Finding The Best Grand Seiko Limited Edition Watches Out There
Not too long ago, I wrote about the best Seiko JDM releases of the last 25 years. The next step was obviously to pick the best Grand Seiko JDM releases. But it’s not that simple. Ever since 2010, Grand Seiko has officially had an international focus. So JDM releases would technically be releases created in collaboration with Japanese retailers or the special Grand Seiko boutique editions. On top of that, I would love to add a Grand Seiko to my personal collection soon. So I decided to tap into the world of Grand Seiko limited editions and pick the best of the many that are out there.
The big question when it came to this list, however, was whether I should go with the models that people generally consider to be “the best”. While that is a noble ambition, I would instead like to focus on the models that I personally find the most striking for one specific reason. It’s simply because I am on an individual quest to find my own personal favorite Grand Seiko. I would love to add a Grand Seiko to my collection because of the brilliance of what the brand has to offer. Does it have to be a limited edition? While the answer to that is a logical “no,” I must say that the brand has released an impressive number of great limited editions over the last couple of years.
A personal journey
My love for Grand Seiko has grown tremendously over time. While realizing that the technical brilliance and the incredible level of craftsmanship have always been there, I do sometimes struggle to connect to the timepieces emotionally. What I often find missing is that intangible “spark” that makes it more than an objectively brilliant watch. You need that subjective love for it to make it your watch. But over the years, there have been a rapidly growing number of Grand Seiko models that have found their way to my heart.
So much so that this list is not just a summary of some of the great Grand Seiko limited editions out there. Rather, it’s a reflection of one part of my journey through the world of Grand Seiko. The other part is the non-limited edition pieces that are equally as great options for my future purchase. In the end, it’s not about limited availability for me. But what Grand Seiko has done with its limited editions in the past couple of years is pretty spectacular.
Mechanical, Spring Drive, or Quartz?
Another question would be whether my Grand Seiko would be a mechanical, Spring Drive, or quartz-powered watch? Considering the technical excellence, all three would be very valid options. While quartz would be a no-go for many, if there is one brand I would blindly buy a quartz watch from, it would be Grand Seiko. The brand’s quest for timekeeping excellence has led to absolutely brilliant movements in all three categories. This became even more apparent after I wrote about Grand Seiko in the weekly series of Buying Guides. The history and the ultimate goal of creating the best, most accurate watches in the world is a fascinating story.
But when it comes to my personal preference, I emotionally gravitate towards a mechanical hi-beat or Spring Drive movement. In the end, they are so connected to the Grand Seiko name. Sure, hi-beat movements are not strictly a Grand Seiko exclusive, but they are a big part of the brand’s DNA. If there is one “issue” I have with most Spring Drive watches, it’s their often prominent power reserve indicator. Having said that, the Spring Drive technology is unique and brilliant. On top of that, Grand Seiko has increasingly made steps to integrate the power reserve indicator so it stands out less, and more recently, has even moved it to the back of the movement. It has made a Spring Drive option more and more tempting. Let’s find out what some of the best options are.
1. Grand Seiko SBGJ021
From the moment I saw this Grand Seiko SBGJ021 when it was announced in 2016, this is the one Grand Seiko that has always been in the back of my mind as a future purchase. The Grand Seiko hi-beat GMT models are some of my favorites that the brand has ever created. I particularly love the hi-beat GMT models because they have become iconic without imitating the standard GMT design set by the Rolex GMT-Master. This is more classy and characterized by the famous Grand Seiko 44GS style case. On top of that, the brand has released the GMT models with a string of different and amazing-looking dials.
In this case, it is a dark red, almost brown-colored dial with an amazing texture that comes to life in broad daylight. When I first saw the press images, I was fence about the yellow 24-hour scale and the GMT hand. But in reality, they look very nice and classy, rather than appearing too prominent. As Robert-Jan explained, the dial color was inspired by the colors the Grand Seiko watchmakers see looking at Mount Iwate from the Shizuku-Ishi Watch Studio. In the morning, with a clear sky, Mount Iwate gets this deep red color, the inspiration for the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 GMT dial.
A reason not to wear it
But the magic continues when you turn the watch around. That’s when the spectacular oscillating weight reveals itself. The incredible blue, purple, orange, and yellow colors can be seen on Mt. Iwate at the break of dawn. As Robert-Jan explained: “Seiko managed to get these colors on the weight mass (made of titanium and tungsten) using an oxidization treatment. A surface treatment where electrolysis is applied to generate this oxide film. Different colors pop up due to the variable thickness of the oxide film and the light infraction.”
The results are stunning, and it makes taking a peek at the hi-beat caliber 9S86 even more tempting. The movement operates at 36,000vph, comes with a power reserve of 55 hours, and has an accuracy of +5/-3 seconds per day. But as much as the movement and the dial are brilliant, it’s about this surprise element if you turn the watch around. It shows a playful and colorful side that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from Grand Seiko. The brand produced 500 pieces of the SBGJ021, and you can always find some on sale. The best thing is that you can get them around the same price as the original €6,900 list price in 2016. Even five years after its release, this is still one of my absolute favorite Grand Seiko models.
