Review: The New Grand Seiko SBGZ009

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Grand Seiko’s Masterpiece Collection is pretty self-explanatory; it is simply a collection of the brand’s most artisanal pieces. Each member of the collection arises from the famed Micro Artist Studio located in Shiojiri, Nagano. The first Grand Seiko watch ever produced by the Micro Artist Studio was the SBGD201 in 2016. The watch was powered by the Calibre 9R01, a manually wound spring drive movement with 8 days of power reserve. In 2019, the SBGZ001 made its debut to much fanfare and awe, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the spring drive. Featuring delicate engraving that depicts snow all over the case and dial, the SBGZ001 is driven by the stunning Calibre 9R02. The movement is an evolution of the Calibre 9R01 and essentially an upgraded version of the Calibre 7R14 found in the acclaimed Credor Eichi II.

This year, Grand Seiko welcomes the next addition to the Masterpiece Collection: the SBGZ009. The watch is essentially the SBGZ001 with a slight but significant difference in decoration. It’s not much of a novelty in the sense that everything else, including the movement, is the same; but when it comes to the imagery and emotions it evokes, it is a totally different beast. Here, we bring you the details and our honest thoughts on the superlative Grand Seiko SBGZ009.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

The case of the SBGZ009 measures a dressy 38.5 mm x 9.8 mm. Rendered in noble platinum, the case is adorned with hand-engraving that is reminiscent of that found on the seminal SBGZ001. If you compare the two side-by-side, you will find that they are palpably different. The engraving on the SBGZ001 is finer, meant to evoke the imagery of snow. The SBGZ009, however, features engraving that is deeper and more pronounced, inspired by the majestic white birch forests that stretch across the Yachicho Plateau, east of Shiojiri. Because every stroke and every groove is done by hand, each case is slightly different to another.

The grooves on the case of the SBGZ009 are much less subtle than that on the SBGZ001. The latter draws inspiration from the finesse of snow while the former emulates white birch tree trunks.

The same goes for the dial, which showcases the brand’s white birch pattern. It is worth noting that this design is one that’s been done before in other references. On the dial of the SBGZ009, however, the pattern just hits harder than ever before. Because of the tone and metallic texture of the dial, the white birch engraving on the dial shines subtly under light. It bears mentioning that the other inscriptions on the dial – including the Grand Seiko logo, the ‘Spring Drive’ text – as well as the minute track, are also hand-engraved. Just like the case, this means that no two dials are ever entirely the same given its handcrafted nature. Contrasting the immensely textural surface of the dial are superbly polished hour and minute hands, as well as the applied hour markers, all of which are crafted in 14k white gold. These elements are all multi-faceted and thus interact with incident light like a fireworks show. Meanwhile, the seconds hand is tempered to a shade of grey (as opposed to blue as in the SBGZ001) that allows it to stand out not in contrast, but in harmony to the rest of the dial. The monochromatic theme of the case and dial is perfectly executed here, with contrast seen only in surface finishes. The watch in its entirety is a masterclass in craftsmanship.

The white birch pattern has been used previously by Grand Seiko, but has never looked identical between the models it has appeared on. Here on the SBGZ009, the engraving is neither too prominent nor too faint – it is just nice.

The Movement

Driving the SBGZ009 is none other than the magnificent 39-jewel Calibre 9R02. Widely considered the most beautiful Grand Seiko movement ever made, the Calibre 9R02 is a manual winding spring drive movement. Spring-driven movements bridge the gap between the mechanical and quartz worlds. Instead of batteries, the spring drive movement is powered by a mainspring which in turn drives a series of gears. A rotor connected to the end of these gears generates a small electrical charge that activates an electronic circuit and quartz oscillator. For a movement wound by a mainspring, its precision is unprecedented, with the Calibre 9R02 accurate to within 1 second a day. The Calibre 9R02 has 84 hours of power reserve when fully wound, thanks to a single barrel that hosts two mainsprings set in parallel. The movement also features Grand Seiko’s own ‘Torque Recovery System’ that uses excess torque to rewind the mainspring, contributing in part to its above average power reserve.

