New Release: Grand Seiko SBGW291 And SGBW293 — 44GS Styling In A Most Wearable Size
Today, Grand Seiko adds a duo of new watches to its Heritage collection. The SBGW291 and SBGW293 take the 44GS shape down to a vintage-inspired 36.5mm size. If you are a regular reader of my articles, you know that this could get very expensive for me. I love Grand Seiko, and I love the 36-37mm size range for watches of this style. We have seen the pink-dial SBGW289 in this size before, but that was a limited edition. These two are additions to the regular collection. Let’s see if they manage to lure me out of my hard-earned cash.
The two new watches are identical, except for the dial and strap colors. The SBGW291 has a silver sunburst dial and is paired with a gray alligator strap. The SBGW293, on the other hand, comes with a brown sunray dial and a chestnut alligator strap.
A dash of 44GS history
Rolex has its Oyster case. Cartier has the Tank case. Omega (as well as a couple of other Huguenin Frères case makers’ clients) has the lyre-lug case. It seems that to be taken seriously as a watch brand, you need a signature case design. Grand Seiko has had such a signature case since 1967 — the 44GS.
Just seven years after the founding of the Grand Seiko sub-brand, Taro Tanako designed the 44GS. The name was the reference of a new model, fitted with the Grand Seiko 4420 caliber. Its shape was so characteristic, though, that it became a template for future Grand Seiko models. The “44GS” nomenclature is now synonymous with this particular case shape. The philosophy behind it is referred to as Grand Seiko’s Grammar of Design.
Some of the typical 44GS design traits are broad lugs, perfectly flat surfaces, single-plane curved surfaces, and a thin bezel. Add to this the ultra-smooth and high-shine Zaratsu polishing, and you have a flagship worthy of the name.
Grand Seiko SBGW291 and SBGW293
Grand Seiko has released many larger watches in this particular shape over the past years. The 55th-anniversary SBGW289 was the first to go back to a more historically inspired scale. This was a limited edition with a textured pink dial, which leads me to believe that GS was timidly testing the waters before going all-in with this size. Although not marketed specifically at women, the SBGW289’s presentation did feature a lot of stereotypically feminine elements. A lot of male watch aficionados were excited about the release, though, and here is the logical follow-up.
The SBGW291 and SBGW293 forego the steel bracelet. They are presented more along the lines of the SBGW231, as dress watches. This is a shame since they represent such great do-it-all watches when paired with a bracelet. These could present a very strong Japanese answer to the Rolex Oyster Perpetual and Omega Aqua Terra. Surely, we will see variants on steel soon. Grand Seiko, consider it formally requested here.
Inside the new SBGW291 and SBGW293, we find the manually wound caliber 9S64 with a 72-hour power reserve. Unlike the SBGW231, these new versions do not feature a display case back. This is in keeping with the original 44GS case design, which featured a closed case back.
Charming to the max
Okay, confession time. As mentioned, I am a bit of a sucker for Grand Seiko. I am even more of a sucker for nicely faceted indices paired with dagger-style hands. But what really gets me weak in the knees are clean, small, do-it-all watches. So when the SBGW291 and SBGW293 landed on my desk, I had a mild mental meltdown. Grand Seiko seems to be closing in on my dream watch.
I could surely understand if you are not feeling these. If you like larger watches, or if you prefer more intricate designs, they are not for you. No argument there. The thing is, the SBGW291 and SBGW293 are so well executed that they slowly take hold of you. You may feel you know these watches after a quick glance, but give them some time, and they will gradually reveal their true nature. They look a little different in every light. There is always another facet you missed before. They are, frankly, charming to the max.
If Grand Seiko releases a version on a steel bracelet, it would be a perfect upgrade to my King Seiko. I would very likely get one. On leather, they are just a bit too dressy for me. A bit too serious. I have found this to be true of my own SBGW231, which I love but don’t wear as much as my KS. That said, if you are looking for a great discreet office watch, the SBGW291 and SBGW293 are stunners.
A word on the SBGW291 and SBGW293’s price
It is no secret that Grand Seiko is shifting up-market. We are seeing bigger price tags and a move to more high-end and proprietary boutiques. The new SBGW291 and SBGW293 come in at €5,200. That is €900.00 more than the very similar SBGW231. This is likely justified by the fact that the 44GS shape is more intricate and takes more time to finish.
The thing is, if there were a super-tight, modern steel bracelet in play, you would really feel that these are watches from 2022. As it stands, however, I think a vintage Grand Seiko or King Seiko might offer a similar experience for a significantly smaller outlay. That said, you would have to take into account that these vintage models can be tough to service and often do not come with a warranty. No such issues here.
Still, if you have handled a lot of watches in this segment, you know that Grand Seiko offers a lot. The finishing quality has become famous for a reason. You really do see that these are seriously good watches from a couple of meters away. My first gut response to the price was, “Ouch, that is a lot.” However, I really cannot find any objective argument why they do not justify their price.
What are they intended to be?
Just as with my King Seiko, I remain unclear as to whether to judge these as dress watches or something else. Above, I compare the SBGW291 and SBGW293 to the Oyster Perpetual and Aqua Terra. But then these GS models are not quite so sporty. They have a manually wound movement, no screw-down crown, and — as much as I wish otherwise — no bracelet.
Perhaps we should see them more as alternatives to collections like the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master and Zenith Elite — traditional dress watches. The alligator strap pairing certainly suggests so. But then the 100m water resistance and more aggressive aesthetic stand out.
Or maybe, just maybe, this says more about me than it does about the watches. Maybe I am just overly preoccupied with trying to force them into a mold. Maybe they are their own thing and if they speak to you, they are for you. End of story.
Closing thoughts on the SBGW291 and SBGW293
As stated above, Grand Seiko is closing in on my dream watch. These releases are right up my alley. I will hold out for now, until a bracelet version comes out. But if I had to draw my one perfect watch, it would be very close to this. Granted, I would prefer it to lean a bit more towards the sporty everyday watch. A screw-down crown, bracelet, and automatic movement would be part of my idealized fantasy version.
Now, all of that is personal. If you prefer chunky, brightly lumed dive watches, you might be reading this and not feeling my point at all. And that is okay. But as a close follower of this style of watch, I can say the SBGW291 and SBGW293 do have something real to offer. They have a unique, distinct style of their own. They give you a large chunk of the experience of super high-end watches, but they do it at a more attainable level than, say, the “Holy Trinity” from Switzerland. I am not saying they are on par with those, but you sure start feeling the law of diminishing returns when you look up from here.
The Grand Seiko SBGW291 and SBGW293 will become available worldwide in September. Their recommended retail price is €5,200. Please share your thoughts on these models in the comments below.
This is a preferred position post. Learn more.