2. Grand Seiko SBGA401 Boutique Limited Edition
My next pick pretty much flew under the radar when it was released last year. It is part of a trio of Grand Seiko Boutique Limited Edition releases. The watch combines several details that make it a stand-out release for me. I love a black dial combined with pink gold hour markers and hands. They make for a great-looking watch in combination with the stainless steel case and bracelet. It’s somehow the perfect combination of classy and sporty, making it the perfect watch for a great number of different situations.
Additionally, I am often not a fan of Seiko and Grand Seiko’s integration of the power reserve indicator. Especially with Grand Seiko, the power reserve indicator will sometimes mess with the ultra-clean looks of the brand’s brilliant dials. The SBGA401 perfectly shows that it is possible to have the power reserve indicator integrate perfectly in the dial and even give it some extra class. The black dial with the delicate sunburst finish and the pink gold hour markers and hands create a great color combo. And as a result, the power reserve indicator is integrated without standing out, exactly as it should be, in my opinion.
An affordable Spring Drive option
Inside the 41mm stainless steel case, Seiko equipped the watch with the famous automatic Spring Drive Caliber 9R65. The movement is visible through the sapphire case back that features “Grand Seiko Boutique Limited Edition” and the Grand Seiko lion emblem. It’s a movement with a 72-hour power reserve, and it serves as the brand’s basic Spring Drive caliber. It has an accuracy of ±1 second per day and on average ±15 seconds per month.
This is a pretty spectacular release that is hard to ignore, but somehow it feels like it was. Despite being part of an early 2020 release, some are still available at some boutiques and go for a list price of £4,400 or $4,900. Considering it’s a Spring Drive model that looks like this, it is one of the best Grand Seiko offerings out there. And seeing how little attention it has received, it flew completely under the radar. But that color combination, the integration of the power reserve indicator, and the price make this a spectacular Grand Seiko Spring Drive release.
3. Grand Seiko SBGA405 Godzilla 65th Anniversary Limited Edition
Next up is a pick from the Grand Seiko Sport collection. What I love about this watch and its variations is the spectacular case shape. The angular shapes of the titanium case create a spectacular presence that wears very well despite its daunting 44.5mm size. The short lugs ensure that this watch is very easy to wear on a variety of wrist sizes. But let me go back and start at the beginning. The Grand Seiko SBGA405 Godzilla 65th Anniversary Limited Edition takes its inspiration from the Japanese kaijuu, literally translated as “mysterious beasts.” More specifically, this 2019 release celebrates the 65th anniversary of Godzilla first appearing on the silver screen.
When it first came out, I was very reserved about the idea of a Grand Seiko “Godzilla” watch. It’s the kind of thing I would expect from Seiko, but Grand Seiko? It just didn’t seem right. But this Grand Seiko SBGA405 turned out to be the perfect marriage between the two essential Japanese icons. As such, it brings together the serious world of Grand Seiko and the graphic imagery of Godzilla. It’s a tribute executed perfectly by creating a special dial and a spectacular case back. Let’s start with the dial. As you can see, the burgundy red dial has a sunray pattern that was inspired by the heat ray that Godzilla shoots out of his mouth. The effect perfectly fits the sporty nature of the case and dial design.
The phenomenal case back image
If you turn the watch over, you are greeted by an image of Godzilla. The sapphire case back features a black metalized illustration of Godzilla crushing the famous Wako building in central Tokyo, which is known as an important Seiko landmark. The building also plays a pivotal part in the original Godzilla film from 1954. The image was created by Japanese artist Shinji Higuchi. It is a small salute to the famous Grand Seiko lion that you usually find on the Grand Seiko case back. If you look past the image, you can see glimpses of the Spring Drive Caliber 9R15. The movement features a 72-hour power reserve and has a date window at 3 o’clock.
I love the style of the date window frame, as it’s perfectly in line with the prominent markers and hands. But what I love about this Grand Seiko SBGA405 most overall is the flawless integration of the world of Godzilla into the watch. The results are spectacular, and it only leaves the question of whether it looks better on a bracelet or a strap? My Fratello brother in arms Lex will kill me if I prefer a bracelet. The shark strap with the deployant clasp that it came with fits the story perfectly. But the dial and case back telling the story are more than enough for me. The watch was produced in a limited edition of 650 numbered pieces that came out in November 2019. You can pick one up between roughly €10-11K, which is a little under its initial €12,700 list price. What you get in return is a brilliant piece of Japanese culture.
