Grand Seiko has been celebrating two anniversaries back-to-back. Last March 2020, was Grand Seiko’s 60th anniversary, and in January 2021, Seiko commemorated the 140th anniversary of its foundation by Kintaro Hattori. Anniversary year or not, this Grand Seiko is a symbolic watch on many levels. From the intriguing dial that evokes the texture of tree rings to the exquisite finishings and new high-beat calibre, the watch incarnates the philosophy of Grand Seiko to perfection. Limited to 140 pieces, this superb platinum model is now available at Grand Seiko boutiques and retailers worldwide.
The philosophy of Grand Seiko
In December 1960, the dream of a small team of Seiko’s finest watchmakers to create the finest watch possible materialised. Appropriately named Grand Seiko, the 44GS model of 1967 embodied the nine design elements (Series 9) that would guide the future direction of Grand Seiko models. These include the use of reflections or “sparkle of quality” in the form of mirror-polished elements that reflect even the smallest ray of light. Another fundamental aesthetic principle is the subtle interplay of light and shadow. This phenomenon can be appreciated in the ever-changing spectacle produced by Japanese Shoji screens as light filters through the rice paper, and shadows are cast when light hits the opaque surface of the wooden frames.
The Japanese revere nature and celebrate its beauty with seasonal festivals. Instead of our arbitrary Western division of four seasons, Japanese culture recognises the subtle transitions of nature. It divides the seasons into 24 small seasons or sekki, which inspired four GS Elegance GMT models. Located in the Iwate prefecture, which is home to Mount Iwate, one of Japan’s most beautiful mountains and vast tracts of unspoilt nature is Grand Seiko’s Shizukuishi Watch Studio. The setting of the manufacture is intentionally located in a natural setting to motivate the takumi (artisans). Refurbished in 2020 by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, the Shizukuishi workshop is made of wood and glass to blend in with the surrounding landscape.
Inspired by the forests of white birch trees in the region, Grand Seiko unveiled its Hi-Beat SLGH005 “White Birch” model introduced earlier this year. We were so taken with it that it was featured not once but three times in MONOCHROME, including Brice’s in-depth article followed by a video.
The watch we are looking at today was also introduced earlier this year and sits side-by-side with the “White Birch” model in the Heritage collection. Unlike the steel “White Birch”, however, the SLGH007 is a more luxurious limited edition made of 950 platinum.
The first impression you get from the watch is of power. This watch definitely makes a statement with its intense dark dial, black crocodile strap and mighty platinum case. However, once you handle the watch and appreciate the details and finishings, a second, more intriguing personality emerges.
Platinum, which is denser and harder than gold, is notoriously difficult to machine (it wears down conventional tools) and takes three times longer to produce than gold. Nevertheless, once it is formed, it is far more durable and corrosion-resistant than gold. Another advantage of platinum is that if it is scratched, it does not lose volume and can be polished repeatedly. The difficulty entailed in its production, and its superior durability tends to make platinum cases more expensive than gold.
The design of the SLGH007 corresponds to the updates introduced in 2020 that adhere to the rules laid down in 1967 with the 44GS but refresh and modernise the case. Although the case is increased in size from 39.5mm to 40mm, the height is reduced from 13mm to 11.7mm – a welcome novelty that enhances the watch’s elegance.
This anniversary model is well proportioned without being huge and comes with a reassuring water-resistance of 100m. With its slightly curved profile, thin caseband and heavy platinum case, the watch sits solidly yet comfortably on the wrist. The finishings on the case are exceptional. A delicate hairline finishing (vertical brush) is used to decorate the surface of the bezel and lugs. In contrast, the sides of the lugs and bezel are treated to Grand Seiko’s celebrated Zaratsu distortion-free mirror polishing. The contrast between the matte vertical hairline finishings and the bright mirror polishing adds dynamism to the case and brings out the unique bright white tone of platinum. It’s remarkable how the case manages to attract and reflect light, very much in line with GS’s theme of light and shadows.
The protagonist of the SLGH007 is the dial inspired by the tree rings of a cedar. Tree rings indicate the age of a tree, and depending on the width or narrowness of the rings, they indicate fluctuations in the growth of a tree. Light-coloured rings represent wood that grows in spring and early summer, while dark rings are formed in the late summer and autumn. Again, the dial might seem black from a distance, but closer inspection reveals an intriguing swirling pattern of lighter and darker areas to emulate the rings of a cedar tree. When it catches the light, you can appreciate the almost organic texture of the dial with its minuscule variations in depth to recreate the dark and light tones of wood grain.
The impressive attention to detail can be admired on the hands and applied white gold indices. With polished bevels and brushed centres, the thick hour and minute hands and the prominent white gold indices and calendar frame echo the case finishings. Not merely aesthetic, the bright mirror polish attracts light and assists legibility since there is no trace of lume on the dial. As part of Grand Seiko’s tradition, the star at 6 o’clock indicates that the indices and calendar frame are solid gold.
Hi-Beat Calibre 9SA5
To mark Grand Seiko’s 60th anniversary in 2020, the brand introduced a new high-beat mechanical calibre, the foundation stone for an entirely new generation of GS watches. Representing an advancement as revolutionary as the first calibre 9S of 1998 – the base movement powering all watches in the Grand Seiko (barring Spring Drive) collection to date – the new 9SA5 maintains the high-beat frequency of 36,000vph/5Hz but extends the power reserve and adds an extremely rare Dual Impulse Escapement. The challenge for Seiko’s development team was to deliver the same level of stable accuracy found in the 9Sxx hi-beat family but extend the power reserve from 55 hours to 80 hours and slim down the movement. To achieve this, three fundamental structures were redesigned from head to toe using a combination of precision manufacturing tools, the time-honed adjustment skills of the watchmakers at the Grand Seiko’s Studio Shizukuishi and innovative technical solutions.
The Dual Impulse Escapement allows power to be transferred directly from the star-shaped escape wheel to the balance. To counter the increased vibration rate of the balance without lowering the power transfer efficiency, GS made the new components of the calibre using microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology. A new optimised overcoil was also created with a unique curved shape and a new free-sprung balance without a regulator and with four screws to fine-tune the inertia. Twin barrels deliver a robust 80h power reserve, and a new date mechanism, using a movable MEMS technology date finger, ensures the rapid change of date. Despite its enhanced functionality, calibre 9SA5 is 15% slimmer than other GS high-beat movements. Accuracy is rated at +5 to -3 seconds per day.
The decorative details on the movement reveal the deft hand of the artists at the Shizukuishi Watch Studio and are more effusive than movements of the past. The gentle curve on the bridges is meant to evoke the outline of Mount Iwate that can be seen from the windows of the watchmaking studio. Also, the oscillating weight is more open than before, allowing for a better view of the movement. The stripes decorating the bridges appear less “industrial” and add an Haute Horlogerie finish to this calibre 9SA5, alongside the blued screws and the polished bevels.
The sensation of quality is evident throughout, from the meticulous finishings on the case and dial to the exceptional hi-beat calibre. Thanks to the combination of a heavy, resilient platinum case and an intriguing dark dial, this anniversary edition is a watch with a commanding personality. Unfortunately, compared to the Silver Birch model, its price tag is also commanding.
Availability & Price
The Grand Seiko 140th Anniversary Limited Edition comes with a black crocodile strap with a triple folding clasp with push-button release. Limited to 140 pieces, the watch is now available at Grand Seiko boutiques and GS retailers worldwide. The approximate price in Europe is EUR 60,000.
For more information, please visit Grand Seiko.