Owner’s Review: The Grand Seiko SBGH271

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Some watches resist easy categorization. Very often you’ll see a watch or try one on and immediately recognize it as a diver, or a dress watch, or a chronograph. But I’ve owned the Grand Seiko SBGH271 for over a year, and I still don’t really know how to contextualize it with other watches in my collection. Is it a sports watch? It has a screw down crown, a bracelet, and 100 meters of water resistance. But then again, it wears smaller than its already modest 40mm diameter, is dominated by highly polished bevels, and is accented with gold tone hour markers and hands. I’ve found over my time with the watch that the most pleasant wearing experience is with a sober brown alligator strap. Not exactly the makings of an adventure watch. The SBGH271, like many other modern Grand Seikos, isn’t wholly any one thing, except an example of the brand’s commitment to craftsmanship. 

Also known as the “Rikka,” the SBGH271 is part of Grand Seiko’s collection of watches that are inspired by the four seasons. The Rikka can be thought of as one half of a pair with the SBGH273, representing fall. Both have stainless steel cases and are powered by Grand Seiko’s 9S85 high frequency movement, while the winter and spring watches in this small collection are cast in titanium and run on a Spring Drive movement, caliber 9R65. All are based on the classic 62GS case shape, and the Zaratsu polishing that Grand Seiko is rightly famous for is breathtaking to observe, but let’s not kid ourselves here: this watch is all about the dial. 

In a deep textured green with gold tone indices and dauphine hands that are like little ice picks, the Rikka’s dial is absolutely, unequivocally, the star of the show. My experience purchasing it is a tale as old as time: walk into the AD not really sure of exactly what I’m after, see the green dial, and, I swear, my credit card just developed a mind of its own. 

With a full year of ownership under my belt, it felt like a good time to step back and evaluate the Rikka now that the honeymoon period is most certainly over, and I’ve had a chance to experience the watch in a variety of different wearing conditions and scenarios. Let’s jump in. 

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$6300

Owner’s Review: The Grand Seiko SBGH271

Case
Stainless Steel
Movement
9S85
Dial
Green
Lume
None
Lens
Sapphire
Strap
Stainless Steel Bracelet
Water Resistance
100 meters
Dimensions
40 x 47mm
Thickness
13.3mm
Lug Width
21mm
Crown
Screw down
Warranty
Yes
Price
$6300

Case

Even though the dial is the make it or break it feature of the watch, I want to start with the case, because I feel like on some Grand Seiko references with exotic textured dials, the case is almost an afterthought when it really shouldn’t be. While I think most buyers of the Rikka or other Grand Seikos with similarly artistic dials are certainly drawn in by the unusual, nature inspired designs, the case is what you really experience day to day as you wear the thing, and it has a much more profound impact on your enjoyment of the watch throughout your time with it, particularly if fit is an issue.

The SBGH271’s case is modeled after the 62GS case shape introduced by Grand Seiko in the late 1960s, but it isn’t a one for one recreation. Like other early Grand Seikos, the 62GS is a foundational reference in their “Grammar of Design” philosophy, which stated that cases should be filled with flat surfaces to reflect as much light as possible, and resist traditional round shapes. The original 62GS (which was the first watch from Grand Seiko to feature a fully automatic movement) has similar geometry to the Rikka, but with more modest proportions. The modern SBGH271 and its siblings in the seasons collection have a more muscular and wider frame, which is what you’d expect from a modern reinterpretation of something classic. The DNA of the original design is still very much present, however, particularly in the way the case lines curve and bend with such perfectly flat sides. Unlike the 57GS and 44GS case shapes, which are notably more angular and severe, the 62GS (which came right after the 57 and 44 in series) flows more organically while retaining the dramatic flat polished sides. There’s something slightly more delicate about the 62GS, even in this modern reinterpretation, that I find particularly appealing. 

The other important design characteristic of the SBGH271 as it relates to the case is the wide open, bezel free case construction. The crystal is abutted by the midcase directly, which gives the whole package a very integrated and solid feel. You might think that with an open design like this, you’d wind up with a “Nomos effect” of the watch feeling bigger than it actually is due to an “all dial” design, but in my experience the opposite seems to be true. This watch feels compact to me, in large part because of the barrell like shape of the case. 

Ultimately, any Grand Seiko is a showcase for the positively mind blowing Zaratsu polishing, and the Rikka doesn’t disappoint in this regard. The geometry of the polished sides is complex, with dual polished edges meeting at the lugs to form a diamond shaped endpoint. The midcase is brushed and provides contrast to the polished bevels, but in practice this is rarely seen in daily wear, so the watch presents as almost fully polished, and dramatically so. 

