The Grand Seiko White Birch, first of its name, the version with a Hi-Beat Automatic movement known under the reference SLGH005, has been an immense success since its presentation in early 2021. Obviously, with its newly designed case, its handsome silvered and textured dial, and its mechanically impressive movement, there’s a lot to love in this watch. A couple of weeks ago, Grand Seiko launched a sister watch, this time equipped with a Spring Drive movement, under the name Grand Seiko White Birch SLGA009. And this could have been one of our shortest articles… But (because there has to be one), things are a bit more complex and the new White Birch Spring Drive is not just a different movement. So, let’s have a closer look at this new SLGA009 and see what changes compared to the SLGH005. Spoiler alert: it’s going to be geeky…
As said, the article to present the new Grand Seiko White Birch Spring Drive SLGA009 could have been extremely short. “Meet, the new Spring Drive version, it has this new Calibre 9RA2 and all the rest is identical. For more details, check our review of the Hi-Beat Automatic SLGH005.” Well, the reality is a bit different, and encasing a different movement in an existing watch is never easy. As such, one could have expected some slight differences in the case dimensions of this new SLGA009, which is in fact true. And maybe, some of the dial elements could have changed too, due to a different position of the date window or different stem for the hands. Also true. And then, the rest would have been the same.
Except that this new Grand Seiko White Birch Spring Drive goes a bit deeper into the modifications… Surely, we’re talking about subtle changes, and the overall look remains very similar. But also, in addition to having an entirely different calibre – we’re talking about a completely different technology – there’s something to the dial of the SLGA009 that makes quite a difference with the SLGH005. And when you combine these two evolutions, you end up with quite opposite watches.
Note: before moving into the details, keep in mind that both watches have been photographed in different environments, explaining the important difference in the way the dials are reflecting the ambient light. Both have silvery-white dials, with the Spring Drive SLGA009 appearing substantially more white than the Hi-Beat SLGH005 and its pronounced silver colour.
White Birch SLGA009 vs. SLGH005 – The facts
Before moving into the real deal and reviewing this new Grand Seiko White Birch Spring Drive SLGA009, we thought it would be interesting to have a short summary of the similarities and differences between the SLGA009 (Spring Drive) and the SLGH005 (Hi-Beat).
- Case diameter identical, at 40mm
- Slightly longer lug-to-lug – 47.6mm (+0.6mm) – on the SLGA009
- Case thickness is 11.8mm for the SLGA009 and 11.7mm for the SLGH005
- Same overall case shape and finishing, from the Evolution 9 collection, 100m water-resistance and screw-down crown for both watches
- Same bracelet on both watches, with 3-link construction, brushed surfaces, three-fold clasp with push-button release
- Slight modification of the profile on the SLGA009, where the bracelet meets the case, between the lugs (larger polished band)
- Crown is taller on the SLGA009
- New texture for the dial of the SLGA009, appearing less pronounced but more structured, more of a recurring pattern
- Inner flange is slightly wider on the SLGA009
- No more black painted marker next to the date window on the SLGA009
- Hours and minutes hands are identical
- New “capped” seconds hand in blued steel for the SLGA009
- Slightly larger date window on the SLGA009
- A new Spring Drive movement for the SLGA009 (obviously, and it’s the main difference)
The Case of the White Birch SLGA009
At first sight, it would have been fair to think that both watches were sharing the same case. Except that, as said, it’s not that easy to encase a new movement in an existing case. Some adjustments had to be made. Looking at the SLGA009, at a glance, the overall design and the basics are identical. The diameter, for instance, still is 40mm and is quite compact. What changed on paper is the thickness, with an extremely important (not really…) difference of 0.1mm, which is about the thickness of a human hair. Not really significant, right? In the same vein, the lug-to-lug is announced now at 47.6mm, versus 47mm for the SLGH005. Again, 0.6mm is not something you’ll notice. So, on the wrist, almost nothing has changed.
The design, again at first sight, is the same too. We have here the new generation of cases from the Evolution 9 collection – watches with the new 9R or 9S movements – with a more curved profile, more brushed parts, thinner polished bevels on the sides and a newly designed bezel, slightly more pronounced than usual and with a flat surface on top that is vertically brushed – something that slightly reduces the diameter of the dial and incidentally the perceived size of the watch. And if it is still compliant with the so-called “Grammar of Design” established in 1967 with the 44GS, this new case feels more modern and brings fresh air to the collection.
So what changes, then? There are two noticeable differences between the White Birch Spring Drive SLGA009 and the Hi-Beat SLGH005. First, the polished band where the bezel and the bracelet are connected, between the lugs. It is wider on the SLGA009, making the case visually a bit more extended and giving the polished bevels inside the lugs a bit more depth. Second, the crown of the SLGA009 is taller and maybe marginally larger (we’re talking tenths of millimeters if ever there’s a difference) making it easier to use, but slightly less elegant.
The rest of the case appears identical, with the same dual-curved sapphire crystal with effective anti-reflective coating on top, a screwed caseback with a see-through crystal, a screw-down crown and a comfortable 100m water-resistance. The finishing, which combines thin hairlines with mirror, distortion-free (Zaratsu) polished surfaces is still the same too, and thus still extremely precise and visually appealing. The case remains made of stainless steel and thus has a certain heft. Grand Seiko announces 176 grams with the bracelet for this White Birch Spring Drive SLGA009, while the Hi-Beat SLGH005 is given for 178 grams. Again, insignificant differences.
In the same vein, Grand Seiko retains the same brushed stainless steel bracelet for its newly introduced White Birch SLGA009. It thus keeps its 3-link construction, with a three-fold clasp and push-button release. Two comments. Considering the different connection between the case and the bracelet, it might be that the end-links have been marginally redesigned. Second, we still miss the practicality of a micro-adjustment clasp on this otherwise well-crafted and comfortable bracelet.