But where the Calibre 9R02 really shines is in its craftsmanship and finissage. Instead of Geneva waves – a decoration favoured in Swiss watchmaking – the top surface of the bridges in the Calibre 9R02 is finely brushed. The edges of these bridges are expertly beveled and polished. These polished bevels are deliciously wide and rounded, and do a sublime job highlighting the bridges. The polished countersinks for screws and jewels are also pleasantly wide. Perhaps the best part of the finishing is the sharp inward angle that just about slides between the two jewels, southwest of the brand logo. There are also plenty of outward angles to enjoy especially on the bellflower motif cut-out of the mainspring barrel. What’s really cool is that the chasm formed between the two bridges resemble the stem and leaf of the flower. Jewels aside, the heat-blued screws, the gold plate, the blue lacquer-filled engravings and the blued power reserve hand add welcomed pops of colour to an otherwise expanse of grey. All these elements combine resulting in one of the most gorgeous movements in all of watchmaking.

The Calibre 9R02 as seen through the sapphire crystal case back.

The Competitive Landscape

The Grand Seiko SBGZ009 sits in rarefied company where fine watchmaking is concerned. Sure, three-handed watches are a dime a dozen, but how many of these are as remarkably crafted as SBGZ009? A real connoisseur’s item, the SBGZ009 is limited to only 50 pieces. Its USD79,000 price tag is stratospheric, but such is the price of handmade excellence in today’s market.

The Grand Seiko SBGZ009 is matched with a dressy black crocodile leather strap, tempering the ornate nature of the watch with something classical. Needless to say, the watch slides under any dress cuff with ease thanks to its restrained size.

Interestingly, if it weren’t for Philippe Dufour, artisanal Seiko movements like the Calibre 9R02 may not have existed. For it was Mr. Dufour himself that inspired and influenced the crafting of the Calibre 7R14 and its progeny the Calibre 9R02. The Dufour Simplicity remains the watchmaking standard to aspire to for Swiss high horology. It is one of the greatest three-hand watches ever made. From its enamel dial to absurdly well-finished movement, the Simplicity is a treasure trove of everything that makes traditional watchmaking so beautiful. Indeed when you flip the watch over, you will find some parallels between the Simplicity movement and the Calibre 9R02. The most obvious similarity is the screwed gold plate. Then there’s also the immaculate beveling and polishing work on the edges of bridges and countersinks. One of the main criticisms of the Calibre 7R14 that powers the Eichi II is that there isn’t a single inward angle, unlike the Simplicity movement which features many. Grand Seiko made amends when it introduced the Calibre 9R02, by fitting in the most sensuous inward angle you’ll ever see. The Simplicity and SBGZ009 are different watches but both have been taken to the pinnacle of watchmaking by heroic craftsmanship.

The Akrivia Chronomètre Contemporain is another modern day great that immediately jumps to mind when discussing high craftsmanship in watchmaking. Like the Simplicity, its dial is enamel, which already sets it apart from the engraved dial (and case) of the SBGZ009. The Calibre RR-01 that drives the Chronomètre Contemporain is an exemplar of traditional finishing, showcasing perfectly executed Geneva waves, inward and outward angles, beveling, and polishing. What really distinguishes the Calibre RR-01 from the Calibre 9R02 and Simplicity movement in terms of appearance is in its symmetry, open architecture (that allows near unrestricted view of every movement component) and atypical rounded centre wheel bridge. Priced at around CHF 55,000 when it first debuted in 2018, the watch comes with a three year warranty that is extended by a year by any necessary work done.

Final Thoughts

Grand Seiko has always been the flagbearer for Asian watchmaking, and the addition of the SBGZ009 further reinforces this notion. The watch isn’t technically novel but is given such an evocative surface treatment that it sets itself apart sufficiently from the other members of the Masterpiece Collection. As it stands, the SBGZ series of watches is one of Asia’s best ever and will give even the finest watches from Switzerland a run for their money.


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