[VIDEO] Review: The Grand Seiko Tentagraph SLGC001

Grand Seiko releases a lot of watches. If you’re a cynic, this might be what you’d identify as the brand’s defining characteristic. They’ve developed a reputation for endless variants, swapping dial colors, textures, case shapes, and movements in every conceivable combination. There’s a joke about weather in New England, that if you don’t like it, all you have to do is wait, and you could make a similar one about Grand Seiko: if you’re after a particular dial/color/case combo that doesn’t exist yet, there’s a decent chance it’ll materialize eventually. 

But for all the SKUs in the Grand Seiko catalog, and the genuine variety you’ll find there, something was missing: a mechanical chronograph. There’s long been a line of Spring Drive chronographs (and Spring Drive chronographs with a GMT complication) but, kind of surprisingly, there’s never been a purely mechanical chrono under the Grand Seiko banner. 


[VIDEO] Review: The Grand Seiko Tentagraph SLGC001

High-intensity titanium
Yes, hands and markers
High-intensity titanium bracelet
Water Resistance
10 bar
43.2 x 51.5mm
Lug Width
Screw down

That changed a year ago with the launch of the Tentagraph, the centerpiece of Grand Seiko’s Watches & Wonders 2023, and easily their most ambitious release of the year. If you take the Kodo out of the equation, it’s almost certainly their biggest swing in a decade, matched only by the high frequency 9SA5 caliber (which plays a vital role in the Tentagraph – more on that later) and the similarly next-gen 9RA2/5 Spring Drive calibers. 

It’s funny, I’ve been a Grand Seiko fan for a long time, and never really thought of the lack of a mechanical chronograph as a weakness. Every Grand Seiko collector, to be sure, has their wishlist of little things they’d like tweaked, but I can’t recall ever thinking that a chronograph was a gaping hole in the collection. But if you step back and think about it, it kind of is. Or was, I should say. If you consider the brands Grand Seiko competes with, the lack of a mechanical chronograph becomes more glaring. 

So now we have one in the Tentagraph, a robust and sporty entry in the Evolution 9 collection, Grand Seiko’s upmarket, contemporary spin on their classic design language. The Tentagraph has many of the aesthetic trappings of classic Grand Seikos that are favorites of collectors and enthusiasts, but represents a genuinely new wearing experience. But for a high profile sports watch, the Tentagraph is (somewhat uncommonly) focused on the movement. 

That’s evident in the name of the watch, which is derived from the 9SC5 caliber tha powers it: ten beats per second, three days of power reserve with automatic winding, and a mechanical chronograph complication. It has all the benefits and advancements found in the 9SA5, including a highly efficient dual impulse escapement and twin barrels running in parallel, which are essential here in providing enough torque to run the chronograph. The key difference in specs between the 9SA5 and 9SC5 is the power reserve, which is down by about 8 hours in the C5. 

An early critique of the Tentagraph when it was introduced last year was effectively to slight it for being what amounts to a modular chronograph movement. This, frankly, comes from snobbery. A modular chronograph movement is somewhat unfairly thought of as inferior by many enthusiasts compared to integrated chronograph movements, but when the base movement is as advanced as the 9SA5, I think those criticisms fall away pretty fast. It honestly wouldn’t make a ton of sense for Grand Seiko not to use their flagship mechanical movement as the base for their new chronograph, and there’s a certain amount of ingenuity involved in applying and adapting the time and date functionality to an entirely new platform. 

This is actually a core element of what Grand Seiko does. We saw that with the new SLGW002/003 at this year’s Watches & Wonders, which also uses the 9SA5 caliber as a starting point. In these watches, which run on a new caliber designated the 9SA4, the automatic winding mechanism has been stripped out to create a manually wound watch that, once again, has all the same benefits of the original 9SA5. These watches, interestingly, didn’t receive the same kind of criticism levied at the 9S5C. While it’s important to point out that the new movement was completely reworked in terms of the individual parts, the structure and architecture is largely the same as the 9SA5. 

I see this as Grand Seiko practicality at work. So much is made of the craftsmanship and beauty inherent in Grand Seiko’s watches, an aspect that sometimes gets overlooked (and that I think is essential to appreciating the Tentagraph) is that these watches are truly made to be worn. They are not finicky, high-maintenance, potential problems waiting to happen. They are conceived to be robust enough to stand up to the normal slings and arrows of life, and without additional complexity that could cause any kind of issue. A modular chronograph, then, is the obvious choice for Grand Seiko in terms of serviceability and ensuring (as much as any brand can) that the caliber will perform reliably under any reasonable condition. 

