Hands-On With The Limited Edition Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 GMT SBGJ021
Almost identical to the Grand Seiko that won the “Petite Aiguille” award in the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2014, Seiko now introduces the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat SBGJ021 with a special dial and oscillating weight. The design of this Grand Seiko is based on the 1967 Grand Seiko 44GS. Let’s have a look at this limited edition Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 GMT SBGJ021 up close.
Grand Seiko Hi-Beat SBGJ021
This is that typical example of a watch you need to see in the flesh to really appreciate it. When I first saw the press release, I didn’t pay too much attention as the dial and rotor appeared to be a bit gimmicky. However, when the kind people of Seiko Netherlands offered the watch to me for a review, I couldn’t say no. As soon as I opened the famous blue Grand Seiko box, I was flabbergasted. That dial just comes to live as soon as the first rays of light touch it. It isn’t gimmicky at all.
Mount Iwate as inspiration
Before I head over to the specifications of the watch, let’s talk a bit more about that special dial and oscillating weight of this Grand Seiko Hi-Beat SBGJ021. The colors are not chosen at random, there is – of course – a story to them.
Mount Iwate is what the fine watchmaking people of Seiko see when they look through the windows of the Shizuku-ishi Watch Studio in Japan. This is the place where the mechanical watches of the Grand Seiko collection are being manufactured. We did a thorough write-up on our visit to that manufacture in this article. In the morning, with a clear sky, the Mount Iwate gets this deep red color, the inspiration for the dial of the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 GMT.
The oscillating weight has a different color pattern, using blue, purple, orange and yellow. These are the colors that can be see on Mt. Iwate at the break of dawn. 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.
This is a surface treatment in which metals are subjected to electrolysis so as to generate artificially an oxide film. Titanium oxide film produces color according to the light infraction index, enabling production of different colors by varying the thickness of the oxide film.
Case, Dial and Hands
As always, the case, dial (and its indexes) and hands have a finish that is almost beyond comparison to other watches in this price range. As you could read in our trip report to Japan last year, they take a lot of pride in doing this by hand. The quality of the work is incredible and of a very high standard. The Grand Seiko Hi-Beat SBGJ021 is no different. The design of the case, as I wrote above, is based on the 44GS model from 1967. A very typical design, with large polished surfaces and very sharp edges is a feast for the eyes.
I can repeat myself over and over again when performing Grand Seiko reviews, but the finish on these cases is just something you should witness yourself. So if you have the chance to go out and take a look at some Grand Seiko watches in the flesh, do so. Bring a loupe, I would say 🙂
Although the 40mm diameter case looks sharp and rather thick (14mm), it wears very comfortable on the wrist. The GS signed crown is easy to grasp and is smooth as butter. What I noticed is that you keep cleaning the large polished surfaces of the case, as they will show fingerprints. But that’s not a big deal, it keeps you occupied with the watch.
As you can see on the photo below, the case is very substantial. The caseback is screw-down and has – as shown above – a sapphire crystal. The case band – or center part – has these beautiful combinations of polished and brushed surfaces. The case is slightly bend to meet the shape of the wrist. The upper part of the case is the polished bezel, that sits quite high on the case but still is sleek when seen from the top. To me personally, although I love the round Grand Seiko SBGM021 I reviewed not too long ago, this is the case shape that sets Grand Seiko apart from so many other watches. You will also find a similar shape in the famous King Seiko models of the 1960s and early 1970s (go here if you are looking for one of those).
As the case shape of the Grand Seiko that impresses me every time, the design of the bracelet doesn’t. It is a great quality bracelet, but the design is – similar to the modern Speedmaster Professional ‘Moonwatch’ bracelet – not really my thing. The two polished center links kill it for me. So I would prefer the all brushed bracelet, that some Grand Seiko models do have actually. The clasp is very nicely done though, with a double pusher system to release it. The bracelet has a superb finish and wears very comfortable, for sure. However, I think I’d put this watch on a very nice leather strap to get a much higher contrast with the extra-ordinary shape of the case.
The Grand Seiko SBGJ021 is powered by – as the model name suggests – a high beat movement. In this case, that’s 36.000 vph. Besides an hour, minute, seconds hand and date, it features a GMT function. The yellow hand indicates the 24 hour (home time). Grand Seiko caliber 9S86 is also used in several other watches from the collection. Power reserve of this watch is 55 hours.
The oscillating weight of this watch blocks a bit of the view on the rest of the movement, but as you can see on one of the images above, the movement has a beautiful finish as well. This particular model is the only 9S86 that has this ‘full’ weight mass, normally spoken there will be a rotor like any other that at least provides a 50% view on the movement.
Interesting to note is that the oscillating weight is made of titanium and tungsten. According to Seiko, this delivers a performance advance because it will resist distortion caused by a hard knock or shock. Titanium absorbs vibrations much better than most other materials used for mass weights, causing less impact and risk to damage the movement or bearings.
Without a doubt that this Grand Seiko Hi-beat SGBJ021 is one of the coolest models I’ve seen so far. The dial plays a huge role in that of course and I am aware that this is very personal. One of the other models that I favor is the one with the snow-flake dial. I would have a hard time choosing.
With only 500 pieces made of this model, I believe this Grand Seiko is only there for the lucky few who are fast enough in taking a decision. The “full” rotor with its colors is very interesting, but not something I would per definition favor over a normal rotor of the 9S86 caliber.
Grand Seiko SBGJ021 Price
This watch doesn’t come cheap nor should it, actually. It is an amazing quality timepiece with superb finish and that doesn’t come for free. This Grand Seiko SBGJ021 retails for 6900 Euro (including sales taxes), but might differ a bit per market. Unfortunately, Grand Seiko isn’t as widely available as I would like to see, but slowly the availability gets a bit better.
As always, the Grand Seiko comes with the typical blue leather box and instruction manual. For a limited edition like this, the fine people from the Shizuku-ishi Watch Studio make no exception.
For approx. 7000 Euro you will be able to choose from a lot of the obvious Swiss brands these days, from Rolex to IWC and Omega. But also brands like Zenith, Jaeger-LeCoultre and (for example) Panerai have offerings in this range. I believe that you must be a confident buyer for this Grand Seiko, not being lead by a Swiss brand name on the dial. I’ve said this before, but that is – what I believe – is the Achilles heel of this truly remarkable and great brand. However, if you are a collector or admirer of (Grand) Seiko, this is probably not even a topic of discussion.
The thing that always amazes me, is the low number of pre-owned Grand Seiko watches on the market. Compared to other brands, it is just amazing. On Chrono24 for example, offering over 250.000 watches, you’ll find only a hand full of mechanical Grand Seiko watches that are pre-owned. It occurs to me that those who bought a Grand Seiko, are keeping them. That’s a good sign in my opinion.
One thing is for sure, the Grand Seiko Hi-beat SBGJ021 will not let you down. Just like any other Grand Seiko to be honest.