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Grand Seiko Goes Hand-Wound With the New Birch Bark SLGW003 and SLGW002 (incl. Video)

An elegant proposition in the Evolution 9 collection, and the first hand-wound 10-beat calibre introduced in 50 years.

| By Brice Goulard | 5 min read |

In 2020, for its 60th anniversary, Grand Seiko unveiled two milestones: a new automatic, hi-beat movement named calibre 9SA5 and a new collection of watches with an updated design language known as Evolution 9. It took us and the watch community a bit of time to understand the importance of this move by the Japanese watchmaker; however, with the arrival of the White Birch SLGH005, things became clear. Now fully established as the future-looking collection of Grand Seiko, it is time for its expansion. Formerly focused on casual and sports watches, Evo9 greets an elegant, hand-wound pair of models, the new Grand Seiko Birch Bark SLGW003 and SLGW002, fitted with GS’ first hand-wound hi-beat movement in 50 years.

It would be an understatement to say that Grand Seiko met great success with its White Birch collection – Hi-Beat SLGH005 and Spring Drive SLGA009, followed by variations in black or green. This series of watches is, without a doubt, the most important release of the brand in the past decade. Visually spectacular, mechanically innovative, and impeccably executed, there’s not much that can be said against these models (a few flaws, maybe, but minor ones, I guess). With this in mind, and without changing the original White Birch recipe too much, Grand Seiko has decided to introduce something visually consistent but far more compact and elegant, with mechanics that blend avant-garde and tradition.

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With the new Grand Seiko Birch Bark Evolution 9, we’re looking at the smaller, dressier brother of the bunch. The original White Birch was a great go-anywhere, do-anything casual watch. The Birch Bark is not meant for action but for distinction. It is the White Birch with a slim-cut suit; the reason is a more compact, slimmer case with more refined shapes and a hand-wound movement that allows for slenderness.

Looking at these new Grand Seiko Birch Bark SLGW003 and SLGW002, the connection with the rest of the Evolution 9 collection is undeniable. The overall design language has been respected yet in a more refined manner. The case has been shrunken to proportions that I’d call almost perfect for a modern dress watch, with its 38.6mm diameter and a thickness of 9.95mm. It’s not to be considered a proper Tuxedo watch like a Piaget Altiplano, but the case is compact and thin enough to make an impression with a suit or a fine blazer.

Available in an 18k rose gold limited edition (SLGW002), the other version is by far the most important. The reference SLGW003 is made from Brilliant Hard Titanium and released as part of the permanent collection. As such, it is light, bright, and durable with a great sheen on the case, specifically for the finely polished parts, which are, of course, using the Zaratsu (distortion-free) technique. The lugs are thin and curved, combining brushed surfaces and polished inner bevels. The thin, flat bezel frames a box-shaped sapphire crystal. The crown is a classic push-pull element, and yes, the water-resistance is limited to 30 metres. But considering the vocation of this model, it doesn’t really bother me.

This Grand Seiko Birch Bark SLGW003 is a joy to wear on the wrist, thanks to its restrained proportions and lightweight case. The gold model adds some weight to the equation without much of a change in feeling once strapped. Complementing the dressy look is a crocodile leather strap (the strap in our photos is a faux-print for export reasons, not the final product) and it’s closed by a three-fold clasp with push-button. I would have preferred a classic pin buckle, but that’s my personal taste.

The dial of the GS Birch Bark is the other attraction… And, yes, the name speaks for itself. While the White Birch SLGH005 featured a vertical pattern, the Birch Bark relies on a horizontal pattern, which is still inspired by the forests that thrive in northern parts of Japan and that grow in profusion near the Grand Seiko Studio Shizukuishi where this watch is made. The rest is classic Evolution 9 design, with the redefined markers and hands, yet treated here with more refinement and finesse. The blued central seconds hand adds a sense of classicism, and so does the wise choice of a no-date display. The gold reference SLGW002 is characterized by an 8-pointed star at 6 o’clock, indicating a Special Dial (SD) with solid 18k rose gold markers.

Turning the watch over reveals an element of importance: the new hand-wound, hi-beat calibre 9SA4. Developed on the base of the automatic 9SA5 found in many recent Grand Seiko watches, it still incorporates the brand’s innovative Dual Impulse Escapement (an exotic escapement presenting similarities with the Audemars Piguet or the Omega Co-Axial escapements, for example) beating at a high-frequency of 5Hz (36,000 vibrations/hour) as well as its twin-barrel architecture guaranteeing a solid 80-hour power reserve. Its accuracy is given for -3/+5 seconds per day.

Also, this calibre 9SA4 is more than just a 9SA5 without the automatic system. It has been deeply redesigned with new bridges – with particularly appealing shapes – and a newly designed manual-winding system. A transversal bridge holds the balance and hairspring in place for more durability, and the movement’s click takes the shape of a wagtail, a bird that can be observed near GS Studio Shizukuishi – a lovely, well-thought detail showing the brand’s attention to classic features. The decoration is rather pleasant, with thin stripes, an elegant finish of the ratchet wheel, and bevelled bridges. A power reserve sits on the movement side and is an elegant solution.

Availability & Price

The titanium Grand Seiko Birch Bark Evolution 9 Hi-Beat Hand-Wound SLGW003 is released as part of the permanent collection and will be available from Grand Seiko Salons and Boutiques as of August 1st, 2024, for EUR 11,700. The gold reference SLGW002 is a limited edition of 80 pieces only, exclusively from Grand Seiko boutiques and priced at EUR 49,500 (the difference between titanium and gold feels a bit exaggerated…).

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