It was only last year that Grand Seiko announced a line of slim, hand-wound mechanical dress watches that debuted what has since become one of my favorite new case shapes from any watchmaker. These early examples included the SBGK002, the SBGK004, the SBGK006, and a model that Stephen spent a week with, the SBGK005.
Beyond the beautiful, slender, retro-inspired case shape that seemed to skirt the line between a traditional round dress case and a tonneau, the new Elegance “Slim” watches had a few things in common. Most obvious among them was the use of the new 9S63 manually wound movement with small seconds and power reserve, and in select cases, beautiful lacquer dials featuring maki-e accents. Today, we have the newest evolution in the Grand Seiko Elegance story, the manually wound SBGW262. It too comes in a slim and discreet 39mm by 11.6mm case. But unlike the above-mentioned watches from last year, at the heart of this newest timepiece is the caliber 9S64, with displays for the hours, the minutes, and the seconds from the central axis.
As with the great majority of Grand Seiko watches, the SBGW262 has a way of drawing you into its dial. It’s no secret that Grand Seiko has come to be viewed by a great many watch enthusiasts as one of the premier practitioners of thoughtful dial design and execution. Grand Seiko has earned this reputation using techniques common to traditional watchmaking centers – note the immaculate hand-polishing of this watch’s handset, for example. But they also achieve it with the application of distinctly Japanese métiers and crafts. It’s these special details that many Grand Seiko enthusiasts, myself included, have come to regard as part of what makes Grand Seiko really different. In the SBGW262, you see that difference in the black urushi lacquer dial with tremendous depth and raised maki-e accents. The hour markers that you see here are made of powdered platinum, and the numerals at the cardinal positions are crafted from powdered 24-karat gold. We saw similar dials in the two rose-gold examples that came out last year, the SBGK002 and the SBGK004, though the use of two additional maki-e numerals in the SBGW262 makes for a dial that is more costly to produce.
Finishing surfaces with urushi lacquer, a natural substance derived from the lacquer tree, is a form of craftsmanship that can be found in a number of traditional Japanese products including small boxes for jewelry, furniture, and even miso soup bowls. Not all urushi lacquer is of equal quality, though. Domestic Japanese lacquer accounts for a small percentage of the urushi lacquer used in Japan. For the SBGW262, Grand Seiko has used some of the finest urushi lacquer it could find. The dials of the SBGW262 come from lacquer taken from trees grown in and around the town of Joboji, not far from Mount Iwate, the mountain whose imposing presence dominates the view from Grand Seiko’s Shizukuishi Watch Studio. To make the dials, the lacquer is mixed with iron to give it the jet-black color that you see above and below. And the indexes and numerals are also produced in an artisanal way. They have been built up on the dial from powdered metal using the maki-e technique, which translates as “sprinkled picture.”
From the first time I saw Grand Seiko’s new dress watch case, it struck me as a beautiful design, and my first instinct was to classify it as a tonneau shape in the vein of certain watch cases popular during the 1970s. But upon looking closer, I came to realize that my initial impression was, well, just an impression, and one that failed to fully capture this design. Looking below at the raised, polished bezel and the downward-sloping lugs, one can see that this is an intricately designed case that seems to blend elements of a traditional round dress watch with that of a tonneau.
One of the criticisms sometimes made of Grand Seiko mechanical watches, even those billed as dressy, is that they are slightly thick relative to their diameter. I happen to own another watch in the Grand Seiko Elegance Collection, the 39.5mm x 13.7mm SBGM221, and I agree that this criticism does appear to hold some water. I’ve not personally found my watch to wear large, though. Much to the contrary, I’d say that my SBGM221 has a presence that allows it to be worn as a casual daily driver or as a dress watch – heck, I got married wearing this watch, but it’s also one of the few timepieces that I’ll routinely reach for in the fall and winter, pairing it with jeans and a sweater.
The watch that we’re talking about today is much more of a pure dress watch. The SBGW262 – and for that matter, all of the hand-wound watches that use the slim new case shape – provide a strong response to the thickness critique. It’s a watch that will hug a medium-sized wrist like mine in a pleasant way, and the absence of a rotor further reinforces its stability on wrist. If there was ever an unambiguously dressy Grand Seiko that channeled traditional Japanese craft in a way that demonstrates what makes Grand Seiko different, I think it might be the yellow gold SBGW262.
At the heart of this reference, and visible through its sapphire back, is a movement that we have known for some time. The tried and true 9S64 powers such classic Grand Seiko hand-wound models as the SBGW231. This 9S64 comes with an ample 72 hours (or three days) of power reserve, which I think is critical given the fact that this is a watch that you will be winding by hand. Having three days of power reserve means that the SBGW262 could be a fine daily dress watch worn to the office, removed for the weekend, and then brought back out on Monday morning without needing to be reset. Grand Seiko rates the cal. 9S64 as accurate to within +5/-3 seconds per day when static. Purely anecdotally, I’d point out that I’ve experienced even better performance from the Grand Seiko mechanical GMT that I own and wear regularly, as well as from some of the other examples that I’ve had a chance to wear for extended periods of time.
The absence of a date display also means that, even if the SBGW262 is called up only for rare special occasions, setting the time can be be done in just a few seconds. While I think Grand Seiko is actually one of very best when it comes to thoughtfully integrating a date window, typically framing it in such a way that it exists harmoniously among the rest of the dial furniture, this dateless urushi lacquer dial with maki-e accents benefits very much from “going stag,” if you will.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of Grand Seiko (Seiko itself is, of course, much older), and though the SBGW262 is not one of the official limited edition models released to mark this momentous anniversary, I think it stands out as a very appealing synthesis of authentic Japanese craft and high-end watchmaking, as well as a reminder of just how far this brand has come since its 1960 founding.
The Grand Seiko Elegance SBGW262. 39mm x 11.6mm yellow gold case water resistant to 30 meters. Black urushi lacquer dial with markers and numerals made from raised maki-e in platinum or 24-karat gold powder. Manually wound Grand Seiko Cal. 9S64 running at 28,800 vph (4Hz) with 72 hours of power reserve, rated to +5/-3 seconds when static. Black crocodile leather strap with gold pin buckle. Retail price: $ 30,000.
For more, visit Grand Seiko.