The Grand Seiko Elegance Collection caliber 9S63 watch hands-on
Some items make an impression as soon as they come out, and we instantly perceive them as pure and proportioned. It is a feeling that I usually experience each time a new car, motorcycle, or design item are unveiled, as long as they represent something new. It is something hard to experience today, and even harder so in watchmaking, given the lack of creative spirit that has affected most watchmakers, except for a few ones, like Grand Seiko.
Japanese culture is so distinctive that to expect something new is a given. The last time I fell in love with a hand-wound Grand Seiko watch was a few years ago when the brand launched the glorious Grand Seiko Historical Collection 44GS, a modern re-issue of the very first Grand Seiko watches: their design was all about extra sharp edges, mirror polished case, and a glass -box.
Today, it is hard to find one, either in new or pre-owned condition, unless you try and spend countless hours at the keyboard, because not only is a Grand Seiko 44GS quite rare but people who currently own one seldom trade it in for a new timepiece. The newly released Grand Seiko Elegance Collection equipped with 9S63 caliber proves Grand Seiko's intention to offer something new and unique, different from the brand's traditional sharp-edged design.
This new collection is synonymous with "smoothness"; the timepieces feature a sleek, curvy design that aims at attracting new buyers who are not much into a Hi-Beat or the avant-garde, 1970s inspired and angular design of the 20th Anniversary Spring Drive chronographs presented at Baselworld 2019. Not only is the new hand-wound collection of timepieces unusual, but it also opens new scenarios, and is an excellent option to those (the undersigned included) who lost the chance to secure a 44GS.
The case, crafted either in steel or gold, has near-perfect proportions: it is 39mm wide and 11.6mm thick. Hence, it's super wearable. It is no coincidence it comes with a hand-wound mechanical movement, Grand Seiko product managers' purpose was clearly to make it exceptionally comfortable and make sure the case could easily slide under the cuff. So it does. The curved dial, hands, and lugs make the most of this experience. While we wait for Grand Seiko to offer an ultra-thin watch finally, the new Elegance Collection is by far the most enjoyable Grand Seiko I've ever wrapped around my wrist in years.
"Elegance must be the right combination of distinction, naturalness, care and simplicity. Outside this, believe me, there is no elegance. Only pretension." (Christian Dior).
I believe that designers at the Shizuku-Ishi Studio didn't take any inspiration from Christian Dior, when they drew the first sketches of the Grand Seiko SBGK002, SBGK004, SBGK005, SBGK006 watches, but they sure targeted supreme purity. The small seconds counter at nine and the power reserve indicator at three are the only additions to a stripped down with no date dial, which looks broader than it is. Next are two key design attributes: the shape of the dial and its enameling.
Mt. Iwate, visible from the windows of the Studio, was the source of inspiration for the dial, which represents a distinctive feature of any Grand Seiko: The high-end luxury watch brand of the Seiko Group launched four versions of the new collection: the Grand Seiko SBGK002 and Grand Seiko SBGK004 feature a rose gold case and an Suki-urushi lacquered dial. The first one comes with an amber-colored Suki-Urushi dial, a transparent Urushi lacquer whose hues are inspired by the trees grown near the town of Joboji, at the base of Mt. Iwate, whereas the Grand Seiko SBGK004 has a black dial, obtained by combing Urushi lacquer and iron. On both timepieces, the Grand Seiko logo is obtained via deposit of bright gold. A yellow gold version is also available, the Grand Seiko SBGK006, with no Urushi dial.
Grand Seiko has also introduced a stainless-steel version limited to 1500 pieces (the two references in rose gold are limited to 150 specimens, each), whose dial's design reminds the same geometry as the Urushi's. Designers opted for vivid blue color and applied indexes, featuring a razor shape multi-faceted design, that is even more refined than a Hi-Beat's. Each index has a flawless finish: polishing, edges, bevels execution are impressive. All in all, the dial's design is one of those areas that set Grand Seiko apart from the competition.
On paper, the new 9S63 hand-wound caliber does not look extraordinary: three days of power reserve, when fully wound, and a 4Hz frequency are quite common in the industry, today. I believe it's far more interesting to emphasize that Grand Seiko proudly discloses the precision rate during both static and everyday use working conditions, proof positive of how rigorous were designers and master watchmakers in either designing and fine-tuning the new caliber, as well as showing how the brand commits to existing or potential new customers.
Is everything perfect?
There are no perfect cars nor perfect bikes, and not even perfect watches too. I'm not talking about build quality; Grand Seiko introduced in the business (currently dominated by high-volume brands like Rolex and Omega) exceptional build quality that results from an industrial choice and a longstanding company mission. The brand that set its full independence from sister brand Seiko two years ago produces fewer watches than its Swiss peers and offers exquisite craftsmanship whose painstaking execution is as perfect as the most refined industrial process.
However, there are choices that I don't fully understand, regarding both brand and product. If Zaratsu polishing has always been exclusive to a Grand Seiko, why then extend it to Seiko watches too? It finally tends to somehow affect Grand Seiko's brand awareness and dilute its exclusivity within the Seiko Group and the market, in my opinion. It does not look in line with a strategy aimed at segmenting the brands and positioning Grand Seiko higher.
Concerning product: why apply a logo on the see-through case-back and cover then the movement when you could fully appreciate caliber 9S63 in all its beauty? I would have engraved the Grand Seiko's insignia, a lion, on the movement's bridges instead, thus creating a hallmark on par with what other high-end brands successfully do. From a range extension point of view, the addition of a stainless steel version makes an enjoyable yet exclusive collection, more affordable (price list is 7.400 €): the two rose gold versions with an Urushi dial sell for 31.400€, and the yellow gold one for 20.700€.
(Photo credit: Horbiter®'s proprietary photo-shooting by Peter Tung)
Gaetano C @Horbiter®