Hands-On with the Grand Seiko SBGW289 – a Return to Form for the 44GS

The only brand that can outdo Grand Seiko is Grand Seiko. Within days of impressing at Watches & Wonders 2022 with the Evolution 9 sports watches and Kodo constant-force tourbillon, they launched a few new non-limited variations of the increasingly popular 37.3mm SBGW models (always welcome). And then, out of nowhere, a watch that will likely become a new cult classic. Well, not really the watch, but the case, and to call it new isn’t exactly correct either, but no matter how you slice it, the SBGW289 and the 36.5mm 44GS case are winners, and I got to check them out in the metal.

Grand Seiko SBGW289 on the wrist
The SBGW289 fits so well

Released in celebration of the 55th anniversary of the 44GS, the SBGW289 is a return to a smaller case that more closely reflects the 1967’s proportions (we covered the launch here). Compared to the 40mm 44GS models that have been central to Grand Seiko’s lineup spanning nearly all their movements from 9F quartz to the new 9SA5 dual-impulse and 9RA2 5-day spring drives, at 36.5mm x 42.7mm and with an 18mm lug width the 289 is quite small. Powered by the manual wound 9S64 caliber it’s also fairly thin for a Grand Seiko, coming in around 11.6mm with a boxed crystal. These numbers combine to make it a very welcome and exciting addition to the GS catalog.

The dial of the SBGW289
The soft pink dial is quite subtle

That said, numbers are all well and good but nothing matters until you see it in the metal. Grand Seikos in particular are watches that are hard to fully appreciate in photos as their faceted cases, dial textures, and unexpected proportions require motion and scale to comprehend. They also tend to look a bit flat in top-down photos, which is very far from the truth. Luckily, I got a generous amount of time to handle and try on a demo model (nonworking, but correct weight) and I can tell you, this is the Grand Seiko a lot of people, myself included, have been waiting for.

The 40mm SBGA375
Note the wider flanks of the SBGA375

When I was first considering purchasing a Grand Seiko in early 2021 I had a mental list of requirements for the watch, one of which was that it clearly spoke to the “Grammar of Design,” at least as I see it. The wide, flat, Zaratsu polished mid-case of the 44GS-inspired cases most clearly embodied this concept and had a visual language that felt the most distinct. Something you’d never see from a European brand. Spring drive was another must, which led me to the SBGA375 (review forthcoming, I promise!). But, on paper, the numbers didn’t appeal to me.

40mm and 12.5mm thick is not what I thought I was looking for in a watch I expected would fill a role as my go-to watch for nice occasions. Especially considering the price, I wanted it to be perfect. Small, but not tiny, thin, but not delicate, and, of course, beautifully finished. I was so torn I went to the Grand Seiko pop-up twice to try it on before making my purchase. On my first visit, I was immediately surprised by how poorly the numbers described the actual fit of the 375.

The SBGA375 on the wrist
A watch that wears a lot better than the numbers might suggest

Sure, it wasn’t small or thin, but it didn’t read like a 40mm sports watch either. The mix of wide, Zaratsu polished metal flanks, 19mm lug width, a mid-case that is only flat for a millimeter or two, quickly angling away in great, flat planes, and a dial opening that is relatively small made it look great on my wrist. The 44GS, like many Seiko divers, has magic to it. In fact, my second trip wasn’t to reconfirm that the 375 fit, it was because I was debating going for the boutique edition hi-beat GMT LE, which was even thicker, but oh, so gorgeous. The 375 won out due to the movement and by being immediately available (I’m impatient).

Shot of the SBGW289
The dial is proportionatley larger

With that in mind, which is to say that my experience with the 375 led me to believe the 44GS cases wear smaller than their numbers, I was actually concerned that the 289 might be too small. Well, they figured it out. Though small, particularly lug-to-lug, the mass of the metal from the Zaratsu polished flanks adds body and visual weight on the wrist. That said, they reduced their overall span. On the 375, the flanks protrude past the bezel, actually letting the crown nestle within ever-so-slightly, contributing to a visually smaller dial and overall watch. On the 289, the flanks tuck under the bezel, allowing for a larger dial, proportionally, which always leads to greater wrist presence.

