Photography by Jake Witkin

Suppose you like manually wound watches, Grand Seiko, and have some money to spare. In that case, 2024 is going to be exciting for you, as the Japanese brand has introduced a new collection within the Evolution 9 range with a lovely new mechanical movement. The new movement is the caliber 9SA4, and the two watches to debut it are the Grand Seiko SLGW003 in titanium and the limited-edition SLGW002 in 18k rose gold. Let’s take a closer look.

To understand the design and theme of these watches, you need to go back to the early days of Grand Seiko in the 1960s. At the time, Seiko also created a high-frequency (AKA “Hi-Beat”) 5Hz manually wound movement in watches of a similar design. According to Seiko, it has been many decades since the company produced a high-beat (5Hz or higher operational frequency) movement that was manually wound (versus automatic with a winding rotor). There isn’t too much of a technical reason why you might want a manually wound movement over an automatic, but what you get here is a thinner overall case profile and a visually enhanced viewing experience given that the exposed 9SA4 movement (visible through the sapphire crystal caseback) is quite nicely decorated.

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The new caliber 9SA4 is based on Grand Seiko’s existing 9SA5 automatic that also operates at 5Hz. Grand Seiko claims that 40% of the movement design is new, including some new features and improved decoration. It is a very nice movement to look at, but importantly, Grand Seiko wanted it to be a nice movement to operate. A crucial new feature in the 9SA4 caliber was an upgraded manual winding system that delivers a more pleasant tactile experience. The winding system has been improved with beefed-up parts including a new “click” (a ratcheting part of the winding system) that makes manually winding the movement feel better. The new click is in the shape of a small bird’s head. According to Grand Seiko, this is inspired by the local Wagtail bird. Grand Seiko seems to want to connect most of its design choices to nature, with birds, mountains, the sea, and trees being favorite subjects of inspiration.

The 9SA4 movement operates at 5Hz with a long 80 hours of power reserve. Accuracy is well within chronometric performance range, and the dial indicates such with a central seconds indicator. To keep the dial clean, Grand Seiko places a handy power reserve indicator on the rear of the movement, which can be seen through the caseback. While not a record holder, the 9SA4 movement is just 4.15mm thick, allowing for an overall watch case thickness of just about 10mm. This is going to be a wonderful timepiece for those who really get joy out of winding their mechanical watches (even merely to fidget with when the watch is on the wrist).

The two watches to debut the 9SA4 movement are part of Grand Seiko’s larger Evolution 9 range but certainly dress in their style. The case and dial design are very familiar to anyone who has experience with the brand, and they hearken back to designs from the 1960s. The cases of the SLGW002 and SLGW003 watches are 38.6mm wide, 9.95mm thick, and water resistant to 30 meters. I know this is a manually wound movement without a screw-down crown, but it would have been nice to offer at least 50 meters of water resistance given that Grand Seiko is always best when it offers both a lovely design and enhanced durability when compared to the competition.

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For the dials, the silvered faces are given a familiar texture that Grand Seiko calls “white birch,” to evoke the bark of the birch tree. It works rather well as a backdrop for the elegant hands and hour markers, though I am getting a bit exhausted by seeing more or less the same types of dials and textures from the brand all the time. Grand Seiko always has a lot of novelty, and for that, we appreciate the brand greatly — but novices quickly become confused about how to engage with the brand since so many of the company’s watches are visually relatively similar. I would be quite curious to hear from readers how you perceive the novelty of these otherwise very attractive and comfortable timepieces.

For the launch of the caliber 9SA4 manually wound movement, Grand Seiko is launching the non-limited-edition titanium SLGW003 and the limited edition of 80 pieces SLGW002 in 18k rose gold. Grand Seiko uses a special hardened titanium for the SLGW003 that has a beautiful luster and much more durability than standard titanium. For me, this is the choice model given the high price delta between it and the limited-edition version in gold. Attached to both watches are black alligator straps with Grand Seiko deployant clasps in a matching metal. Grand Seiko says the new 9SA4-equipped watches will begin shipping in August 2024. Price for the Grand Seiko Evolution 9 “White Birch” SLGW003 in titanium  $10,700 USD and $45,000 USD in 18k rose gold for the limited edition of 80 pieces reference SLGW002. For more information, please visit the Grand Seiko website.

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