In a matter of days, the Japanese conglomerate Seiko will start selling the new Grand Seiko Sport Collection Spring Drive GMT Limited Edition (Ref. SBGE245G) hybrid-powered wristwatch. With the luxury gadget being limited to the Japanese domestic market, the watch will be a bit difficult to come by if you happen to live on the other side of the globe. Yet, the device is so beautiful, so impressive that is seems to be absolutely worth going into all the trouble to get one.
When you have decades of experience under your belt in watch- and clockmaking, manufacturing of semiconductor components and electronic equipment, as well as selling fine jewelry (check out their Wako and Cronos brands for example,) it becomes considerably hard to create a dud. The conglomerate takes a calculated approach while designing their products: they are supposed to fit into a clearly defined niche where the list of features and exterior design is tied to a specified price and to a clearly described audience. Some may consider this approach boring and lacking passion, but it’s difficult to argue that it also brings one of the best “value for money” ratios in the industry, be it an inexpensive Seiko Recraft or a luxury Grand Seiko Caliber 9F (Ref. SBGX103) model.
This new member of the Sport Collection is not an exception. Priced at more than $6k at the start of production (and probably getting even more expensive after the whole batch is sold out,) it gives you in return the best timekeeping in the whole segment of luxury mechanical watches, as well as an impressive level of craftsmanship (the hand-lacquered dial alone will blow most similarly priced Breitlings and Omegas right out of the water) and superb build quality.
Case & Bezel
Large (the official dimensions are 44.00 millimeters in diameter and almost 15mm from solid still back to dual-curved sapphire front) and heavy, the Spring Drive GMT will never let you forget about its presence on your wrist, especially if you are a person of average size. Yet, its thoughtfully sculpted profile and relatively short lugs allow the timekeeper to hug a wrist of a normal girth in the gentlest way possible.
As other members of their current Sport Collection, the SBGE245G has its setting crown moved from the standard position at 3 o’clock to a more ergonomic place at 4 hours. Judging by the fact that the date window, as well as the power reserve indicator were, too, moved 30 degrees clockwise, Seiko’s engineers simply changed the way the movement is housed within the case, nothing fancy here.
The crown, which is decorated with the traditional “GS” logo, is positioned in a way that’s more convenient to those who prefer to operate the hands without taking the gadget off their wrists. I still find the crown a bit too short for my taste though. Also, a larger crown would look better with the deliberately massive, almost brutal stainless steel case.
Regretfully, the crown is not protected from shocks by any kind of crown guards, which is sort of unexpected for a watch that is positioned as “a sporty tool.” On the other hand, the Japanese brand probably realizes that a luxury item that is priced at $6000 USD will rarely be worn in situations that imply even a theoretical risk of a mechanical damage to the timepiece, so the guys from the marketing probably chose aesthetics over practicality. Same goes to the delicate sapphire insert housed inside the knurled bi-directional rotating bezel: not practical, but very aesthetically pleasing, while enhancing the nighttime readability of the secondary time zone display without adding too much to the gadget’s overall cost of manufacture.
The watch is powered by Seiko’s in-house Caliber 9R66. Unveiled in 2006, the hybrid movement offers impressive accuracy gaining or losing no more than a second per day (compare that to Rolex’s own Caliber 3186 COSC-certified GMT movement that is rated for +/- 2 seconds per day and powers a watch that is twice more expensive, also the company guarantees that average deviation will not exceed 15 seconds per month) and features an attractive (although not groundbreaking) exterior finish with guilloched, perlaged, and machine-brushed surfaces on its components.
The mechanism’s point of attraction is not the fancy exterior, though: it is the Spring Drive technology that makes it unique.
As you can see on the picture below (courtesy Seiko PR,) the principle of Spring Drive is deceptively simple with the traditional balance wheel (left pic) being replaced by a microgenerator that receives energy stored by main spring via the gear train (both components accordingly modified,) and converts it into electric current that drives the quartz tuning fork resonator and the rest of electronic circuitry. As a result, we see a watch that gives its mechanical and quartz competitors a proverbial run for their money when it comes to accuracy and ease of maintenance (no need to replace the battery cell every couple of years, for example) respectively.
