If Grand Seiko is primarily known for the superb manufacturing quality of its watches and the attention to detail on all aspects of the habillage and the mechanics, the Japanese brand also has its recurring design codes. More often than not, the brand relies on nature and Nippon culture to create watches that reflects its origins and environment. Grand Seiko is also known for the beauty of its dials, with stunning textures… Think Snowflake or White Birch. Earlier this year, the brand has presented a collection of 4 watches that perfectly sums up this spirit and combination of skills, the Grand Seiko Elegance 4 Seasons Collection of GMT Watches, or the Hi-Beat Shunbun SBGJ251 & Shosho SBGJ249 and the Spring Drive Kanro SBGE271 & Toji SBGE269.
4 watches to reflect the 4 seasonal phases
Nature has long been a major influence on Grand Seiko watches. In addition to being an expert in traditional Japanese techniques, the brand has started to infuse more poetry and charm in its often cold and technical models, something that really took off with the introduction of the Spring Drive Snowflake. This watch, the SBGA211, reflected the purity of freshly driven snow, as found in the mountains near the location of the Grand Seiko manufacture, in Shizukuishi. Such inspirations became sort of a hallmark for GS, with numerous models inspired by nature, and mostly the textures and colours of natural elements. We’ve seen this for instance on the SBGH269, with its autumnal dial, on the SLGH005, with its white birch-inspired dial, or more recently on the Masterpiece Spring Drive SBGZ007, with a dial depicting the night sky above Achi, up in the mountains of the southern part of Japan’s Shinshu region.
The 4 season collection, which was first presented in February this year, is somehow the pinnacle of this mix of natural inspirations and textured dials. As explained by Rebecca in her introducing article, “nature is a cornerstone of Japanese culture, revered and feared with equal measure. It is also a predominant theme at Grand Seiko and the setting of the Japanese brand’s manufactures is intentionally studied to inspire the Takumi (artisans).”
This new series of watches, which are not limited in production, is inspired by the colours of the changing seasons in Japan. Because of the subtle changes brought about by the changing seasons, Japan divides the four seasons into 24 small seasons or sekki. The four sekki represented on the watches are Shunbun (Spring), Shōsho (Summer), Kanro (Autumn) and Tōji (Winter) and the 24 small seasons are represented by the 24-hour GMT track.
This sub-collection is actually two pairs of watches, only differentiated by their dials. One pair is equipped with a Hi-Beat automatic movement, the other pair relies on the brand’s proprietary hybrid technology, Spring Drive. All are, however, GMT models and all are, in all fairness, pretty impressive watches combining a restrained elegance, with demonstrative dials. All are also worn on stainless steel bracelets, but would certainly be equally beautiful on leather straps.
The Hi-Beat Automatic Shunbun SBGJ251 & Shosho SBGJ249
As said, this collection of four watches should be divided into two sub-sections, starting first with the two automatic models. Design-wise, the Shunbun SBGJ251 and Shōsho SBGJ249, representing spring and summer, are part of the Elegance collection and share their case with already existing GMT models, such as the SBGM221 we extensively reviewed here. To be even more precise, these two watches are variations around models from the permanent collection, namely SBGJ217 and SBGJ219, both equipped with the same Hi-Beat GMT movement.
This means that we find the nicely designed and curved case, with a thin angled bezel and lugs with a gentle bevel on the side. I know this case perfectly and I know how discreet and refined it is, specifically in this compact version measuring 39.5mm in diameter. The height is, as often with GS, quite noticeable, but proportions remain very pleasant. The rounded casebands, the ultra-domed sapphire crystal, the soft lines of the lugs… everything is restrained and classic, yet not too traditional either. As expected, the surfaces are polished with the Zaratsu, distortion-free technique, resulting in a superb case.
Under the sapphire caseback of these two models is a usual suspect, the Calibre 9S86. This automatic engine beats at 5hz or 36,000 vibrations per hour and is able to store up to 55 hours of energy. It is known for its reliability and precision, being adjusted to +5 to –3 seconds per day. It is also a true GMT movement, where the local time hour hand is adjusted by the crown in one-hour increments. Viewed through the caseback, it is finished in a typical GS way, slightly cold but very neat.