4. Grand Seiko SBGA413
Next up is the Grand Seiko SBGA413. The watch was part of a special release of four Grand Seiko models, commemorating Japan’s twenty-four sekki that mark nature’s ever-changing seasons. The series was a US-only release in 2019. It featured four different models commemorating the four main seasons. Two years after their initial release in the United States, Grand Seiko decided to release them worldwide in October of this year. The first are two titanium Spring Drive models with stunning dials for spring and winter. The two other models are the SBGH271 and SBGH273, both mechanical hi-beat stainless steel models with dials reflecting summer and autumn. All four models feature the same case shape inspired by the iconic Grand Seiko 62GS design. The stunning case design is basically free of a bezel, leaving room to maximize the impact of the dial.
The combination of the case design with the dials is absolutely stunning. All four look amazing, but the two Spring Drive models immediately stood out. The first is the pink-dialed SBGA413. It’s inspired by the spring season when the pink cherry blossoms fall on the water and become hanaikada, or “flower rafts.” The second is the SBGA415, inspired by the winter seasons. It features an off-white/cream-ish dial that recalls the winter snow that glitters under the sunlight. When we had them in the Fratello offices, I was in awe of their beauty. My favorite from the get-go was the pink-dial SBGA413. That dial is just something else. It is a true work of art that constantly reveals new aspects of its beauty.
Titanium or steel?
The dial color changes depending on the light conditions. It ranges from a brighter pink in broad daylight to a softer shade of pink in darker light conditions. But although I say “brighter pink,” the color is in no way in your face. On the other hand, the softer pink is so subtle and beautiful that it almost does not even look pink at all. The transformative powers of this dial are enhanced by the titanium case and bracelet. The darker hue of titanium works very well in softening the overall tone. Add the brilliantly sculpted 40mm case that is 12.8mm high and has a lug-to-lug of 47mm, and this is a great daily wearer. Inside the case, you will find the Spring Drive Caliber 9R65 I discussed earlier. It has 30 jewels and comes with a 72-hour power reserve and a date window at 3 o’clock.
Overall this is a great release, and I have to compliment Grand Seiko for making it available worldwide. Is there anything I do not love about it? I would have loved seeing it executed in stainless steel to compare. I am very curious about how that dial looks in combination with stainless steel. On top of that, it adds to the weight of the watch, the weight that confirms that you are wearing something truly special. And if anything, I would like to be reminded of wearing this watch as much as I can. That dial deserves every second of attention you can give it. The Grand Seiko SBGA413 is now available for €6,700. It is on the top of my list as the best Grand Seiko watch that is currently available.
5. Grand Seiko SBGR311
The last watch on this list of five stand-out Grand Seiko limited edition releases is the Grand Seiko SBGR311. The watch was released in 2018 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the introduction of the 9S movement. As Robert-Jan explained in his review of the watch, when the Grand Seiko name returned, it was with a series of quartz watches in 1988. A decade later, the brand introduced the first new mechanical movements with the Caliber 9S51 and 9S55. Twenty years later, the brand celebrated that fact by introducing two limited edition watches. Besides the SBGR311 that I’ll be talking about, Grand Seiko also released the blue-dial SBGH267. At first glance, they look like variations of the same model, but they are not.
The blue-dial SBGH267 is a 39.5mm hi-beat watch with a different case design. The watch features a stunning blue rotor visible through the display case back. It shares the remarkable dial design with the 42mm brown-dial SBGR311 that I picked. Why did I not pick the smaller blue-dial version? I am lucky that 42mm watches are perfect for my wrist without ever looking too big. And I adore that brown dial. We don’t see brown dials that often, and finding a stunning brown dial can be especially tricky. My all-time favorite is the Vacheron Constantin Overseas 4500V with a brown dial. That watch is pure bliss, in my opinion.
The spectacular dial pattern
Back to the SBGR311. Grand Seiko hit the nail on the head with this dark chocolate brown color dial with the gold applied Grand Seiko logo and the gold seconds hand. It looks incredibly classy and contrasts nicely with the always impressively finished hour markers and hands. As you can see, the dial features a spectacular spiral pattern made up of Grand Seiko-branded tiles that originates in the center of the dial. The mosaic-like dial is fascinating in how it moves and spectacular in its appearance.
Inside the 42mm stainless steel case, Grand Seiko equipped the watch with its 9S68 caliber. The movement is visible through the sapphire display case back that also features the print “Caliber 9S 20th Anniversary Since 1998 Limited Edition” along with the unique number of your watch out of the 1,300 pieces in total produced. The movement operates at 28,800vph and has 35 jewels. The accuracy is well within COSC specifications, with a daily average deviation between -3 and +5 seconds. A hi-beat movement might have made this even more impressive, but it’s still an impressively beautiful watch. On top of that, the hi-beat blue-dial version was more expensive than this brown dial SBGR311. At introduction, the SBGR311 was €4900, and you can find them currently for roughly €3.5K to €6K depending on the condition. It would be a great addition to any collection.
There you have it — a list of my personal favorite Grand Seiko limited editions that have been released in recent times. For now, the SBGA413 is my top pick of the bunch. Of course, there are a ton more that could have been on this list. That’s why I would love to know what some of your favorites are. Share your thoughts on the five watches listed and your favorite Grand Seiko limited editions in the comments section below.
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