April 4, 2018
by David Bredan
Or so it would look, if it wasn’t for the fancy – and rather wide – dial that says “GS 9S” on it a million times. I asked and, after a few Grand Seiko in-team inquiries, learned that these dials are stamped – not engraved or laser etched. The dial’s color ranges from very blue to purple-blue, depending on the type of light that hits it, and the blued indices and tempered blue steel GMT hands all play ball to enforce the very blue look. The red GMT arrow tip although legible looked a bit off to me – perhaps a gold one to match the “SPECIAL” text on the dial would have been a more tasteful choice.
Hiding under the poorly AR-coated sapphire crystal is a main handset crafted in typical Grand Seiko fashion: satin finished top surfaces, thin, lumed triangles and gorgeous, polished edges ensure fine legibility and ample eye-candy for years to come. To date most all other big brands pale in comparison when it comes to quality of hands – which is no surprise when considering the fact that most all big Swiss brands rely on lazy, yet expensive suppliers for their hands who appear to be reluctant to up their game in the only thing that they do, while Grand Seiko produces its hands and indices in-house.
The Grand Seiko Blue Ceramic Hi-beat GMT “Special” Limited Edition SBGJ229-A marks the first appearance of a 9S mechanical caliber in ceramic for Grand Seiko. This should explain the excessive gloating on the dial and the cute “Since 1998” text on the rotor. As per usual for a Seiko Hi-Beat movement, the 9S86 runs at 5Hz (that’s 10 beats per second or 36,000 per hour) for up to 55 hours. This particular caliber is kept running by a titanium and tungsten oscillating weight, crafted from these materials “to resist distortion even when the watch is subjected to shock.” The titanium middle section received an anodic oxidation treatment to echo the color of the dial and the ceramic exterior – it is true that these recurring, unique winding rotors of Grand Seiko never fail to amaze.
The dial’s “SPECIAL” text refers to the “Special” standard to which this particular movement had been set up: accuracy should fall in between -2 and +4 seconds, which is a considerably narrower range than the COSC chronometer certification’s requirement of -4/+6 seconds per day. This is also stricter than the Grand Seiko standard itself. That, along with the smooth, 5Hz glide of the seconds hand make for an impressive combination in modern watchmaking performance.
So what is it, then, about the SBGJ229 that still makes me wish to have one? Bearing in mind that this will be a personal note that lacks any and all kinds of objectivity, there was a certain charm to this 4-hand, utilitarian watch that wants to win your heart with this curious mixture of a genuinely useful GMT functionality and impressive precision… and almost childishly brash, yet self-protective looks. It genuinely reminded me of a computer game that I used to play as a kid – and, after checking just now, I could barely believe that the game is also from 1998, something the winding rotor could forever remind me of.
Its name was Shogo and all you had to do was drool over a ridiculous intro video and then shoot from unnecessarily large robots at pixelated things in a sea of low-resolution textures. The concept was as lacking as it is behind this dressed up titanium Grand Seiko and spending time on the overall experience was as hard to defend as it is to drop $15k on this four-hander GS… And yet, something clicked, something that could best be described as “charming” – and you either feel that or you don’t, there just simply is no way around it.
In the midst of yet another Baselworld marathon, sitting inside this meeting and taking this watch as the manyeth Grand Seiko into my hand, it wasn’t until I wrapped it around my wrist that it ticked and I felt this cute (and in all fairness really quite bad) experience repeat itself. Wearing the SBGJ229 would cheer me up, but I couldn’t possibly explain – or expect others to understand – why. Too bad this in itself won’t make it a more rounded and competitive package.
Again, price for the Grand Seiko Blue Ceramic Hi-beat GMT “Special” Limited Edition SBGJ229-A is $14,800 and it will be a limited edition of 350 pieces. grand-seiko.com