The Best Boring But Brilliant Watches In The World — Grand Seiko GMT
There’s not just one Grand Seiko GMT watch to pick in the “The Best Boring But Brilliant Watches In The World” series. There are 37 GMT watches on the European “GS” website to pick from. And if you also include a few discontinued or renamed models from the recent past the numbers go up even more. What is most interesting when you go through all the different references is that they cover all the bases. There’s quartz, mechanical 4Hz and Hi-Beat, and Spring Drive. And the different GMT’s range from introvert to exuberant.
Right off the bat, I’m going to throw something controversial at you. I am going to compare the Grand Seiko GMT line-up to beef. Not just any beef, though, wagyu beef. A steak cut from this famous Japanese from the highest category that is beautifully marbled, tender, and soft, is a delight for the taste buds — if you’re a carnivore, that is. I had particularly good wagyu beef many moons ago while in Japan with Seiko. It was meat from cows who were on a strict diet of apples and I’d like to believe that I tasted that. That’s why I came up with the comparison. The beef itself is good, but when you treat it wrong, you completely ruin it. And that happens to watches too. The result is something tasteless, aka. boring. Apologies in advance to all the vegetarians and vegans out there.
Grand Seiko GMT: looking for the sweet spot
A good steak doesn’t need that much seasoning. A sprinkling of pepper and salt suffices. And you definitely don’t want it overcooked, but you also don’t want it too raw and cold inside. No, you need it you need it just right. Just like your watch. A Grand Seiko GMT is like wagyu beef. But the case, the dial, the movement, the GMT hand, and how it indicates the second time zone indications decide what cut of beef it is. The top five most popular wagyu cuts are filet mignon, top sirloin, rib-eye, strip steak, and D rump. Let’s see if we can match some Grand Seiko GMT watches.
Sharp as a knife
One of the most traditional and subdued Grand Seiko GMT watches is the SBGM221, an updated version of the SBGM021 — it debuted when it still had “Seiko” as the prominent branding on the creamy dial. This classic timepiece calls the Elegance Collection home, and it shows. It is quiet and minimalist, but it also has a blued GMT hand, a date, and a 24-hour inner dial ring so that the time shown by the GMT hand is as easy to read. In the best traditional Grand Seiko style, the hands and indexes are polished and are as sharp as a knife cutting through time like butter — or a premium fillet mignon if you will. They also catch the light so well that they are readable even in dim situations.
It’s a watch that is good without showing off. The case shape is not breaking any design rules, neither is the ivory color of the dial. But please beware that the designer of the watch, Nobuhiro Kosugi (the first watch designer in Japan to receive recognition from the Japanese government as a “Contemporary Master Craftsman”), was behind the design. Much consideration has gone into the shape and facets of the SBGM221.
… It’s a premium watch that gets the job done …
Inside the case, you’ll find a movement that is good, but not revolutionary since it’s a 4Hz automatic movement. But the precision is great, and so is the finishing. At a price of €4,800, it certainly isn’t overpriced. It’s a premium watch that gets the job done, but is it going to be a fulfilling watch over time? Maybe it lacks oomph. Soon or later it will leave you wondering what else is on the menu.
What else is on the Grand Seiko GMT menu?
Luckily there are plenty of other flavors on the Grand Seiko menu. What about the SBGJ017 GMT Hi-Beat from the Elegance Collection with its silver dial? Inside the case, you will find the 36,000vph automatic Hi-Beat caliber 9S86. A little extra taste for movement gourmands. What about the size? Well it’s not exactly a flank steak with its 39.5 × 13.9mm measurements. It’s more of a rib-eye or a New York strip, but the proportions are just right. What I mean is that if you’re into thin watches, this is probably not the one for you.
Leaving room for the dial to shine
I know of people who have a problem with the plethora of font types Grand Seiko uses on the dial. The good news for them is that the watch in the picture stems from the pre-Grand Seiko, stand-alone-brand era. The updated SBGJ217 version (priced at €6,800) looks cleaner. But still, I consider the four-line “poem” a frivolity that doesn’t distract too much from the main event: the way the second time zone works and how it’s displayed.
It’s cleaner, and it spreads out the dial better.
Instead of a short GMT hand — you set the home time without compromising the local time — the SBGJ017/217 uses a longer, blued GMT hand that reaches across the dial to reach the 24-hours indication on the edge of it. It looks more refined than having the 24-hours indication above the indexes, like the SBGM221. It’s cleaner, and it spreads out the dial better. Leaving more room for the retro-modern silver dial to shine.
