During the past year or so, fans of Grand Seiko have been well treated. The many new and superbly executed watches forming the Evolution 9 collection have provoked some discussions and certainly some sales too. And the two White Birch models, either the Hi-Beat Automatic SLGH005 or the Spring Drive SLGA009, have been some of the most coveted watches in the recent history of the brand. Yet, not everyone will be attracted by these light, intensely textured watches. But you don’t have to feel neglected if the White Birch isn’t your thing. Grand Seiko has more to offer, specifically with the “Lake Suwa” SLGA007, which is basically the same watch, sharing the same qualities, but with a different expression and dial colour that could even make you turn your back to the silvery-white version.
I’m not going to lie; the Grand Seiko White Birch, specifically the Hi-Beat Automatic version launched in 2021, remains one of my favourite watches made by GS. Its darker counterpart, the Green Birch SLGH011, also made quite an impression on me, but clearly, the silvery-white model remains one of the brand’s highlights. The same goes for the Spring Drive evolution of this watch, presented earlier this year, the SLGA009 – the latter somehow toned down the shimmering effect of the dial and presented a more structured, less pronounced textured that addressed some complaints about the original automatic White Birch. And here comes the main issue with the White Birch models. As monochromatic as they are, they remain relatively polarising and bold. The texture applied to the dial of the SLGH005 is stunning but not to everyone’s taste. Some certainly desired something contrasting or something more subtle when it comes to the texture. I don’t even debate this and fully understand that the SLGH005 and SLGA009 can be seen as a bit too original for some.
But Grand Seiko somehow addressed the problem even before the Spring Drive White Birch came on the market, with a blue dial version released in a limited edition, showing a more subtle texture, a more classic combination of colours but still carrying the same qualities and superior execution. The answer to this is named the “Lake Suwa” or the SLGA007.
Basically, you’ll find everything that makes the White Birch a technically and visually spectacular watch. Proportions, mechanics, and finishing are identical, but some differences can be seen, mainly on the dial. Let’s dive into the details. The case, which is made of stainless steel, shows almost perfect proportions for a modern daily beater. The diameter is 40mm, the height could be a tad thinner but remains reasonable at 11.8mm and the 47.6mm lug-to-lug measurement makes it suitable for most wrists. It’s a watch with a contemporary feel on the wrist, but also great comfort and a certain casual elegance. On my side, at least, I can’t complain about the dimensions.
The case is identical to the Spring Drive White Birch, itself close to the Hi-Beat White Birch. But as we’ve seen here, there are some slight differences due to the different movements and the way they need to be encased. We have the new elements of the Evolution 9 collection, starting with a slimmer, more curved profile for the case, which also results in a lower centre of gravity. The case still retains the classic combination of sharp angles, polished accents and brushed areas that have made GS famous since the late 1960s, but here it has been reworked with more subtleness, more discretion and more modernity. There are more brushed parts than before, making the Zaratsu polished areas contrasting elements to dynamise the design. The large dial opening, combined with a vertically brushed bezel with a flat top surface, also enhances this contemporary approach to design. Altogether, the case is superbly detailed, perfectly executed and neatly adjusted.
Still, regarding the case, the Grand Seiko “Lake Suwa” SLGA007 is a watch that is easy to live with on a daily basis. The sapphire crystal has an efficient anti-reflective coating, the crown screws down, and the water-resistance is rated at 100 metres, meaning that it’s a watch that you can easily wear on weekends. In fact, the whole watch has a certain “luxury sports” feeling, even though the bracelet isn’t integrated. This watch is, without a doubt, something to consider if models like the Rolex Datejust, the Oyster Perpetual 41 or the Omega Seamaster Aqua-Terra were part of your wishlist. Typical all-rounder watches that have enough elegance to be worn with a business-casual outfit but that are also appropriate during weekends.
What makes the Grand Seiko “Lake Suwa” SLGA007 unique is its dial. It is, according to the brand, inspired by “the calm waters of Lake Suwa that lies close to the Shinshu Watch Studio where the watch is made,” with a texture that reminiscent of “the gentle sway of the water surface of Lake Suwa, with ripples and shallow waves“. Contrary to the original White Birch watch, with a strong, certainly polarising surface, the dial of the SLGA007 is more subtle and only reveals its true nature in low-angled light. The “wavy” texture of the dial, in many conditions (including when you look at its straight), is very discreet and blends with the rest of the watch. The darker colour is also more classic, more in line with the traditional codes of luxury casual watches. Although it doesn’t pack the same wow effect as the White Birch models, the Lake Suwa will definitely be easier to live with. Plus, in all fairness, a steel watch with a dark blue dial is not something that will be out of fashion soon! The main difference here is that you’ll have a nice texture to play with and not just another sunray-brushed dial.
The rest of the elements are shared with the Spring Drive White Birch. As such, we find the bold applied, faceted and striated markers (the latter being one of the differences between the SLGA and SLGH models), a framed date window that is wider and closer to the dial’s edge and large hands with, as usual, stunning execution combining brushed surfaces and polished bevels. In addition to the blue colour and the wave-inspired texture, the Lake Suwa also features gold-coloured accents on the GS logo and the seconds hand, giving a discreet but welcome touch of colour and originality.
Like most models in the Evolution 9 collection, the SLGA007 is worn on a 3-link stainless steel bracelet, mostly brushed with polished accents and nicely integrated within the whole design. It is closed by a classic folding clasp, which is equipped with an 18k gold GS emblem. And yes, don’t expect a fine-adjustment system – please, GS, work on that.
Under the sapphire caseback is the recent Calibre 9RA2, made in house at the Shinshu Watch Studio. It relies on the brand’s proprietary Spring Drive technology, which merges the precision of a quartz regulation with the beauty and perpetuity of an automatic calibre. This Calibre 9RA2 is a substantial upgrade over previous movements, such as the 9R6x architecture. It improves all elements – size, performance, decoration and functionality – and sets a new standard for any spring-powered watch. The movement is slimmer yet packs five days of power reserve (vs. three days in the past) with dual barrels. It also features a much faster date mechanism and even better accuracy (±0.5 seconds per day or ±10 seconds per month). The Calibre 9RA2 also has enhanced rigidity and shock resistance thanks to the new layout of the gear train. Finally, the decoration has been redefined with frosted plates/bridges contrasting with the blued screw and the diamond-cut edges. And the power reserve is now discreetly visible on the back, thus leaving the texture on the dial intact.
Availability & Price
The Grand Seiko Evolution 9 140th Anniversary Limited Edition “Lake Suwa” SLGA007 is now available from retailers and boutiques. It will be made in 2,021 pieces and is priced at EUR 9,100. For more details, please visit www.grand-seiko.com.