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Grand Seiko Elegance Spring Drive 20th Anniversary Watches Hands-On

Grand Seiko Elegance Spring Drive 20th Anniversary Watches Hands-On Hands-On

Over the course of the past 20 short years, the Seiko Spring Drive movement has become embedded in the watch collector and enthusiast vernacular. At this point, countless words have been dedicated to discussing the Spring Drive movement, but if you want a truly in-depth explanation of the mechanism, as well as a thorough history, then I recommend you read “The Amazing History & Functionality of the Seiko Spring Drive Movement,” as well as our interview with Grand Seiko master watchmaker Mr. Yoshifusa Nakazawa. Grand Seiko is telling the story of the Spring Drive over the course of nine chapters themselves, as well.

Ranging from a relatively reasonably priced (albeit limited edition) stainless steel version through 18k gold options all the way to the $76,000 platinum SBGZ001, Grand Seiko has launched a new collection called Grand Seiko Elegance Spring Drive 20th Anniversary collection.

Grand Seiko Elegance Spring Drive 20th Anniversary Watches Hands-On Hands-On

The Spring Drive movement was the dream of Yoshikazu Akahane in the late 1970s, when he was still an engineer at Suwa Seikosha, which would later become Seiko Epson. Along with contemporaries like Osamu Takahashi and Kunio Koike, Akahane would work for years to execute the project. In fact, he had already patented it, describing it as the “development of an electronically regulated mechanical watch that is powered by a spring.”

Grand Seiko Elegance Spring Drive 20th Anniversary Watches Hands-On Hands-On

Mr. Takahashi was pivotal in the eventual signature Spring Drive sweeping seconds hand, and Koike had a large hand in the design of the low-voltage integrated circuit design which helped solve the long-lasting problem of reducing the power necessary to operate the movement. Akahane, Takahashi, and Koike were three seminal figures whose grit and relentless dedication made the Spring Drive a reality when it was first successfully used in a prototype on December 26, 1997. Tragically, Akahane would pass away from pneumonia less than a year later in August 1998. 

Grand Seiko Elegance Spring Drive 20th Anniversary Watches Hands-On Hands-On

It’s been 20 years since the Spring Drive was announced which is ironically the same amount of time between the first patent filed in 1978 and the movement’s announcement in 1998. It took 600 patents and an endless well of human talent and ingenuity to create the Spring Drive movement. Released as a manual wind movement in 1999, the first automatic Spring Drive would come a few years later in 2005. 

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To mark the 20th anniversary of Spring Drive, Grand Seiko released four new watches as part of its Elegance Collection. Since this the 20th anniversary of the Spring Drive, it’s also technically the anniversary of the first manual-wind Spring Drive. So, Grand Seiko introduced two new manual-wind Spring Drive movements for this collection of four watches. Even so, all four watches have the same minimalist dial time-only dial layout. Well, almost the same layout. You’ll notice the platinum versions that use the caliber 9R02 have a small bellflower shaped barrel on the movement. The bellflower is an ode to Shiojiri, where the Seiko Micro Artist Studio is located. Also, at 6 o’clock on the dial, you’ll see the eight-point star that indicates that the hour markers are done in solid gold. 

Grand Seiko Elegance Spring Drive 20th Anniversary Watches Hands-On Hands-On

Photo by Grand Seiko

The new caliber 9R02 is the handiwork of the most veteran Seiko watchmakers at the Micro Artist Studio, and so it shouldn’t be surprising that both watches featuring this movement are done in platinum cases. In fact, the 9R02 is very similar to the Credor 7R14 found in the Eichi II but with a longer power reserve.

This movement features the “Torque Return System,” which essentially uses some of the energy put out by a fully wound mainspring that would otherwise be wasted. Activated 48 hours after the mainspring is fully wound, the Torque Return System adds to the movement’s power reserve. This results in the 9R02 having an 84-hour power reserve with an accuracy of ±1 second per day/ ±15 seconds per month. 

Grand Seiko Elegance Spring Drive 20th Anniversary Watches Hands-On Hands-On

The model I wasn’t able to get photos of is the SBGZ001, which is done in a platinum case that is hand-finished in that recognizable Grand Seiko “snowflake” pattern that’s carried through on the dial. The SBGZ003 is the other platinum-case Grand Seiko Spring Drive 20th anniversary watch that utilizes the 9R02 movement and both have the same dimensions of 38.5mm-wide and 9.8mm-thick.