A mountain outside the window
But if you need a shiny dial, the SBGJ201 “Mt. Iwate” (€6,500) does an even better job. This model from the Heritage Collection uses the same movement as the SBGJ217, but the case is a modern iteration of the 44GS case that debuted in 1967 features a distortion-free, wide mirror surface throughout. Highlight is the dial’s delicate, polished finish, with a “Mount Iwate pattern”. Finding inspiration in nature is what GS does, and for this GMT watch, it found it in the many-ridged contours of Mt. Iwate. When you work on GS watches in the Shizuku-Ishi Watch Studio, that mountain is right outside the window. It’s all about the dial and its color, texture, and reflections here.
A gloomy Autumn night
With the SBGE271 “Kanro” (€6,800) things turn much darker. That’s because “kanro” is a Japanese word to describe Autumn when it’s at its height. This watch celebrates one of the year’s twenty-four seasonal phases, or “sekki”. When the evenings start (way too) early and the first frost makes its appearance.
… the inky dial with its different shades of black ads newness and originallity without compromising the versatility.
The seconds hand glides — because it’s powered by the 9R66 Spring Drive movement underneath — through the dark sky in silence and with grace, just like the moon. The 40.2 × 14mm case has a classic shape and the crown is at the traditional 3 o’clock spot. But the inky dial with its different shades of black ads newness and originality without compromising the versatility.
The shiny option
What the SBGJ201 “Mt. Iwate” and SBGE271 “Kanro” have in abundance — nature-inspired shades and shapes — is absent in the SBGN011 and SBGN013 (€3,000). These two steel 40 ×12.2mm watches are the first 9F quartz GMT models in the Heritage Collection, with metallic dials that look almost industrial. The champagne-colored dial of the SBGN011 is paired with a light blue GMT hand that gives it a delicate contrast. In the SBGN013, a really bright red hand contrast sharply with the black dial. These two GMT watches are much more straightforward than any of the watches that I wrote about earlier. Still, they’re not your average, run-of-the-mill quartz watches. The functions, finishing, and movement are thought-through, top-level, and well-engineered. Way above your run-of-the-mill luxury watch.
In-N-Out Animal Style, anyone?
The most exuberant of all GMT watches in the GS line-up must be the SBGJ239 (€6,800) and SBGJ237 (€7,000) from the Sports Collection. These steel 44,2 × 14.4mm sports watches have the crown at 4 o’clock for comfort, and inside the case beats the Hi-Beat caliber 9S86, But the main attraction is the light show these watches put on in the dark.
That’s because of the glow-in-the-dark sapphire bezels with Lumibrite. And although the odd, yet clearly conscious choice of having the day start at 6:30 and end at 17:30 on the sapphire bezel, the “fireworks” at night give this watch more of an In-N-Out Animal Style — the mustard is fried into each wagyu patty — than a steak vibe. But hey, who doesn’t like a perfectly cooked burger every once in a while?
Grand Seiko GMT — Making the cut
A5 strip steak
All Grand Seiko GMT watches start as wagyu beef but are cut to different kinds of premium steaks. Or ground to burger meat in the case of the buff SBGJ239 and SBGJ237. But I if I had to pair the five different GMT’s to five of the most popular wagyu cuts, I would say that the SBGM221 is like the A5 strip steak. This intensely marbled cut is among the most requested cuts among meat-eaters. You can’t go wrong with a strip steak because of its fantastic balance of texture and flavor.
The SBGJ217 (or SBGJ017 in a previous life) would then be the top sirloin, a thick, lean cut of meat with a rich and robust flavor. Top sirloin is moderately tender and most known for its robust beefy flavor. It doesn’t have the signature marbling, but that goes well with the sober silver dial of the SBGJ217.
Looking for more flavor? In that case, there’s always the SBGJ201 “Mt. Iwate” with its textured dial that pairs nicely to the rib-eye. The ribeye from the cow’s rib cage area is a tender, well-marbled cut of meat surrounded by a layer of fat. When you cook the steak, the fat gives the rib-eye, an intense beefy taste. Just like the dial pattern on the SBGJ201, “Mt. Iwate” provides this Grand Seiko GMT with its unique flavor.
The quartz-powered SBGN011 and SBGN013 are more like D rump, I guess. D rump is taken from a very active muscle and therefore the meat is a bit tough, but also still very flavorful. It’s a bit like the very active quartz oscillator in a 9F movement that vibrates at precisely 32,768 times per second. And both the SBGN011 and SBGN013 are still tasty watches, despite their overly active movements.
The SBGE271 Spring Drive uses Grand Seiko’s most innovative movement. This watch truly is the filet mignon in the GS collection. Filet mignon cut from wagyu beef has a high level of marbling, making the already tender meat even more velvety and delectable. The mild, even sweet flavor is refined and the structure ever so supple texture. Just like the unique glide-motion of the Spring Drive-powered seconds hand. Bon appetit!
If you still have some room for more premium cuts, please find all the different GMT flavors Grand Seiko has to offer on its menu right here.
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