Think watchmaking, and country that immediately comes to mind is of course Switzerland. This small, independent, European land with almost 8 million inhabitants is an unquestionable capital of mechanical watches, housing some of the most significant brands of the industry. Then there is of course Germany and Glashütte – home of the finest watch manufactures, led by A.Lange & Söhne. But what else? Is Switzerland and Germany all there is? Well – by far no – although to find a descent player you’d have to go a good couple of thousand kilometers, all the way to the land of the Samurai – Japan. And the brand in question – you know it for sure. I bet most of us watch-geeks had, at some point, owned at least one of their timepieces. The company has probably the most versatile portfolio out there, from an affordable, couple-of-hundreds-dollars diver’s watch in steel to the high-end minute repeater with an ingenious quartz/mechanical movement. It is also a very traditional manufacture with amazing skills and quite genius R&D department. And the name of it is Seiko.
I came across the Japanese brand long time ago, and my first serious mechanical watch happened to be a SEIKO – the stainless steel, automatic Diver’s nicknamed “Samurai”. For what I’ve paid it was hell of a watch with an in-house movement and a very good overall quality. And it also made me get a lot more interested in this distant manufacture, that turned out to be a serious deal. Very serious! SEIKO, as I already mentioned, offers watches from 100 to 400,000 USD, and perhaps the most interesting part comes at about 5,000 to 10,000 USD range – the Grand Seiko. The “Grand” part of the name stand for top quality, in-house mechanics and tradition, all in all adding up to some seriously great pieces. Here is one of them – the Grand Seiko Spring Drive GMT Ref.SBGE001.
Seiko Grand Seiko Spring Drive GMT – Spring Drive
Let’s start with the most intriguing part of the watch – the movement. Spring Drive technology, patented and developed by Seiko in the 90’s, is basically a hybrid electro-mechanical construction, that uses mechanical parts and automatic, mechanical winding to power up the accumulator, that in turn generates impulses for the quartz regulator. To understand how it works just see this little video:
Although some of the purists might complain about the electronic part of the Spring Drive movement, the 9R66 caliber is a superbly smart project with great specs. Fully wound it has 72h of power reserve (with a proper indicator on the dial) and an outstanding precision of around +/- 15s… a month(!). No mechanical piece gets even close to that mark. There is a stop-second mechanism that lets you set the time precisely. And then there is one more thing, of a more aesthetical nature. One of the first things we loved about mechanical watches was the running, smooth seconds hand. Instead of the quartz jumping hand, in the mechanical watch it glides over the dial, with the smoothens dependent on the frequency of the balance wheel. And even if you compare seconds hand from a fastest mechanical piece, it is nothing like the one in the Spring Drive. Here it literally flows uninterrupted – it’s an amazing sight to behold.
9R66 has been nicely decorated also, with some Geneva stripes, polished edges and engravings. The view is unfortunately hidden under the solid caseback, beautifully decorated with embossed GS logo – the Lion.
Seiko Grand Seiko Spring Drive GMT – Quality
This is the term that could easily be adopted as a nickname for the Grand Seiko line. Amazing attention is hand-applied to every single detail, be it the polished/brushed 43×14.7mm case with a gorgeous profile, screw-down crown at 4 o’clock (a bit small, but still comfy), polished and satin finished bracelet with great, integrated clasp (with safety buttons, but no micro-regulation) or an absolutely gorgeous black bezel with sapphire glass ring (glossy but very handsome). An then, under the domed sapphire glass, there is the dial –on of the most detailed and well-made ones I’ve ever seen. Deep-black surface has some polished/brushed hour indices (with luminova), raised 24h ring, applied SEIKO logo at 12, model’s name and GS logo at 6, power reserve indicator at 8 and a date window at 4 o’clock. Everything is polished to a marvelous level, and topped by set of polished/brushed hands with some more green Super-LumiNova plus a red GMT hand and central second.
One word to describe it is “brilliant”. Level of finishing is just pure class, with even the bottom of the hour and minute hands polished and their edges angled. It’s clean, readable and just great to look at. Even though the sapphire bezel makes it a bit to glossy at times, the quality is there. I’d even take a risk and state it’s superior to the quality offered by the most iconic GMT watch ever – the GMT Master by Rolex. The quality is just vivid – you can easily imagine Japanese watchmaker, in his white, sterile coat and hat, assembling each piece part by part, with a robot-like precision.
Ref.SBGE001 GS Spring Drive GMT from SEIKO costs around 6,000 Euro. To compare, the mentioned Rolex is about 600 Euro more. I don’t mean to compare the two pieces, but to be perfectly honest, I’d be tempted to get the Japanese one. I adore the Spring Drive technology for its ingenuity, precision and a smooth second. Same goes for the quality of the build – the case, the bracelet, bezel and the dial. Of course SEIKO is missing the glory and splendor of Rolex, it’s nowhere near in terms of second-hand market and auctions. What it is though is a beautifully made and designed timepiece from the manufacture that deserves a lot more attention and respect. And maybe perfect theory behind buying a watch is the one I overheard from a renowned collector one day: “Buy watches, not brands”.
Credits © Pictures by Michal Grygalewicz