Grand Seiko Elegance Spring Drive 20th Anniversary Watches Hands-On Hands-On

The primary difference between the two is the snowflake finishing on the dial and case of the SBGZ001, while the SBGZ003 has a more traditional case and grained dial. Both the SBGZ001 and SBGZ003 share the same case size, measuring 38.5mm-wide and 9.8mm-thick, though the snowflake-cased SBGZ001 is limited to 30 pieces, whereas the SBGZ003 isn’t limited. 

Grand Seiko Elegance Spring Drive 20th Anniversary Watches Hands-On Hands-On Grand Seiko Elegance Spring Drive 20th Anniversary Watches Hands-On Hands-On

Now we have the SBGY002 and SBGY003, which features the new Spring Drive caliber 9R31 movement. The SBGY002 is the only yellow gold model of the bunch, and the limited edition of 700 pieces (SBGY003) is the most affordable watch in the group, as it’s done in stainless steel. 

Grand Seiko Elegance Spring Drive 20th Anniversary Watches Hands-On Hands-On

Grand Seiko Elegance Spring Drive 20th Anniversary Watches Hands-On Hands-On

When looked at in relation to the two platinum watches, these two models represent the more accessible end of where Grand Seiko sees their Elegance Collection going. The SBGY002 is a “checks all the boxes” piece for someone who wants a gold watch that announces it’s a gold watch. I believe this is the first snowflake dial Grand Seiko has done in a yellow gold case, and I think the decision to use such a vibrant yellow gold over something like rose gold was wise and pays off. I imagine this version is especially going to be a hit at home in Japan for Grand Seiko, and keeping this as a non-limited-edition is smart.

Grand Seiko Elegance Spring Drive 20th Anniversary Watches Hands-On Hands-On Grand Seiko Elegance Spring Drive 20th Anniversary Watches Hands-On Hands-On

Now, the steel SBGY003 is a different story. It’s limited to 700 pieces with a sunray pattern that seizes one’s attention through its meticulous and detailed execution. I know how coveted the snowflake dial has become (and with good reason), but I think I actually prefer this sunray dial. I can’t help but see the snowflake dial as the Grand Seiko right brain (creative, artistic, poetic) and this sun-ray dial as the Grand Seiko left brain (logical, precisely sequenced, nearly mathematically intentional). That said, my opinion on which I prefer could change, depending on the kind of day I’m having. 

Grand Seiko Elegance Spring Drive 20th Anniversary Watches Hands-On Hands-On

The 9R31 shares the same dual mainspring architecture and ±1 second per day accuracy as the 9R02, though there are differences. The power reserve is shorter at 72 hours, and there is no Torque Return System or that bellflower design on the barrel. Both the 9R02 and the 9R31 have the power reserve indicators at the back of the dial on the movement. 

Grand Seiko Elegance Spring Drive 20th Anniversary Watches Hands-On Hands-On

The Grand Seiko Elegance SBGZ001 in platinum with the snowflake dial and case is limited to 30 pieces and priced at $76,000, and I believe all are already spoken for, though the SBGZ003 in platinum isn’t a limited reference and is priced at $57,000. The limited edition of 700 pieces SBGY003 in steel is priced at $7,600 and the SBGY002 in yellow gold is priced at $25,000. You can learn more at grand-seiko.com.

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Comments

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  • What fresh hell is this?

    No PR indicator!!!!!

    • Incomprehensibly, power reserve indicators is positioned on the movement. Quite bizarre choice: at this point it’s more immediate to see if the spring is rolled up…

  • Swiss_Cheese

    The SBGY003 is the first offering from GS that I don’t mind like the look of (mainly because it looks like the CT). That being said: the SBGZ001 looks like it’s re-entered the Earth’s atomosphere and the other two do absolutely nothing for me.

    Also the pictures in this article are more interesting than any of official marketing photos GS has ever done, good job Bilal.

  • The gold one is friggin’ gorgeous!

    • Gokart Mozart

      The platinum one is a friggin’ rip-off

      • You mean price-wise? They sure are pricey no doubt about it. Though I would still get the gold one if it were in my current budget.