The idea is not new with first designs offered by different manufacturers and inventors in late 1970s right after Quartz Revolution started to take its toll on incumbent watchmakers. However, the initial designs were cumbersome and difficult to manufacture (at least, at a price point where general public was willing to buy such a watch) and Seiko Epson was basically the first conglomerate that had enough expertise both in micro-electronics and traditional watchmaking to create a hybrid drive that would simultaneously offer extraordinary timekeeping abilities, ease of servicing, and more or less adequate price (usually powering their Grand Seiko and Seiko Prospex, and Ananta watches, it is still expensive playing in the same ballpark with brands like Omega and Breitling.)
The main visual difference between Seiko’s Spring Drive movements and pretty much any other mechanical caliber is the way the central seconds hand glides above the dial. While the seconds counter on a mechanical caliber -even a high-beat one like Zenith’s signature El Primero movements beating at a frequency of 36,000 vibrations per hour- jumps from one position to the next one in a visibly jerky way, the Spring Drive allows the pointer to move in a satisfying, fluid kind of motion.
Dial & Legibility
Grand Seiko is associated with meticulously engraved and hand-lacquered dials that, together with their traditional high-contrast color scheme, produce a mesmerizing effect on a connoisseur. This particular model, however, is equipped with a slightly less complex face. Like the brand’s earlier SBGJ021 GMT model from 2016, this specimen comes with a mahogany-red dial that features a sunburst finish under a thick layer of lacquer that gives it an illusion of depth.
The applied hour markers look a bit too brutal, but they are perfectly matched in their shape and visual “weight” to the hour and minute hands, as are patches of luminous compounds at 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock that, too, play nicely with the overall “sporty” feel of the timekeeper. The gold-colored central seconds hand together with the secondary time zone indicator are echoed by the 24-hour scale on the inner bezel flange and, too, work well accenting the mahogany tone of the dial.
Nighttime legibility is not the strongest suit of this gadget, but I can give it at least four stars out of possible five: not brilliant, but adequate for the task.
With its recent bunch of luxury timepieces the Japanese watchmaker finally decided to ditch the “SEIKO” inscription in the upper part of the gadget’s face and move the “GS / Grand Seiko” combination to this dominant position, which is good: nobody wants to waste time explaining to the uninitiated how a mere Seiko may cost more than a Speedmaster.
Pricing & Availability
Being a “Japanese Domestic Market” (JDM) model, the watch will be *ahem* officially available only at the brand’s flagship stores, including Seiko Premium Boutiques and Seiko Premium Watch Salons across the Country of the Rising Sun starting November, 2018. However, even now some online stores around the globe offer the watch for a fairly affordable -for a Grand Seiko- price of $6100 USD. With a total of just 600 individually numbered pieces to be manufactured, the watch will probably soon become a rarity, so, if you are really interested in the piece, you should make the order now. Like, RIGHT NOW.
Build Quality: 5/5
Overall Legibility: 4.5/5
Nighttime Legibility: 4/5
Value for Money: 4.5/5
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Grand Seiko Sport Collection Spring Drive GMT Limited Edition (Ref. SBGE245G) watch specification
Price: $6100 (Retail)
Winding: Automatic (Spring Drive)
Movement: Caliber 9R66, antimagnetic, Made in Japan
Movement finish: Polished screw heads, diagonal stripes, beveled edges, open-worked oscillating weight with blued “GS / Grand Seiko” inscription
Number of Jewels: 30
Cadence of Balance: N/A
Power Reserve: Approx. 72 hours
Accuracy: ∓1 second per day / ∓15 seconds per month (average)
Functions: Hours, minutes, central seconds, power reserve, date, two 24-hour time zones
Case Material: Stainless steel, polished and machine-brushed
Bezel Material: Steel with sapphire insert
Crown & Matches case
Case shape: Round
Bezel shape: Round
Case size: 44.00 mm
Case height: 14.70 mm
Lug width: No data
Dial: Mahogany-red, sunburst finish
Numerals: Arabic, luminous (on the bezel)
Hour markers: Luminous
Hands: Luminous, machine-brushed
Water resistance: 200 meters
Strap: Stainless steel bracelet and extra reinforced orange silicon strap; Three-fold clasp with push button release
Crystal: Sapphire, antireflective coating inside, dual-curved
Case back: Solid, with Grand Seiko “Lion” emblem