November 21, 2018
by Zach Pina
It’s growing harder and harder to recognize Grand Seiko as the cult watch that it once was, no thanks in part to its justifiable rise in popularity and passionate fanbase in the United States. But the North American fans that buoyed the brand on this side of the world for the better part of the last decade have yet to be acknowledged for that dedication. That trend appears to have been reversed at the Couture/JCK tradeshow event in Las Vegas back in June of this year, when we got our first look at a trio of new Grand Seiko Spring Drive watches exclusive to North America, and rendered in stainless steel, rose gold, and platinum – each a little more limited than the last.
It’s no secret amongst Grand Seiko insiders that the United States has long been the brand’s largest, and fastest-growing market outside of Japan, which is why we consider it somewhat odd that they waited so long to bring something exclusive to North American shores. But the opening of the United States’ first dedicated Grand Seiko boutique in Beverly Hills, and a break from parent company Seiko in 2017 were both signals that something special was on its way. And if Japan’s many interesting and highly limited special edition Grand Seiko offerings are any indication, it’s pretty likely that these three watches are the first of many.
Grand Seiko’s best-selling watches in the United States happen to be of the Spring Drive variety, the most sought-after dial variant remains the Snowflake, and the brand’s most popular case design also happens to be its most complex: the fan-favorite ‘44G’ case, which offers the purest expression of Grand Seiko design grammar through its many interesting polished facets. So it should come as little surprise that Grand Seiko’s first run of limited editions for this market takes advantage of all three of these popular elements.
While the dials on these three new watches might look reminiscent of the textured Snowflake (ref. SBGA211), there’s actually a bit more linear symmetry at play here with the new ‘Kira-Zuri’ or “empty painting” dials. Inspired by the interwoven fabrics found on the kimonos worn by kabuki theater actors, each dial has a beautifully organic texture that responds to light with an understated dynamism – bright white at some angles, and a matte blue, pink, or white (for the steel, rose gold, and platinum cases, respectively) at other angles. Sure, it makes them difficult to photograph, but more importantly, they’re an absolute treat in the metal to wear. Other classic Grand Seiko dial details persist; like the ultra-sharp, diamond-cut minute and hour hands (dare you to find a better-finished hand from any brand under $10,000), and the beveled hour markers which have been mirror-polished so finely, they don’t need any luminescent paint to be legible in all but total darkness. Impressive stuff for sure, but standard-issue when it comes to Grand Seiko.
The zaratsu-polished 44G case has long been a personal favorite of mine in the Grand Seiko catalog, thanks to its sharp, masculine angles and 100m of water resistance – I’ve just always found the more common variants wore a bit too large for liking on my 6.5” wrist. This time around, Grand Seiko went with a 40mm by 12.5mm case (a slight reduction in size over the 41mm Snowflake), which wears effortlessly, even in the heavier precious metals. Of course, neither the rose gold nor the platinum variant will come on a bracelet – instead, they’ll each ship with two leather straps with both tonal and brightly contrasting stitch options. It’s a nice touch, considering the drilled lugs on the 44G case facilitate such easy strap changes.
Unlike many limited-edition Grand Seikos, all three Kira-Zuri models have a sapphire crystal caseback that’s thankfully devoid of any motif that might obscure the beautifully finished Spring Drive movements. I say ‘movements,’ because the precious metal variants each get the movement caliber 9R15, easily referenced by the gold Grand Seiko lion medallion in the rotor, which signifies a finer degree of adjustment to within +/- 10 seconds per month. The stainless steel variant gets the more common 9R65 and a standard rotor but fret not – this movement still exhibits an incredible degree of accuracy – fifteen seconds per month.
It’s great to see Grand Seiko finally acknowledging its many fans in North America, although I’ll likely be holding out for something a little sportier, but equally limited. Pricing and availability of each Kira-Zuri watch is as follows: $8,700 for stainless steel (SBGA387) which is limited to 558 pieces, $29,500 for one of the 50 rose gold (SBGA384) pieces and $53,000 for the exclusivity of owning one of the 30 pieces in platinum (SBGA385). For official availability, learn more at grand-seiko.com.