Seasons Change: When a Grand Seiko Regional Release Goes International

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Two years ago, when I decided to purchase the Grand Seiko SBGH271, I went through all the mental gymnastics you’d expect ahead of making what for me, at the time, was a rather expensive commitment. I’d just sold some watches, so I was newly infused with cash, but it wasn’t a trivial amount of money, and I wanted to make sure I made the right decision. I tried on a lot of watches at the authorized dealer on that fateful visit, and I liked almost everything I put on my wrist that day. I knew I’d wind up with a Grand Seiko, but I didn’t know which one. After deciding on a high beat caliber equipped watch rather than Spring Drive or quartz, my choices narrowed. 

The seasons collection was new at the time, and I was blown away by the subtle texture of the green dial, the proportions of the case, and the pop of the Zaratsu polishing in the AD lighting. But I’m not going to lie: part of the appeal was knowing that this watch was a US exclusive. Exclusive! That’s a powerful word in the watch landscape. So much of our hobby, whether we like it or not, is built around a preoccupation with rarity and hype, whether we’re talking about vintage watches nearly lost to time, genuinely rare modern sleepers, or an endless parade of limited editions. 

The first Grand Seiko Seasons Collection, back when it was a US exclusive, in 2019
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Recently, news hit that Grand Seiko was introducing this very same seasons collection to the rest of the world, and the meltdowns ensued all over Instagram. This kind of thing happens from time to time. A brand will introduce a watch that’s limited in production, or only available in a specific region, turning it into the target of collectors, and inflating the price on the resale market. Then, when you least expect it (always when you least expect it) that watch, or something very close to it, is announced as part of that brand’s permanent collection. Or, as in the case of the seasons collection, a release made for a single country goes international. This has an impact not just on the potential resale value of the watches in question, but the equity and standing of the brand in the watch community, not to mention the (fragile) psyche of the watch collector, who owned a supremely rare and sought after collectible one day, and the next had merely a mass produced hunk of steel that anyone could just walk into their local watch shop and buy. The horror! 

This, at least, is the conventional wisdom among many whose knee jerk reactions are forever recorded on social media and watch blog comment threads. As an owner of the SBGH271, I was mostly just confused as I took in this information and accepted my watch’s new place in the world before my first sip of coffee on the morning the news hit my feed. Why, I wondered, were these ever regional releases at all? 

Regional releases are a strange phenomenon in the watch industry, and unlike pieces that are strictly limited in production but intended for a global clientele, there’s something opaque about the strategy of releasing a watch that’s only meant for the Asian market, or the EU, or North America, particularly if, like these Grand Seikos, there’s nothing about the watches themselves that tie them culturally to the region in question. Yes, most of America experiences a four season climate, sure. But the inspiration for the visual representation of those seasons via the dials on these watches is actually uniquely Japanese (each dial represents a Japanese “micro-season,” a concept that simply doesn’t exist in the west). This, it seems apparent, is what Grand Seiko customers expect and want, regardless of where they live. 

It’s easy to imagine regional release strategies being hammered out in the boardrooms of large brands like Grand Seiko, taking market research and manufacturing costs into account, and devising a plan to extract the most revenue from a targeted group of consumers. Many global brands, of course, have regional operations that work somewhat independently of a centralized headquarters, and have the latitude to develop products for a home region. And there’s also the underlying principle that catering to any single geographic region imbues that market with the sense that they’ve been singled out, or favored, by a brand, which would in turn help to grow the brand in that locale. Grand Seiko has seen tremendous growth in the United States over the last several years, and one wonders if the seasons collection and other sought after releases had a reverberating effect on the market here, helping it along, with spillover interest in the dozens of global releases they’ve launched in the intervening years. Grand Seiko just announced a non-limited regional release for the European market, and time will tell if it has a similar impact across the pond. 

Grand Seiko’s newest dress watches, exclusive to the European market
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From a collector’s point of view, it’s easy to see why you’d feel slighted if a once limited watch that was perhaps tough to acquire suddenly became more widely available. Watches are tools, historical artifacts, little pieces of art, and many other things, but they’re also most certainly trophies, at least in certain collecting contexts. Imagine searching for years for a long forgotten limited edition released only in a far flung corner of the world, finding it, and then reading that this very watch is about to see an unlimited, world wide release. You can take the idea of value and monetary appreciation out of the equation entirely – it would be a bummer to any collector to see their labor, research, and what was surely quick attention to their WatchRecon alerts be dashed away somewhat arbitrarily by corporate watch overlords. 

Maybe it was strange, then, that I didn’t feel any of those things when I read about the wide availability of my SBGH271, as well as the other seasonal dials that have been on the market for a full two years at this point. For one, these watches have never seemed that tough to get. They’re allegedly limited production, but they pop up for sale on the secondary market frequently. And r/watchexchange and the like don’t have any of the restrictions on international sales that you’re likely to find with an authorized dealer. You just need to find a seller with the intestinal fortitude to ship a package internationally. (Pro tip: always insure international shipments to the greatest degree possible). 

What’s more pertinent though is that my attitude to the watch itself, over the course of my two years of ownership, has evolved considerably. If at one time I thought it was cool to have something that watch lovers in Europe, Asia, or other parts of the world might have a slightly more difficult time obtaining (which, yuck, what a terrible attitude), the watch has now reached “constant companion” status, and is simply a part of my daily life. It has scratches, hasn’t felt new in a long time, and is the watch I’m most accustomed to seeing when I check the time. Any real or perceived exclusivity simply doesn’t factor into my experience of it on a daily basis. Its once exclusive nature has been relegated to a mere curiosity. 

The bottom line is that the novelty of a hard to get watch wears off quickly when you simply wear it. It’s a simple idea that we preach frequently here, but it bears repeating whenever limited release hype floods our social media channels: watches are meant to be worn! Followers of my increasingly dull Instagram feed and listeners of the ever improving Worn & Wound podcast know that my regular wrist checks, more often than not, feature the SBGH271, and I can say with certainty that wearing it frequently brings me a lot more joy and satisfaction than thinking about it as a rare or difficult to obtain object. And while the collector in me certainly appreciates a collection full of unique watches that speak to my own individual taste and journey through this strange hobby, it’s hard to be mad at the idea that more people will now have easier access to something that’s brought a smile to my face more times than I can count over the last two years. There’s enough gatekeeping in the watch world as it is. 

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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