Swinging From Birches: the New Grand Seiko SLGH011 Barely Needs an Introduction (And that’s Fine)

I should have known better than to use all my deja vu jokes in a post highlighting last month’s Grand Seiko releases. When I saw the email about the new SLGH011 “Green Birch” late last night, I knew I’d have to dig a little deeper. Robert Frost’s “Birches” came immediately to mind. If you studied the poem in college like I did, you probably remember it being a celebration of youthful energy and nostalgia (the narrator recalls the childhood joy of swinging from birch tree branches) juxtaposed with the routine and mundane realities of daily life as an adult. This has a certain resonance with our current moment in watches, right? The nonstop parade of vintage inspired reissues is a play on nostalgia for times many of us didn’t even experience, and we very often fill our lives with watches to escape the drudgery of life! If you’re reading this while you should be working, you likely know exactly what I mean. 


What does this have to do with the new Green Birch? Not much, really. The SLGH011 is not a vintage inspired reissue at all. In fact, like the other birches, it represents a completely new design language and technical leap forward for Grand Seiko. The Evolution 9 Style case paired with the state of the art 9SA5 high frequency movement is the current pinnacle of Grand Seiko engineering and design. Why, then, does the very early commentary on this watch (including this article, I suppose) tend to reach backward, referencing the watches of the recent past, and not forward? 

The answer, I think, lies in the fact that Grand Seiko’s strategy at the moment is radically different from that of just about any major brand. I touched on this when I wrote about the SLGA013 and the SLGH009 in the post linked above, but this release makes things even more clear: Grand Seiko is not interested in playing the scarcity game that seems to be endemic to the hobby right now. They’re going to keep releasing new watches, giving customers an impossible variety to choose from. Their release schedule seems like parody to those of us who follow a brand like Rolex, which has held the interest of watch lovers since the 1960s by making only incremental updates to the same five watches (that all kind of look the same anyway) year after year. I hear people say that Grand Seiko should slow down, that they’re flooding the market with variants, devaluing the brand with limited and boutique releases, and all the rest, but if you step back and realize that their goal is to grow quickly, get on a lot of wrists, and delight customers when they step into an AD or boutique with watches they can actually try on, buy, and wear out of the store, their strategy begins to make a lot more sense. 

The SLGH011 doesn’t actually need much of an introduction, and that also seems to be part of the plan here. If you’ve been following Grand Seiko for the last few years, you already know this watch. It’s a dark green version of the White Birch (Zach wrote a fabulously detailed review of that one right here) and a Hi-Beat sibling to the recently announced…White Birch. It seems likely at this point that we’re just going to keep getting birches in different colors, some with the 9SA5 caliber, some with the Spring Drive 9RA2. Maybe that’s fine? I can think of worse things in the watch industry than being spoiled for choice when it comes to a design that has been almost universally applauded. I wonder if the retailer’s name on the dial would spark any additional interest?  

If this is, somehow, your first time swinging from a birch, the important thing to know about this dial is that the texture is very forward, and cut very deep, unlike many other textured dials from Grand Seiko that are quite a bit more subtle. For the birch dials, Grand Seiko presses the brass dial base seven times using just the right level of force to create a series of ridges that really do look like the bark of a birch tree. The green tone here is meant to recall the verdant summer months, and Grand Seiko claims the tone of the green can shift dramatically from a near black to bright green depending on lighting conditions. 

There is one notable difference between this release and previous recent releases from Grand Seiko, and that’s the lead time. We’re getting wind of the SLGH011 today, and it’s available for pre-order (retail price: $9,100) through Grand Seiko’s online boutique right now, but it won’t ship until September of this year. That’s a good way off, and it stands to reason we’ll have even more new releases from Grand Seiko to contend with between now and the fall. I’m reminded, again, of Frost’s poem, where the narrator expresses a desire to get away from the earth for a time, and return to it later, to experience it with fresh eyes. How many birches will be waiting upon his return? 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.