Lugs of the SBGW289
18mm lug width

Another concern was the lug width. The 375 has a 19mm lug width, arguably small on a 40mm, but it works, yet doesn’t leave much room for scaling down. And at the risk of sounding like a snob, anything under 18mm is a deal-breaker. Luckily, Grand Seiko managed to make it 18mm, which is proportionally wider than the lug width on the 375. The result is a broader shoulder that also adds to an overall larger than expected feel. This was especially true on the steel bracelet which was in the typical, barely-tapered Grand Seiko style. Though I didn’t get a chance to try it on a strap, which is how I would wear it, I imagine it would feel a bit smaller, though the lugs would be more accentuated.

Side view of the SBGW289
Facets and undercuts make the case feel and wear thin

Lastly, the thickness, or thinness depending on your mood, was just right as well. 11.6mm isn’t thin in the scheme of watches, but it is on the thinner side of Grand Seikos, and once again, the 44GS case has some tricks up its – mid-case. If the 12.5mm of the 375 can be mitigated, then 11.6mm, which includes a box sapphire the 375 doesn’t, should dissipate with ease. And, it does. The SBGW289 rides low to the wrist, with the very thin brushed midline of the case barely registering as the side. The undercut design lets the case sit in, and a chunk of the height disappears through the crystal.

Wrist shot of the SBGW289
It rides nice and low

What this all comes down to is a watch that wore just beautifully, if you couldn’t tell. Immediately when I put it on my 7” wrist, all of my concerns and questions were eased, and I was left with that same feeling I had when I first put the 375 on – I just wanted it. It was that ideal balance of size and presence, where neither felt compromised. There was also a reassuring solidity to it, which is to say it had the same build quality I’ve found on larger models, and hoped for.

This is what I always wanted from a Grand Seiko design, and likely would have gone for when I was first looking for a GS (not that I’m disappointed with the 375). It immediately reminded me of the few times I had a vintage model on my wrist (still kicking myself for not getting on years ago), yet had the new, crisp feel of a modern watch. It was refined and elegant, yet aggressive in the right ways, and had that distinct Grand Seiko look. That Grammar of Design aesthetic that makes their watches look like no one else’s (and dangerously addictive).

Of course, the case isn’t the whole story with the SBGW289. The dial builds on the recent success of the SBGA413 and the Kira Zuri dials from various models. It’s a light, silvery pink, inspired by cherry blossoms still covered in snow, and features a slight texture that adds a dynamic element. It’s every bit as subtle and poetic as their other nature-born dials, perhaps even more so as there was a gentle quality to it that even the SBGA413 lacks given its coarser texture. While pink might not be for everyone I’ve found, especially on the right strap, that this pale tone is versatile and the kind of unexpected color that is enjoyable to have in your collection.

The grand seiko SBGA413
The dial texture of the Shunbun is more aggressive

Oddly, the SBGW289 is actually like a hybrid of the three Grand Seiko’s in my watch box (lame humble brag). It features a version of the 44GS case from the SBGA375, the cherry blossom-inspired soft silvery pink dial of the SBGA413, and the Kira Zuri texture, 9S64 caliber, and smaller-scale from the SBGW277. I suppose the SBGW289 was the watch I was really waiting for, I just didn’t know it. Conveniently, I missed out and having those other three have me more than covered. But, knowing this case is now in Grand Seiko’s arsenal, and that the brand isn’t shy about iterating on a concept, has me excited for a future variant that will be right for me. While I’m not sure if the 9R31 manual-wound spring drive movement would fit in a case this small, that would be my ideal combination, though a less expensive 9F would be great too. Can’t wait to see what they do with it. Grand Seiko

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Zach is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of Worn & Wound. Before diving headfirst into the world of watches, he spent his days as a product and graphic designer. Zach views watches as the perfect synergy of 2D and 3D design: the place where form, function, fashion and mechanical wonderment come together.
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