February 21, 2021
by Bilal Khan
The Grand Seiko Quartz Diver SBGX115 and SBGX117 are a pair of luxury Japanese watches that I think were just a little too ahead of their time. A clean and immaculately finished dial, a quirky but uniquely designed bezel, and a 9F quartz movement came together in a simultaneously mainstream and wonderfully Japanese package that stood out in a sea of same-old, same-old Swiss divers. Here, you’ll see my personal well-worn SBGX117, but I’ll reference Ariel’s review from 2015 that had both the white dial SBGX115 and black dial SBGX117.
2015 was only a short six years ago, but in that time, Grand Seiko has gone from a niche enthusiast brand to a luxury sales powerhouse here in the states. This was the time of the Seiko and Grand Seiko branding on the dials, and the idea of luxury HAQ (High Accuracy Quartz) was still not in the mainstream. Back in those days, when these Grand Seiko quartz divers was released, Ariel spent much of his review simply explaining how elaborately and lovingly the 9F movements are produced. Well, a lot has changed since then, to say the least, and it’s now even more fascinating to read Ariel’s take on the 9F HAQ movement with a few years’ hindsight. This pair of quartz divers only had a three-year run and, sadly, they really don’t come on the market too often.
After it was discontinued around 2018, the SBGX115/117 was followed up with the Grand Seiko (not Seiko + Grand Seiko) SBGX335/337 in black and blue dial. These had some changes, like a larger 43.7mm case, more traditional numerals on the bezel, and the crown moved down to 4 o’clock. While also discontinued, the SBGX335/337 models are a lot easier to find than the 115/117, and I’ve seen them go for the $3-$4,500 price range. These never really did it for me, personally, and I find the predecessor to be superior in about every way.
Though there isn’t currently a 9F quartz diver in the Grand Seiko lineup, I’d be remiss to at least not shout out the SBGV243 and SBGV245. As part of the GS Sport Collection, these are really well-sized at 40mm-wide, 11.8mm-thick, have 200M of water resistance, and come in just at the $3,000 mark for a 9F movement. So, while not quartz divers, these are solid and tough value offerings by Grand Seiko.
The SBGX115/117 measures 42.7mm-wide and 13.2mm-thick, with a lug-to-lug height of 49.6mm, according to my calipers. I think the broadest nit to be picked here has to do with the water resistance only being 200M and not 300M. If that’s a deal-breaker for you, then I’d keep looking. (If extreme water resistance is what you’re after, the Hi-Beat powered SBGH255 gets 600M). While 200M is more than enough for 99% of situations, I understand serious dive watch nuts have stringent expectations. It stands to say the Seiko and Grand Seiko catalogs have no shortage of serious diver offerings between the two.
While we’re on the topic of gripes, I may as well address a more subjective issue that some have had. The bezel design here is polarizing, and I recall several people recoiling at the tapered “Art Deco-style” numerals. I think too often people have a knee-jerk instinct to be scared off by anything too distinct or stylized, but I personally I think they look great and they go a long way in making these not look like every other generic dive watch out there. What isn’t subjective about the unidirectional bezel is that the tactile feeling when rotating it is absolutely perfect and so satisfying.
Speaking of perfect, just look at how long that minutes hand is! It reaches out right to the edge with the chapter ring while the hour hand perfectly aligns with the indices at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. The diamond cut hour and minutes hands are done in brushed titanium and finished with lume. The seconds hand, however, is done in steel, which is not something you’ll see in inferior quartz pieces, as they simply do not have the torque to push it forward. The 9F movement uses a twin-pulse motor, which moves the seconds hand twice per second for total precision and accuracy while being undetectable to the naked eye.
With a pretty rare no-date window, both the SBGX115 and SBGX117 have clean and symmetrical dials. This being a pre-2017 piece, the dial has the double “Seiko” and “Grand Seiko” stamping, which I always found charming in its clunky redundancy. Fortunately, that’s as far as it goes for extraneous dial aspects, and it is rounded out by equally high quality and lumed applied indices. All this, along with the double-sided AR coating, makes for a dial that is as legible as it gets.
The brushed three-link bracelet is simple and straightforward enough, with a stamped GS logo on the clasp. The distinctive ratcheted dive extension allows for one of the easiest-to-operate microadjustment systems I’ve ever used. Highly secure, it only slides out when the clasp is open and the mechanism does not allow it to push back in. It’s not the most elegant looking system when extended, but the ease of use and comfort more than makes up for this. I’ve used it on and off for six years now, and it works just as well today as it did the first time I used it.
On the enclosed steel caseback you’ll see the engraved Grand Seiko lion logo, beneath which is the 9F61 movement. Way more mainstream now than in 2015, thermocompensated 9F quartz is accurate to 10 seconds per year, which is how accurate typical quartz movements are in a month. Each 9F61 movement is assembled by a single watchmaker at the Grand Seiko Shinshu studio, and I am fairly certain this is still the case to this day for new production movements. Other than a fresh battery every now and then, the 9F only needs servicing every 50 years. That means this one will require a servicing sometime around 2065.
At the end of the day, there will be those who say, “Yeah, but it’s still a quartz movement,” which is technically true. I prefer the 9F to many pricier Swiss mechanical movements, but I get that it’s not for everyone, though pricy HAQ movements have certainly grown in popularity, or at least acceptance, in recent years. I basically feel the same way about G-Shocks, and no amount of praise can really win me over, so I get it.
The Grand Seiko SBGX115 and SBGX117 act as a neat look back in recent history at a brand nearing a turning point. These were produced from late 2014 through 2017, when Grand Seiko officially became an autonomous brand and “high-end Japanese quartz” was still anathema to American collectors. I can’t say for certain what the production numbers were, but I didn’t expect just how few of these are trading on the second hand market at the moment. Looking at Chrono24 right now, I can only find one SBGX115 and, somehow, no SBGX117 is available at all. I know I’ve seen them for sale off and on in the past, so I think a vigilant eye and some patience with some luck should be enough.
When these were new, they retailed for $4,100 but I’m disappointed (yet sadly, not shocked) that the aforementioned SBGX115 for sale is asking $6,500. The watch collecting hobby is sadly becoming a free-for-all with speculators giddily juicing up prices for anything they can. I do see one SBGX117 that looks like it is still for sale on watchuseek (link here) for a much more reasonable 3,300 EUR.
In a world of Submariners and Seamasters on every other wrist, I am so drawn to the idiosyncratic niche carved out by these Grand Seiko Quartz Divers. I’d love to see the brand produce something like these again, and frankly, I don’t think it’s out of the question. Even then, the Grand Seiko SBGX115 and SBGX117 will hold a special place in my heart as a very specific type of Japanese luxury from a brand that was on the precipice of a hugely successful expansion to the American market.