Grand Seiko SBGR053 And SBGR253 — The 37mm Brand Entry-Point Guest post by Thor Svaboe by Fratello May 12, 2020 MIN READGrand Seiko SBGR053 And SBGR253 — The 37mm Brand Entry-Point
To be honest, I have at times felt thoroughly exhausted from overexposure to the word Zaratsu. Despite this, I tried a basic Grand Seiko on the wrist. I was hesitant. Not keen on following the pack, I almost didn’t want to like it. And then I gazed into that inky black void and got lost. Thus began my obsession with models SBGR053 and SBGR253…
I got lost to the point of now rethinking my recent purchase of a BB58. That’s despite striking lucky after a short two-month spot on an AD list. And there I was actually considering selling it to buy a second GS, a Quartz model, no less…
Sure, the 58’s lugs were a tad sharp, but surely it wasn’t that alone that could threaten to lever me from my latest acquisition so soon. No, it was the crazy quality of Grand Seiko‘s products. Although I was far more interested in its mechanical output that the quartz model that had turned my head, the same level of care and attention was visible on my wrist that day.
I just couldn’t forget about it. And so I dived online and started seeking out a small slice of pre-owned perfection — the Grand Seiko SBGR053. Normally, these mechanical beauties carry a ticket price of €1,800 to €2,500 euros for pre-owned perfection. The dreaded Z-word is included in the package for those that haven’t had enough of it yet…
A deep affinity
What can I say? I personally have a deep affinity for Seiko and its ingrained Japanese modest perfection and integrity. I bought a SARB033 as the well known “Grand Seiko on a budget”, but then walked past an AD and made the fatal mistake of trying on a Grand Seiko for the heck of it. Bad idea. My world turned upside down and I sold the SARB immediately to get a GS.
The SBGR053 and its current version, the SBGR253.
Is the hype justified? The myth of COSC-level precision and a case that tops most Swiss halo brands, new at under €4,500 euros and pre-owned less than half that. Really? This SBGR053 was about €2,000 pre-owned from a renowned Tokyo dealer, and it was immaculate. Does this already sound like superb value for money, or will I have to use the Z-word to convince you?
…the brand is now firmly in the spotlight.
Grand Seiko has this alluring image of Japanese perfection that many today have heard of — yes, the brand is now firmly in the spotlight. The knowledge used to be consigned to a WIS secret shared between friends following business trips to the land of the Rising Sun.
Fast-forward to this month. Grand Seiko has opened the world’s largest mono-brand showroom on the doorstep of Europe, in Place Vêndome in Paris (shock!). Now Grand Seiko can count the likes of Gucci and LV as neighbors. In the US and Europe, Grand Seiko has formed separate corporate identities separating them from the everyday Seiko brand. This has been done before by Toyota (Lexus) and Citrôen (DS).
The SBGR053 in this hands-on report has the honest approach of both logos on the dial —Seiko and GS, whereas the newer SBGR253 has the solo gothic GS logo at 12. Me, I love them both.
The biggest change is the well-documented shift in pricing. Previously, you could pick up Haute Horlogerie for €2,000. Now? You’re looking at twice that and change. That puts GS in the same bracket as brands like Omega and Rolex.
Maybe it is time to crack out Zaratsu to convince you it’s worth it…
Zaratsu is the Japanese phonetic translation of Sallaz. The Swiss-German Sallaz produces of a specific polishing machine with a vertical wheel it takes years of training to master. The result is legendary. Sharper lines are hard to find in the world of watchmaking. The Zaratsu experts within the Grand Seiko fraternity are truly masters of their craft. It is this kind of dedication to such an incredibly niche aspect of watch finishing that makes GS such a darling of watch nuts.
The SBGR053 is the stepping stone. It is the best-priced pre-owned model. The SBGR253 is probably the most accessible GS product you will find new. It is installed with the solid and well known 9S65 caliber, and a black dial. There are two equal references with silvery-white dials, but I feel the main draw of Grand Seiko is the delicate blackness of these two references.
When you hold one in your hand and look at the dial, boy does it draw you in. There is an expression of almost liquid black ink. This underlines the Japanese lacquer perfection we’ve heard of and sets a beautiful stage for the choreographed play of light from the indices and hands.
