also contracted out to a specialist CNC manufacturer, although Philippe personally supervises every piece as it is produced, and performs all finishing and assembly with his own hands. The plates are also in rhodium plated maillechort. But perhaps most importantly, the SGBD001 is currently available (will be in selected Seiko boutiques from July 2016), and the Simplicity is long sold out.
The Grand Seiko SGBD001 is the first Grand Seiko from the Micro Artisan Studios. The Studio is exceptional as it is a small unit within the Shiojiri facility which houses 11 exceptional top grandmaster watchmakers, working under little commercial pressure. When we visited in 2007, they were tasked to complete only 10 watches a year.
An anecdote might be interesting. We saw one of the watchmakers finishing a tiny screw. He was manually polishing the screw, one at a time. As we approached, we asked him how long he would take to complete one single screw. Through a translator, he said, “about 45 minutes.” We raised our eyebrows, as that is quite a long time to work on just one screw…but his next words caused our jaws to drop. “30 minutes on this side (indicating the slot and the side visible when the screw is attached to the plate), and 15 minutes on the other side.” As we recovered from our surprise, we protested, “But, but, nobody sees the other side…and when its screwed in, it gets scratched anyway.”. He peered through his loupe, and said, “But I do. And I cannot put the screw in until it perfect in every way.” This expresses the attitude of the grandmasters at the Micro Artisan Studios. And it is reflected in the resultant works produced from them. The Grand Seiko SBGD001 Spring Drive 8 Day Power Reserve is no exception. One may discuss the aesthetic language, but the final conclusion is always the same. The design is conservative. And the finishing is immaculate and the attention to detail exceptional. As near perfect as humanly possible.
Grand Seiko SGBD001 Technical Specifications
Driving system 9R Spring Drive
Caliber No. 9R01
Case Platinum 950
Glass Box-shaped sapphire crystal with Anti-reflection coating on inner surface
Clasp Three-fold clasp with push button release
Accuracy ±10 seconds per month
Water resistance 10 bar
Magnetic resistance 4800 A/m (60 gauss)
Case size Diameter 43.0mm Thickness 13.2mm