Hands-On With The Shimmering Grand Seiko Heritage SBGY011 “Asaborake”
In Japanese, “asaborake” (朝ぼらけ) is the light of dawn. And guess what? The dial of the Grand Seiko Heritage SBGY011 is inspired by the special light at daybreak. Some of the Fratelli start rolling their eyes when they read about Grand Seiko’s sources of inspiration. I don’t. See, I don’t care where the GS designers find their inspiration when the result is, almost without exception, stunning. And the hand-wound Spring Drive “Asaborake” in its 44GS case is a combination of the brand’s most famous case design, a high-tech movement that also pleases purists, and a delicate dial design.
Just when I thought the Evolution 9 GMT SBGE285 “Mist Flake” was my favorite Grand Seiko release of 2022, the brand presents the Heritage SBGY011 “Asaborake” (€8,200 / US$8,100) and gets me all confused. That grayish shimmering dial of the “Mist Flake” was one of the attractions, but as I wrote in the review of that Watches and Wonders novelty, “the heart wants what the heart wants, and the heart wants Spring Drive.” But does the heart want an automatic movement or a hand-wound one?
The Grand Seiko Heritage SBGY011 “Asaborake” guarantees manual pleasure
As it stands, the Heritage SBGY011 “Asaborake” is quite a rare critter. It’s only the second Grand Seiko model with a manual-wind Spring Drive caliber in a 44GS-style case, and it is the first that’s not a limited edition. There’s the rarity argument for you. However, I know that more versions will appear, so this argument is only valid for a limited time. But this rotor-less movement does have three more tricks up its sleeve to win me over. First, there’s the intimate interaction between the watch and its wearer when it’s time to wind the movement — a life-bonding experience.
Then there’s the lack of a moving rotor that usually covers half of the movement. With a manual-wind caliber, nothing blocks the view. And last but not least, a hand-wound Spring Drive caliber has a private power-reserve indicator on the back to liven things up. The added bonus is that the placement of the power-reserve indicator on the movement side has another purpose: it also cleans up the dial side quite nicely. But before I get to write poetry about the light-of-dawn-inspired dial, there’s the case of the Heritage SBGY011.
Bigger yet slimmer than the original
The steel case of the Heritage SBGY011 stays very true to the original 44GS case of 1967. In my opinion, the 44GS is one of the best-looking case designs ever. It combines elegance with strength and finesse with sportiness in a timeless way. The new Heritage SBGY011 is the contemporary version of the original 44GS in many respects. The original watch had a 37.9 × 11.5mm case whereas the latest iteration has a 40 × 10.5mm case, making it bigger yet slimmer. Bigger is better because you get more mirror-polished surfaces on the flanks of the case, which characterize and show off its powerful lines.
And not only is bigger better, but slimmer is also better in this (44GS) case. It makes the Heritage SBGY011 a nearly perfect, contemporary dress watch. Nearly perfect? Maybe if it had stayed below the mental barrier of 40mm it would have been perfect. Having said that, being right on the money doesn’t create an insurmountable obstacle that prevents one from falling in love with the watch. I know. I experienced it firsthand.
A gem-like movement
The case ticks all the boxes — did I mention it’s water-resistant to 100 meters, which lends this dress watch all-around daily-wear capabilities? — and so does the movement. The caliber 9R31, which debuted in 2019, is derived from the caliber 9R02 found in, for instance, the lustrous Spring Drive 20th Anniversary SBGZ001 in its engraved platinum case. Just like 9R02, the 9R31 has two mainsprings in one barrel, generating 72 hours of power reserve, but does without separate bridges, the Torque Return System, and hand-finished decorations. Still, the 9R31 with 30 jewels is a gem. And on the dial side, the seconds hand performs that precious glide motion with incredible accuracy. Grand Seiko claims an average monthly rate of ±15 seconds per month in normal temperature conditions. On a day-to-day basis, you can expect a rate of about ±1 second.
The Heritage SBGY011 “Asaborake” is not a limited edition
The textured dial of the Heritage SBGY011 is a thing of beauty. Yes, GS also produces some fantastic brushed dials. But just like the “Mist Flake” I referred to earlier or the pink-dialed SBGA413 that’s inspired by spring when the pink cherry blossoms fall on the water and become hanaikada (“flower rafts”), nothing beats a GS with a textured and finely patterned dial. And the dial of the “Asaborake” is very subtle, delicate, and even introverted for a nature-inspired GS dial. The fine pattern that evokes the early morning light is ever so soft.
Wearing the “Asaborake”
Once on the wrist, the SBGY011 “Asaborake” proved to be even more of a destabilizing watch. The titanium GMT “Mist Flake” has a bracelet just like my steel Tough Quartz SBGX341, but it feels and looks a bit less instrumental and provides a great additional function. It’s different by such a large margin that it claimed a very high spot on my wish list for this year. The SBGY011 on a black crocodile strap is non-instrumental and has nothing extra in terms of functionality, but it has plenty of extra sophistication to mess up and mix up my list. The clean dial just makes the already charismatic case shape stand out even more. And because of its delicate and introverted color, the crisp indexes and the hand-curved minute and seconds hands that sweep past them so stunningly close get so much room to shine.
As you would guess, wearing a thin 40mm watch on an 18.5cm (7.28″) wrist was never going to be a problem. I would, however, prefer a strap in a different color. I would imagine that a very deep, dark blue color would go rather nicely with the light of dawn. Oh well, I’m glad I found something that actually could be improved. It’s also something that can be done very easily. The strap is, in any case, not a deal-breaker. And neither is the €8,200 / US$8,100 price. The build quality, level of finishing, and unique movement inside the SBGY011 “Asaborake” justify the price tag.
Poetic last words
Let me leave you with the words of the poet Sakanoue no Korenori of the first half of the Heian period (794–1185). Maybe his poem “Asaborake Ariake” can help me in my quest to find the best Grand Seiko of 2022. And it could also possibly help you not only to see but also feel the beauty of the Grand Seiko Heritage SBGY011 “Asaborake” even better.
“The hazy early morning light comes not from the moon but from the crystal white snow of Yoshino.”
For more information about the Grand Seiko Heritage SBGY011 “Asaborake” and its dial that resembles hazy early morning light, please visit the brand’s official website.
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