The Grand Seiko White Birch Spring Drive — The One That’s For Me
When I saw the introduction of this new Grand Seiko White Birch watch last month, my initial response was mainly one of surprise. It was the same watch as last year’s Hi-Beat SLGH005, but with a Spring Drive movement. What in the world…
But it wasn’t just the switch to a Spring Drive caliber that separated the new SLGA009 from the SLGH005. The dial also changed, and upon further inspection, there were also several changes in the hour markers, the lugs, and the bezel. These changes only became apparent to me when seeing the new White Birch in real life.
The Grand Seiko White Birch
Last year, upon receiving the watch in our office for a review, I concluded that the Grand Seiko White Birch SLGH005 was not for me. And that was unfortunate because I had been looking forward to that watch since its digital introduction in early 2021. The dial was a bit too silvery for me, and I would’ve preferred it to be a bit whiter. So I put that watch out of my head, but not entirely.
Last October, at our Fratello × Grand Seiko event in Paris, I also had the opportunity to see and try it again in bright daylight. It is silvery in artificial light and whiter in natural light. Yes, I am a nitpicker. I know this because the White Birch has done very well for Grand Seiko and amongst its enthusiasts.
Anyway, we received the Grand Seiko White Birch reference SLGA009 for a hands-on review, and — spoiler alert — I really dig this watch. It is not because of the small differences in the design of the lugs and bezel. To be fair, I didn’t even notice them right away. Instead, it’s because of the dial and the movement. And even if the new White Birch hadn’t been a Spring Drive, the new dial would have convinced me anyway. The texture on the first White Birch SLGH005 has a bit more depth to it but it is also more silvery. The more pronounced texture is likely a big reason for this. The dial of the new White Birch that I have here is a bit more matte and more white than silver. It is beautiful, and the fact that the motif on the dial is slightly different and perhaps less extreme doesn’t disturb me at all. This is the dial color I basically expected from the first White Birch last year. Ergo, I love it.
As for the movement, I already have a Hi-Beat caliber in my Grand Seiko SBGJ201 “Mt. Iwate”, so I would love to add a Spring-Drive-powered watch to my collection. I admire the innovative character of the Spring Drive movement and have been looking for a GS with one for quite a while. The Snowflake has a Spring Drive movement, but I decided when buying my first Grand Seiko that I wanted a 44GS style case and that I was not a fan of titanium. And though I happen to like the black-dialed SBGA467, many of the other available Spring-Drive-powered watches from the Heritage collection haven’t spoken to me. But this new SLGA009 from the newly founded Evolution 9 collection certainly does.
That’s right; alongside the Heritage, Elegance, and Sports collections, Grand Seiko added the Evolution 9 collection. It contains all the watches that have been created according to Grand Seiko’s new set of design rules. The Evolution 9 style can be seen as an extension to the existing Grand Seiko style (also sometimes referred to as the Grammar of Design). It is based on three new principles — evolution in aesthetics, evolution in legibility, and evolution in wearing comfort. The latter is an especially interesting one, resulting in a new bracelet design as well as a thinner case. This thinner case is, of course, possible thanks to the new Spring Drive 9RA2 movement.
On the wrist, this watch is a real treat. It wears thinner than my own Grand Seiko SBGJ201, and the bracelet offers a lot of wearing comfort. Aesthetically, the bracelet is more pleasing than the one used on the Heritage models, but that’s a personal preference. If it were up to me though, purely based on aesthetics, I think would have preferred the bracelet taper from 22mm to 18mm instead of from 22mm to 20mm. The 22mm spacing between the lugs may also pose a challenge in finding suitable straps compared to the 20mm and 19mm lug widths of other Grand Seiko models.
Compared to the Hi-Beat White Birch SLGH005, you will find several differences in the case and on the dial. The lugs are slightly thinner on the SLGH005 than on the SLGA009, but the lug width remains the same. Also, the bezel is different on the new SLGA009, leaving a wider “step” between the bezel and the bracelet. The crown of the SLGA009 has also changed, increasing slightly in size compared to that of the SLGH005.
On the dial, it’s not just the structure and depth that have changed; the applied hour markers also have a slightly different finish. Instead of a brushed finish on the center part of each index, there’s now a polished finish. But perhaps the most visible change is the date window. On the new White Birch SLGA009, the window is wider. A different font has also been used for the printing on the date disc. Grand Seiko informed me that these changes are not “updates” of the SLGH005 but belong to the execution of an Evolution 9 watch that uses a Spring Drive movement.
Then, there’s the recurring discussion on the price point of this new generation of Grand Seiko watches. The price tag of €9,500 / $9,100 (the SLGH005 and SLGA009 have the same price) is significantly higher than what we’re used to from the Snowflake or Mt. Iwate models, for example. Those watches are in the range of €6,000 to €6,500. I think we can all agree that they deliver a lot of bang for the buck. Looking at the finishing of those watches, they play in a different league than most other watches at that price point.
The new Evolution 9 watches, including both White Birch models, feature the same level of external finishing we expect. The newer generation of movements not only offers more efficiency but also enables Grand Seiko to use thinner cases. Does that justify the additional €3,000 to €3,500 compared to the Snowflake and Mt. Iwate watches from the Heritage collection?
That, in the end, is up to you, of course. To me, it is worth it, as those watches were already competing with watches in a higher price range. The new models have nicer movements offering more power reserve, nicer movement finishing, and thinner cases. If you don’t feel it is worth the extra amount or think there are other watches in that price range that would speak to you more, there are still the Grand Seiko models from the Heritage collection that cost significantly less. Thankfully, that’s very easy to check for yourself. Just visit a Grand Seiko boutique and try on watches from both collections.
More information via the Grand Seiko website.