Big news today from Japan: the all-new Grand Seiko Elegance Collection brings a new slim case, some very special dials and, to top it all off, a new Grand Seiko Caliber 9S63 hand-wound mechanical caliber. (However, Grand Seiko’s recent pricing anomalies seem to endure.) More on all this below.
It really is a breath of fresh air to see a totally new collection from Grand Seiko — apparently, they couldn’t quite hold their excitement until BaselWorld, either. The Grand Seiko Elegance Collection, for now, comprises four models: two 18ct rose-gold cases (ref. SBGK002; red. SBGK004), one 18ct yellow-gold case (ref. SBGK006), and one stainless-steel model (ref. SBGK005 — yay!).
Eight years after the last manual-winding mechanical movement in a Grand Seiko, all four Elegance Collection watches sport the same all-new 9S63 caliber that runs at 4 Hertz, and yet provides 72 hours of power reserve. This seems to be the new baseline feature for all last-generation calibers launched recently, and that’s a good thing. On the dial side, the movement displays the central hours and minutes, running seconds at the 9 o’clock position and a power reserve indicator at 3. Gone is the offset power reserve that we have seen on Spring Drive Grand Seikos, such as my beloved SBGC001 Spring Drive Chronograph, reviewed here.
Accuracy, Grand Seiko says, is rated between -3 and +5 seconds per day for the 9S63, and if there is something all major Japanese brands must be praised for, it is their honesty and down-to-earth approach to accuracy claims — unlike the oft-heard more optimistic claims of Swiss (and even some German) manufacturers. Whereas Grand Seiko sometimes tends to differentiate movements between gold and steel model variants, in this case (pun intended), all four models will feature a Grand Seiko 9S63 caliber with heat-blued screws — apparently, a first, for Grand Seiko. Pretty sweet, if you ask me.
If the tempered screws are sweet, the dials are flat-out amazing: the two 18ct rose-gold versions (ref. SBGK002 and SBGK004) both feature Urushi dials. Produced in the Shizukuishi Watch Studio, where all mechanical Grand Seiko watches are made, these traditional Japanese lacquered dials are crafted using the sap of trees growing around a town just North of the studio. The translucent brown and jet-black Urushi dials are complemented by taka-maki-e-layered markers and “GS” letters. Maki-e literally means “sprinkled picture,” whereas taka-maki-e is a “raised” or layered variation.
Developed in the Muromachi period (1336-1573), this technique means that the desired patterns are created from countless layers of material built on the base Urushi lacquer dial. For the Grand Seiko Elegance Collection Urushi dials, multiple layers of pure gold or platinum powder are sprinkled onto the dial one layer at a time in (guess what?) a “time-consuming process.” It reminds me of the PVD-coated platinum numerals in the ceramic bezels of select Rolex watches — though where Rolex’s solution is cutting-edge high-tech, Grand Seiko’s approach is heart-warmingly traditional.
The hands are — in case you have never had the chance to hold a Grand Seiko before — eat-your-warm-heart-out beautiful and, at least on the official images, appear to work beautifully with every dial variation. Cool as the Urushi dials might be, I am still strangely attracted by the 18ct yellow-gold version with a plain Jane white dial — and this is an acknowledgement of the distinctly and decidedly Japanese design of the Elegance Collection that, for me at least, seems to stand out best in this yellow-gold variant.
On this note, I very much appreciate how Grand Seiko implemented some of its much-loved case design elements into this new, 39-millimeter-wide and 11.6-millimeter-thick “mechanical thin dress series” watch — because yes, that’s how Grand Seiko refers to this new line of timepieces. The strong, curvy lugs have a wide upper surface, but are cut distinctly short to keep the case nicely away from the upper and lower edges of the wrist — a must for any decent dress watch. The lug width appears to be rather narrow, and yet I think they have somehow pulled it off and it’s just the right sort of quirky, without looking weird or petite. I’d venture eye-balling it at 18 millimeters; no such specification is provided by GS for now, but the lug width does look narrow, and we’ll have to see these hands-on to better determine how well the Elegance Collection really wears.
Closing — or opening, depending on how you want to look at it — this new Elegance Collection of four watches is the stainless-steel variant (ref. SBGK005) which has the exact same case shape and size as the gold versions, but features a blue, textured dial. The texture GS refers to as a “Mt. Iwate” pattern; the watch studio is located in the city of Morioka, in the North-Eastern prefecture of Iwate. How exactly this creased texture is linked to Mount Iwate, I’m not sure, but it’s a recurring theme in select Grand Seiko models.
Where things get sideways is in the pricing structure of the Grand Seiko Elegance Collection. As one would expect, the two rose-gold variants with their Urushi dials will entail a price premium over the yellow-gold version that has a regular lacquered dial and no taka-maki-e indices and GS designation. Fans of Seiko and Grand Seiko will likely remember the Presage Automatic we introduced here, where €2,500 bought you a multi-colored Urushi dial and an entire watch with a case, movement, strap, and so on.
This, to me at least, makes the whopping €10,700 premium of the rose-gold pieces over the yellow-gold version very difficult to understand — and another nail in the coffin of the late Grand Seiko sensible pricing strategy. Rose gold might justify some premium over yellow gold, but four times the cost of an entire watch with a similar dial makes no sense. I’ll admit, I have yet to learn how that insane premium is justified, other than Grand Seiko’s
greed random price-generator software being hard at work yet once again. The rose-gold pieces are limited to 150 each — again, hardly something to justify the mark-up over the non-limited yellow-gold piece.
Pricing for the Grand Seiko Elegance Collection pieces is as follows: the Grand Seiko Elegance Collection with Urushi dial in 18ct rose-gold (ref. SBGK002; ref. SBGK004) are priced at €31,400; the 18ct yellow-gold (ref. SBGK006) is €20,700; and the Grand Seiko Elegance Collection in stainless steel (ref. SBGK005) is priced at €7,400 (limited to just 1,500 pieces). The Elegance Collection will be available at select Grand Seiko boutiques and retailers from around March, 2019 and you can see more on Grand Seiko’s website.