Grand Seiko’s history dates back to 1960 when Japanese brand Seiko decided to up the ante and introduced a gold chronometer watch – a watch that was reissued in 2017. Another important date in the brand’s history is 1998. That year, Grand Seiko introduced Calibre 9S, an entirely new movement designed to become the base for most of the mechanical watches we know today. Twenty years later, it’s time to celebrate with a trilogy of commemorative watches, including the desirable and perfectly executed Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 Calibre 9S 20th-Anniversary SBGH267 we’re about to look at.
The 20th anniversary of the Grand Seiko 9S Calibre
In 1998, Seiko launched Calibre 9S, a movement designed from scratch and new on all levels. From the very beginning, this movement was meant to be the cornerstone of the entire collection, which it has become since all mechanical watches in the GS collection today (not the Spring Drive pieces) are powered by a movement that is based on the 9S architecture. The conception of this movement was clear: reliability, functionality, adaptability (several complications, including a chronograph, can be added to the base calibre) and precision.
Several versions, all of them with self-winding capacity, have seen the light. Some feature a simple time-and-date display, some add a GMT function, many run on a high-beat frequency – the 36000 models, with their 5Hz frequency. Ever since its introduction, the 9S calibre has been continuously enhanced, with new Spron alloys for both the main and balance springs and MEMS engineering, a technique that allows key components to be manufactured to tolerances as small as one-thousandth of a millimetre.
Three special edition watches
For Baselworld 2018, Grand Seiko wanted to pay homage to this movement, known as one of the best three-hand movements around, with three new limited edition watches. All of them share the same spirit as the movement that ticks inside their case: reliability, of course, but mainly high-precision, including the comeback of three legendary letters: VFA (very fine adjustment). Here are the three Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 Calibre 9S 20th Anniversary References: SBGH265 – SBGH266 – SBGH267.
These three new references share the same base movement – Calibre 9S85 – as well as the same, newly designed case, with a very reasonable 39.5mm diameter. Also, a new type of dial, with a radial geometric pattern, showing a mosaic of GS logos, is included on all three variants.
The reference SBGH265 is limited to 20 pieces worldwide and is manufactured from 950 platinum – for the case and the folding buckle. Its dial is presented in a silvery-white colour, with silver hours and minutes hands and a blued seconds hand. Note the three letters on the dial of reference SBGH265: VFA, for Very Fine Adjustment – a mention first used in 1969. In fact, on this platinum version, Calibre 9S is adjusted to “+3 to -1 seconds per day”, after a testing programme extended to 34 days – all of that in excess of the usual Grand Seiko standards. The back reveals the high-beat movement, with the rotor adorned with a gold medallion.
The second version is the Reference SBGH266, presented in 18k yellow gold, with only 150 pieces produced. Inside the case is the same high-beat 5Hz movement, this time regulated to “normal” Grand Seiko standards, meaning a very precise +4 to -2 seconds per day. The dial has a silvery-white colour, with the signature radial pattern and small GS mosaic. All the hands and the indices are crafted in yellow gold, to match the case.
Finally, there’s the steel version of this watch, the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 Calibre 9S 20th-Anniversary SBGH267 – not only the most accessible of the three (in terms of price and number of pieces produced) but also the boldest of the three, as we will see now.
The Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 Calibre 9S 20th-Anniversary SBGH267
In addition to the two ultra-limited and pricey limited editions in platinum and gold seen above, the Calibre 9S 20th-anniversary collection also includes a steel model. Of course, this means a more affordable (just above EUR 6K) and more available (1,500 pieces) edition, but that doesn’t mean a less desirable, less handsome watch. In fact, it is the boldest of the three and the one that has the most spectacular view movement-side. And steel has this pure, utilitarian and wearable feel that fits rather well with the conception of what a Grand Seiko watch is.
As for the case of this Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 Calibre 9S 20th-Anniversary SBGH267, we have the exact same design as its platinum and gold siblings. This means a newly shaped case, measuring a reasonable 39.5mm diameter and 13mm in height – note: Grand Seiko should probably work on this part, in order to make its watches a tad slimmer. Although the design of the case is new, it remains nevertheless very GS in the style: sharp angles, robust casebands, integrated lugs. No surprises there.
What impresses most is the execution and the attention to details applied to these cases – a signature element of all Grand Seiko watches, and this SBGH267 is no exception to the rule. Even though it is made in a more common material, this watch undergoes the same drastic polishing process called “Zaratsu”. The Zaratsu technique (or blade polishing), which creates a distortion-free mirror finish, is an ancient method of hand-polishing used on Japanese fighting swords.
Time-consuming and only done by veteran watchmakers, it is executed on all GS watches, whether crafted in noble materials or simple stainless steel. The result is, as always, extremely satisfying. Angles are sharp, flat surfaces are ultra-bright, lines between the different surfaces are neat and clean. A superb detail on this SBGH267 (and the gold and platinum versions too): the thin, sharp brushed line on the inner side of the lugs… That’s proper attention to details.
This steel version is worn on a metallic bracelet – a 3-link steel bracelet with satin-finished surfaces and polished accents – with a three-fold clasp with a push-button release. This results in a much sportier look than the two other versions and makes this SBGH267 a more casual, daily-oriented timepiece. This is also true when looking at the dial. Gold and platinum versions have traditional silvery-white opaline dials. The steel version of this Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 Calibre 9S 20th-Anniversary sets the casual tone with a deep blue dial.
The dial of the SBGH267 is rather impressive when seen in macro images. Its texture appears more present than it is in the real life – no worries, the geometric pattern with GS initials and radial motif is much subtler when worn and seen at normal distances. As all GS watches, the execution is here again superb: applied indices with polished facets and brushed flat surfaces, date window framed by a bevelled metallic part and hour and minutes in pure GS style, with ultra-sharp profile and polished facets on the sides (certainly some of the nicest hands on the market). To give a warmer and bolder look to the watch, the seconds hand and the GS logo at 12 o’clock are gold-coloured.
If all of this is extremely pleasant and classical for a GS watch, turning over the SBGH267 is a different experience. Welcome to science fiction. The view from the caseback is indeed quite a surprise. Not that the movement itself is different from other GS watches equipped with the 9S calibre, but the rotor on top is highly decorated and treated in a modern, bold manner. First, this oscillating weight is shaped like a star with five spokes and has a complex, rich blue colour. Made of titanium and tungsten, the titanium surface is coloured blue by an anodic oxidation process (not a painting process but a treatment of the material itself, made to last). Titanium is subjected to electrolysis to artificially generate an oxide film. Titanium oxide film produces colour according to the light refraction index, enabling the production of different colours by varying the thickness of the oxide film. Such treatment is also found on the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 GMT Limited Edition SBGJ021 (with the same 9S base calibre).
As for the movement, the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 SBGH267 has the calibre 9S85, meaning the time-and-date 5Hz version, with automatic winding. In the context of this steel edition, it is regulated to +5 to -3 seconds per day (and not the “very fine adjusted” movement of the platinum model). This calibre is known to be reliable and offers great comfort on a daily basis, with a 55h power reserve. Furthermore, the smooth ballet of the seconds hand (thanks to the 5Hz frequency) is always a pleasure to contemplate.
Overall, there’s no doubt that this Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 Calibre 9S 20th-Anniversary SBGH267 is another great watch by the Japanese manufacture. Superbly executed, casual and wearable on a daily basis, powered by a great movement and featuring several exclusive details, it is also well-positioned in terms of price (EUR 6,300). There will be 1,500 pieces produced. More details on www.grand-seiko.com.