Grand Seiko has finally released a model that is is an ideal Grand Seiko in almost every way, the SLGH003. While Grand Seiko has made a remarkable name for its masterful levels of finishing and its beautifully crafted nature-inspired dials and a design that shows off an intricate understanding of light and shadow, one of the biggest drawbacks has always been the thickness of its watches. You would be hard pressed to find a watch with a winding rotor in the brand’s collection that came in under 12mm with most time and date models ranging from 12.5mm to 13mm and GMT complications coming up to 14mm. This often came down to the movement dimensions and the limitations that came with it. Earlier this year, as part of a number of 60th Anniversary releases, Grand Seiko finally released a watch that housed a Hi-Beat mechanical movement which allowed for a reduction in thickness, the SLGH002. The catch though, was that the piece came in solid 18K yellow gold and retailed for a hefty US$43,000. Well, the SLGH003 is certainly far more accessible at US$9,700.
While the price may be higher than those of its more regular pieces, Grand Seiko’s new Hi-Beat movement, the 9SA5 certainly justifies it. After all, you aren’t getting a run of the mill update to movement. Instead, what you get a is a completely redesigned dual impulse escapement in which the escape wheel delivers power to the balance wheel not just via the pallet fork as in most mechanical movements, but also directly. This dual-impulse escapement is a feat that virtually no one else, besides the horological master George Daniels has produced. As if a brand-new escapement was not enough, Grand Seiko also developed a new free-sprung balance that features a unique overcoil hairspring, which in theory is supposed to ensure a more consistent beat rate. For context of how difficult hairsprings are to produce, Eduoard Meylan of H. Cie. Moser identified it as one of the components that most watch brands have difficulty producing in-house. For more, take a listen to his recent podcast with the ladies from Tenn & Two. What I find remarkable is that these innovations allow the 9SA5 to have an 80-hour power reserve, -3s/+5s accuracy while being 15% thinner than the regular 9S85 Hi-Beat movement because the gear trains and barrel are arranged horizontally. This is certainly the icing on the cake. While I am not a movement specialist by any stretch of the imagination, these innovations are certainly impressive feats. For a more thorough understanding of what goes on under the hood, do check out Jack Forster’s two articles on Hodinkee here and here.
The technical marvels of the movement aside, the practical design aspects of the movement is that allowance for a thinner watch. While 11.7mm is certainly not an ultra-slim watch, it would certainly make the watch far more wearable than the usual 13mm that the typical Hi-Beat watches tend to have. When coupled with a 40mm case and a stainless-steel bracelet, this watch sits firmly in the dressy-sporty watch category that is extremely versatile.
I am impressed that Grand Seiko did not “re-use” the 44GS case design that is heavily featured in its collection. Instead, the brand opted for a completely new case shape that has only ever been used on the SLGH002, yet one that still draws inspiration from the first 44GS case. It bears all the same attributes of sharp angles that feature a mix of black polishing and satin brushing. If I were to describe the new case in words, it would be the 44GS case but slimmed down particularly in the lugs. This case design serves to make the watch more elegant while retaining the same recognizable Grand Seiko design DNA. It is also fitting that it is paired with this slimmer movement.
The hands of the watch have also been somewhat redesigned, in particular the hour hand. Instead of the usual single sharp hand with angled sides, the hour hand now features a further straight indentation in the centre of the hand that ends off with a straight end instead of a sharp point. This serves to differentiate the hour hand more distinctly from the minute hand though in my personal opinion, the regular sharp hands look a little more refined. It is also interesting that there is no lume on this watch because the indentation in the middle of the hour hand seems to be an ideal place for lume. Similarly, the indices have been redesigned from a single baton style marker to a double baton style that has angled sides that form something of a trapezoid shape. I am rather indifferent to these changes either way but I like the fact that Grand Seiko has put in the effort to redesign these touches such the watch is almost an entirely fresh design. The bracelet while being the same steel bracelet on the rest of its heritage line, also features a new touch with the GS initials on the clasp being coloured in gold as opposed to the usual steel colour.
The dial that Grand Seiko chose for this is termed “Grand Seiko blue” in its press release. I have to admit that I am a touch disappointed that Grand Seiko once again has not included one of its distinct textured or motif dials that it has become known for. This year, the brand has not really released any steel model with a very distinct feature dial apart from the 60th Anniversary Quartz model, the SBGP007. The other ones that possibly come to mind are the SBGH279 and the two Soko USA editions which feature brushed vertical finishing that frankly required close-up viewing to be noticed. Moreover, this is the 4th time the brand has used this almost exact shade of blue (in my defence, I am judging this based of photos so don’t crucify me if the shade is different). I guess that since this blue is dubbed Grand Seiko blue, it is perhaps the reason why this blue has been used to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the brand. I wonder if the brand would have been better served by released a smaller number of new pieces this year and really focused on making just one or two the centre piece of its 60th Anniversary celebration, something that I discussed previously. If it is any consolation, Grand Seiko did not try to tie this dial colour to any abstract inspiration from nature as it did with its previous limited edition release that had the virtually same colour dial, which is something I personally feel is unnecessary and becomes a tad gimmicky when the link is not apparent. Still, when taken in isolation, this dial is a beautiful shade of blue that features a sunburst finish in a manner that only Grand Seiko can do, something which I am sure will have general universal appeal.
Overall, this is a beautiful release from Grand Seiko. Releasing this innovation rich new Hi-Beat movement to celebrate its 60th Anniversary was a brilliant move by the brand. I particularly love how the rotor is a skeletonized half circle as opposed to the ferris-wheel style rotor that the brand seems to like to put on many of its limited editions. This allows owners and fans to truly enjoy this brilliant new movement. The overall case dimensions are as perfect as have come from Grand Seiko and the limited 1,000 pieces should be sold out in no time.