August 24, 2015
by Ariel Adams
At some point during your process of becoming a well-rounded watch lover, you learn about the world of Grand Seiko. To fully understand what Grand Seiko is, you most certainly need a degree of exposure to the watch world overall. Grand Seiko cannot exist within a vacuum. Trying to understand these Grand Seiko Quartz Divers in a vacuum would be almost impossible. In fact, these high-end Japanese quartz watches are fantastic, but truly the stuff of serious modern timepiece enthusiasm that exists in a very narrow niche. So let’s take a close look at the Grand Seiko Quartz Diver SBGX117 and SBGX115 watches to understand how they fit into the larger spectrum of modern luxury watches.
The reason I am spending so much time “framing the issue” with the Grand Seiko Quartz Divers is because they are, well, quartz. The concept of a high-end quartz watch to many watch lovers is anything from confusing to profoundly upsetting. We once did a survey on aBlogtoWatch asking our audience whether they preferred a high-end quartz watch or a low-end mechanical watch. Low-end mechanical was the overwhelmingly more popular choice. Of course, this opens up a much larger discussion about people’s sentiments toward quartz versus mechanical movements – but let’s focus right now on the special area of timepiece collecting which is “high-end quartz.”
High-end quartz implies a few things – at least, it should imply a few things. First is that the quartz movements inside of these watches are of a higher quality than those in most lower-end (cheaper) quartz watches. Like mechanical movements, not all quartz movements are created equally. Second, high-end quartz implies that the visible elements of the watch such as the case, dial, and bracelet are of a much better quality, and akin to those of higher-end mechanical watches.
All quartz watches used to be high-end until the 1980s and a bit after, when quartz movements became the principle ingredient of the world’s inexpensive timepieces for the masses. Today, high-end quartz exists (thanks mostly to the Japanese) as a way of combining the very real benefits of a quartz watch with attention to detail and quality that watch collectors and enthusiasts demand. I personally have a great appreciation for high-end quartz, but the road to that appreciation was long and a bit circular. In a sense, watch lovers usually begin by buying quartz watches. They eventually graduate to being into mechanical watches. Most stop there and stick with mechanical watches to the exclusion of quartz – forever. Some collectors and enthusiasts are actually able to go full circle and once again find appeal in some of the better quartz movements out there.
So forget what you know about quartz movements for a moment. Forget that quartz movements pretty much killed the mainstream mechanical watch movement and that quartz movements are both simple to produce and ubiquitous. None of that applies to the 9F family of Seiko quartz movements found in the Grand Seiko Quartz Diver collection. The 9F movement family is among the best, if not the best quartz movements currently in production. So, if you want a quartz movement with all the quality and emotion of a mechanical movement – the 9F is the way to go. Specifically, the movement in these Grand Seiko Quartz Diver watches is the Seiko-made caliber 9F61.
Since the movement is such an important part of why this timepiece is interesting, I wanted to start by talking about it. Grand Seiko – which is Seiko’s primary high-end watch division (there is also Credor) – produces several different types of movements. These include quartz movements, mechanical movements, high beat mechanical movements, and Seiko Spring Drive (which is an excellent mechanical hybrid with a quartz regulation system even though it is powered by a mainspring). All of these movements are good, but they have their own flavors.
These particular Grand Seiko Quartz Diver SBGX115 and SBGX117 watches are borrowed from the US Grand Seiko retailer Arizona Fine Time in Phoenix, AZ. AZ Fine Time is probably the most knowledgeable Grand Seiko watch dealer in the US (that I know of) and their talented Joe Kirk helped explain what makes the 9F family of quartz movements special. I already knew what the still rather new 9F movements were all about, but Joe helped fill in some of the details that were difficult to glean from Seiko directly.
On a basic level, the 9F61 movement does not appear to be anything special. The movement just tells the time with hours, minutes, and second, and in this instance, doesn’t even have the date. With that said, other versions of the 9F movement do have the date, and it jumps instantaneously at midnight in 1/2000th of a second. The movement also uses a battery which has a three year duration between changes.
Now, let’s look at where things get interesting. The first important fact is that the 9F movements are produced at Seiko’s Shinshu Watch Studio (at the Seiko Epson factory), the same place where Spring Drive movements are made. A single watch maker is involved is the full assembly of each movement. The only other person to handle the movement is the technician who applies the hands to the dial.
