Deployant Friend, Daniel Yong documents his horological journey from getting acquainted with Grand Seiko to his hunt for the SBGW031 and the SBGM031 Automatic GMT.
It was several years ago when I was presented with my first mechanical watch. And coincidentally enough, it was a Seiko. Since then, I have undergone the journey many watch enthusiasts would typically go through, spending hours reading about newly released models and chatting with friends on social media on their purchases. It was until three years ago I came across an article mentioning that there was a tier of Seiko in Japan argued to compete against the very best Swiss manufacturers. Intrigued by this statement, I conducted further research and fell in love with the intriguing birth story, and the history of the Grand Seiko brand. Needless to say, I have barely looked at other manufacturers outside of Seiko. I set out to find myself my very first Grand Seiko. The criteria was simple, it had to have a manual wound movement, a stainless steel case, and needed to be between 35-39 mm. This was because I wanted a close representation of the first Grand Seiko model but made without the gold plated case. Finally, after months of searching, I purchased my first Grand Seiko reference SBGW031 from a well-known shop in Japan. Now that was the easy part, the hardest part was the waiting period.
I may be exaggerating but I can still remember the pain of waiting. It took one and a half weeks, but it felt like one and a half months. I just wanted the watch so bad and each day I craved to wear it on my wrist. Finally, I got a notification on my phone telling me that the parcel was delivered to my local post office. I was at work during the time of the notification and I bit my tongue so hard trying not to let my emotions get a hold of me. This made the day drag on so long, I love my day job mind you, but now that I knew my SBGW031 was within reach, it made the wait excruciating. When the day was done, I rushed into my car ignoring my colleagues, and raced towards my local post office. As I arrived, I greeted the postal officers as per custom, you know, the small talk and there it was. The lady had both her hands around the neat little packaging. As she brought it over, my heart was pulsating, honestly it felt like she was bringing over my first child. I quickly signed the paperwork and raced home. Surprisingly, I did not race to get the necessary tools needed to open the package. Instead I opted to sit down and stare at the box for a good couple of minutes. “What if I was disappointed? What if the supplier forgot to put the watch in the box?” I thought to myself. Suddenly I found myself becoming nervous. I then grew the courage to open the packaging, piece by piece with extreme care. It had that beautiful scent of freshness. Slowly lifting the lid, it sat there, perched on the famous blue Grand Seiko pouch. Relieved, and full of joy, I almost wanted to yell out to the world. I am not ashamed of this, I picked up the SBGW031 and kissed it.
Now I have to say, this particular model exceeded my expectations. It had a gorgeous ivory dial which complemented the highly polished markers and hands. I really loved how it did not have a date window otherwise it would have gone against what I wanted as a homage to the original Grand Seiko. The domed crystal sapphire glass surprisingly was not as high as I thought it would be. It slotted perfectly underneath the sleeve cuffs of my shirt. But what really drew me in was the 9S64 movement open for exhibition due to the sapphire crystal caseback.
The Tokyo stripes dazzled and danced in the lights as I moved my watch around in different angles. I still remember the first time I turned the crown, the feeling of each click felt so solid and vibrated in my fingertips. Till this day, this watch has become my everyday piece. I even take it bush walking! Of course, after I switch the leather strap to a NATO strap. It also receives compliments from both non-watch and watch people. Honestly, if you are after a hand wound dress watch that silently screams out elegance and quality, look no further than the SBGW031.
Fast forward to the present, it became my goal this year to obtain a second Grand Seiko to complement my SBGW031. This obviously meant that I needed a piece with an automatic movement as opposed to a manual. But I knew that it could not be just any automatic model, I wanted one that represented my personality. I needed a piece in the collection that represented both my love for the classic and the obscure. Unlike my first purchase, this decision was challenging as I soon discovered that Grand Seiko had an extensive list of options. After a considerable amount of research and wanting to give up, I narrowed down my options to the SBGM models. And there it was, the SBGM031 and it’s famous dark blue dial. The dial alone had everything I wanted to represent my love for all things mystical. It appeared black in gloomy lighting and navy blue with exposure to intense lighting. I also appreciated it’s larger size at 39.5 mm as opposed to the SBGW031’s smaller 37 mm.
Before I discuss my own example, I feel the need to explore the other SBGM models on offer. The reason being, is that unfortunately the SBGM031 is a limited-edition model from 2012 and may be difficult to find. However, the good news is that there are many offerings in the SBGM line that I personally think are just as gorgeous. I will briefly discuss a few examples I personally would not mind in my own collection! First, the SBGM021 which features the same movement as the SBGM031 but without the titanium rotor. Instead of the dark blue dial, it features an ivory dial which I feel may be more versatile and for those looking for a piece that may fall under the category of being “timeless”. Finally, if these are too “classic” for your taste, the SBGM line also features models where the GMT markers are featured on a fixed steel bezel giving it that “sporty” look.
Now that we are somewhat familiar with the SBGM line, I will discuss my own example of the SBGM031. Like previously mentioned, the first feature of the watch that attracted me is the dark midnight blue dial. Depending on lighting, the dial appears differently. With high exposure to sunlight, it appears royal blue. I dare say, it is easy to get lost trying to figure out what kind of blue is featured on this model. Another feature I love about the dial is how the 24 hour GMT markers are located within the inner dial. It provides the piece a vintage feel due to the gold, whilst also not appearing too cluttered. Contrasting with the navy blue, you will find highly polished steel markers.
Next, the famous sword hands. I find the brushed steel on the top side of the hour and minute hands extremely attractive. It forces the wearer to stare deeper into the watch and appreciate the skilled craftsmanship of the famed Zaratsu polishing. When turned on an angle, the polished sides of the hour and minute hands sparkle and gives the watch a poetic sense that you are staring at Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’. Well, that is what I interpreted.
In terms of the movement, the SBGM031 comes equipped with the 9S66 calibre and comes with a gorgeous treated, oxidised titanium rotor which is said to absorb vibrations and shock from the wearer. I admit, this feature did excite me but I am one who adores the decoration in Grand Seiko movements. In particular, I am a huge fan of the highly reflective Tokyo stripes on the plates and unfortunately, the rotor almost entirely masks the movement.
Finally, the strap and buckle. To be honest, I am not a fan of glossy straps and so it was only natural for me to switch the polished royal blue crocodile for an aftermarket strap. Currently, I have fitted the SBGM031 with the original strap from my SBGW031 as featured in the photographs. And I have got to admit, the watch has never felt so comfortable! Accompanying the royal blue strap is the Grand Seiko deployant buckle.
The SBGM031 is quite versatile and can easily be paired with jeans and t-shirt, to suit and tie in my opinion as its owner. It is a watch that needs to be seen and held in person to be fully appreciated. And the funny thing is, I have a feeling that is the whole idea behind Grand Seiko.
Bio notes: Daniel Yong is a school teacher who is a lover of the arts, and has always been curious of the relationship between man and machine. His introduction into the watch world started when he was fairly young. Daniel’s uncle had given him a beat up digital Casio watch with a calculator, which made him think he was the coolest kid in school. He received his first mechanical Seiko watch later in life, and this is where his true passion for horology started. Since then, he has developed an unhealthy obsession for all things Grand Seiko (so much that he goes by the IG handle @mrgrandseiko by the way) and has stated that his goal in life is to remember all of the reference numbers. Apart from being a hardcore Grand Seiko fan, Daniel loves horology because of the poetic interpretations one can make when trying to understand the thought process of crafting these beautiful objects. Daniel is based in Sydney, Australia.