I think most people would agree that Grand Seiko makes lovely watches, although one of the most common critiques of the brand has nothing to do with the actual products themselves, but rather that people have a hard time choosing which model to buy. For those who want something with the brand’s classic 44GS case, Grand Seiko offers a number of highly compelling options, and the process of choosing a model got that much harder with a duo of new time-only watches joining the brand’s Heritage Collection for 2023. Officially known as the Grand Seiko SBGW297 and SBGW299, these two new models feature a compact version of the classic 44GS case, along with manual-wind movements and the option of either a white or blue textured dial.
Aside from their dial colors, the Grand Seiko SBGW297 and SBGW299 are otherwise identical, and both models feature angular 44GS-inspired cases that are crafted from stainless steel and hand-finished with brushing and Zaratsu polishing to provide them with a distortion-free mirror finish. The cases themselves measure 36.5mm in diameter by 11.6mm thick, with 18mm lugs and an overall profile of 42.7mm when measured from one lug tip to the other. A box-shaped sapphire crystal sits above the dial, a solid screw-down caseback closes up the reverse side of the watch, and while the signed winding crown at 3 o’clock operates with a standard push/pull motion, the new Grand Seiko SBGW297 and SBGW299 watches still offer users 100 meters of water resistance.
Grand Seiko is known for its textured dials, and while the design of this latest duo of models isn’t necessarily the most original, the dials themselves are both incredibly clean and objectively rather good-looking. Aside from their colors, the dials fitted to the two watches are otherwise identical, and while the Grand Seiko SBGW297 has a crisp white dial, the SBGW299 receives a dial with a dark blue finish. Offering a symmetrical time-only layout without any type of date window or power reserve indicator to disrupt the aesthetic balance, both dials feature a dramatic radial sunray texture with applied multi-faced baton hour markers and a small printed minute track along the perimeter.
While Grand Seiko describes this particular dial design as being a “sunray” motif, the large angular ridges actually look more like a Japanese paper fan, and even a couple of the brand’s own press images play into this aesthetic with overlapping fans occupying the background. Dial text and superfluous embellishments are kept to an absolute minimum, with absolutely no writing appearing on the lower half at all, and while the Grand Seiko SBGW299 receives a standard set of polished Dauphine hands to complement its blue dial, the SBGW297 has its seconds hand finished in a deep shade of blue for added contrast against the white surface of its textured dial.
Powering the new Grand Seiko Heritage Collection SBGW297 and SBGW299 watches is the brand’s Caliber 9S64 manual-wind mechanical movement, which is hand-assembled at Grand Seiko’s Studio Shizukuishi workshop located in the Iwate prefecture of Northern Japan. Running at a frequency of 28,800vph (4 Hz) with a power reserve of approximately 72 hours, the Grand Seiko Cal. 9S64 is held to a higher standard than what is required for COSC chronometer certification, and it is tested in six different positions over the course of seventeen days in order to guarantee Grand Seiko’s stringent accuracy standards of -3/+5 seconds per day. Lastly, fitted to the drilled 18mm lugs of the new Grand Seiko SBGW297 and SBGW299 watches is a solid-link stainless steel bracelet that is completed by a triple folding clasp with a push-button release.
Both Seiko and Grand Seiko have been steadily increasing their prices in recent years, although the average cost of a standard Seiko seems to have gone up significantly more than the price increases that have been applied to Grand Seiko’s lineup. A number of Seiko models now cost significantly more than the point of entry into Grand Seiko’s modern catalog, and it is now the more modestly priced Grand Seiko watches that seem to offer some of the best value for the money between these two sibling brands. Both the SBGW297 and SBGW299 are accompanied by an official retail price of $5,400 USD, which ultimately seems rather fair in a world where a standard Seiko diver costs over a thousand dollars. Additionally, the use of manual-wind movements and time-only dials will likely be a major selling point among purists, and this latest duo of models offers what is arguably one of the cleanest designs in the entire Grand Seiko Heritage Collection. For more information on the Grand Seiko Heritage Collection SBGW297 and SBGW299 watches, please visit the brand’s website.