In the late 1950s, a small team of Seiko’s finest watchmakers came together with one goal in mind – to create the best timepiece possible, with precision, legibility, durability, and practicality at the forefront of their efforts. In 1960, they realized their goal to produce such a watch with the first-ever timepiece to bear the “Grand Seiko” mark, the name inspired by the team’s desire to create what they deemed the king of watches.
60 is a significant number in Japanese culture. When a person turns 60, it is said that they celebrate a Kanreki, or a rebirth. It’s a moment that honors and reflects on what came before, but one that also looks forward to the future. In 2020, Grand Seiko celebrated its Kanreki, marking 60 years since the release of that first timepiece. Grand Seiko honored six incredible decades of horological pursuit with a number of anniversary timepieces (we’ve already written about some of them here on Chronicle 9). Today, we’re going to take a closer look at another one of these watches, ref. SBGH281.
In 1967, Daini Seikosha, one of the two Seikosha factories, presented their first Grand Seiko timepiece – the 44GS. Enthusiasts of the brand know the significance of this foundational model. It was the first watch to fully embody what became known as the Grand Seiko Style, a set of guiding principles that would inform the design language of the brand for decades to come. To this day, the historic 44GS remains one of Grand Seiko’s most emblematic timepieces.
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A friendly competition developed between the two Seikosha factories – Daini and Suwa Seikosha. This competition drove innovation within the company, with one factory trying to outdo the other with every subsequent release. The result: better watches.
Of course, the 44GS design wasn’t simply left to exist in the annals of Grand Seiko’s history. In 2013, Grand Seiko unveiled its contemporary interpretation of the 44GS to great acclaim, and it has since become a core part of the brand’s ever-growing catalog. SBGH281 features this modern interpretation of the 44GS case.
Rendered in stainless steel, the case measures 40mm in diameter, 46.2mm long, 13.3mm thick, and has a lug width of 19mm. It boasts 100m of water resistance, and with the five-link bracelet it weighs 156 grams. A dual curve sapphire crystal sits atop the dial, and a sapphire crystal offers a view of the movement through the case back.
Overall, the case is angular with numerous facets and angles where planes come together. It’s a beautiful, architectural design, and one that makes full use of the interplay of light and shadow, giving it a distinctly Japanese quality. In profile, the case features curved ridges along the side, which allow for an excellent fit on the wrist.
The case features distortion-free surfaces throughout, made possible via Grand Seiko’s finishing technique known as Zaratsu polishing. This type of polishing was and remains a key part of the brand’s design ethos, and it’s what gives Grand Seiko watches their distinctive, brilliant appearance.
Zaratsu involves a craftsperson moving the case surface against the hard, abrasive front of a rotating metal disc (rather than the side, which normally has a soft, cotton-like material). The craftsperson needs to determine the correct length of time and pressure to use, and how quickly to move the case against the surface of the disc. Experience is key here, and when done correctly the case surface is finished to be incredibly smooth. Then a final buff polish gives the case its mirror shine. Grand Seiko’s approach to case finishing is more laborious, but the results speak for themselves.
The word “Zaratsu” comes from the Japanese pronunciation of the European company that produced the polishing machines adopted by Grand Seiko polishers. Today, Grand Seiko watches are known for their Zaratsu-polished cases, and the brand has since developed several kinds of Zaratsu polishing techniques for its different case designs.
The dial of SBGH281 is where Grand Seiko really celebrates their 60th anniversary. The dial is rendered in Grand Seiko Blue, a rich hue that’s finished in a fine sunray pattern. What makes this sunray pattern distinct is that rather than emanating from the center of the dial, it flows out from the Grand Seiko logo below twelve o’clock, like rays from the sun. Combined with the logo finished in gold, the dial evokes a new dawn, a fitting theme for a timepiece that marks the end of the first 60 years of Grand Seiko and the beginning of the next 60 years.
The vibrant blue of the dial is the perfect base for the faceted indexes, which are slim and double up
at twelve o’clock. Grand Seiko’s iconic handset is here, too, with a red second hand adding a splash of contrasting color to the dial (there is also red text on the dial above six o’clock). Red is the color of the Kanreki, and it’s symbolic here for birth and rebirth.
All the dial elements here are highly legible, with the hands offering great contrast. Worth noting is that the top surface of the hour and minute hands feature hairline finishing. There is a reason for this. Polished hands get lost against a dark dial, but hands with a hairline finish don’t. With legibility being monumental for Grand Seiko, this stays true to the brand’s design philosophy.
Powering the watch is caliber 9S85, one of Grand Seiko’s high-frequency automatic movements. Running at 36,000 bph (28,800 is generally considered to be the industry standard), caliber 9S85 has a 55-hour power reserve and an accuracy rating of +5/-3 seconds a day. Here, the second hand advances at 10 beats-per-second, which gives it the appearance of a smoother sweep. Also, with a faster swinging balance, a “Hi-Beat” movement has greater resilience against external forces (like shocks and vibrations), which results in more reliable daily timekeeping.
Case: Stainless Steel
Dimensions: 40mm in diameter x 13.3mm in thickness x 46.2mm in length,
Movement: 9S85 Hi-Beat 36000
Availability: Limited edition of just 1,500 units and it is available from Grand Seiko Authorized Dealers (Master Shops and Salons), Boutiques, and the GS9 Club Shop for members only.