The 1960s were a beautiful time for watches. Horlogy was in its prime and the great names we know and love today – Rolex, Omega, Cartier – were just one of many watchmakers churning out commodity products to a world that needed to tell the time. Their watches – simple, elegant, and mechanically complex – were the ultimate in mechanical efficiency and design and no one did it quite as well as Seiko. This mechanical golden age ended in the late 1970s with the rise of the quartz watch but Seiko is resurrecting it with their Grand Seiko line of luxury pieces.
Grand Seiko is special for a few reasons. First, it’s Seiko’s haute horlogerie skunkworks, allowing the company to experiment with all the fancy materials and techniques that Swiss watchmakers have worked with for years. The watches are made of precious metals and feature Seiko Hi-Beat movements. These watches “vibrate” 36,000 times an hour or ten times a second. This means that the balance wheel inside the watch is moving back and forth far faster than, say, an Omega Co-Axial 8500/1 series which is clocked at 25,200 vibrations per hour. What this means in practice is that the seconds hand moves with an almost uncanny smoothness.
The rest of the watch I tested, the euphoniously-named SBGH263G, is based on a piece from 1968 that came from Seiko’s mechanical hey-day. The $6,200 watch has a 39mm case and, according to Seiko, is style for maximum elegance. They write:
The dial has elegant and easy-to-see Arabic numeral for the hour mark. The concept color “Shironeri” is a reflection of Japanese tradition. The color and texture of the dial come from the glossy white silk of the outfit worn by the bride in a Japanese wedding. It symbolizes purity and innocence.
This watch is a formal piece for wearing, presumably, to your own wedding. That said, it’s also very reminiscent of 1960s style watches. The size, case shape, and polished hands and numerals all hearken back to a simpler time in watchmaking when everything didn’t have to look like a robot’s goiter or a pie plate.
It is quite small and if you’re used to Panerais or Nixons you’ll definitely notice a grandpa vibe about this piece. Because it is not very complex – that is it does not have any real complications like a stopwatch – it is very pricey. However, knowing Grand Seiko’s dedication to a very lost art of non-Swiss horology, it’s well worth a look.
I’ve been following Grand Seiko for years now and the quality and care the company has been putting into these watches is palpable. This watch is no commodity product. The case is polished to a high sheen and everything – from the screws to the beautiful domed sapphire crystal – is put together with great care. Seiko also makes lower end pieces – my favorite is the Orange Monster – but this is far above that in terms of build quality and price.
Pieces like this Grand Seiko remind us that, before Apple Watches and Fitbits, there was an entire universe of truly striking timepieces made for the absolutely sole purpose of telling the time. I love pieces like this one because they are no frills and yet they are full of frills. The watch is as simple as can be – three hands and a date window without any lume or extraneous buttons – and yet it shows amazing technical skill. It is expensive but this is a handmade watch by a storied manufacturer and it’s well worth the price of admission of you’re a lover of the elegantly antiquated.