Hands-On with the Grand Seiko SLGH005 “White Birch”

When Grand Seiko launched the SLGH005 White Birch, it felt like the start of a new chapter for the brand. Though technically it wasn’t the first watch in the new Series 9 case, nor the first with the new 9SA5 80-hour hi-beat caliber with in-house dual-impulse escapement (so many hyphens…) it was the first regular production model, so it seemed more real. This is the version we’d be seeing on the wrists of GS enthusiasts on IG and, slowly but surely, in person as well. It represented a new line for the brand that sits a bit higher than others, though below the “masterpieces,” yet firmly positioned in luxury territory.

But when launched, what really stole the show was the dial. Reminiscent of their iconic Snowflake, but entirely its own thing, it mixed a unique texture with a silvery-metallic color, and perhaps an even more dramatic flair than we’re used to. The peaks and valleys of the rippling birch texture were higher and lower, creating deep shadows and sharp highlights. Along with a new case that dances between Zaratsu polish and hairline brushing, a bolder handset, and remarkably complex dial furniture, it felt like Grand Seiko turned up to 11.

Of course, this was all in pictures, so the question remained, what is it really like in the metal? After spending some time with the watch, I can safely say that it meets or exceeds my expectations, at least in terms of design, finishing, and pure style. The Series 9 case is essentially everything you’d want to find in a modern Grand Seiko case, all at once, executed with the utmost taste.


Hands-On with the Grand Seiko SLGH005 “White Birch”

Stainless Steel
Grand Seiko 9SA5
Textured Silver
Water Resistance
40 x 47.5mm
Lug Width

Though part of their heritage collection, nothing about it rings as too directly vintage. As someone who is very familiar with their 44GS case (the SBGA375 has become a regular-wear of mine), which is directly tied to an iconic design, I found this to be refreshingly contemporary. At 40 x 47.5 x 11.9m with 22mm lugs (more on that later) it’s nicely sized, and well-proportioned, though not small. I’d say on paper, I might have wished this watch to be smaller, perhaps down to 38mm as I perceived it as a dressier watch before seeing it in person.

In fact, it’s quite athletic and sporty, so 40mm feels very appropriate. It’s definitely intended as an everyday watch, something my mind doesn’t quite wrap itself around when confronted by a nearly five-figure price tag. If you can forget that number (easier to do when it’s a borrowed sample, admittedly) you can appreciate that it’s a robust watch that can take a smack or two. The 100m water resistance and screw-down speak to this as well. The height, which is on the reserved side for a GS, is also mitigated by cleverly curved lugs that wrap around the wrist, making the watch hug tight.

But of course, where this case truly excels is in the finishing department (or, perhaps, the work of the finishing department truly excels through the case). Though GS might be known for their Zaratsu polishing, which can be found in wide bands along the edge of the case, the hairline brushing on the perfectly flat sides, tops of the lugs and bezel, are almost more eye-catching. Additionally, the polished facets on the insides of the lugs, vis-a-vis the 62GS design, create a continuous flow of lines from the sides of the case, up to the bezel. It manages to be aggressive, but elegant, and thoroughly luxurious, just like – insert the name of your favorite sports car here.

I suppose aggressive but elegant is really the theme here in general, as it describes the vibe of the dial as well. There are elements that are as poetic and ethereal as you’ll find on a GS, and others that are surprisingly strong and bold. Starting with the dial surface and its namesake “white birch” texture, the complexity is striking. It’s a very rough texture, as tree bark typically is, rendered in a silvery-white metal that shimmers at all angles. Rotating your wrist even a couple of degrees dramatically changes the dial, as shadows and highlights jump around. Through a loupe, you can see that not only is it rough in broad strokes, but also on a fine level, as every square millimeter is textured like high grit sandpaper. The result is that at times it looks like bark, at others a metal waterfall, yet others, just an amorphous metallic cloud.

Once you get past the surface, if you can, the applied markers will be the next stop for your eyes. GS has the ability to create markers that reflect light at every angle, and in unexpected lighting situations. While not the same as lume, and a truly dark room will still be an issue, even in low light you’ll get a glint. The markers on the White Birch are larger and more faceted than on other models, pushing this effect even further. In particular, small trenches have been cut in, each featuring impossibly fine brushing, making them reflect differently than the polished surfaces around them. In other words, if the polished surface is dark, the brushed is light, and vice versa, meaning there is always a surface that stands out.

Lastly, the hour hand was sent to the gym to bulk up. Though based on their iconic, albeit not original, dauphine-style hands, which are finished to a razor’s edge, the new hour hand drops the point tip for a blunted end instead. Furthermore, a matte stripe has been run down the center, creating a point of contrast. While I’ve never had an issue telling the hands apart on a GS, this extra bit of differentiation works towards at-a-glance legibility. It’s also one of the features that adds to the unexpected sportiness of the watch.

The White Birch comes mounted to a steel bracelet with a slightly new design for the brand. Though it bears a similarity to the 5-link style found on many of their other watches, the polished bits are gone, giving it a less formal look. It’s also wide. 22mm at the lug, 20m at the clasp. Once again, this adds to the sporty, aggressive side of the watch, but also just adds to the overall mass of metal on your wrist. The thing is, when looking at the watch from the top down, on the bracelet, the 22mm works. But from the side, you’d think you have a larger watch on. Off the bracelet, the 22mm feels too wide as the lugs begin to look quite thin on a leather strap.

