Down the Rabbit Hole
Everybody has a first. Whether it was our first pet, car, or even the first friend in school, they all exist somewhere in that little heart of ours. And when we close our eyes, there they are, like a scene on replay, ingrained into our memories until the day old age robs us off our thoughts. This article will explore, hopefully in some level of detail, the first watch that I fell in love with. To make it clear, my first real watch was a Seiko 5 automatic diver and I loved the damn thing for the next two years since acquiring it. Shortly after, my next piece was a Longines Moonphase Complication from the Master Collection. At the time, I thought these watches were so cool looking and flashy (they still are), but like most collections, these two have since moved on. Fast forward a few more years and I found myself lurking around forums and random Facebook watch groups, stumbling upon a brand responsible for igniting a passion in me for watches that I never knew I had.
The Grand Seiko SBGW031 – A Modern Non Limited-Edition Interpretation of the First
At this point in time, I had several Seiko dive watches, pieces from the Presage collection, a Tudor Black Bay that I loved dearly, and an Orient Star Classic. So which one was my favourite? Hands down, it was the Orient Star. I loved how it could easily be paired with an Oxford shirt and chinos, or a suit and tie. I loved the faceted dauphine hands and the ivory dial. It was restrained, elegant, and priced “responsibly” for a first year out teacher. Towards the end of my first year of teaching, like a moth to a flame, my eyes eventually fixated onto several photographs of a brand that I had never heard of, Grand Seiko.
I remember developing a strong affection towards how shiny these objects were. They were so simple looking, but as I got deeper into the research, I quickly learnt how these watches were in fact, complicated to make. Never had I seen polishing on steel so well executed to the point that one could use the flat surfaces of a 44GS case as a mirror. I knew then, as cliché as the phrase goes, it was love at first sight. After reviewing the current listings on the Grand Seiko site, I then questioned myself on which reference was best fit for me. I saved for months for this occasion. Avoiding going out with friends and going on holidays because I wanted to treat myself to a nice watch. I desperately wanted to own just one of these luxurious gems that were born in Japan. And so while I was saving, I listed all of the possibilities to find the right Grand Seiko for me. Constantly going back and forth over which model represented me as a person. My tastes, style, and of course, appreciation for both Japan and the brand. I remember being absolutely smitten with the SBGW033 for it was the modern reissue of the first Grand Seiko. Gosh, it is still my favourite Grand Seiko design of all time. They truly did get it right from the start. It looked like my Orient Star classic but on steroids. Every single detail was executed on a level nothing I had seen. Unfortunately, I had not been able to source one and the value of them still continue to rise. Almost ready to settle for the SBGM021 GMT, like fate, I stumbled across the SBGW031 from a dealer’s website in Japan. I remember falling in love with it straight away. The watch was valued at a price I could afford, and to me, I viewed it as being the modern interpretation of the first Grand Seiko that was not a limited edition. What sealed the deal for me, were the photos of the caseback revealing the 9S64 movement and the famous Tokyo Stripes. All I could remember was yelling out “sold”!
What makes this watch so mysterious, is that there are barely any reviews about it. I will start by stating that what makes the modern hand-winding models so special is that they are manufactured in smaller numbers compared to watches housing the quartz, automatic and Spring Drive movements. I recall reading somewhere that the total number of 9S (mechanical) movements produced, ranged around 4000 units per year, with a small fraction of them being manual winding. Think about it, after walking into a Seiko boutique or an authorized Grand Seiko dealership, how many hand winding pieces are there for sale? Barely any! Most of the collections on offer are either automatics, 9F quartz or Spring Drives (ahem, Snowflake). In addition, the SBGW031 was a boutique exclusive only special. Unfortunately for Australian collectors, the Seiko boutique in Sydney and Melbourne did not exist yet in 2015. So my only chance at acquiring this was straight from Japan, which I did.
A bit of digging into the history of this watch suggests that the first version came out in 2007 or earlier, reference number SBGW001. Basically, it is the same watch with the older 9S54 movement. Comparing the two watches side by side, one would assume that they are the same. However, there is one small difference. The Grand Seiko logo underneath the GS badge is applied on the SBGW001, where the logo on the SBGW031 is printed. I suspect that to reduce production costs, they ceased the applied logos and switched to prints with the SBGW031. This can also be said for the SBGW005 and SBGW035 (versions with the creamier dials and blued second hands).
Case, dial and hands
The case on the SBGW031 is sized at 37.3 mm with a thickness of 11.6 mm. The material used of course is stainless steel that is polished by the best in the business. Flip this bad boy around and you will be greeted by the see-through case back revealing the gorgeous 9S64 movement with the famous Tokyo Stripes that could almost blind you. Blink too quickly and you will miss one fine detail featured on the crystal, it features the famous Grand Seiko lion emblem. This watch could pass for being a dress watch but honestly, it is a bit thick on the wrist and may interfere with sliding under the cuff. But come on, all watch guys and gals do this, just button your cuffs a little bit looser! The dial is a beautiful ivory/pearl colour, that almost looks champagne in certain lighting. Now I am going to make it clear, the SBGW031/SBGW231 dial colour is different to that found on the SBGW035/SBGW235. The latter is a darker, creamier tone where the SBGW031 is a lighter tone. The hands, oh the hands are what I love so much about this watch. The iconic dauphine hands on this piece are faceted and polished… like seriously polished. For you Grand Seiko fans out there, you may refer to this as Zaratsu polishing. Named after the wheel the best Grand Seiko craftsmen use to get that mirror finishing on the cases. A nice touch to this is that the hour, minute and second hands are slightly bent to compliment the curved dial.
As mentioned earlier, the movement sealed the deal for me to make this purchase. The 9S64 is a glorious manual winding calibre with 72 hours of power reserve. What this means, as Mr Jack Forster states, is that you could put the watch down for the weekend and pick it up on Monday and it would still be going. Now ain’t that a nice touch! In addition, the accuracy of the watch straight from the factory is guaranteed to be +5/-3 seconds per day. If this is not good enough for you, then you could always opt for a 9F quartz or Spring Drive.
The Grand Seiko SBGW031 is not my favourite watch purely because of looks alone though. Like a good friend or partner, it has been with me since the start of my professional career as an educator. I wear it on every important occasion. When I am presenting at a University, or running a seminar, you can bet that this one is hugging my wrist. It is more of a comfort watch than a good luck charm for me. The truth is that even after all of these years, the beauty of this watch just keeps getting better. If you are considering one of these, you would have to look on the secondary market. However, if the market is dry, all hope is not lost as you can now purchase the new updated version, the SBGW231. And the best part of this is, they are not boutique exclusive or limited edition.