No matter how many times I see a Grand Seiko with this style of Zaratsu polishing, I’m endlessly blown away by it. The fact that this level of finishing is so attainable is still one of the great stories of modern watchmaking, and I firmly believe it has to be seen and worn to be fully understood. 

Dial

The Rikka’s textured green dial is inspired by waving fields of grass, which is meant to recall the Japanese summer. While I certainly accept Grand Seiko at their word here, I have to be honest: the dial itself does not conjure memories or feelings of summer for me, personally. While it’s nice to really connect with the backstory of a watch (and it’s nice when a watch has a backstory to tell) with the Rikka I’ve found that my enjoyment of the watch, and the dial specifically, isn’t tied to any particular thought or feeling I carry for the summer months. The truth is, I’m not even a big fan of summer. New Hampshire is really humid from June through August, and there are a lot of black flys, and it’s just generally not my favorite time of year. But, and this is the key but, I love a really well executed green dial.

Green is an unusual dial color, and although I think most people are OK with green in theory, thinking about it in the context of a watch, it’s easy to see why it doesn’t sit quite right with some people. It’s not very versatile, and it doesn’t have the same ability to fly under the radar as a blue or black dial might. Add in the gold accents and the flash of the Zaratsu polish, and you have a watch in the SBGH271 that is pretty out front in any situation you might find yourself in, so you have to really commit.

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For me, the Rikka’s dial is endlessly rewarding. The texture has the appearance of tiny little waves moving across the dial’s surface horizontally (on the blue SBGH273, the orientation is flipped and the waves run vertically), and I enjoy the way they look a little like an EKG readout. Privately (I guess not so privately anymore) I refer to it is the “Joy Division dial,” for its resemblance to the Unknown Pleasures album cover, but with early English post-punk being about as far away from traditional Japanese craft as I think you can get, it seems like that’s one of those weird connections that sits in my brain and my brain alone. 

Something that I learned quickly as an owner of the SBGH271 is how the tone and character of the dial changes dramatically in different lighting conditions. Indoors, if light isn’t shining directly on the dial, the texture is completely lost, and the color turns to a dark shade of green, even bordering on black. Outdoors, when fully exposed to light, every small ridge is visible with the naked eye, and the green tone is far lighter and takes on a shimmering, radiating quality. It’s quite spectacular and the novelty hasn’t worn off. I also like the idea that in most situations the dial doesn’t read as anything very special at all – there’s some pleasure to be had in knowing that there’s more going on that most people, if they notice the watch at all, will never see. 

I think the Rikka would be more successful without the date window at 3:00, as it would maximize the impact of the dial without a break in symmetry. That said, and this is true of all Grand Seiko date windows I’ve had the chance to look at up close, they’ve done a nice job on the execution. The frame is finished to the same level as all the other gold accents found on the dial, and the date wheel itself has a nice frosted finish that is tough to pick up without a loupe, but it’s definitely there. It’s also, frankly, nice to know what the date is, so I can’t be too mad at the end result here. 

While it’s my understanding that the hour markers and hands are gold plated, they have the same impact as solid gold when viewed through the sapphire glass, and complement the green dial perfectly. There’s something about the green and gold combination that just works – it’s a pairing that many brands implement on some of their signature watches, from Rolex to Bravur and a whole host of others.

As usual with Grand Seiko, it’s worth investing a few bucks in a decent loupe so that, when the mood strikes you, you can take a gander at the finer details of the dial that are impossible to see without the aid of magnification. On the SBGH271, the faceted hour markers have impossibly fine ridges running down them on the top facet. You might ask yourself, “Why does Grand Seiko bother?” I’m not sure of the answer, beyond a commitment to producing the most luxurious product they can, but it’s a wonderful little Easter egg, and illustrates the insane attention to detail on the part of the Grand Seiko design team. 

I’m a huge fan of the Rikka dial but I have to admit that after my initial infatuation with it at the authorized dealer, for a period of time after bringing it home I wondered what, exactly, I’d gotten myself into, devoting such a sizable chunk of my watch budget to a timepiece with a dial that, while objectively beautiful, isn’t exactly versatile. Ultimately for me, at the end of the day aesthetics win out, and I happily power clash almost every time I wear the thing, but if you’re the type of person that matches his belt to his socks without exception, this one’s probably not for you. 

Movement

The SBGH271 runs on Caliber 9S85, a Hi-Beat movement running at 36,000 vph. Over the course of the time I’ve owned the watch, the 9S85 has performed flawlessly. I’m not typically one to keep detailed records of how accurate my watches are running at any given time, but when I do happen to check in on the 9S85 when in use, it’s always within spec, which on this caliber is +8 to -1 seconds per day. 

