The Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 GMT watch hands-on
I often find myself talking about watches with my friends, my colleagues or with people I've just met at a business dinner or during my leisure time. It is that kind of conversation that suddenly starts between two watch enthusiasts soon after they have admired each others timepiece. As time goes by, however, the subject of this kind of conversation quietly changes, as you move away from talking about commercial brands and tend to be more and more refined and, as following what happens with man's fashion for instance, look for something different, let's say boutique like.
The very best of Seiko (Credor excluded).
I think watches do follow this rule too: our desire to be part of a cultural elite grows with us time and time again. Regarding watches, Seiko is a longstanding manufacturer which proudly, since its foundation, has designed, assembled and fine tuned all its timepieces without ever having outsourced any movement. Be it a mechanical or a quartz one; and that is widely known around the world. I'm quite sure that in Italy very few people, unless we're talking about watch connoisseurs, do know what the brand Grand Seiko is all about even if the knowledge about the brand is increasing and watches like the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 Professional Diver's 600m are very much appreciated. This name refers not just to a model, or else a special collection, but rather an independent brand which stands for Seiko's high end watchmaking. A brand which has not been unveiled at Baselworld 2014 where the photos you can see on here were taken, but dates back to 1960 when Seiko decided to make the best luxury watch in the world. Far better than any competitor's in terms of fit and finish and precision rating among all mechanical and quartz timepieces.
Since its inception, indeed, Grand Seiko aimed, for example, to exceed the requirements set by the Swiss COSC hallmark. Grand Seiko is so renowned since its launching in 1960, especially in Japan and the US, that today's collection evokes some models made in the sixties and seventies, while adopting the best and most advanced calibers available today. And, since we're talking about fine mechanics and icons, one of Grand Seiko's prides is the caliber Hi-Beat 36000 (it equips today also some Seiko high-end timepieces like the Seiko Prospex 1968 Automatic Diver’s Re-creation Limited Edition SLA025), the very best among Japanese (and not) mechanical movements, which represents Seiko's high frequency movement.
At Baselworld 2014, Grand Seiko has debuted these three timepieces: it is the very first time its Hi-Beat 36000 caliber boasted a GMT function ever (a complication the brand has adopted just on its “hybrid” Spring Drive models so far). At the same time Seiko widened Grand Seiko's products availability throughout Europe. It means we will soon be lucky enough to see more Grand Seiko on display in the Italian boutiques. Not many, anyway, since Grand Seiko's production is very limited: each Grand Seiko is assembled, decorated and hand-regulated by a small and selected group of expert watchmakers, in a separate division at Seiko. It is not by accident it catches your eyes at first sight thanks to its superior case finishing: classic design is not synonymous to less refinement but, rather, the other way round.
Perfectly sharp edges separate satin and mirror finished surfaces and the case mirror finish is way perfect: Seiko has patented a mirror finishing process which avoids any kind of distortion. The three new Grand Seiko Hi-Beat GMT watches, unveiled at Baselworld 2014, share all these features; which also include the applied, diamond cut indexes, placed on the dial. Of these three models released, one, identifiied by the code SBGJ005, was made in just 600 pieces and was celebrating the launch of the new in-house GMT movement. The pattern you see on the dial is not casual but, as it is always with the japanese tradition, draws inspiration from nature and from mount Iwate, which is clearly visible through the windows at the Shizuku-ishi Watch Studio, the place where all the mechanical Grand Seiko are designed and assembled.
The transparent back offers a full view of the winding rotor, made in titanium, where a lion, which is Grand Seiko's hallmark, stands prominent. The external surface is anodized treated titanium, a process which gives it that gold tone you may see in its pictures. Let's talk about the new movement now: coded internally as 9S86, it is a mechanical automatic movement which ensures +5/-3 seconds gain or loss per day and a power reserve of 55 hours, encased in a 40mm wide stainless steel case which is usually regarded to as the perfect dimension for a wristwatch and that, matched to a 14mm thickness and the slightly curved design of the lugs, works well on any man's wrist.
About buying a Grand Seiko.
Why should an enthusiast buy a Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 GMT or a Grand Seiko Hi-Beat GMT Limited Edition SBGJ021? Just to be original? I do not think so, otherwise he would probably sell it over a very short time. He who is about to buy a Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 GMT, or any other Grand Seiko for that matter, is in search of excellence, exclusivity and a 100% manufactured high-end timepiece. The retail price of Euro 7,050 at the time was a bargain when compared to other brands' offering. Would I change anything? Yes i would and it is not about the product itself even if I would provide customers with a leather strap too, but it is mostly a matter of branding, as the option could, in my opinion, confuse customers: i would definitely go just for the Grand Seiko logo as to reaffirm this is the high end brand of Seiko. As it did happen at Baselworld 2017, however, the company removed the Seiko logo from the dial: Grand Seiko is today an independently operated brand.
For further information please visit the official Grand Seiko website.
(Photo credit: Horbiter®'s proprietary photo shooting)
Gaetano C. @Horbiter®