With this one caveat in mind, I did find the White Birch quite a pleasure to wear. Though I would have preferred a 20mm lug width – the watch is only 40mm after all – it’s not unbearable, wearing like a watch with integrated lugs. Regardless, it fit my 7” wrist very well and was surprisingly comfortable. It’s not a light watch, but the heft gave it a reassuring solidity. It also rides really low, which is quite appealing, and a marked difference from the Snowflake and SBGE255 I recently reviewed.

It rides pleasantly low to the wrist
Wide band for a 40mm watch

But, moreover, even if it didn’t fit as well, it’s so good-looking, I don’t think I would care. Every angle is stunning – it’s exotic, luxurious, and handsome… The finishing of the case makes you realize what “good finishing” really is, and the dial texture is just out of this world. It’s an everyday watch that will make you look forward to having to wear a suit or blazer, as it’s just going to look the business when you dress up, though I didn’t feel weird wearing it in the heat of the summer with a t-shirt. The fact that it’s so versatile begins to make the price more tolerable as it’s really the kind of watch that can take the place of a few others.

And, of course, there is the 9SA5 movement. It’s easy to forget, given that there is so much going on with the case and dial, that inside is a piece of genuine haute horology. This is a next-level caliber from the brand that brings together years of research with proprietary technologies, such as their use of MEMS, and decades of experience. The result is the only 80-hour caliber with a frequency of 36,000 bph, or 10hz, on the market as far as I am aware.

Additionally, it features a free-sprung balance with a hairspring sporting their own overcoil design. Oh, and the cherry on top is their own escapement design, the dual-impulse, which increases energy efficiency, allowing for the hi-beat frequency with long power reserve. It’s also thinner than previous GS calibers. To be honest, you need to be a bit of an engineer to grasp it all, which I am not and therefore don’t, so check this page out.

For those of us who are more aesthetically minded, it’s also simply a beautiful movement that is finished to the nines, and quite different from other GS movements. Bridges with flowing lines inspired by Mt. Iwate and the Shizukuishi River inform the overall shape, while every surface has been treated with striping, polished bevels, and perlage. At one side, the free-sprung balance sits, highly visible save the region under a full bridge. 47-jewels stud the metal in an elegant array as a skeletonized rotor sweeps above, still allowing a fairly clear view of the caliber.


It’s beautiful, without a doubt, but what strikes me most is that, to my eyes at least, it’s far more European in appearance than any of their other calibers. If you saw a similar movement design in a JLC, Glashütte Original, or AP, you wouldn’t be surprised. Sure, with the latter perhaps the rotor would be made of gold, and the finishing might be different, but in terms of design and styling, it could fit. I find this interesting because conversely, GS’s high-end Spring Drive movements, such as the 9R02, or even the less expensive 9R31, feel entirely not-European.

I think this speaks a lot to the market they are going after with the 9SA5, which is to say a consumer that might be shopping in a store like Watches of Switzerland (who sell GS, despite the name), and are looking at that $10K price point. And when you look at that segment, you realize that with the case design and finishing, the dial design and finishing, and this new exotic movement, the White Birch, and likely other models to follow, offer quite the value, even if a high price tag.

In terms of the experience of the movement, well, when looking at the dial, it’s easy to forget the fancy machine at work. With that said, it’s high-beat, so the hand does sweep more smoothly than most mechanical watches, though it’s a subtle change to the eye. 80 hours of power reserve is very generous, though that only really comes into play when off of the wrist. That said, I’ve found that watches in the 3+ days range to be more convenient as part of a rotation of watches, as they are less likely to die between wears. Otherwise, there were no issues with accuracy, though my testing was not long-term, seemingly staying within GS specs.

At $9,100 the Grand Seiko SLGH005 “White Birch” is a luxury watch through and through. From its finishing to its mechanics to its price tag, it exudes refinement and decadence. It glows, it glistens, it’s likely the most exotic watch in the room (unless you’re hanging out with other watch enthusiasts, though possibly still). Though it’s the most expensive watch I’ve ever reviewed, it’s also one whose price I can’t really argue with, even if I’d like to. I mean sure, if it cost less, I’d be more likely to get one someday, but beyond that, I have no real reason. People might bemoan the generally increasing prices of Grand Seiko as of late, but that’s in regards to new models with existing movements and cases that have higher price tags. The SLGH005 is entirely new, with a new movement that is high-end in every way, and a look you can’t find anywhere else. And if it were Swiss, I think we’d be looking at a much higher price tag.

Long story short, if you’re a Grand Seiko fan, there’s a new watch for you to put on the wish list. It’s not inexpensive, but it’s a worthy crown jewel of your collection, and thankfully it’s not limited, so no need to flip your favorite watches right now to get one. And, of course, this is just the start of this line and what they’ll do with this movement, so we’ll just have to wait and see where else it will show up. Here’s hoping for a stint in something similar to the 38.5mm elegance case recently featured in SBGY007 – fingers crossed. 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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