The Grand Seiko SBGA231G from their Sport Collection is not the first model that comes to mind when thinking about their watches. Perhaps it is the very competitive market for diving watches, whereas in the market of all-rounders, the Grand Seikos seem to do pretty well. So why is it that we don’t see not much talk about the Grand Seiko SBGA231G or SBGA229G for example? Is it because its looks are too close to those diving watches from Switzerland? Let’s have a closer look at the SBGA231.
Grand Seiko SBGA231G
The SBGA231G is the ‘Grand Seiko’ update of the ‘Seiko’ SBGA031. This means that after Seiko and Grand Seiko were separated two years ago, all models received a new dial that only indicates ‘Grand Seiko’ instead of the double naming (‘Seiko’ and ‘Grand Seiko’) they had before. The SBGA231G is the titanium counterpart of the stainless-steel Grand Seiko SBGA229G (formerly SBGA029G).
Let me start by telling you that I am not a fan of titanium. It is one of the reasons I did not buy the famous Grand Seiko ‘Snowflake’ SBGA211. It is too light-weight for me, as I like a watch to have some presence (in weight) on my wrist. That said, with 137 grams, this SBGA231G isn’t extremely light-weight either. The steel reference SBGA229G weighs 201 grams, so that is quite a chunk for sure. As a comparison, a Rolex Submariner Date 116610LN weighs approx. 155 grams. On the wrist, the titanium Grand Seiko SBGA231G wears and feels substantial enough if you have the same issues with titanium as I have.
Now that I mentioned the Submariner anyway, there’s one thing that I often hear when it is about this Grand Seiko SBGA229G and SBGA231G model: it looks pretty darn similar to the Rolex Submariner. To a certain extent, that’s very true and it is doesn’t make much sense to deny that it has a lot of similarities. On the other hand, a lot of diving watches have a similar look because of those typical diving watch features. This goes for the Breitling SuperOcean, the Omega Seamaster 300M and Planet Ocean, perhaps even the Blancpain Fifty-Fathoms as well. However, the black uni-directional diving bezel, the crown guards, the black dial and white hour markers (with rings) of this particular Grand Seiko SBGA231G are indeed a bit like those from the Rolex Submariner. Is that a bad thing? Well, it doesn’t deserve a price for originality perhaps, but all these ‘Submariner’ features do make this a very functional watch (both the Rolex and Grand Seiko). If you aren’t bothered by it, there’s absolutely no issue. There are also enough differences and Grand Seiko features that make this watch still very interesting and not just a ‘homage’ to the Submariner. Perhaps it is also here that the titanium might be an important factor for those who prefer a light diving watch, as Rolex doesn’t offer their Submariner in titanium.
Then there’s the Spring Drive movement, of course. I’ve been explaining the works of the Spring Drive movement a few times in the past, so I suggest you read this or this article if you want to have more details about this movement. For me, the Spring Drive movement is definitely a plus, as I love its accuracy and performance. The continuous ‘electric’ sweep of the second hand is always a pleasure to observe. There’s only one downside to Spring Drive in my opinion, which is the power reserve indicator that comes with it. Completely unnecessary for a self-winding watch. If it indicates empty, you will need to wind or wear it. If it is still running, just put it on and it will increase again. I don’t get the point of this indicator unless a watch has a hand-wound movement. That said, the Spring Drive movement as such is just awesome in my book.
Where this watch differs from most of its competition is the design of the case and especially the finishing of the case. Grand Seiko uses Zaratsu (mirror) polishing techniques for their cases, which results in a beautiful shine. It is one of the things I enjoy most with my own Seiko Marinemaster and Grand Seiko Hi-Beat. The finish on the case is simply amazing and leaves its direct competition far behind. The downside is that a diving watch is probably also going to be used as diving (or tool) watch, so it will get some scratches. Even the watch we have here for review has seen some proper use. And that shows, which can be bothersome for those who want to keep their watches in pristine conditions at all times. Of course, the Grand Seiko SBGA231G can be re-finished during service, and if it bothers you that much you could also wonder if you shouldn’t be using a more affordable watch for diving purposes and just use this one for being pretty. Some people seem to think that titanium is more scratch resistant than steel, but you will definitely get it scratched just as easily during use. So you really should decide for titanium if you love the light-weight factor and perhaps the darker colour of the material, otherwise the steel SBGA229G is just as fine (and a €1000 cheaper).
