April 4, 2018
by David Bredan
The Grand Seiko Blue Ceramic Hi-beat GMT “Special” Limited Edition SBGJ229-A is the most imperfect watch that I still genuinely – and rather inexplicably – want. It’s full of faults which we’ll look at, but it still had something that made me want it right after I put it on my wrist. Here’s me trying to decipher what just happened and what Seiko’s logic had possibly been when they created this monster.
Let’s begin with the biggest issue of them all: the price. At $14,800, this is about double what other Grand Seiko GMTs are running for – or at least had been running for, before GS started aiming for rather more ambitious price levels as part of their weird non-Seiko-Grand Seiko branding strategy, introduced last year. Near as makes no difference, 15 grand for any four hand watch is extremely steep in my book and so there’d better be many and strong justifications to make my – and other responsible watch collector’s – wallet open wide enough to let this big sum slip out.
When I learned Grand Seiko had produced a four-hand version of the ceramic-titanium chronographs that we’d been seeing in previous years, I, rather prematurely, got my hopes up for it coming in a smaller size… but that was not to be. The Grand Seiko SBGJ229-A is a whopping 46.4mm wide and 14.6mm thick – that is what seasoned watchmakers would call a big ass watch. Both the case and the bracelet are made from a combination of Seiko’s “high-intensity titanium” and their new, blue zirconia ceramic, seven times harder than stainless steel.
The gargantuan size, I believe, is due to the way the case is constructed. Apparently there is a titanium core case that wraps around the movement like a regular case would and it is onto this titanium cladding that the ceramic panels are fixed. It’s like a titanium watch wearing ceramic armor. The thing is, however, that ceramic’s excessive surface hardness (and consequent resistance to scratches) comes at a price: a tendency to shatter upon impact. I have not enough reliable information on whether this “cored” ceramic, or a full ceramic case is more resistant to shocks, but at the end of the day, you’ll want to be really rather careful. Good job on Seiko’s end that the clasp is from titanium and not ceramic.
So, this lovely pair of elephants in the room – the price and the proportions – addressed, let’s move on to the more easy-to-like aspects of the descriptively named Grand Seiko Blue Ceramic Hi-beat GMT “Special” Limited Edition SBGJ229-A. First is comfort which, although wasn’t exactly easy to assess with the show piece’s mile long bracelet, felt good thanks to the way the relatively lightweight case sat on the wrist and how the titanium and ceramic links of the bracelet wrapped around it – because both materials are warmer than steel, the bracelet felt like a row of small, smooth pebbles, for lack of a better comparison.
Craftsmanship on the case and bracelet is impressive – though I was less impressed than I feel I’d need to be to justify spending 15 large ones. I can’t help but think that the “let’s screw ceramic pieces onto a titanium case” is neither a sound, nor an elegant solution for introducing ceramic, and, in truth, I’d like to see a full ceramic option for this price. Speaking of craftsmanship: while I understand a perfectly flush fit is extremely difficult to achieve and I’ll admit that this may be a pet peeve of mine, I’d nevertheless prefer to not be able to see through the gap between a bracelet’s end-link and the lug.
I did say we’ll talk positives though, so I’ll add this: many say (presumably based on images alone) that ceramic looks like plastic and while I doubt that’s the case on these images, in hand anyone with a vague sense for quality will be able to tell GS’s ceramic apart from other materials. The edges are well defined but aren’t overly sharp, the surfaces are accurately formed and the surface has a deep sheen and a tendency to go from saturated blue into pale, satin blue. To the touch, as I said, it is smooth with no hard or unpleasant edges anywhere – it truly looks like a modern piece of armor wrapped around a more ordinary Seiko.