Like mechanical watches, the 9F movement has a “pacing switch” which allows a watchmaker to make small adjustments to improve the movement’s accuracy – should something inside of it get misaligned. Most other quartz movements do not offer this, and it is something that the 9F movements share with quality mechanical movements.
From an accuracy perspective, the 9F movement is promised to be no less accurate than plus or minus 10 seconds per year. This is because the movements are thermocompensated, unlike standard quartz movements which are accurate to 10-15 seconds per month. Thermocompensation for quartz movements is an interesting concept that we don’t often discuss. The idea is that quartz crystals oscillate at a very predictable rate when they experience an electrical current… however, their behavior can change with various temperature changes. Thus, quartz watch movements are sensitive to temperature changes. So, in fancier quartz movements, there are compensations made for temperature changes.
Seiko produces their own quartz crystals, so they have complete control over the design and production of their quartz movements – that includes the exclusive 9F family as well. For the 9F calibers, quartz crystals are grown and then aged for three months – and of course, Seiko only chooses the best crystals for Grand Seiko purposes. Crystals are then chosen and individually paired with an appropriate integrated circuit (IC) which measures how the crystal’s behavior changes with various temperature changes. This IC then knows exactly how the crystal it is paired with behaves at a range of temperatures. In the movements, the temperature is measures 540 times a day, and rate results of the movement are ever so slightly altered to compensate for the changes. This is what a thermocompensated quartz movement does, and why they are more accurate then most other quartz movements around.
When Seiko originally released the 9F family of movements, they made a big deal about how it was a “high torque” movement. That simply means that the movement is able to use heavier hands. Quartz movements typically have a maximum weight for hands, but the 9F is able to use bigger hands, which is very well exemplified in the Grand Seiko Quartz Diver with its properly-sized and well-lumed diving-style hands. According to Seiko, the 9F movement has 1.8 times the torque of standard quartz movements.
A lot of the 9F’s engineering wonder is actually dedicated to the seconds hand. These elements are perhaps my favorite part of what you can seek to gain from the 9F, and why these are so much better looking than traditional quartz movements. My biggest complaint about quartz movements is often related to the performance of the seconds hand. One issue is that when the seconds hand stops, it does not properly line up with the appropriate marker. Another issue is that the seconds hand wobbles a bit when it stops. Neither of those issue exist in the 9F.
Seiko first developed a unique twin pulse step motor to move the hands. The seconds hand actually moves twice per second, even though your eye can’t really see it. The seconds hand alone has a “blacklash auto-adjust mechanism” which does two things – and this is really cool. Seiko developed a hairspring-style spring that is used to keep the seconds hand pointing to exactly where it needs to go. The spring applies force which immediately corrects the hand’s position each time it moves. More so, the tension from the spring eliminates blacklash, which is what happens normally in quartz movement seconds hands which cause them to wobble each time they jump. The tension from the spring prevents this undesirable wobble, as well as helps ensure than the seconds hand hits the precise right mark each time without fail.
Another facet to the 9F movements are that they exist in a “super sealed cabin” in the case which creates a tight seal around the movement, extending the life of the lubricants and oils used in the movement. The effect of this is almost surprising, as Seiko claims 9F family quartz movements only need to be serviced each 50 years outside of battery changes.
The surety of the seconds hand in motion and the knowledge of the ultra durability and accuracy are elements which should make any mechanical watch lover take pause to at least consider the amazing coolness of what Seiko has done with the 9F quartz movement family. Is all this over-engineering for naught? Is there even a large enough market to support the development and production of something as wildly intense as the 9F mechanism? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I can say that this is a niche movement, for sure, given what is popular in the watch world, but I am so very happy for its existence and hope that enough open-minded watch collectors see the value of enjoying one of these engineering masterpieces.
Perhaps, now you can understand why the Grand Seiko Quartz Diver is really something special in the realm of quartz diver watches. That it is a Grand Seiko also means that in addition to an excellent movement, the case and dial details are similarly excellent. With that said, this wouldn’t be a Grand Seiko without some quirks. Loving sport watches, I can say that it makes me happy each time Grand Seiko comes out with a new dive watch. While the historically-inspired Grand Seiko dress watches are absolutely beautiful, I personally get more mileage out of sport watches.
With styling inspired by European luxury dive watches as well as Seiko’s extensive history of dive watches, the Grand Seiko Quartz Diver SBGX115 and SBGX117 distinguishes itself mostly via simplicity and colors. The simple dial is a testament to modern design with restraint, and the available black dial with black bezel is classic, while the black bezel with white dial is novel with a more contemporary feel.