The titanium case does not have a display back, which is a pity, as I like to see their caliber 9R65 movement at work. However, purists might disagree and like to see the case closed. The power reserve of the Grand Seiko caliber 9R65 is 72 hours and it has an accuracy of approx. 1 second of deviation per day. Of course, this watch comes with a screw-down crown. No ceramic bezel for this Grand Seiko, but a high polished steel bezel, just like the MM300 SBDX001 and SBDX017 for example. The high polished finish might make you think it is ceramic though, but it isn’t.
As I already mentioned, some dial elements are common for divers’ watches. What’s not so common is the level of finish that Grand Seiko does with their dials. Beautifully polished hour markers and GS logo, brushed hands and everything is checked and applied by hand. The only thing I don’t like about this dial is the power reserve indicator. But I don’t like it on any of the Grand Seiko Spring Drive models, including the Snowflake. It ‘breaks’ the dial too much and makes it a bit too cluttered. The date is located at 3 o’clock in contrasting colours, meaning the disc is white and the printing is black. Just the way I like it, as it is far better readable this way than on a black disc with white printing. Aesthetically I get it that it is nicer when things are matching. I wouldn’t have mind to have no date at all, to be honest, but it is kinda functional for daily use.
The cathedral hands are brushed and filled with Lumibrite, (Grand)Seiko’s own luminous compound. It has also been applied to the hour markers on the dial. My Seiko and Grand Seiko watches are the best luminous watches in my collection, so no criticism here. I love the gold tone GS and Grand Seiko logos on the dial at 12 o’clock, it gives a nice contrast with the black and white. At 6 o’clock, just above the rectangular hour marker, there’s the indicator of the 200 meters of water resistance. Slight above, you will also read that this Grand Seiko SBGA231G is powered by a Spring Drive movement.
The bracelet on this Grand Seiko SBGA231G looks very similar to the other Grand Seiko bracelets. Three rows of brushed links and the center link as two polished links in between. So in total, there are 5 rows of links. It is very similar to the modern Omega Speedmaster bracelet design. I am not really a fan of its aesthetics to be honest (the Speedmaster bracelet and the Grand Seiko bracelet), as I think it would be much easier on the eyes when everything was just brushed. The quality is very good though, and the level of finish is great as well. There’s an easy system in the clasp for extending the bracelet if you want to wear it over your diving suit, or just resize it a bit during hot summer days for example. It works very easy, but the system looks a bit cheap, to be honest. The same extension system can be found on the bracelet of the Marinemaster 300 and where I already found it cheap on that watch (with a retail price of approx. 2500 Euro at the time), it’s not getting better when the retail price of the watch is 7200 Euro.
Make no mistake, this Grand Seiko SBGA231G is just like any other Grand Seiko a great piece of engineering. The finishing is incredible, but it feels a bit as I am repeating myself over and over again when it comes to Grand Seiko. I also have to be fair here: I feel that Grand Seiko is (still) a lot of bang for the buck, but the amount of bucks needed to acquire one of their watches has been increasing in the past few years. The retail price of 7200 Euro for this titanium diver is still under the 7850 Euro price tag of a Rolex Submariner Date or a titanium Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M (7900 Euro), but it is getting close. There’s no doubt in mind that this Grand Seiko SBGA231G can’t be compared to either of these two. However, for 7200 Euro a ceramic bezel would have been nice and the extension system in the clasp could use an upgrade as well, especially compared to the two other watches mentioned above. I think I would go for the steel SBGA229G version of this watch myself, for a 1000 Euro, I could live with the 64 grams additional weight.
More information via the official Grand Seiko website.