Hands-On: The Semi-Sweet Grand Seiko SBGW293 (w/ Video)

Mmm… chocolate. Yes, that’s how I’m starting this hands-on with the delicious Grand Seiko SBGW293. Deal with it. This is a watch I was eagerly awaiting when, earlier this year, Grand Seiko announced the SBGW289 LE, which featured a new, 36.5mm case based on their superb 44GS design. I didn’t know the 293 would be coming, but I assumed, correctly, that Grand Seiko wouldn’t introduce a new case design for a one-off LE. What I didn’t expect, however, is that they would follow it with two core models, including one with a silky smooth chocolate dial.

Not into chocolate? How about tobacco, espresso, or crunchy fallen leaves under your boot on a fall hike? No matter how you slice it, the 293 features a rich, earthy, and smooth dark brown dial with a subtle, sunray texture. As I discussed in my owner’s review of the SBGA375, which features a blue dial with the same finish, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill sunray texturing. Though Grand Seiko might be known for its more exotic textures, their mastery of basics is not to be overlooked. This “sunray” is impossibly smooth, creating a surface with a dynamic color range and surprising depth. Sticking with the chocolate theme, you’ll find everything from family-friendly milk chocolate to savory dark in the range of tones on display.

Why am I raving over a brown dial? Well, they aren’t very common, which is a shame, and the 293 being a core model immediately makes it a unique offering on the market. Blues, blacks, grays, and even greens, are so common at this point that you have your fair pick. But, want a brown, especially a brown that is not in use for the purposes of simulating a “tropical” patina, and you are highly limited. The 293 fills a gap in the market and does so deliciously.


Hands-On: The Semi-Sweet Grand Seiko SBGW293 (w/ Video)

Stainless Steel
Grand Seiko 9S64 Manual Wound
Sunray Brown
Brown Gator
Water Resistance
100 m
36.5 x 42.7mm
Lug Width

As with any Grand Seiko dial, the surface is only part of the story. The applied dial markers are stunning as well, each featuring several facets that glint as they catch the light, and graining so fine you can’t see it with the naked eye. Silver lines mark the minutes, and Grand Seiko’s logos adorn the dial just under 12. There’s no date, as per the manual-wound 9S64 movement (more on that later). The hands are exceptionally slim tapering needles with brushed centers and polished, beveled sides. That they can fit so much finishing in such small spaces never ceases to amaze.

Of course, what likely brings you to the 293 first isn’t the dial, but the case. A needed addition to Grand Seiko’s lineup, it celebrates one of their quintessential designs and does so more faithful to the original’s proportions. At 36.5 x x 42.7 x 11.9mm it’s one of the smallest mechanical watches in the GS catalog that isn’t specifically marketed towards women, yet every millimeter shouts Grand Seiko. The wide zaratsu polished flanks, nearly-harsh outlines, tapers, undercuts, and judicious use of brushing all give it the unmatched combination of craft and design that is the 44GS legacy. In other words, it’s damn nice.

When I had the chance to see the SBGW289, it was in a controlled environment, with a non-working sample. Nevertheless, it left enough of an impression for me to write a whole article. With the 293, I’ve had weeks in the real world (sorry GS for the slow turnaround – tough time of year) to try it out. And, well, my initial assumptions were correct, it’s a joy to wear. Like a little steel jewel on the wrist, it has all of the character and charm one seeks in a Grand Seiko, but in a compact, dress-ready, design. It’s light, it’s nimble, it easy to forget it’s there, but easy to notice at a glance too. None of that surprised me. What did was how much I liked having a brown dial. I’m an earth-tone-guy and have plenty of green-dialed watches to show it, but none in a deep, chocolate brown. I didn’t know what I was missing.

Compared to the 40mm x 46.2mm x 12.5mm of the SBGA375, the 36.5 x x 42.7 x 11.9mm of the 293 feels radically smaller and different. Though the visual similarities are clear, they aren’t in competition with one another. The 375 is the 4-door sedan, the family-friendly cross-over SUV-thing. The 293 is the sexy two-door you take out on the town. Sure, it can also be your daily driver, but it feels more like the special occasion watch I originally expected the 375 to be (check out the review for more on that). The lack of date and manual winding support that idea as well.

And this is where I’ll announce my one complaint/concern with the 293. Winding it is a bit of a pain. The crown is small and slightly tucked away, making cranking the watch up a less-than-lovely experience. The 9S64 is a 72-hour movement, so it takes a lot of turns to get it up to a full tank. We’re talking well over 50, thanks to the tiny crown and limited range of motion. I didn’t expect this to be an issue, but I also have at my disposal (errr, my personal collection) the 9S64-powered SBGW277, which by comparison, is a much easier and more enjoyable watch to wind. On that watch, the crown is a bit wider, a touch longer, fully exposed, and has a slightly rounded profile, vs the 293’s straight cylinder. The difference is that one is a joy to wind, and the other is a bit of a chore.

While on the topic, however, the 9S64 is a fantastic movement, in my experience, and a bit of an underappreciated hero in Grand Seiko’s lineup. Sure, it’s not exotic. It’s not a hyper-accurate Spring Drive, or a 36,600 bph hi-beat, or even automatic, nor does it have a date. Instead, it’s simple, robust, and keeps good time. It’s a pure experience of a mechanical watch. It’s 28,800 bph, features a 72-hour power reserve, 24-jewels, hacking seconds, and has a “mean daily rate” of +5 to -3 seconds per day, which is Grand Seiko’s way of saying that the uncased movement is regulated and tested to beyond chronometer specs. Though the 293 has a closed back with GS’s lion medallion at center, the 9S64 is also easy on the eyes. Clearly designed with robustness in mind, the view from the back is of a nearly full plate with a separate balance bridge, both striped with continuous, deep lines.

So, where does that leave us? Well, the Grand Seiko SBGW293 is an impressive watch. It’s a joy to wear, it’s great to look at, and though it might be a bit annoying to wind, the kind of watch that will always bring a smile to your face. I’m a big 44GS-case fan. When I first set out to buy a Grand Seiko, I immediately went for that line. Luckily, the 36.5mm case wasn’t available yet, as it might have proved hard to pass by. If you’re looking for that pure GS style, but don’t want the (admittedly tolerable) bulk of the 40mm 44GS cases, this is the one for you.

At $5,200, the SBGW293 is right in the thick of things with Grand Seiko, making their own collection its biggest competition. You have the 37.3mm elegance-line hand winders, like the SBGW277, which generally come in a little lower, at $4,800 (non-LEs). Then, you have the larger 44GS models, which start at $3,200 for a 9F model, and at $5,200 for a Spring Drive on a bracelet, like the SBGA375, which I can’t help but feel is the better value. In the end, it really comes down to the experience you seek from the watch and what purpose it will serve in your collection. Personally, I’d love to see this case fit with a 9F. That would resolve the crown issue, lower the price (in theory), up the accuracy, and, for a dork like me with a few Grand Seikos already in their collection, mix together a case with a movement that I’d like to add. 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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