Going into the fine details, the two watches differentiate thanks to their dials. And indeed, how different they are. First is the Shunbun SBGJ251, which represents spring. Low-key and dark, it features a dark green dial with a soft crisscross pattern. On this version, the hands have a brushed top surface and the GMT hand and logo are rose gold-coloured. This version probably is the most refined and discreet of the four versions.
The other automatic is a far more demonstrative watch. Indeed, the Shōsho SBGJ249, which represents summer and “delicate ripples in the many thousands of lakes and ponds” around Japan, is far more obvious, but no less attractive. The base has the same sort of texture found on the White Birch watch, but here with a horizontal pattern and light blue colour. This is matched with dark blue accents on the GMT track, hand and logo, and here the central hands are entirely polished, even the top surface. The dial is truly captivating and has an intense metallic shimmer.
The Grand Seiko Elegance Hi-Beat GMT 4 Seasons Shunbun SBGJ251 & Shōsho SBGJ249 are now available from Grand Seiko boutiques and retailers, and are priced at EUR 7,600.
Quick facts: 39.5mm diameter x 14.1mm height – stainless steel case & bracelet, brushed and Zaratsu polished – domed sapphire crystal, sapphire caseback – 30m water-resistant – Calibre 9S86, Hi-Beat automatic, 5Hz frequency, 55h power reserve, +5 to –3 seconds per day, 37 jewels – hours, minutes, seconds, GMT hand, date – ref. Shunbun SBGJ251 & Shosho SBGJ249 – available now – EUR 7,600
The Spring Drive Kanro SBGE271 & Toji SBGE269
The two other models, namely the Kanro SBGE271 and Tōji SBGE269, representing autumn and winter, are also part of the Elegance collection but are unprecedented watches, in the way that this is the first time a classic GMT model is powered by the brand’s Spring Drive technology. Indeed, these watches are not derived from existing technical bases and have been developed for this collection. The movement isn’t new per se, but it’s new to the Elegance series.
Compared to the two other watches above, these two Spring Drive models are also different in proportions. Indeed, if the shape of the case is basically the same, with the curved lugs, the angled bezel and the domed sapphire crystal, the diameter is slightly larger at 40.2mm and the height 0.1mm smaller. Also, the case is here water-resistant to 100 metres (vs. 30m for the Hi-Beat models) and the finishing is different, with brushed lugs. The display is also slightly different, with a 24h track on the periphery of the dial and, as often with Spring Drive movements, a power reserve indicator.
The calibre 9R66 that beats inside is a known engine, as found in the Grand Seiko Sport GMT series. This movement benefits from Spring Drive technology, meaning that it has most of the parts of an automatic calibre, including its self-winding capacity, but is regulated by a high-performance quartz device that allows for a ± 1 second per day or ± 15 seconds per month accuracy. It stores up to 72 hours of energy and features a true GMT function, with one-hour increments of the local time.
The first of the two models, the Kanro SBGE271, depicts the colours of autumn. The dial, with a random pattern on its surface, has a dark and rich colour and is accented with gold elements, on the GMT track, hand and logo. The hands are brushed with polished bevels, and so are the hour markers. Just like the Shunbun model, we’re here talking about a relatively discreet colour/texture combination, but one that is a bit more visible on this Kanro edition.
The fourth and final model in this 4 seasons collection is the Tōji SBGE269, and it is the representation of winter. According to the brand, “the dial has the texture and colour of a winter landscape as the sun sinks lower in the sky.” For this, it has a metallic silver base with a strong grained texture – almost hammered – and also features gold accents on the GMT logo and hand. The result is really spectacular in close up, but thankfully less ostentatious when looked from a distance (understand on the wrist). This texture, new to Grand Seiko, makes the SBGE269 one of the most appealing recent launches in my books.
The Grand Seiko Elegance Spring Drive GMT 4 Seasons Kanro SBGE271 & Tōji SBGE269 will be available as of September 2021 from GS boutiques and retailers, and priced at EUR 6,800.
Quick facts: 40.2mm diameter x 14mm height – stainless steel case & bracelet, brushed and Zaratsu polished – domed sapphire crystal, sapphire caseback – 100m water-resistant – calibre 9R66, Spring Drive, automatic, 72h power reserve, ±1 second per day, 30 jewels – hours, minutes, seconds, GMT hand, date, power reserve – ref. Kanro SBGE271 & Toji SBGE269 – available September 2021 – EUR 6,800
For more details, please visit grand-seiko.com.