A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to try another Seiko, the Grand Seiko SBGH001J. I requested to borrow this watch from Seiko after I already had a bit of Grand Seiko experience with their SBGV009 timepiece (read my in-depth review here).
That particular model though, had a quartz movement. You must know, that the Grand Seiko comes basically in three flavours: quartz, spring-drive and mechanical. Although I have a lot of respect for their high-precision 9F quartz movement, my real interest is in mechanical watches.
So I requested this Grand Seiko SBGH001J from Seiko to perform a review. Ever since our contributing editor Michael Stockton infected me with this Seiko virus, my interest has grown quite a bit for this brand. I also noticed about myself that I am defending the brand more often when I speak to other watch aficionados who still think it is an entry-level brand or just not a serious competitor for the Swiss watch industry. Since I believe that Seiko – and especially the Grand Seiko – is a very interesting alternative to some of the Swiss and German watch brands out there, I thought I’d pick a model that I would actually could buy and wear myself. Hence: the Grand Seiko SBGH001J.
Why this model? For me it pushed all the right buttons for an every day mechanical watch: legible dial, classy dauphine hands, interesting case shape, stainless steel bracelet and of course, an interesting (in-house) movement.
The Dial and Hands
To start off with the dial of the Grand Seiko SBGH001J, it is absolutely flawless. Even under the macro lens of our photographer Bert it showed no strange marks, no micro scratches, no gaps or other weird roughness to be discovered. Same thing for the applied logo, applied hour markers and super nicely polished and cut dauphine hands. The dial indicates it is a Grand Seiko with the GS logo right below the centre pinion. I would not mind when Seiko decides to replace the applied Seiko logo at 12 o’clock and show it is a Grand Seiko on that particular spot. However, Grand Seiko is a collection of Seiko and not a separate entity, so it makes sense it is shown below the ‘Seiko’ wording.
This watch has no luminous dial, which is by no means a show-stopper for me, but take this into consideration when you are looking for this timepiece. Some people insist on having a dial that is readable under low light conditions.
The dial also indicated that we deal here with a high-beat automatic movement. Like Zenith’s El Primero, this Seiko caliber 9S85 movement ticks at 36,000 vph. Not only would this improve accuracy of the movement it also results in a very nice and smooth sweep of the second hand.
This Grand Seiko SBGH001J drew my attention due to the shape of the case. I love the sharp polished edges in combination with matt-brushed case band and wide facets on top. It looks like a sword and once you have it on your wrist, or in your hand, you will see how incredibly well this level of finishing is. There is a little cutout for the crown that partly disappears in the side of the case when screwed in. The crown is relatively large (but certainly not in a negative way) and easy to grasp and use. The case has this awesome 1960s design that we also saw in Michael’s review of his Grand Seiko SBGW047.
On the backside of the watch you will see the transparent caseback that allows you to have a look at the beautiful finished movement. All is done with visibly the utmost care and attention to details.
Besides that, this 40.2mm watch is very comfortable on the wrist as well. It doesn’t stick out or feels too heavy. It surely does have wrist presence, perhaps best comparable with a Rolex Datejust II.
The Cal 9S85 Movement
I already touched the subject briefly, the in-house developed and manufactured hi-beat movement caliber 9S85. It is not only a looker, it is am amazing piece of craftsmanship. It has a very distinct design and the finish is just awesome. The movement has a power reserve of 55 hours and an accuracy of -3/+5 seconds per day, easily within Chronometer specifications. As said, the movement is a hi-beat one, ticking at 36,000vph or 10hz. The blue second hand therefor has this nice and smooth sweep along the dial.
For myself, a display back wouldn’t have been necessary as I rather prefer a closed case back with nice engraving, when the watch has no complication. The rotor also takes away quite a bit of the view, but I can imagine that despite the blocked view, people want to know what Grand Seiko is about.
Now comes the tricky part in this review: the Seiko bracelet. Avid readers of Fratello Watches know how I feel about the bracelets done by Seiko and in my opinion; Michael Stockton showed it once more in his Seiko Astron GPS review. Bracelets and straps are not Seiko’s forté in my humble opinion. Although there is absolutely nothing wrong with the quality of the bracelet, it is the design that kills it for me. It is the reason why I removed stainless steel bracelets from my Seiko SBDX001 Marinemaster 300M and Seiko Scuba SBDC001 and replaced them with rubber straps.
I can only imagine how hard it must be to come up with an original bracelet design and to take comfort and quality into account as well. Why I do know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I feel that the rather busy looking bracelet of this Grand Seiko SBGH001J really distracts the attention from the aforementioned beautifully designed and finished case.
As our time with the watch was somehow limited and it wasn’t particularly a sample model, I didn’t swap the bracelet for a nice looking black strap. But I am of the opinion that it would give the watch design more credits. Actually, if I would buy this Grand Seiko SBGH001J timepiece, I would do it the minute after I’d took it out of its blue box.
I also thought about how the perfect bracelet for this watch would have to look for me, but I am not a designer, I can only tell what I don’t like about this one and I keep coming back to the polished parts. I also understand that once you remove them, the bracelet would be more or less a copy of an Oyster bracelet. However, now it looks very similar to the current Omega Speedmaster Pro ‘Moonwatch’ bracelet and I am also not a fan of that one. In any case, the bracelet should be perfectly finished – like it is now – but also make sure that the shape and sharp edges of the case are the centre of the attention.
Would I buy the Grand Seiko SBGH001J?
The only thing that bothers me a bit is the bracelet. Although there is nothing wrong with the comfort, finish or the quality of the bracelet in general, it comes down to the design for me. A watch like this deserves a more ‘quiet’ design or just a leather strap, as the case of the watch is so beautifully shaped and finished.
If I would be in the market for an every day watch this Grand Seiko SBGH001J would definitely be on my shortlist. The list price of €5900 Euro is a serious amount of money (for any watch) and will enable you to choose from many watches. However, with this Grand Seiko SBGH001J you will be sure to buy something not everyone else has, have a watch with an impeccable finish and stay low profile with it as well. Also be aware of the fact that you might run into some people that do not know the difference between a Seiko 5 and a Grand Seiko. You know what to do.
More information can be found on the official Grand Seiko website.