Grand Seiko black dials are photogenic even from an objective standpoint, but even more so in the metal. It is hard to see the actual surface, and the Seiko and GS logos seem to float in the space above the black ink of the dial. On a macro level, you see that the logos are applied and the sides colored black – accentuating the floating effect, the value proposition being more apparent when you know that both logos and indices are applied by hand.
The indices play with the reflected light like few others I’ve seen with as many as eight facets on each, all hand polished in the Grand Seiko workshop. The polished sides and split top with striations make all indices very readable whatever angle of the light reflected, which, on a personal level, I would say is verging on hypnotizing in its dynamism.
The hour and minute hands are the classic Seiko sword hands — razor-sharp with a brushed top and mirror-polished sides. They are as flawless through the macro lens as the naked eye. That’s something I cannot say for most watches even at 4-figure price tags. The seconds are marked by a discrete thin needle hand complementing the main two, and the date is classic 3 o’clock with a black background and a sharp rounded brushed frame.
Although it may well be a delicate and time-consuming task, it is truly worth it.
The case mirrors this level of finishing. With the right angle, the case sides turn black, apparently devoid of surface detail. It is that smooth. It makes you want to set out on a mission convincing all manufacturers and atelièrs to invest in a Sallaz polishing machine and the accompanying training. Although it may well be a delicate and time-consuming task, it is truly worth it.
A certain spirituality
Yes, this is a 37mm watch, but it is not svelte. Its thickness is a notable 13.3mm. That’s diver territory. This might be one of the few criticisms you can level at Grand Seiko and the fact that the obsessive perfectionism is so pronounced that you lose the spirit or soul in the design language. My personal thoughts on these two arguments — well-founded as they may be, is that the thickness makes the watch wear more like 39-40mm and feel more like a dressy sports watch, increasing its wearability.
…a certain spirituality…
I do agree that perfectionism in general can result in soulless products, but in a Grand Seiko, it imbues a certain spirituality when you consider the background of the well known Japanese workers’ pride. Especially when you know that pride is based on a profound level of craftsmanship, and that this is a watch with a 100% vertically integrated In-House production.
Turn the watch around and you are greeted by Grand Seiko’s famous watermark. It is etched into the sapphire crystal, which provides a view of the well known 9S65 caliber. This caliber has been regulated and tested individually in six positions and multiple temperatures to a precision of +5/-3 sec. It operates at 28,800vph.
…a bulletproof movement.
The example in the photos still runs a COSC-beating +2/-3 after 3 years. This is unsurprising. Even with testing the Seiko figures in general often verge on the pessimistic. The movement detailing is workmanlike but superbly finished right down to the Japanese version of Côtes de Geneve, in a bulletproof movement. With each Grand Seiko you get a separate testing certificate of your movement, elevating the sense of occasion when you unbox it. The power reserve is 72 hours, so you can put this away for a weekend of mountain biking with the G-shock and it’ll still be ticking away on Monday morning.
This small but chunky marvel is fitted to your wrist with a brushed steel bracelet with a discrete taper, and fine details complementing the SBGR053. Solid but well-rounded links with a Speedy-esque brushed middle flanked by polished stripes and polished outer edges.
A good number of links and half links are secured by screw-in pins, making sure you have leeway for adjustment even if the small folded clasp doesn’t have any micro adjustment. Should you buy pre-owned make sure all links are present, as an extra half link from GS is around 180 euros. The design of the bracelet is not overly exciting, but the flawless finish of the case is matched by that of the bracelet.
…your other watches might feel somewhat neglected.
The tolerances between links and the case body are extremely tight, resulting in an excellent fit and performance. Your wrist will enjoy the fact that there isn’t a single sharp edge to be found. Although the small GS looks sharp on leather, the comfort of the bracelet makes it damn difficult to take off. In fact, the worst thing about buying one of these beauties is that your other watches might feel somewhat neglected. Learn more about Grand Seiko here.
Brand Grand Seiko ModelSBGR053 and SBGR253DialDial Black lacquered dial with hand-applied indices and logos, date at 3 o’clockCase MaterialStainless steel with Zaratsu polishingCase Dimensions37mm wide 13.3mm thickCrystalSapphireCase BackSapphireMovementGrand Seiko automatic caliber 9S65Water Resistance50 metersStrapStainless steel braceletFunctions72 hour power reservePriceSBGR253 between ca. €4,500 new. SBGR053 ca. €2,500 Euro pre-owned. Watch of the Week
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