My Seiko Diver Journey — Part Three: Do I Want A Final Grand Upgrade, Or Is The Marinemaster The King?
About two years ago, I wrote two stories about my Seiko obsession and collecting journey, and after that, I was content. For me, my newly strap-upgraded SLA023 Marinemaster is still the king of Seiko dive watches, no matter its brutish size. Its predecessor even won our Seiko World Cup. So why am I questioning myself? Have I come to the end of my Seiko diver journey, or is it destined to continue?
After many years and probably around 15 Seiko divers or more circulating through my collection, I miss some. Sure, there are also some that I wouldn’t recommend, but I have a deep love for these tool watches, as you can tell from the first and second parts of this series. Even if prices keep increasing, Seiko still represents big value, but have I really reached the end of the line?
Should there be a Grand final chapter in my Seiko saga?
This is a pun worth thinking about, and I am. The venerable SBDX001 won our Seiko World Cup for all the right reasons, and I love my newer SLA023, don’t get me wrong. But after writing some more stories about large, cool watches regaining my love, my eyes kept wandering. So I am asking for your help with my frustrated desires, which focus on Grand Seiko. That’s right, I still consider the Marinemaster 300, and especially my SLA023, the Seiko top shelf. The LX series is out there, but I don’t feel their vibe. With Grand Seiko, however, the desire is tangible.
So, my dilemma is whether to keep the Marinemaster and stay content or perform the final upgrade. That means a Grand Seiko diver. Yes, they are now prohibitively expensive new, and I don’t have €8K–10K to spend. Their pre-owned brethren, however, offer great value, especially when adding the discontinued quartz SBGX335 and -337 models to the mix. They tempt me with their fiercely angular design and slightly smaller size (relatively speaking). Including 2019–2023 automatic and Spring Drive versions, I’ve focused on a budget of €2,000–5,500 + VAT and shipping. That should open up plenty of choices, so let’s look at the tool-tough options.
Grand Seiko SBGH291
At the top of the desire list for me is this SBGH291, a 2021 model new in its box for a cool €5,309 + €31 shipping and VAT. Now, you will think the three first references on this list all look the same except for the delightful touch of a gold GS logo. That implies a case and bracelet in Grand Seiko’s proprietary high-intensity titanium. This material will make this diver unfeasibly light for its size and stronger than you’d think. It may look the same as the SBGH289, but at 142 grams versus 209, the difference is palpable. Grand Seiko’s high-intensity treatment is also a big benefit. You see, titanium is usually quite soft and prone to scratches. But this hardening process takes it up a tier on the toughness scale.
Grand Seiko is one of the few manufacturers that can polish titanium to a mirror-like finish. It’s much harder to work with than steel, though you wouldn’t think so from the SBGH291. Behind the solid titanium case back resides the 9S85, with Grand Seiko ignoring COSC standards. Instead, the brand goes one second stricter on either extreme than the official chronometer standard, resulting in an accuracy of +5/-3 seconds per day. The power reserve is a middling 55 hours, but this 37-jewel movement is simply bulletproof. It also has the smooth moves of a Hi-Beat movement with a 36,000vph beat like the legendary El Primero. The 43.8mm case has a pronounced thickness of 14.7mm, and I won’t tell you that it feels smaller on the wrist. Nevertheless, Grand Seiko’s smooth corners and ergonomics never cease to impress me. It feels way more wearable than its specs suggest. Not to mention, I’m considering it as an alternative to a big watch anyway.
Grand Seiko SBGH289
With a 43.8mm diameter, 14.8mm thickness, and 51mm lug-to-lug, this SBGH289 is close to MM300 sizing, and that’s fine. And it’s the only one with a deep blue dial, though it is pretty heavy at 209 grams (that’s right). I have tried on these more classically shaped Grand Seiko diver’s watches before and enjoyed the fit. This one is at the upper end of my budget, but it’s a new-in-box 2021 model. That means it’s just sitting at a Japanese dealer with the 36,000vph Hi-Beat movement unwound and waiting to go. The SBGH design and its forebears are the closest to a more classic Sea-Dweller-like design, but it still has Japanese quirks to set it apart. For a deeper look at the 289 and its brother, the 291, read RJ’s in-depth story from 2021 here.
