Grand Seiko’s Latest Limited Edition is a Urushi Lacquered Version of the “First” with a Gold Touch

Grand Seiko has unveiled a new limited edition paying tribute to their very first watch, released in 1960. The occasion, of course, is the celebration of Seiko’s 110th anniversary, for which the traditional gift is allegedly something cast in Brilliant Hard Titanium. Ok, that might not actually be true. But the new SBGW295 makes tasteful use of Grand Seiko’s signature lightweight case metal while also incorporating some traditional Japanese craft in a way that Seiko and Grand Seiko have become known for. 

Let’s take a look at the big picture first and state the obvious right away: this isn’t exactly new ground for Grand Seiko. They’ve returned to the design of the “First” (an on-the-nose nickname for an initial release if there ever was one) a number of times over the years. They’ve even made a version of the First in titanium, as an anniversary model, just three years ago. You would be forgiven for a rolling of the eyes if you remember that release and think to yourself that perhaps Grand Seiko should be trying something new. The new SBGW295 is, like many new Grand Seikos, an iteration on something that came before with only small changes. That’s a fair critique. But in a vacuum, the SBGW295 has a certain undeniable appeal. 

That comes largely from the gorgeous black dial, which has been made using an Urushi lacquer process that incorporates several layers of lacquer for a dial with real depth and a handmade quality. Use of this particular type of lacquer is about as traditional as you can get when it comes to Japanese handcrafts, and has historically been used as a preservation tool of sorts. Objects that have been treated with Urushi can be effectively preserved for centuries, while also adding a level of refinement to a modern object like a watch dial. According to Grand Seiko, the Urushi used for this dial was sourced in Japan, which is rare as the lacquer is commonly produced outside of the country today. 

The hour markers, at first glance, appear to be gold versions of the typical Grand Seiko indices, but they are actually painstakingly handmade by a master craftsman using multiple layers of enamel, and then coated with maki-e, a fine gold dust that gives them additional texture. The gradual build up of the markers layer by layer is a labor intensive and precise process with little room for error, and the fact that they might be mistaken for regular applied batons is ultimately a testament to the talent of the artisan in his ability to obtain what appears to be perfect uniformity from marker to marker, and on a curved dial, no less. It’s ultimately this level of handcraft that separates the SBGW295 from other recent iterations of the First. 

That said, the case is the same as the one that debuted three years ago. The Brilliant Hard Titanium is said to be brighter than steel, but still capable of being finished to the degree that we’d expect from Grand Seiko. The case shape is a fairly meticulous recreation of the case from 1960, but the size has been increased slightly to 38mm (it’s only 10.9mm thick). The movement inside is the hand wound Caliber 9S64, a no nonsense and reliable mechanical movement with 72 hours of power reserve found throughout Grand Seiko’s Elegance line. 

The SBGW295 is a limited edition of 500 pieces, and will be available beginning in February. The retail price is $13,800, a figure which has already spawned a bit of commentary, to put it nicely, on social media. It’s an expensive watch, for sure, and feels even pricier compared to watches like my own SBGW283 and the many others like it (straight up affordable in comparison, retailing for less than $5,000) and the SBGW259 linked above, which debuted with a retail price of $8,400 in 2020. Grand Seiko is hoping that customers see value in the largely hand finished dial as well as the limited production of the piece itself. Grand Seiko

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Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.