Perhaps the most controversial part of the design is the font on the rotating diver’s bezel. The numerals taper a bit giving the watch an odd art deco feel. The numerals honestly make themselves more known in pictures than they do in person when you wear the watch. I was a bit concerned over the numerals at first, but after wearing the Grand Seiko Quartz Divers for a while, you quickly stop noticing that the numerals are “unique.”
Dial detailing is, of course, excellent, as it is with all Grand Seiko watches. Grand Seiko is a master at finishing and materials. The diamond-cut hands and hour markers are pristine, and so much is done to ensure that even the polished elements don’t reflect too much light (which is the anathema of legibility). With the Grand Seiko Quartz Diver SBGX117’s black dial you get a bit more of a traditional look, but the white dial on the Grand Seiko Quartz Diver SBGX115 offers a better look at the detailed raised hour markers and hands. Also note that these dials are very rare because you have a no-date dial which is perfectly symmetrical.
One of the oddities of this watch is the lack of 300 meters of water resistance. The Grand Seiko Quartz Diver is, rather, water resistant to 200 meters. Technically speaking, that shouldn’t matter a lick to all but the most serious professional divers. Even if you dive to 150 meters (which so few people do), you’ll be more than okay. With that said, water resistance in watches, especially luxury watches is a bit of a matter of bravado. People see water resistance as an indicator of overall durability, and it would make sense for Grand Seiko to at least do what was necessary to get to 300 meters of water resistance. However, it is possible that they would have needed to get a bit more thickness in the case – which isn’t exactly thin now, at 13mm. The case is also highly anti-magnetic (to 16,000A/m) and, of course, shock resistant.
At 42.7mm wide, the Grand Seiko Quartz Diver is not technically huge, but it does wear nice and big. I love the comfort as well as the case finishing which is not at all surprising from a Grand Seiko watch. The screw-down crown has a crown guard and isn’t something you’ll use much. However, do you agree with me that the crown looks a bit small (proportionally speaking)? Over the dial is a very well AR-coated sapphire crystal, and the rear of the watch is engraved in relief (in the center).
Seiko’s intense level of detail and quality extends to the bracelet, but in a different manner than you expect from European luxury watches. The bracelet on the Grand Seiko Quartz Diver is comfortable and attractive. I like the polished edges on the links and how the whole bracelet gently tapers. With that said, the bracelet doesn’t have quite the solid weight of some competitor products such as a Rolex Submariner (easily the king of dive watch bracelets).
Attached to the bracelet is Seiko’s excellent ratcheting dive extension deployant which offers a lot of easy-to-use microadjustability. It is topped with a solid-looking folding clasp that once again has the “GS” Grand Seiko logo in relief. You use this clasp to change the bracelet’s microadjustment – and can even do this while it is still on your wrist.
I do want to say that while the bracelet and the deployant function very well, Seiko makes use of some parts which appear stamped. They are still nicely polished and finished, but the overall look and feel is more high-end Seiko than “Grand Seiko.” Seiko at its heart is a mass-production company and Grand Seiko is designed to be the very best of mass production (even if some of the models are made in small batches). That is to say that Seiko probably could individually mill parts for these elements, but perhaps feels beholden to certain elements of their production philosophy.
As you can see, the Grand Seiko Quartz Diver is an impressive product with some predictable quirks that are common to high-end Japanese watches. Of course, European luxury watches have their own quirks, but those of the Japanese are wonderfully distinct with their own flavors. With that said, the Grand Seiko Quartz Diver is undeniably an exemplary timepiece that contains a fantastic and interesting movement paired with a high-quality, easy-to-read, and durable case. That Seiko decided to include a 9F movement in a Grand Seiko dive watch just helps refine who these watches are meant for – a probably small audience, but nevertheless, a group of highly dedicated individuals. Consider me one of them.
The Grand Seiko Quartz Diver SBGX115 and SBGX117 have a retail price of $4,100 and we thank AZ Fine Time for these review units. grand-seiko.com
>Brand: Grand Seiko
>Model: Quartz Diver SBGX115, SBGX117
>Price: $4,100 USD
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Open-minded luxury watch collector with a passion for unique technology and Japanese timepieces.
>Best characteristic of watch: Wonderful details and simple design that holds a fantastic movement only a small number of people will appreciate.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Visual (not ergonomic) design quirks here and there prevent the watch from feeling as totally refined as it could be. Most traditional watch lovers will dismiss it for being quartz.