I enjoy the light feel of titanium, but the Zaratsu shines brighter with Grand Seiko’s steel. At €4,591 + shipping and VAT, it’ll come to over five grand when all is said and done. But it is immensely tempting, and I can find worn/cheaper ones if I look further. Still, it would mean saving up after selling my SLA023 or selling other watches too. Anyway, the Hi-Beat 9S85 movement is identical to the one in the titanium SBGH291. Both watches have a tough and sufficient 200m depth rating as well as a solid diver’s clasp on the bracelet. This bracelet is an oft-debated, Omega-ish five-row affair, but I’m a big fan of it. The polished details make it pop, and I find the comfort superb. To be honest, I think plain, brushed Oyster-style bracelets are a bit boring, but don’t tell anyone.
Grand Seiko SBGA461
Compared to the SBGH289, this SBGA461 looks almost identical except for the silver GS logo, some text at six, and an intriguing quadrant-shaped indicator at seven-thirty for the Spring Drive power reserve. This watch would set me back €6,500 new, so the pre-owned price of €4,437 + VAT with free shipping from its birthplace is not bad. I’ve always been deeply intrigued by Spring Drive as a concept, though I’m never sure of the power reserve indicator. I don’t need this “Hey! I have a Spring Drive” symbol, and it does disturb the calm, no-date layout. However, the close-to-unbelievable accuracy of ±15 seconds per month makes it all worthwhile, especially with only a cursory glance at the smooth sweep of the second hand. That fascination never ends.
Grand Seiko SBGX335 and SBGX337
My SLA023 is in impeccable condition, ensuring a good price for it should I sell. And with angular, tougher looks, these SBGX siblings offer stunning value for money. Today, the diver’s watches from Grand Seiko are limited to four references with either Spring Drive or mechanical calibers in steel or titanium. These two offered a delightfully accessible entry ticket to refined tool-watch tech, and today, they’re a steal if you’ve grown to respect quartz movements, as I have. And quartz is not always what you think, you know? The caliber 9F61 in these watches offers an accuracy of ±10 seconds per year via Grand Seiko’s lab-grown crystals and temperature compensation. It’s also one of the few you’ll see this side of an F.P.Journe Élégante with a backlash system that prevents the awful shuddering of the seconds hand. In this movement, the hand stops dead on each index.
Yes, people, this is a veritable bargain. I found this SBGX335 for a mere €3,330 + shipping and VAT. Like the SBGH289, this example is a new watch that has been left at the dealer since 2021, exemplifying the term NOS. This SBGX and its bright blue brother, the SBGX337, is pure value with a divisive look that sets it apart. The SBGX337 in the image above can be found here for only €2,664 + VAT and shipping and is also a NOS. I can’t understand why this has been languishing in a dealer’s display cabinet since 2019, but it has all the right Grand Seiko touches.
Is grand quartz my best bet?
With balanced looks, perfect dial details, and a small touch of yellow, what’s not to like? At 43.6mm wide, the case is almost as big as the others, and the blockier lugs won’t make it feel small. However, it is quite a bit slimmer at 13mm thick. Not everyone loves the look of the weird cathedral-esque hour hand and arrow-tipped minute hand, but I enjoy the pure quirkiness of this combo. With some of the world’s brightest lume in the Lumibrite applications and fat, round applied indices, it’s the ABC of legibility. The angular case makes it more modern than the still-current models, and I’m sorely tempted.
Should I make the swap or renew my tool-watch vows?
This is the question that ruminates through my confused head. Sure, if I had the choice, I’d have a full row of Seiko dive tools. It would comprise a vintage 6105, a titanium first-edition Shogun on waffle rubber, the MM300, and a Grand Seiko SBGH291. But I’m a consummate collector, I love diversity, and there’s more than tool watches out there. I am still honeymooning with the new tonal blue rubber strap for my SLA023, but my subconscious love for a Grand Seiko diver’s grail remains. With this entire story, I’m also asking for your views, Fratelli. Let me know if you think I’m a fool or if I should do the final sale and upgrade. I might listen to advice as I am 50/50 on this one myself.