Review : Grand Seiko SBGN001

The Grand Seiko SBGN001 was introduced in mid-2018 as one of three Grand Seiko 9f86 quartz-powered GMT watches in celebration of the 9f movement’s 25th anniversary. It was released as a limited edition of 800 pieces alongside two non-limited quartz GMTs, the SBGN003, and SBGN005.

Case, Bracelet, Dial, and Finish: Grand Seiko Through and Through

First off, the watch itself: the SBGN001’s stainless steel case sports a case diameter of 39mm, 46mm lug-to-lug, and just over 12mm depth, which is quite modest for a Grand Seiko sports watch. This allows the watch to feel comfortable on a fairly wide range of wrist sizes; for reference, my wrist is about 195mm around and the watch fits great with plenty of room to spare. The case sports a mix of brushed and zaratsu-polished finishes (zaratsu, or “sword” is sort of just a marketing term to denote the very high degree of finish that Grand Seiko applies to its polishing) and is backed by a solid case back sporting the trademark Grand Seiko stylized lion. The watch offers 100m water resistance and features a screw-down signed crown with fairly substantial crown guards that swoop up gracefully from the case.

The oyster-style bracelet is mostly brushed, with some polished details that add a nicely refined quality to the piece. The stamped, double-pusher folding clasp has no micro-adjust but the bracelet does come with two half links to help with sizing. Overall, it’s a pretty comfortable bracelet, though on hot days or when traveling on planes my wrist tends to expand a bit making the bracelet a little tight and causing me to yearn for some kind of toolless micro-adjust system. This summer, I’ll probably alleviate these concerns by just throwing the watch on a strap; strap changes are made easy thanks to drilled lug holes, though the 19mm lug width does pose a slight challenge when it comes to strap choices.

The SBGN 001 sports an anthracite dial stamped with a repeating “GS 9F” pattern, interrupted by a stylized “25” right over the 5 o’clock marker to denote the 25th anniversary of the 9f movement. Typical to Grand Seiko, the SBGN sports carefully faceted and detailed applied hour markers and dauphine hands. For dark-dialed models such as these, Grand Seiko brushes the tops of the hands and applies some texture to the hour markers, here in the form of width-wise hash marks that run down the length of each hour marker. Additionally, the hands and hour markers are lumed, somewhat of a rarity for Grand Seiko even among their sports models. The edges of the hands and markers are all zaratsu polished, and the effect in light is quite a thing to behold.

 

There is a white, framed date window at 3 that takes the place of the hour marker. I typically prefer a colour-matched date window, which does come with the black SBGN003 but neither this nor the blue SBGN005 models. As far as I’ve seen, Grand Seiko always chooses to go with a white date wheel for all its watches other than most black-dialed models, where a matched black date wheel is used. I wish that they would just match the colours for all date wheels for the sake of aesthetics, but there’s no denying that the higher contrast makes for greater legibility. The lumed GMT hand is coloured a fairly bright yellow, as are the bottom half of the rehaut (ostensibly to denote daylight-ish hours from 6am to 6pm) and applied “GMT” text on the bottom half of the dial, over a gold-coloured five-pointed star, meant to denote that the SBGN001 provides accuracy of ±5 seconds per year, versus the typical ±10 of most 9f watches. These markings serve to balance out the GS Grand Seiko logo at the top half of the dial. All told, the dial is quite attractive, offering a good deal of visual interest while still providing solid legibility. The textured dial often looks very prominent in photos, but in reality tends to fade away when viewed straight on, which is quite advantageous when actually trying to use the watch to tell the time (if anyone still does that).

The SBGN’s fixed 24-hour steel bezel is a little reminiscent of a Rolex Explorer II and, as such, has drawn a bit of controversy. While it’s true that both watches sport similar-looking bezels with similar fonts, this is neither the first time Grand Seiko has used such a bezel (the SBGM025 comes to mind) nor does a fixed steel bezel an Explorer II homage make. The overall feel of the watch is very good; proportions are modest enough to provide a lot of versatility, and the look is sporty without being ridiculously so. This watch is an easy GADA (Go Anywhere, Do Anything), especially with that GMT complication.

The 9f86 Movement: May the Quartz Be With You

OK, on to the movement. The 9f86 that powers this watch is Grand Seiko’s first quartz GMT. As mentioned, this watch, along with the green-dialed SBGN007 that was strangely announced after but released before the 001, boasts a higher ±5 second per year accuracy than typical 9f watches and is thermocompensated, shock resistant, and antimagnetic to 4800 A/m, which is extremely handy given its purported role as a travel watch. The 9f movement is a seriously overengineered movement; in addition to the features mentioned above, the movement sports a two-stage tick and an anti-backlash system to ensure smooth, accurate, and consistent ticking for years to come. The entire movement is sealed within its own nicely decorated sitting, and the battery slot actually sits outside this casing to ensure that battery changes don’t cause any exposure to the movement. This GMT model sports an independently adjustable hour hand like other Grand Seikos, creating a “true” GMT that’s ideal for travel. There’s a lot more to say about the 9f movement – for instance, the movement itself is assembled by two master craftsmen, one for the date indicator and one for the rest of the movement – but suffice it to say that the artistry, engineering, and attention to detail that goes into this movement is on par with anything else that Grand Seiko does, meeting and perhaps even exceeding many mechanical movements found in other high-end watches.

All that having been said, it’s still a quartz movement, and that “tick, tick, tick” is an instant turnoff to many watch enthusiasts and typically murder for resale value. However, attitudes toward High Accuracy Quartz (HAQ) movements seem to be changing somewhat, especially movements like the Seiko 9f, Citizen A660, Breitling SuperQuartz, and Bulova Accutron that offer a high degree of refinement and extreme accuracy without external assistance from GPS signals, radio broadcasts, or Bluetooth links to smartphones. Among my watch collection, the SBGN001 gets the most wrist time by far; it dresses up or down very easily, keeps excellent time through temperature swings, shocks, and magnetic fields, and won’t need winding (or a battery change) for 2-3 more years. The fit and refinement are excellent, and the fact that it’s “just a quartz seiko” helps to keep the whole thing sort of low-key despite that shiny zaratsu polishing. I brought it as my one watch on a combined work/vacation trip recently and it transitioned readily from business casual to poolside without ever feeling out of place; I then wore it exclusively for several days after coming home just because it felt so darn good on the wrist. As a mechanical watch lover with quite a few beloved automatic and hand-wound pieces in my collection, I never thought I’d fall this hard for a quartz piece, but here I am – and I reckon there might be 799 other SBGN001 owners out there in the world who feel the same way.