Grand Seiko Elegance SBGK002
by Daniel Yong
Why the SBGK002 is important
Grand Seiko has long since been the epitome of what the Seiko family of timepieces offered consumers. Since its birth in 1960, the brand has successfully launched several innovations in terms of movement technology which includes hi-beat, quartz and the exclusive Spring Drive caliber. If we are talking of pure exterior design aesthetics, it boasts an extensive list of case designs that rival its movements, the most iconic being the 62GS and the 44GS (the best expression of the Grand Seiko Grammar of Design).
The SBGK002 is an important addition to the brand’s collection because it steers away from the already known 44GS case design, and ventures into a completely new design element. Beautifully curved angles that incorporate zaratsu polishing and a rich red lacquer that would make even non-watch enthusiasts weak at the knees. This entirely new creation is a loud signal to competitors that the Grand Seiko family is just getting started and they can offer watch lovers something beautiful while remaining completely functional as the brand intended to many decades ago.
A brief look into Grand Seiko’s most iconic designs
Now if you were to truly ask me which vintage Grand Seiko is my favourite, my answer would swiftly point out the very first Grand Seiko launched in 1960. My response is purely based on the history of the watch and what it meant for both Seiko and Japanese watchmaking. But if we are strictly speaking of design, I would point towards two models, the 62GS and the 44GS. The 62GS is iconic because it features a case that incorporates both sharp and rounded surfaces with a bezel-free case. In addition, it was the first automatic Grand Seiko and to signify this, it has a recessed crown at the 4 o’clock position (so cool). But what is arguably the most famous vintage Grand Seiko of all, is the pure expression of the brand’s ‘Grammar of Design’ philosophy, the 44GS.
The Grand Seiko team employed a young designer who stated that to compete against its European competitors, they needed to create a watch that featured fully flat facets that were highly polished as they needed to successfully play with the light and shadow. Since then, this design element has been the foundation of modern Grand Seiko timepieces. Moving forward, last year in 2019 the brand released an entirely new line of elegant watches, the SBGK family, which offered a more “dress watch” aesthetic.
The SBGK case design
After becoming independent from Seiko in 2017, the brand has since continued to innovate and design new pieces that showcased the best of Japanese craftsmanship. The SBGK collection which was first launched in 2019, was a result of a young designer named Kiyotaka Sakai winning an internal challenge to create the best “thin dress series”. The design was to have the Grand Seiko DNA but with a completely new look where the watch could easily slip under a shirt cuff.
Sakai’s case design was said to be inspired by sailboats, as when viewed they gently and smoothly move along the water in harmony. The connection makes sense when wearing the piece on the wrist, the curved case and sapphire crystal flow beautifully in harmony with the contours hugging the wearer’s wrist. The SBGK002 is special as it features a beautiful 18K rose gold case that provides a good contrast to the beautiful Urushi red dial.
The charm is in the dial
Like every good story, there is always a hero. The hero on the SBGK002 is definitely the incredible dial which in my opinion, is the best expression of a Japanese watch and let me explain why. Obviously, we have the design elements that play with the light and shadow (which is a traditional Japanese concept), but it is the ability to utilise Urushi lacquer on the dial to complete the beautiful look. So what is Urushi? Urushi is the sap extracted from an Urushi tree, a tree that is found in China, Southeast Asia and of course Japan. When Urushi is extracted, the raw sap appears to be a golden-like colour. To get that deep red tone (Suki-urushi, which is clear Urushi), craftsmen and women evaporate the water content hence changing the colour of the liquid. Note, that to get the black Urushi colour variant, iron powder is added to the mix.
If you look closely at the details on the dial, the background presents to the wearer the patterns of Mt Iwate, where the beautiful mountains can be seen when one looks out from the windows of the Shizuku-ishi Watch Studio in the city of Morioka. What I appreciate about this dial pattern is that it provides a soft, flow-like effect, almost as if one were to observe the water running down a river stream. Moving away from the dial, we start to observe how the indices and ‘GS’ logo are not applied but not printed either. Like the Credor Eichi II, these elements are hand painted on top of that beautiful red Mt Iwate background using the Maki-e method by Urushi master Isshu Tamura. The Maki-e method is achieved by also using Urushi lacquer which is first applied, then an application of either 24K gold or platinum powder is used, polished and repeated. This is how the markers and logo achieve that delicate glistening effect.
One of the key components I love about Grand Seiko is those beautiful wide sword hands. To those in the know, Grand Seiko cleverly manipulates these hands to suit the overall aesthetics of the dial colour. On light shades (whites and silver), the hands are usually highly polished. On any other colour, especially darker tones, the hands are brushed finishing with polishing on the sides for legibility. The rose gold hands on the SBGK002 are no different and executed in this manner. On the SBGK series, one minor detail one may miss is that the hands are also bent (by human hands) to flow with the curvature of the dial. The result is a three-dimensional looking dial that is subtle, attractive and remains true to the theme of Sakai’s sailboat inspiration.
Powering the SBGK family is the brand new 9S63 manual winding caliber which is inspired from the architecture found on the ever so reliable 9S64. This is the first time Grand Seiko has used the small seconds hand feature on any of their watches and I think this pairs well for a piece intended for something “dressy” or for formal events. I personally adore small seconds hands as they are discrete and allow viewers to appreciate well made hands indicating the hour and minutes.
The movement offers a power reserve of up to 72 hours and has a precision rate of + 5 to – 3 seconds per day. I have always loved this small technical detail as one could put their watch away on a weekend (so they can focus on more outdoor adventures) and strap it back on a Monday to counter those “Monday blues”. Finally, like other mechanical watches made by Grand Seiko, the 9S63 movement is assembled and adjusted by the master craftsmen and women based at the Shizuku-ishi Watch Studio.
(Photo credit: Peter Tung per Horbiter®)
Daniel Yong @Horbiter®