Watch Launch: Grand Seiko “White Birch” SLGH005

Grand Seiko has finally done it. It has finally released a watch that in my books is as close to perfection as it gets. This year in Grand Seiko seems to have opted for a starkly different approach to watch releases than it had a year ago. By this point last year, it had already released no less than 8 new watches in contrast to this year’s, well, one. But this one has been well worth the wait. I am of course, referring to the Grand Seiko SLGH005, the third watch from the brand that is powered by its remarkably innovative new Hi-Beat movement, the 9SA5.

The SLGH005 combines much of the best of what Grand Seiko has to offer. A beautifully textured dial that carries inspiration from some calming aspect of nature? Check. Remarkable finishing on the case, dial and hands? Check. A new, improved movement that is technologically more advanced than much of the competition? check. A thinner case that Grand Seiko fans have been crying out for a long time now? Check. To be fair, most of this list could be found in the SLGH003 as well and arguably the SLGH002 though the latter’s use of gold and lack of a bracelet makes it less of a direct comparison. However, what fans of the brand has always looked forward to is the unique combination that that list brings. And this particular combination is lovely, in no small part because of the dial.

The dial is what sets this watch apart from his two predecessors, with it being the first that houses the 9SA5 and features a textured dial. Grand Seiko is renowned for drawing inspiration for their dials from nature, and while some are more tenuous than others, the white birch connection looks apt. That is not to say that you couldn’t find a more wintery connection for this dial, but I quite like the white birch link. It allows the dial to be viewed with a sense of calm, peace and perhaps even some mysticism. It also puts some distance between this and the Snowflake in terms of similarities. It is a shame that so far, we only have press images to look at because the somewhat vertical bark like textures on the dial would probably look several times better in person than they already do.

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Interestingly, the white birch in Celtic culture represents rebirth, or renewal, which seems fitting given that this is also the first regular production model to house a 9SA5, with the former two being limited editions. The upgraded movement boasts an innovative dual-impulse escapement that perhaps has arguably only one main rival in the market in the co-axial movement.  Together with its newly designed free sprung balance and horizontal gear train – barrel arrangement, this allows for a thinner movement without compromising on accuracy. It also does not compromise on power reserve, with 80-hours to get you by. Grand Seiko releasing this movement in a regular-production watch, also seems to indicate the brand’s intention to feature this movement as a mainstay in its regular line-up as opposed to being only for special edition watches. It is something that would no doubt please fans who have been calling for a thinner Grand Seiko watch, something that is now possible with this new movement.

That thinner 11.7mm is paired off with a 40mm case width. And while that may sound like almost every other Grand Seiko watch, at least those in the Heritage collection, the case design, hands and indices are all different from everything else apart from the SLGH002 and SLGH003. The case looks and wears (if my hands-on with the SLGH003 is anything to go by) smaller than the dimensions may suggest because of the sharper slimmer lugs. The indices now are more trapezoid batons than rectangular ones and the hands also feature a more multi-faceted finish than the majority of hands on earlier Grand Seiko models. The case, hands and indices still, as is expected, feature the brand’s famed Zaratsu finishing. In many ways, this new design is very much an evolution of the brand’s consistent design language over the years. This case design has an official name too i.e. the Series 9. I for one, like the fact that the name points to the brand moving away from reusing older case designs and moving forward just as it has with the movement.

If there is one area I may not be a fan of, it is the lug width. Not because I have something against 22mm in and of itself, but because in feels a tad disproportionate to the slimmer lugs and 40mm case width. More than that though, it is paired on this watch with a bracelet that tapers only 2mm to 20mm which makes the entire bracelet feel too wide for the watch case. That being said, this is solely an opinion, and my assessment is based off the SLGH003, which while likely, may not be exactly the same as on the latest SLGH005.

Overall, this is an amazing release from Grand Seiko and the perfect way to kick off the year. If slowing down its volume and frequency of releases means every release is like this one, then I would be really excited for everything else the brand has in store for us. Upcoming next, or so the rumour mill says, is Grand Seiko’s newest Spring Drive movement in this Series 9 case, but we’ll have to wait and see.