Gorgeous New White Birch Grand Seiko with High-End 9SA5 Movement!

Grand Seiko just released what will undoubtedly become a staple of the brand for some time to come, this new SLGH005. It’s only the third watch to use the 9SA5 automatic, which I’ve maintained is among the most sophisticated available today, so the ability just to get a watch with a 9SA5 is a prize in itself. That said, while the movement is truly remarkable, I don’t think it should overshadow the beauty of the watch, which is, in my opinion, the best-looking 9SA5-powered GS by a wide margin.

No brand has managed to connect itself to nature and the elements quite the way Grand Seiko has. More often than not, GS is attempting to capture a broader seasonal concept, like that of snow, but a few, like this watch, are far more specific in their aim. This Grand Seiko is called the White Birch, and as you might suspect, this is because the dial is inspired by the white and almost paper-like quality of the birch tree’s bark. Even more specifically, the dial is inspired by the shirakaba white birch trees near the studio where mechanical Grand Seikos, like this one, are made.

Regardless of its origins, it looks amazing. Grand Seikos have always nailed this almost-all-white (or silver) with a blued seconds hand look, but the deeply textured dial really takes it up a notch. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of a far bolder SBGA211 Snowflake. Whereas the snowdrifts of that watch were gentle and shallow, the texture here is relatively pronounced. Overall, it matches the stronger feel of Grand Seiko’s next-generation designs.

Grand Seiko calls this more daring look “Series 9 Design,” an attempt to create a more contemporary version of the fan-beloved 44GS, another watch known for its angular, aggressive case (at least by Grand Seiko’s standards). Series 9 appears to be the design language that’s going to be applied to the top-of-the-line Heritage collection going forward, and it tends to follow broader industry trends towards features like flat, broad bezels. Similar approaches were brought to the hands and hour markers. Particularly with regard to the hour hand, these have been made wider and more stylized in an effort to creative a cohesive look with the case. It is the hands that I am least excited by in an otherwise amazing new watch, because Grand Seiko’s traditional dauphine hands are simply my favorite among all of watchmaking and I’d rather not see them go.

The Series 9 case, while relatively sporty, actually manages to become more modest in size relative to most of its direct peers within GS. At 40mm, it’s the perfect size for a contemporary model, and better yet, the thickness is now down to a respectable 11.7mm. Compare this to one of its predecessors, the Hi-Beat SBGH201, which, despite having the same diameter, is 13mm thick. It’s kind of odd, in a good way, that the boldest new case comes in one of the best all-around sizes we’ve seen in a modern automatic Grand Seiko.

At last we get to the 9SA5 movement, easily the most important thing to happen to Japanese mechanical watches since the 9S85 came out. The 9SA5 manages to combine some of Grand Seiko’s most beloved features, like the 36,000 BPH frequency, with the best that the world has had to offer, such a free sprung balance. Unique to the 9SA5, at least thus far, is GS’ special dual impulse escapement, which increases efficiency and plays a role in its new 80 hour power reserve, up from 55 in the 9S85. While the SLGH005 is quite beautiful, and features next-generation aesthetic cues, it’s really the 9SA5 that takes it to another level beyond existing GS mechanical watches.

Upon close examination, we gaze upon the beautiful new free sprung, variable inertia balance, a design long associated with highly stable movements. We also see the return of the balance bridge, a change over the simpler balance cock that’s long been in use by GS mechanical movements. Interestingly, a balance bridge was used in the 4420B, the movement in the ’67 44GS that inspired the watch we’re looking at today. While it’s very difficult to actually see the dual impulse escapement, we can nonetheless observe that GS has substantially stepped up its game with regard to the design and finishing of the movement. The bridges are far more complex than in the 9S85, for instance, resulting in a more visually intriguing movement overall.

Since I’ve already covered the 9SA5 previously, I’ll refer you to my last article on the SLGH003 here if you want to go much more in-depth as to what makes this movement so special. For the purposes of this preview, it’s sufficient to say that it’s mainly the 9SA5 that warrants the price jump over existing Hi-Beat (9S85) watches. When I finally get a chance to review this watch, I’ll also be taking a much more comprehensive look at the 9SA5, so stay tuned for that.

At $9,100, the SLGH005 is $600 more affordable than the SLGH003 limited edition, and I’d argue that it’s better looking too. Regardless, the price does make it one of the most expensive stainless steel mechanical Grand Seikos yet made. Its closest alternative in the current lineup is the 9S85-powered SBGH277, which is priced exactly $3,000 less. So you have to ask yourself whether the SLGH005, and its new 9SA5 movement, is worth the premium over a lot of already great Hi-Beats that Grand Seiko offers. In my opinion, the answer is an easy, and resounding, yes. Viewed as a complete package, this is my favorite Grand Seiko in years, and the 9SA5 absolutely warrants the increase in price. Put very simply, if I could have literally any Grand Seiko on the market today, it’d be this one, and I wouldn’t have to think hard about it. That said, more affordable alternatives, like that SBGH277, are still around and aren’t going anywhere. Watches like the SLGH005 coexist with models like my personal SBGH001 (now called the SBGH201), offering a high-end alternative, not a replacement.

To pre-order your SLGH005, expected sometime in March, please click here.

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