Do you know that feeling when you first see a watch and you are stunned by its beauty? I certainly hope you do because it’s so much of what makes this hobby great. When I first took the Grand Seiko SBGJ249 “Shosho” Hi-Beat watch out of its box, I was in absolute awe – and I have had more than a fair chance to grow used to the unique aesthetic that radiates specifically from Grand Seiko watches. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying all Grand Seiko watches are positively spectacular. In fact, some of them seem to struggle with getting proportions or color palettes right. Or both. But this one, the SBGJ249 “Shosho” (or “high summer”) that belongs to the season’s collection of four watches, apparently doesn’t.
This picture above is my top pick because it is my best effort to capture this overwhelming beauty that can only come from perfect proportions. There are cool-looking and impressive watches out there, dozens if not hundreds of them, but it takes something extra to get proportions exactly right between surface sizes, between textures, between light and dark areas, and between various colors. Because all the variations of all these elements are proportionate to each another and that out-of-the-box WOW! factor, to me at least, only ever comes when everything is just right.
It feels strange to be discussing outright beauty, as opposed to more objective merits in watchmaking such as technical details, finishing quality, legibility. We at aBlogtoWatch rarely focus so much on the subjective beauty of a watch because it’s just that: a subjective matter of taste where your experience may be perfectly contrary to the author’s. But, mark my word, if this style of a watch is at least a little your thing, or if you are in the market for a $5k-$7k watch of any other style… Do yourself a favor and check this one out. Why? Because it’s got something that all watches asking for your hard-earned $5k-$10k should have. Perhaps delivered in another style, designed for another purpose (diver’s, pilot’s, dress watch, or what have you) – but they should all possess the same elan.
“Inspired by the delicate ripples the warm wind creates over the many thousands of lakes and ponds throughout Japan,” the SBGJ249 has a wave pattern dial. While up close it looks almost crude and volcanic with its grainy texture and sharp ridges, from regular viewing distances it looks the very opposite: soft, eerily akin to a natural pond in some serene setting. Quality, as is expected from Grand Seiko, is exceptional. The prints are sharper than one could ever expect to see over such surfaces, and the indices are set on exactly the same plane to create incredibly even reflections with their perfectly flat top surfaces. A rough estimate: 99% of sub-$10,000 European luxury watches have their bottoms handed to them by Grand Seiko when it comes to dial quality. One gets the sensation that most Swiss brands would charge you $6,800 just for such a dial alone.
Grand Seiko doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to matching bracelets to designs – the SLGH003 is a prime example with its odd matte steel bracelet that just cheapened the look of that otherwise cool piece. By contrast, the SBGJ249 “Shosho” performs superbly in this field: The reflectivity of the Zaratsu polished steel case naturally extends onto the bracelet and its polished inner links, link profiles, and beveled edges. The whole thing looks positively expensive. The folding clasp is the tiny square style that is unnoticeably thicker than the links that surround it – the cost of this neat integration and compact design is a lack of a micro-adjust, which belongs on every multi-thousand-dollar watch, in my opinion.
Under the dial, but exposed through the sapphire crystal caseback of the Grand Seiko SBGJ249 “Shosho” is the 9S86 “Hi-Beat” self-winding movement, designed and made in-house by Grand Seiko, of course. Operating at a mighty high 5 Hertz frequency, power reserve nevertheless is 55 hours, and accuracy (mean daily rate) is quoted to be between -3 and +5 seconds per day. A quickset hour hand also allows for the backward and forward adjustment of the date, while the final position of the crown sets all indications at once – including the 24-hour GMT hand. The movement, although neatly striped and overall decently decorated, isn’t the most spectacular: it certainly is overshadowed by the on-the-wrist sight of the rest of the SBGJ249.
Cutting back to the dial for one last note: depending on the light and also on the color of the surface that it reflects against, the Shosho wave dial changes its color drastically from a crisp silver through light blue to a blue with a purple hue to it. This play of color happens at the flick of the wrist and spans a genuinely wide range, adding a great deal to the entertainment factor of the piece. It’s just stunning. The Zaratsu polished, distortion-free polished bezel frames things nicely, while the boxed (raised) sapphire crystal’s reflective edge really drives this dial-framing effort home.
A fascinating detail is the way the beveled edge on the lugs ends long before the tip of the lug, as the wide frontal plane extends back towards the edge, deleting the bevel entirely. On a top-down view, it adds a concave look to the lugs that reminded me of Peter Speake-Marin and Bacci, and some other independent I can’t, for the life of me, remember. The point is that it adds a highly unusual veneer to the watch that is highly refreshing after hundreds and thousands of the same old beveled lug designs. I wish water resistance was greater than 3 bar – there really is no reason I can see why 2 of the 4 watches in this season’s collection can be 10 bar (100 meters) and two others, including this one, need to be 3 bars. It’s a summer-themed watch that some will want to wear all the time – but a 3 bar rating will make some feel uneasy.
Odd water resistance rating aside, the Grand Seiko SBGJ249 “Shosho” Hi-Beat is an absolutely brilliant watch in every sense of the word. Priced at $6,800, it’s an outstanding value among GMT luxury watches and is every bit as spectacular and as well-made as that GMT you may just be on the waiting list for. You can learn more at the brand’s website.