All New Hi-Beat Calibre
Grand Seiko introduces a radical all-new mechanical movement, known as the 9SA5, today. GS guarantees that this isn’t merely an improvement on an existing movement, but rather an entirely new caliber built from the ground up. Like its predecessor, the 9S85, and legendary Hi-Beats before it, the 9SA5 beats at a very Grand Seiko-esque 36,000 BPH. Everything else, however, is a wild departure from GS design.
As you can see, this new anniversary LE version of the 9SA5 is a radical departure from GS design in many ways. First, it’s using an entirely new dual impulse escapement. More on how that works soon. Second, it’s clearly using a new free-sprung balance, which is something completely out of left-field for a company that has had a preference for smooth balances going back decades. In fact, aside from its frequency, there’s almost nothing here that would indicate GS design.
The dual impulse escapement is clearly the most technically impressive aspect, and so far as I’m aware, duplicated nowhere else. This thing is so wildly different from the current mainstream design that it’s borderline unrecognizable. Typically, power is transmitted to the balance wheel and hairspring by the pallet fork via the escape wheel for both directions (the characteristic locking and unlocking that keeps time). In the 9SA5, the way it works is that power is transmitted to the pallet fork, and then to the balance wheel, in one direction, yet in the other direction, the power is transmitted directly through a new assembly attached to the balance itself, which, according to GS, results in an efficiency improvement. I’m going to have to see it in action to get a good understanding of how it works, but this is the best I can grasp from the literature. I’ll update this in the future if I learn otherwise.
Note also that we’re seeing a free sprung balance with recessed screws in the rim, a la Breguet, as opposed to the smooth balance/regulator combination that we’re so used to in Seiko and Grand Seiko. This is an enormous departure for the watchmaker as this marks a fundamental shift in how these watches are adjusted, no small feat for a brand so associated with precision adjustment. However, free sprung balances are well-loved for their stability and are widely adopted by Rolex, Omega, Breguet, Patek, AP, and other highly-revered brands for chronometric performance. I personally prefer free sprung balances, as I find it to be a more elegant design, so this is a really nice perk for me, and it makes the 9SA5 one of extremely few free sprung high-frequency movements, as its closest rival, the El Primero, retains the smooth balance/regulator design.
Also fascinating is the adoption of a Breguet overcoil. I feel confident in saying that the 9SA5 is the most radical departure from Grand Seiko movement (and Seiko movement broadly) design in the history of the company. The 9SA5 has the hallmarks of being one of the most sophisticated mechanical movements ever made, at least where timekeeping is concerned. Grand Seiko claims that the hairspring design alone was the product of over 80,000 simulations to obtain the best possible design in all positions.
Although not entirely unprecedented in GS’ history, balance bridges are very atypical of modern GS design. The balance bridge is widely considered to be a more robust design than the balance cock, which is anchored on only one side of the balance, and is common to Rolex, Omega, the latest Nomos movements (DUW 3001) and a few others. It remains, like the free sprung balance itself, a relatively uncommon feature of movements, but one that’s got a lot of fans.
Furthermore, fans of thin watches, like myself, not only get a better movement, but one that’s somehow 15% thinner than the current 9S85 (and derivations thereof). This is due to a much improved layout of the gear train. It’s also now got sequential double barrel mainsprings, upping it from 55 hours in the 9S85 to 80, an extremely impressive number for a high frequency movement, a genre notorious for energy consumption. Grand Seiko, bless them, finally gives us an instant date change, something I’ve wanted for years.
It’s important to emphasize that 9SA5 is a revolutionary new movement for GS, not an evolutionary one. You can essentially throw away everything you know about GS movement design and start totally fresh here—the hairspring and balance wheel most closely resembles a modern-day Breguet, but the new escapement makes it entirely its own thing.
The New SLGH002 Hi-Beat
After all that, it’s easy to forget that it actually goes inside a watch, namely the SLGH002. This gorgeous watch is in some ways a major departure from GS design, yet in others is the Grand Seiko you already know and love.
One thing I already love is its dimensions. 40mm in diameter, a great size in my opinion, and just 11.7mm thick—an ultra-thin it isn’t, but neither is it too thick, once again showing GS’ commitment to listening to fans and producing thinner watches. I’m perfectly satisfied with the dimensions of this model.
Where it really starts to set itself apart from existing models, like its predecessor the SBGH001 (or SBGH201), is with the hands and markers, both of which are wider and bolder than most GSes before it, giving it a sportier look. Otherwise, the dial is classic GS with a simple, but refined, silver sunburst dial and date frame.
You can, of course, appreciate the amazing new movement from the back.
The SLGH002 is a limited edition of just 100 pieces and is priced at $43,000. It’s available at GS boutiques this August.
All New Spring Drive
Introducing two new items, the all-new 9RA5 spring drive and the amazing diver that will contain it, the SLGA001. We’ll start with the 9RA5 since it’s the more revolutionary of the two. Spring drives have always been a good fit for GS divers, in part because they’re impeccably stable, and in part because they’re intrinsically resistant to the kinds of shocks and rough movements that diving can present. That GS has chosen to debut a new spring drive in a diver, however, represents a major change of pace for the company, which has historically introduced its highest-end movements in dress watches. That changes today, because not only is the 9RA5 thinner than the 9R65 that has usually graced GS divers, but it’s even more rigid and shock resistant.