The Dial and hands of the White Birch SLGA009
Ok, this is where things really change between the SLGA009 and the SLGH005. While both watches are nicknamed “White Birch” (or in Japanese Shirakaba, if you want to show off a bit in society) they have actually quite different dials. When the Hi-Beat SLGH005 has been introduced and shown in live images, many were impressed but also noted the very “silver metallic” feel of the dial, maybe not entirely in line with the actual name and inspiration of the watch.
The new Grand Seiko White Birch Spring Drive SLGA009 changes (corrects, if you prefer) things here, with a brand new dial. First of all, compared to the SLGH005, the texture is fairly different. The Hi-Beat watch has a rough, uneven texture with a grainy, almost rocky surface that is quite deeply embossed into the dial’s plate. The new White Birch SLGA009 has a texture that according to the brand is “more subtle and delicate (…) unlike the deep waves of the SLGH005.” Looking at close-up images, you’ll immediately notice a texture that is more refined, thinner, and mostly has less depth in the embossing. It’s also far more structured than before with a recurring movement in the pattern.
This new texture not only adds to the elegance and refinement of the watch – at least, in my eyes, this texture is more pleasant and its repetitive, less deep carving is more suited to a daily-oriented watch. In addition, there’s the way the dial reflects the light. The dial of the SLGA009 appears more matte, less iridescent too. It has less of the metallic, silvered feel of the dial used on the SLGH005. That being said, having different textures and having photographed the watches in different environments isn’t the easiest way to really define the precise colour used by Grand Seiko. What I’d say is this; the texture appears thinner, less pronounced. The dial is more matte and has less shininess. The colour feels whiter on the SLGA009, which is more appealing (personal opinion, of course) and better matches the actual name of the watch.
There are far more obvious evolutions to be seen on the SLGA009. First, what doesn’t change are the bold and bevelled hours/minutes hands with a central matte hairline for the hours’ hand, the applied logo, and the fonts. The text at 6 o’clock is different, reflecting the new movement inside, and the font seems a bit more condensed. The applied markers, also bolder and unique to the Evolution 9 collection, have been retained too. What changes first in the Spring Drive SLGA009 is the date window, which is now wider – a specificity of the Calibre 9RA2 – and as a result, the small black marker on the right of the window in the SLGH005 is now gone.
Another difference on the SLGA009 is the angled inner flange, which is now wider too, and the black minute track printed on its matte surface appears slightly different, with taller markers. Finally, the blued central second has a central polished cap, which might be a requirement of the Calibre 9RA2.
The main difference is the Spring Drive Calibre 9RA2
Of course, this is where both watches differ most. The SLGH005 was equipped with the calibre 9SA5, a modern automatic movement with twin-barrel, 80-hour power reserve, slimmer profile and mostly, an innovative high-frequency (36,000vph) Dual Impulse escapement. The new SLGA009 switches the traditional mechanical engine for the brand’s proprietary technology, a.k.a Spring Drive. A system that combines the best of mechanical and quartz movements, it relies on a highly mechanical architecture with mainspring barrels wound by an oscillating weight, benefiting from the perpetuity of an automatic watch. Yet, it replaces the traditional regulation of a mechanical watch by a quartz crystal inside a module named the “Tri-synchro Regulator.”
The movement found in the Grand Seiko White Birch Spring Drive SLGA009 is based on the brand’s latest developments in this field, as introduced in 2020 with the Grand Seiko Professional Diver 600m SLGA001. The new Calibre 9RA2 is produced in the Grand Seiko Studio Shinshu, while the movement of the SLGH005 is produced Grand Seiko Studio Shizukuishi – and the difference in location can be seen in the decoration of the movement, reflecting the actual surroundings of each studio.
This Calibre 9RA2 is a strong 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 and yet packs 5 days of power reserve (vs. 3 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. More details about the movement in this article. And, as always, Spring Drive brings the benefit of an ultra-smooth sweeping seconds hand.
Thoughts on the White Birch SLGA009
First of all, it’s a wise decision for Grand Seiko to have both an automatic and a Spring Drive version of the White Birch watch in the collection. I think they are clearly not intended for the same type of customer. The Spring Drive technology is not meant for the same typology of watch enthusiasts, as I believe that it requires even more knowledge in watchmaking to truly understand its benefits and to overpass the “quartz” connection here. Also, it’s a pretty good idea from the brand to offer its newest SLGA009 a slightly different dial, just to avoid confusion.
Now, if you ask me which one I’d choose, my heart tells me to prefer a Hi-Beat mechanical engine over GS’s hybrid Spring Drive technology. But, as I don’t (yet) own a Spring Drive watch myself and being now very familiar with the complex technology behind this proprietary architecture, and also seeing all the benefits, I’d be happy to choose the SLGA009 over the SLGH005. And the new, more refined, “more white” dial only helps me in choosing the new one. I have to say that it might be less striking, but once the wow-effect of the SLGH005 is gone, I think that the restrained dial of the SLGA009 will be easier on a daily basis. And since the price is not a question in this duel, my choice is thus easier.
Availability & Price
The Grand Seiko White Birch Spring Drive SLGA009 is launched in the permanent collection and is not limited in production. It will be available in early February 2022 (it is potentially already available in certain markets at the moment of publication) and is priced at EUR 9,500 (incl. taxes) or USD 9,100 (excl. taxes), thus exactly the same price as the White Birch Hi-Beat SLGH005.
For more details, please visit www.grand-seiko.com.