Even after 60 years in business and a trophy case full of high-level watchmaking achievements, Grand Seiko might be the world’s most under-appreciated watch brand. Part of this is due to the fact that the brand shares its name (or half of it, anyway) with Seiko, which is best known in North America for its affordability, rather than its luxury. To clarify in the simplest terms, Grand Seiko’s relationship with Seiko is kind of like Toyota’s relationship to Lexus—they may share a parent company, but one makes economical, reliable products for the masses, while the other’s creations are all about refinement, craftsmanship and spectacular attention to detail. To understand Grand Seiko in just those terms, however, is to do the watchmaker a disservice. These five anniversary limited-editions represent exactly what Grand Seiko is all about.
Mechanical Precision: Heritage Collection Hi-Beat 36000 Limited Edition SBGH281
The Heritage Collection Hi-Beat 36000 Limited Edition SBGH281, or SBGH281 for short (Grand Seiko isn’t much for catchy names) is a time- and date-only watch whose relatively austere appearance belies the complexity within. While the deep blue dial and contrasting red seconds hand are a beautiful combination, the real star here is the Caliber 9S85 movement. Every mechanical watch movement works by means of an oscillating wheel, and generally speaking the faster that wheel spins the more accurate the watch. The more oscillations, however, the more wear and tear on the movement and the less power it has to run for extended periods of time. This was the challenge Grand Seiko undertook with so-called “Hi-Beat” movements like the 9S85, and with 36,000 vibrations per hour it is accurate to +5/-3 seconds per day (within the range of a COSC-certified chronometer) while maintaining an impressive 55 hour power reserve. This makes it as technically impressive as it is visually understated, or in other words a textbook Grand Seiko.
Performance: Sport Collection SLGA001
Grand Seiko makes a lot of dressy watches, but the SLGA001 shows they are just as capable when it comes to tool watches. A rotating bezel, screw-down crown and an impressive 600m of water resistance, immediately puts this classic diver in the league of the world’s best examples, but that’s not all it has to offer. Ticking inside its titanium case is a new 9RA5 movement, the latest evolution of Grand Seiko’s famous Spring Drive. The history and accomplishments of Spring Drive could take up an entire article on their own, but suffice to say it this hybrid quartz-mechanical creation is as accurate as it is tough. This version features a 120-hour power reserve and is limited to just 700 pieces.
Unique Materials: Elegance Collection SBGW262
In addition to making superlative movements, Grand Seiko also distinguishes itself with incredible attention to materials. The new SBGW262, with its Urushi lacquer dial, Maki-E accents and 18K gold case, is as fine an example of this as we’ve seen. The art of lacquerwork is as Japanese as haiku, and this dial is lacquered using Urushi, a substance derived from trees on Mount Iwate near Grand Seiko’s Shizukuishi Watch Studio. The numerals are applied using Kaga Maki-e, a centuries-old technique for applying gold to fine lacquered surfaces, and contrast elegantly with the hour markers. It’s a stunning achievement, and no one other than Grand Seiko could have pulled it off.
Engineering Innovation: Heritage Collection SLGH002
This stunning dress watch also features a Hi-Beat movement but this one, the 9SA5, is even more refined. Grand Seiko calls the new 9SA5 the finest mechanical movement they’ve ever made, and it contains a host of new technologies, patents and watchmaking achievements to back up their claim. If you get satisfaction from things like pallet forks, escapement wheels, gear trains and barrels, this Grand Seiko will surely scratch your engineering itch. With an 18k yellow gold case and sapphire crystal caseback, it’s limited to just 100 pieces.
All-Out Luxury: Elegance Collection SBGW263G
Among the truest mark of refinement in watchmaking is the time and skill a brand dedicates to finishing its pieces. Grand Seiko can stand with the best brands in the world on this front, and the new SBGW263G provides a stunning example of this. Its case is platinum, with an 18k gold case back embossed with Grand Seiko’s lion emblem, but the real standout here is the hand-engraved dial. According to Grand Seiko, the finishing of each of the 20 pieces of the limited anniversary edition is overseen with the most meticulous care by master engraver Kiyoshi Terui at the brand’s Shizukuishi watchmaking studio. The dial’s plates, indexes and minute track are all engraved by hand, as are the hands themselves and the Grand Seiko logo at 12 o’clock. This adds up to a spectacular and exceptionally rare timepiece that will appeal to only the most discerning collectors.