Grand Seiko, though technically separate from Seiko these days, still has an unbreakable historical bond with its parent company. Because of this, the high-end watchmaking house is equally as eager to celebrate 110 years of Seiko watchmaking. As you may know, 2023 marks the 110th anniversary of Japan’s very first domestically produced wristwatch, the Laurel. To commemorate this, Grand Seiko has just announced a lacquer-dialed execution of its very first model from 1960. Meet the SBGW295, a 38mm addition to the Elegance Collection in Brilliant Hard Titanium.

In 1960, Seiko released the premier Grand Seiko timepiece. Simply known as the “First,” it was Seiko’s attempt at producing the finest, most wearable wristwatch possible. Measuring just a touch under 35mm in diameter, it featured a round, 14K gold-filled case, a legible dial with applied, faceted indices, and elegant dauphine hands. It was also the first Japanese wristwatch to meet the then-current Swiss chronometer standard of +12/-3 seconds per day. While today’s release is not a one-to-one reissue of that watch, it is a supremely elegant reinterpretation of it. Grand Seiko calls it the “Grand Seiko Elegance Collection Seiko Watchmaking 110th Anniversary Recreation of the first Grand Seiko: SBGW295.” That’s a mouthful, so I’ll just stick to the reference number from here on. Let’s dive in and see what it’s all about!

Grand Seiko Elegance Collection SBGW295

The shape of the SBGW295 is quite faithful to that of the first Grand Seiko. It has, however, seen an increase in size to 38mm wide and 10.9mm thick. Like many of its brethren in the Elegance Collection, it features a thin, polished bezel and faceted lugs. These lugs are a bit straighter than those on many SBGW references, though, and they truly emphasize the case’s round shape. As I mentioned, this case is made of Brilliant Hard Titanium, an alloy that shines with the brighter luster of stainless steel. Grand Seiko promises, however, that it is twice as hard as stainless steel, which will help protect the Zaratsu-polished surfaces from scratches. The case features a double-domed, AR-coated sapphire crystal on the front, flat sapphire on the back, and a push-pull crown. It is water resistant to 3 ATM, which is in line with the dressier Elegance collection.

An opulent dial

The dial plays host to the “artisanal touch” that I mentioned in the title of this article. While it echoes the layout of the first Grand Seiko’s dial, the execution is totally different and utterly luxurious. Rather than a historically accurate albeit plain white background, we see a deep, glossy pool of black urushi (漆) lacquer. The use of this lacquer dates back to Japan’s Jōmon period (13,000–400 BCE), and it has become a timeless representative of Japanese handcrafts. Grand Seiko adds iron to the lacquer to achieve its inky hue before specially treating it to ensure the color remains stable over time. The brand also takes pride in using only domestically sourced lacquer, despite the prevalence of internationally sourced urushi these days.

Rather than applied indices as on the first Grand Seiko, the SBGW295 features 24K gold maki-e (蒔絵) hour markers. While the surface of the lacquer is still wet, urushi master Isshu Tamura painstakingly sprinkles gold dust on it to form the desired shapes. You can imagine how arduous this process must be, and the dial’s curved edges only compound the difficulty. According to the brand, each hour marker is sprinkled and then polished to the micron level. To say that is impressive is the understatement of the year. The Grand Seiko signature is also applied with the maki-e technique, while the “Diashock 24 jewels” text and minute track are in a classy gold-tone print. Topping it all off is a pair of striking, brushed dauphine hands and a polished seconds hand with a precisely curved tip.

Caliber 9S64 and two leather straps

Tearing our attention away from the dial and turning the watch over, we find Grand Seiko’s in-house 9S64 movement. This 24-jewel hand-wound caliber is a staple in the Elegance Collection and offers a 72-hour power reserve. It beats at 28,800vph (4Hz) and provides an accuracy of +5/-3 seconds per day. As you probably know, this exceeds the current-day COSC chronometer standard by one second on either extreme. Furthermore, this movement is beautiful with sharp text engravings, striping on the upper bridges, and perlage below them.

The SBGW295 comes with not one but two black straps. The first has a texture that almost looks like sailcloth, but believe it or not, it is actually braided leather. A skilled artisan weaves thin strips of leather by hand using a traditional Japanese technique called yoroiori (鎧織). This literally translates to “armor weave,” and it was used hundreds of years ago to give strength to samurai armor. If that doesn’t speak to Grand Seiko’s Japanese heritage, I don’t know what does! The second strap is made of supple black leather with a visible grain but no visible stitching. The watch also comes with a three-fold Brilliant Hard Titanium clasp, complete with a pushbutton release.

Pricing and availability

The Grand Seiko Elegance Collection SBGW295 is a limited release of 500 pieces worldwide. It will be available at Grand Seiko boutiques and select authorized dealers starting in February. The price of this model is €14,700 / US$13,800, which is steep but understandable considering the amount of manual labor involved.

I will say, it seems odd that Grand Seiko is celebrating 110 years of Seiko watchmaking with a “recreation” of a watch from 1960. Furthermore, due to the countless differences in materials and execution, some may argue that this is not a recreation of the first Grand Seiko at all. I can certainly understand that from a semantic standpoint, but I’m more than happy to accept the watch from an artistic one. I think the SBGW295 is a phenomenally elegant piece, and I hope to be able to check it out in real life. It will be fascinating to see the precision of the maki-e hour markers up close, and I know many Grand Seiko fans will feel the same way.

For more information on the SBGW295, visit Grand Seiko’s official website.