        • Gokart Mozart

          For the price of the gold one you could get a lovely gold breguet classic, or an ALS or a AP Jukes Audemars for a round the same price. You can maybe even get a FPJ Chronmetre Bleu.

          They are in a different league fro the GS.

          • Of course, but I think they are targeted at those who:

            A. Can afford to buy both a Lange/AP/FPJ and a gold GS
            B. Would rather get a GS with the SD technology vs. something antiquated (in their eyes)

  • Expat

    The SS’s is GS’s “cocktail time”, only at 10 times the cost. 😉

    • Gokart Mozart

      Stick a set of GS hands on the cocktail time and I know which one I would rather have.

      Plus the cocktail time is fully mechanical.

  • Raymond Wilkie

    Super huh?
    Super prices…Yup
    It don’t look that super to me.

  • SuperStrapper

    Nice watches, ludicrous pricing.

  • Independent_George

    The limited edition SBGY003 steel is only $200 more than the production model SBGK005, it’s thinner than the K005 and it’s arguably better looking. GS’s pricing with these watches is odd.

    • egznyc

      Yes, I agree. Weird pricing. I’d much prefer the LE SBGY003, both for the more elegant (IMO) design and also, secondarily, for the more limited number available. Why they’re basically the same price is beyond me. And indeed, they – the watches – are beyond my reach. At least if I want to avoid matrimonial acrimony.

  • Gokart Mozart

    GS look much better better than are in a smaller less chunky case and slim bezels.

    Much more elegant than the usual GS offerings.

    I have no idea what they smoke when it comes to the pricing of the precious metal versions.

    I think GS think their closest competitor is PP

  • Steve_Macklevore

    Wish they wouldn’t do so many irritating limited editions.

    Otherwise these are fine dress watches, at a sensible diameter and something you could wear with pride and confidence to any event.

  • Steve_Macklevore

    No date windows – thank you GS!

  • Phillip

    Man I love these pieces and that gold one is to die for

  • Spangles

    The Eichi II is still in production as of last summer when I was considering one. Have they officially ceased?

    • ???

      They are still there.

  • Spangles

    You never own a platinum spring drive, you simply hold onto it for the next generation who won’t be able to service it like an expensive piece of junk.

    • ???

      Seriously I don’t worry about Seiko too much.

      • Spangles

        Well, even a reliable electronic device will fail eventually. Seiko has committed to only 30 years of service. Sounds like a lot, but a watch from Breguet or AP, etc. from a century and more ago can still be serviced. FPJ mechanical watches are made to be serviceable a century from now. A spring drive will likely be junk rather than left to the next generation. That’s an issue with a finely finished platinum watch, at least for me.

        • ???

          Ahhh I got your point. But what I’m mostly interested in now are all novel things from small brands. Yes maybe Seiko will stop service them in 30-40 years(I’m curious about their first-generation Astron), but those small brands may also not exist after 30-40 years. I know theoretically the traditional mechanical watches can always be serviced by skilled watchmakers, but I’m not quite sure the availability or cost at that time… They are just 40-50k watches, not 400-500k, so that won’t be a deal-breaker for me.

          • Spangles

            You’ve got a clear view of it, that can only lead to a good outcome, enjoy!

    • Ulysses31

      On the other hand, it could be argued that manufacturing technology will have advanced so much within thirty years, the cost to produce a fine mechanical watch and the parts it needs will have plummeted as well. When digital watches first came out, they commanded insane prices, yet now they are basically worthless. Spring Drive technology is probably going to follow along the same path. In the future, completely replacing the movement might not present as much of a challenge as it seems.

      • ???

        One of the major selling points(arguably the most important one) of these high-end spring drives is their artisanal movement finishings.

      • Spangles

        Call me when my personal jetpack is ready.

  • FS1900

    Ooh, that first Eichi….
    (getting palpatationous)

  • Svetoslav Popov

    Grand Cocktailko has gone pricing spree 🙂

  • Ulysses31

    The SB-Heebie-Jeebies 001 is probably my favourite. Most of them looks so pedestrian, they don’t really make my heart thump with desire, regardless of how impeccably built they are.

  • Playboy Johnny – Team Mariu$

    These overpriced GS’s do nothing for me. (I have bashed them in the past)
    I do confess that my new SRPB41 is a splendid watch that is a pleasure to wear.

  • EON

    love that backside!

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