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Like the rest of the watch, the movement is well finished, and certainly worth taking a look at through the exhibition caseback, but it’s a little unfortunate that Grand Seiko has chosen to partially obscure our view of the movement with the brand’s logo etched into the glass. My preference here would have been to have a solid caseback capable of communicating whatever kind of branding Grand Seiko desired onto blank stainless steel. While the caliber is nice looking, we’re not talking about haute horlogerie level finishing here, and the logo creates an unnecessary distraction. That said, as an owner of the watch, it’s not something I devote much thought to at all, and it (obviously) didn’t impact my decision to purchase it, and I don’t think it’s an issue that ought to rise to the level of deal breaker in anyone’s buying decision. 

Wearability

One of the knocks on Grand Seiko is that while their cases, dials, and movements are all made to seemingly exacting standards and their quality is overall exceptional, their bracelets leave a little to be desired, and can even let these watches down a bit. Unlike the somewhat trivial nature of the logo etching on the caseback, a watch’s bracelet goes directly to wearability, and it absolutely can become a legitimate deal breaker for some, particularly if the case isn’t well suited to straps. I have a love-hate relationship with the bracelet of the SBGH271, but fortunately have found over time that the watch looks unexpectedly good on leather. 

The bracelet itself is actually well made and is a good aesthetic match for the case, but it loses points on the clasp, which is crucially missing micro-adjustment capability entirely. I’ve gone through the somewhat frustrating process of adding and removing full links and half links from either end of the bracelet in every conceivable combination, and just can’t land on a fit that really feels locked in. While my preference would of course be for some type of on-board quick adjustment mechanism similar to what Tudor does for the Pelagos or Rolex for the Submariner, even a Speedmaster-style adjustment requiring the use of a tool would help get the Rikka sized right (for me) without frequent and cumbersome link adjustments. 

Luckily, I’ve found that the SBGH271 wears really well on leather, and I frequently wear mine on a brown crocodile strap that I feel is a great complement to the green dial with its gold accents. This gives the watch a much dressier vibe that I think it’s well suited for, and underlines the dual nature of the Rikka and the other watches in the seasons collection. With a case height of 12.9mm (excluding the crystal), this watch isn’t exactly slender, but because of the case construction it doesn’t feel nearly as chunky to me as it might appear on paper. And, with the use of a strap removing much of the watch’s weight, it wears easily and feels like an old fashioned “everyday” casual watch that’s just a little bit fancy, but in an unassuming, under the radar way. 

For a 40mm watch, the Rikka wears very comfortably on a strap, and on my wrist has no lug overhang to speak of. It sits close to the wrist, further hiding it’s thickness, and while I wouldn’t say it’s the kind of watch you forget you have on, neither does it get in the way of your day to day tasks. It’s certainly never been accidentally slammed into a door jam, which is more than I can say for many of the watches now sitting in my watch box. 

Something I’ll note here is that the lug width is the somewhat uncommon 21mm across, which has a real world impact on how the watch wears. The wider lugs naturally mean that the watch has a wider imprint on the wrist. It’s only one millimeter, so it’s a subtle effect, but you definitely notice that the lugs don’t curve into the watch’s center quite as much as they would otherwise. This look might be appealing to some and repellent to others, but for me, as a somewhat larger wristed person, it’s a plus, and makes everything feel a bit more proportional, if not quite as refined. 

And then there’s the matter of fitting straps. Unfortunately there just aren’t as many 21mm straps out there to choose from, and I wound up having three or four custom made by a trusted resource. You can certainly experiment with 22mm straps, but before doing so I’ll provide a small warning that the sharp edges of the SBGH21’s lugs positively destroyed the stitching on one of my own wider straps. A wide strap crammed into a narrow lug span is often never the same after the ordeal. 

Lastly, green is a tough dial color to properly pair with leather. Brown will always work, and black mostly will. I’ve experimented with green leather to varying degrees of success, and I even have a maroon strap with a nice texture to it that is a fun combination. But the Rikka is not, as the kids say, a strap monster. I’m fairly compulsive about constantly switching straps and trying new looks, but with the SBGH271 I’ve resigned myself to the idea that brown is best, and have been sticking with that, but your mileage, as always, may vary. 

Conclusion

When I bought the SBGH271, I had thoughts that it might become the all elusive “daily wearer,” the watch that I reach for over and over again, neglecting all of the others. As a collector, this is something of a pipe dream, and the Rikka is actually far from my most worn watch. That said, I’m no less happy to own it, as every time I do decide to put it on, it feels like something unique and special. That, to me, is the power of Grand Seiko. They just have this quality to them that makes you appreciate all of the little details and hard work that went into the design and manufacture of the watch on your wrist. Some of them might be a little hard to coordinate in a wardrobe, but I think it’s OK to appreciate these things purely as design objects, and less as accessories. In short, it’s just nice to own a beautifully made thing that gives you some joy when you see it. 

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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.
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