November 21, 2015
by Ariel Adams
For those wanting a simple-looking but very special high-end dive watch, it is easy to recommend something like the Grand Seiko SBGA029 “Spring Drive Diver.” It goes without saying that most aBlogtoWatch writers have much love for Seiko. Unlike many other brands out there that put great efforts into wooing watch media, Seiko is relatively straightforward with how they handle the media. Sure, Seiko is polite, but their tactic is mostly to simply share with us what they are doing and hope that enough of us “get” them in a sufficient manner to echo their laurels and praise their competitive value.
Nevertheless, comparing Seiko to other brands is tough. This is where the “Japanese versus European” arguments start to come in, where watch lovers take one of two sides of the argument defending or complaining about the notion of spending a large sum of money on a luxury Japanese product. Pretty much everyone has positive things to say about Seiko, and particularly the much more high-end Grand Seiko models. With that said, not everyone is willing to buy one.
The point is that high-end Japanese watches exist in their own world, have their own values, and while they do most of the same stuff as European luxury watches, they don’t quite exist in the same little universe. It is hard to explain, and perhaps one of our audience members can put it into better words, but I truly feel like to be a well-rounded watch lover you need to have fondness for both high-end Japanese and European watches. How does this all relate to the Grand Seiko SBGA029 Spring Drive Diver?
It has to do with how I explain the watch. The Grand Seiko Spring Drive Diver SBGA029 is most certainly a high-end watch, and it is more watch than most people need, but is it a luxury product in the same ways that Swiss watches are? Is the Grand Seiko Spring Drive Diver SBGA029 the type of timepiece that can live right next to a Rolex Submariner, or is it a similar type of product that came to market with a totally different philosophy? I would personally argue for the latter.
You can probably sum up the Grand Seiko Spring Drive Diver collection (there are a few versions) as a super meticulously made tool watch. This is an ultimate tool watch. Not so much in being amazingly durable, but rather, in its intense attention to detail, finishing, and technology, all in a relatively simple and straight forward case. Seiko (especially) has a very serious relationship with high-end dive watches and the company produces no shortage of them each year. The Grand Seiko Spring Drive Diver SBGA029 isn’t even that new of a model, but it still shines as one of the most well-rounded luxury Japanese (or other) high-end sport watches around.
The reference SBGA029 version of the Grand Seiko Spring Drive Diver is the most simple, being offered with a black dial. Seiko also produced the SBGA031 version of this watch in titanium with gold-colored text on the dial, as well as the limited edition SBGA071, also in titanium but with a blue dial. Each comes in a 44.2mm-wide case that is 14mm wide and water-resistant to 200 meters.
This latter point is sort of amusing because despite the fact that the Grand Seiko Spring Drive Diver SBGA029 will satisfy the diving needs of most people, enthusiasts complain that Seiko should have made it water resistant to 300 meters. Seiko, of course, has its share of 300-meter and 1000-meter water resistant watches, but oddly, they keep some of these models “held back” a bit for reasons beyond most people’s comprehension. I will go so far as to say that I’d trust a Grand Seiko 200m diver in instances where I would not trust many other 300m divers from other brands.
While many Seiko dive watches attempt to have some type of unique personality through a design quirk or two, the Grand Seiko Spring Drive Diver SBGA029 is remarkably simple in its dial and case execution. There isn’t a saw-blade style-rotating bezel, no extra screws on the case, and no added implements to the dial in order to make it more “unique.” What you have is a rare instance of restrained simplicity in a luxury Japanese watch, similar to how Europeans to do.
As the Grand Seiko Spring Drive Diver SBGA029 is a few years old now, it lacks a few features that some more modern high-end dive watches have such as a ceramic bezel, and the deployant clasp is on the thicker side. Seiko uses their still-excellent ratcheting-style deployant clasp on a few models such as the Grand Seiko Quartz Diver watches that I reviewed here. The deployant is comfortable and works well, but it uses a lot of stamped metal parts. Seiko makes an excellent case and dial, and while their bracelets are very good, brands like Rolex and Omega still beat them in terms of overall quality. Comfort might be a different story depending on the specific wrist we are talking about, but Seiko would have just that many more people convinced if they overhauled the construction methods used for their bracelets.
The bracelet is actually “Speedmaster-style” with a brushed three link layout with small polished interior sections. The case and bracelet have a lot of hand-done machine finishing and the overall look and feel is fantastic. Where Seiko really shines on Grand Seiko models (in addition to the movements) is the detailing and materials used for the dial. Seiko rarely screws up things like legibility and reflectivity, so looking at their dials is more often than not an extremely pleasant experience.