Grand Seiko at Baselworld 2017

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One of the challenges of Baselworld is the amount of Klondike-like panning needed to separate the facts from the adjectival PR silt in which they’re buried. In fact, it’s less like panning for gold and more like dredging. There may even be scope for a dedicated Baselworld Buzzword Bingo card.

Once you’ve found ‘cutting-edge novelties’ (we’ve changed the strap), ‘unrivalled craftsmanship’ (another ETA movement in a fashion case), ‘global brand (we’ve got a serviced office in Hong Kong) and ‘remarkable creation’ (yet another ETA movement in a fashion case), you can shout “MAISON!” and win a special edition Swatch.

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Something interesting always shines up from the mud though. And this year, it was Grand Seiko’s new SBGR305. There’s a new case in a new case material and a new movement too. But more of that in a sec… there’s also news of how Seiko sees the future for Grand Seiko.

Seiko’s President and CEO, Shinji Hattori, has announced, “…we are today taking one step further and presenting Grand Seiko as an entirely separate brand.” He went on to explain, “On all the creations we are presenting here at Baselworld, the Grand Seiko logo is at the 12 o’clock position and this will also be true for all Grand Seiko watches from now onwards.”

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Without understanding what ‘independence’ involves, It’s hard to know if this is more than a simple brand tweak and a relocated logo. But it does seem to be another step for GS in its move away from being a Japanese market-only brand.

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Hattori-sama is certainly not hanging around in his mission to launch new models. Baselworld sees a recreation of the very first Grand Seiko from 1960 (three new watches – platinum, gold and stainless cases) as well as two variations of the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 Professional 600m Diver and that rather lovely SBGR305.

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The recreations, SBGW251, 252 and 253. are typically under-the-radar, understated Grand Seiko and all the better for it. No bling here, just quiet, classical GS class. If you’re not a watchie, you’d just assume they were standard, cooking Seikos and stroll on by. But if you know your stuff, they’re a delight and an antidote to the full-on Basel bling.

Each has a slightly different GS logo but all run the same cal. 9S64 movement. Of course, like pretty much everything that comes from Seiko, it’s designed and made in-house. The top of the line platinum model runs a tuned 9S64 that’s adjusted to a quartz-whupping -1/+5 seconds a day.

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You get the now traditional GS sword hands, dial detail and depth that would stand up to electron microscopy, proper wearability (30m water resistance, anti-reflective crystals) and fine points of design that keep you checking your wrist even when you don’t need to know the time. The stainless-cased model runs a blued seconds hand, for example. Doesn’t sound like much, but it lifts the watch from ‘worthy but potentially unappealing’ to ‘properly sophisticated’.

The two divers manage to be robust, seriously usable diving watches whilst still being elegant. Mind you, It’s the sort of slightly menacing elegance that Mercedes managed with their V8, Porsche co-engineered bruiser, the 500E.

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Like the SBGR305, the SBGH257 and 258 are titanium-cased and zaratsu polished. And, being proper saturation diving watches, the cases are designed for helium resistance – but without a valve. The whole idea is to use clever gasketry to keep the case free from pesky helium molecules in the first place.

If you fancy the blue dialled variant you’d best get moving – there will only be 500. The black dial will, according to GS, become a permanent part of the GS range.

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Then there’s the SBGR305, the newest of the GS range and the first new design to emerge from the new, independent Grand Seiko. Like it’s retro brothers, it’s powered by the in-house (of course) automatic cal. 9S68, beating away at 28,800 bph.

The SBGR305 is recognisably Grand Seiko, but looks a little more modern. For a start, it’s larger than the non-diver GSes too, at 40mm, with a 100m water-resistant case. The zaratsu-polished case is a super-hard proprietary titanium that Seiko says is twice as hard as stainless steel. The back is, unusually, a display sapphire, so the cal. 9S68 gets a chance to flaunt a bit. Again, typically GS, it’s a movement you’d not notice but you see a lot to like when you bother to look closely.

We won’t know until later in the year what Grand Seiko’s independence really looks like. But we do know that it’s unlikely to mean revolution. We’re not about to see a GS smartwatch anytime soon, for example. From past experience, though, it should be an interesting journey.


for more, head to Grand Seiko’s Website

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Mark developed a passion for watches at a young age. At 9, he was gifted an Omega Time Computer manual from a local watch maker and he finagled Rolex brochures from a local dealer. Today, residing in the Oxfordshire village of Bampton, Mark brings his technical expertise and robust watch knowledge to worn&wound.
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  • Porter Hudson

    I am a huge Seiko fan and I’m not ignorant of the massive difference in quality but am I the only one that can’t get past the Grand Seiko seeming like buying the most expensive house in the cheapest neighborhood thing?

    • Josh

      Yes. 😉

    • Richard Baptist

      I was in NY city and I visited tons of watch boutiques. I went to Breguet, looked at the type XXI, I looked at omega watches, I looked at some tags, I saw some rolexes. The best price to quality ratio was the Grand Seiko snowflake, yes there were watches with fancier movements and finishing but they cost 2 -3 times as much. Coupled with a spring drive movement, I’d say they’re the best bang for the buck. Also their GMT spring drive chronos are a technical tour de force. I’ll take a grand seiko over a significant amount of watches out there based on what you get for the price.

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