That thinness (0.8mm thinner) is the product of an overhaul of the famous magic lever bidirectional automatic winding system, which has powered spring drives for a long time now. This new system uses an off-centered layout, which allows the movement to be thinner with no cost to efficiency. The magic lever system continues to be among the simplest and most robust solutions to bidirectional winding, but now it’s updated for the future.
The improvements in rigidity are curtesy of a new gear train layout and a strong central bridge that holds it all together. While I’m sure the 9RA5 will make its way into other Grand Seikos in the years to come, it means that, for the first time, we have a spring drive that was built from the ground up for enhanced toughness, instead of it being an incidental, albeit desirable, byproduct of the spring drive technology itself. The only reason Grand Seiko would bother doing that, I speculate, is if they plan on releasing a lot more dive watches (and various other forms of tool or exploration watches) in the future. It seems as if the 9R31, released last year, is going to be sent to dress watches while the 9RA5 will be aimed at sports watches, so you’ve actually got an entirely new spring drive playing field across the board.
Power reserve has been improved to an immense 120 hours thanks to an unusual dual-size barrel layout. Apparently, this was due to the space restraints of the 9RA5, but regardless, 120 hours is extremely impressive, particularly in a dive watch.
As if it being thinner, stronger, and longer lasting weren’t enough, it’s also more accurate. The 9RA5 actually includes thermocompensation, a feature of the very best quartz movements, and improves the stated accuracy from +/- 15 seconds per month to just +/- 10, a figure that we are confident it will exceed in the real world.
The All-New SLGA001 Diver
Now to the watch itself. The SLGA001 is a limited edition of 700, expected this August, and it’s more evolutionary than revolutionary, at least as compared to its new movement. It features styling that’ll please the vast numbers of fans of the SBGA229, even though this new one is more aggressive—I love those lugs, for instance. The dial color, which is called “Grand Seiko Blue,” is only going to be available in this LE, and it looks great.
This new model is rated for 600 meters and will no doubt have some of the most impressive lume on the market.
Predictably, it’s cased in high-intensity titanium, GS’ proprietary blend that’s lighter (in appearance) and harder than most other titanium alloys. Interestingly, GS says that ease of disassembly and maintenance were priorities in the design of this rather large (46.9mm, 16mm thick) case.
Perhaps most amazing of all, Grand Seiko managed to create a power reserve where up points to full (just kidding GS, I know the 9S67 did too).
Purists who prefer their tool watches to be, well, tool watches, will be pleased to know that GS has once again opted for a solid back to their watch, although I personally would love to see that gorgeous 9RA5 inside. You can pre-order yours here.
Something for the Traditionalists
You didn’t think a year could go by without GS doing some sort of homage to a 1960s model, did you? It’s unthinkable. And this year we’re in for a special treat with three nods to the very first Grand Seiko all the way back in 1960, the watch that started it all, which only makes sense for the 60th anniversary of the brand.
There will be three versions, the SBGW257 in platinum, shown here, a yellow gold SBGW258, and a blue dial in titanium, the SBGW259.
The hour markers and even the dial of the platinum model are made in gold as well.
Likewise, the yellow gold model has matching hour markers, although it lacks that gorgeous engraved Grand Seiko writing.
The third model, the SBGW259, throws a bit of a curve ball with its blue dial and titanium case. That titanium, by the way, is GS’ Brilliant Hard Titanium, an alloy exclusive to Grand Seiko. It’s brighter than even Seiko’s High-Intensity Titanium and twice as hard as stainless steel, making it an amazing all-around material. Each are powered by the 9S64, an existing, albeit excellent, hand wound movement.
All three models will be exclusive to GS boutiques and will become available around June of this year.
Two Very Cool New LEs
Next we look at two very impressive limited editions, also powered by the 9S64 hand wound movement, each representing an aspect of the Shizukuishi studio.
According to legend, Shizukuishi is named from the sound of water drops in a deep cave onto the rocks below. This is the inspiration for the painstaking engraving in each SBGW263. Each of the 20 made is engraved by a small team lead by master engraver Kiyoshi Terui entirely by hand, including the GS and Grand Seiko writing on the dial.
Another nice touch is the old-school gold medallion on the back, harkening back once again to the greats of the ‘60s.
The next new model, the SBGW264, is inspired by the forest of birch trees near the studio, and will no doubt appeal to fans of the famous Peacock SBGJ227, although this one appears a touch darker green and more intricate in its textures. Just 120 of these will be made.
Both will be available at GS boutiques in July of this year.
New Jewelry Watch
Seemingly out of nowhere, Grand Seiko also decided to make a jewelry watch. It takes its inspiration from the winter mornings of Shinshu which, love or hate the jewelry aspect of the watch, is quite beautifully represented in the diamond dust dial. Look very, very closely, and you can see the subtle markings of the constellation Leo (the lion).
The SBGD205 is powered by the super high-end 9R01 spring drive movement, used in only a handful of GSes currently, which has an amazing 8 day power reserve. It’ll be available in June of this year at GS boutiques.
A New Start for Grand Seiko
Grand Seiko perceives the 60th anniversary as the start of a new cycle for the brand, hence the new movements, foundations for the future, but this year Grand Seiko is taking the enormous step of building an all-new facility for GS alongside Morioka. This will be dedicated just to Grand Seiko mechanical movements and watches and create the space necessary for the brand’s expansion. It’ll also have an exhibition space for visitors so this will be a great place to check out next time you’re in Japan.