And let’s get this out of the way: that philosophy extends to their bracelets and clasps as well, and is the reason cited by the brand when critics complain about the lack of micro-adjustment capabilities. I’ve largely come around on this. I used to believe quite strongly that any bracelet on a sports watch needs on-the-fly micro-adjustment on the clasp, but what can I say? I’ve relaxed a bit. I think very few people will have trouble sizing this bracelet so that it fits them comfortably in most situations. Will it be a little too loose or too tight sometimes? Maybe. But for Grand Seiko, the thinking here is that to make a micro-adjustable clasp to their standards, it would impact the wearability or required functionality of the bracelet beyond what they’re willing to live with. I respect that. I think the bracelet on the Tentagraph and other Grand Seikos is a nice aesthetic match for the case, and the clasps are always very low profile, comfortable, and I’ve never had one fail. If micro-adjustability is the hill you want to die on as a watch collector, that’s perfectly alright, but I’m going to let Grand Seiko be Grand Seiko here. 

The wearing experience of the Grand Seiko Tentagraph (on a bracelet that was sized to perfection) was wonderful from start to finish, largely in my estimation because of the brand’s decision to make this watch out of titanium. Few brands handle titanium the way Grand Seiko does. Picking up a Grand Seiko made from their titanium alloy will nearly always give you that sensation of impossibility – it’s so light that it almost doesn’t seem real. And the finishing, as you’d expect, is second to none. The Tentagraph features broad brushed case sides, with polished facets framing each flank, adding definition and geometric complexity to the design. I particularly love the way this case looks lin profile, with the ergonomic curve of that has come to define the Evolution 9 style of Grand Seiko’s premium pieces topped by a flying saucer-like tachymeter bezel. Grand Seiko case profiles always produce a certain level of drama, and the Tentagraph is no exception. 

I’m quite partial to the Mt. Iwate pattern dial, and the execution of the blue Mt. Iwate texture on the Tentagraph looks great. This particular dial texture is most associated with Grand Seiko watches that feature high frequency movements, so it’s appropriate that we find it here on their first mechanical chronograph using the latest Grand Seiko high-frequency movement technology. Blue is also a special color for Grand Seiko, reserved for limited editions and other special pieces. The Evolution 9 dial furniture is becoming more familiar every year, and I’ve come to enjoy the wider stance of the hour markers and hands on these watches. Again, it’s Grand Seiko practicality at work. This dial is highly legible at a glance thanks to the oversized markers, but no corners have been cut on the finishing. Each one is marked with tiny ridges running horizontally either side, adding an additional element of reflectivity on each and some subtle visual interest. This kind of finishing, which is essentially only visible under magnification, is one of my favorite little Grand Seiko Easter eggs. 

Some, I think, will say that the Tentagraph is too big, too thick, and too hard to wear. There’s no doubt that it’s a large watch, but I personally didn’t find it difficult to wear on my 7.5 inch wrist at all. Part of that is surely due to the lightweight titanium used in the case and bracelet, but I think credit must also be given to the team behind the design of the case. It’s 51.5mm from lug to lug, but because of the way the lugs slope, and the fact that they are somewhat short, I think this case will probably work visually on wrists considerably smaller than mine. I’m not going to do the watch writer thing and say the 43mm case wears smaller than that, but I will point out that just like everything else people might criticize the Tentagraph for, Grand Seiko likely sees the size as a feature, not a bug. At the end of the day, these watches are not meant to disappear on the wrist or be discrete. There’s an ornamental quality to them (the highly polished elements are exhibit A) and I think it’s reasonable to assume that the intent here is for the Tentagraph (and many other thicker, highly polished Grand Seikos) to always be announcing itself, showing off the intricate Zaratsu polishing through, in part, case height. 

The Grand Seiko Tentagraph retails for $13,700, which is a big number that forces anyone even thinking about buying one to compare it with other watches in a similar price bracket. I think it’s very clear that the Tentagraph represents a compelling alternative to chronographs made by Rolex, Zenith, and others in the low five-figure range given the nature of the movement. It’s easy given Grand Seiko’s relatively newfound ubiquity to forget what an advancement this caliber represents in the realm of high frequency movements – there are very few, if any, calibers on the market that do what the dual-impulse escapement does. It’s a Grand Seiko invention and it’s inclusion in this watch puts it a rung above many chronographs it, in theory, competes with. 

The other question about price, though, is how this watch works in comparison to other pieces in the existing Grand Seiko catalog. It’s a watch that many point to when they complain of Grand Seiko price creep – the phenomenon of the average cost of a Grand Seiko slowly (or not so slowly, depending on when you first came to the brand) rocketing upward. There’s no doubt that Grand Seiko has expanded their offerings in recent years in a segment that sits above where they came to the attention of many enthusiasts in the pre-pandemic years. If you see new releases and think it’s hard to envision paying over $10,000 for a Grand Seiko when you could have a nice one that you really loved for around $3,000 just a few years ago, I get it. But it’s important to remember the watchmaking advances they’ve made in a relatively short period of time. The higher priced stuff, in my opinion, warrants the price tag. And there are still a lot of more affordable options in the collection as well. The Tentagraph, though, is a fitting flagship at the higher end, and it will be exciting to see how Grand Seiko develops their chronograph, and the 9SA5, in the years to come. 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.