In 2018, Grand Seiko celebrated the 20th anniversary of the launch of the iconic in-house caliber 9S automatic movement. With this celebration came the release of new, upgraded limited edition timepieces, to the delight of many fans. These are all models that are definitely made for luxury, using top-tier materials, and designed with undeniable finesse. Among the watches released for the 20th anniversary of the caliber 9S, the platinum VFA watch and the Special Standard gold timepiece stand out. These two models are — without a doubt — more expensive than other watches during the drop. However, the most stunning piece, without a doubt, is the Grand Seiko SBGH267. This timepiece displays Grand Seiko’s excellence when it comes to crafting stainless steel watches.
It simply isn’t possible to find a Grand Seiko watch that’s subpar in the design department. The company prides itself on producing high-quality, meticulously designed watches that could easily compete with Swiss luxury watch manufacturers. Even among the catalog of exquisite and lavish luxury watches the Grand Seiko has, however, the Grand Seiko SBGH267 is still a standout. This watch is magnificently simple at its finest.
Reviewing the Grand Seiko SBGH267 alone would be pointless without touching on the caliber 9S itself. How can a movement be so iconic that it deserved a new, updated release even 20 years later? Let’s examine the beginnings of Grand Seiko, how the company came up with the caliber 9S, and how it has influenced the creation of the Grand Seiko SBGH267. What makes this movement so iconic?
History of the Caliber 9S
The release of the in-house caliber 9S is one of Grand Seiko’s most prominent milestones and for good reason. For a long time, it was the standard movement used in all Grand Seiko watches. The caliber 9S’s excellent performance and innovative design made it a favorite in the horology community. The creation of this movement is one of the many achievements that truly put Grand Seiko on the map as a brand that could compete with more prominent Swiss luxury brands, proving that Grand Seiko is just as much about top-of-the-line innovation as it is about luxurious designs. Let’s take a closer look at Grand Seiko and how the caliber 9S really came to be.
The Beginnings of Grand Seiko
When Grand Seiko launched, Seiko Corporation had already made a name for itself in the Japanese market as a manufacturer of clocks and gauges. Seiko Corporation was well on its way to carving out an important place in the watch industry. In order to promote competition within the corporation, which would lead to improved and better quality products for all of the Seiko brand, the company opened two subsidiaries. These subsidiaries were named Suwa Seikosha and Daini Seikosha, and each operated completely independently of the other. Seiko’s strategy worked, as the competition between the two subsidiaries pushed each to come up with more out-of-the-box thinking and present different solutions to horological challenges. As a result, Seiko was met with increasing success as a horological innovator.
Among the two subsidiaries, Suwa Seikosha was the more prominent name, and it was Suwa Seikosha that came up with Grand Seiko in 1960. However, ultimately, the inventions and efforts of both subsidiaries were crucial to the formation of Grand Seiko as a brand.
In 1960, Suwa Seikosha created the first Grand Seiko watch, known simply as the Grand Seiko (GS) 1960, fitted with the caliber 3180 movements. This movement was the first chronometer-grade caliber produced in Japan. Such a watch, of course, cost a great deal. In today’s dollars, it cost around $3,500 USD. This was quite an exorbitant price for Seiko Corporation, which had, up till then, produced mainly mid-range watches. However, this soon became the standard of Grand Seiko watches — luxury watches that were more expensive than the offerings from its sister brand Seiko, that could easily compete with Swiss luxury watches.
Grand Seiko’s Milestones
The Grand Seiko 1960 was an impressive watch, even by today’s standards. The watch had a two-phase regulator mechanism. It was also outfitted with a hacking mechanism, which means that the movement could be instantly stopped when you pulled on the crown. This allowed you to more accurately set the time of the watch. Suwa Seikosha, however, was insatiable and constantly seeking new ways to improve upon this watch.
In 1963, Suwa developed the 57GS. It is a low-bear hand-wound wristwatch released under the Grand Seiko brand. The 57GS is far different from the first-generation GS. With the 57GS, Suwa innovated by creating a luxury wristwatch encased within a stainless steel case. Keep in mind that this watch was launched in 1963. The first Swiss luxury watch with a stainless steel case — the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak — wouldn’t be released for another 9 years, making Suwa a true pioneer with the design of the 57GS.
The 57GS has a screw-down caseback, replacing the old snap-back crown of the first-generation Grand Seiko. As a result, it provided better water resistance, up to depths of 50 meters. It also featured an automatically changing date. The movement also earned its certification as a chronometer. In 1966, certain changes were made to the 57GS movement. Suwa increased the beat rating of the movement to 19,800 from 18,000, but the movement also lost its chronometer certification.
In 1966, the 62GS was launched. The 62GS’s design stood out with its tiny crown unusually positioned at 4 o’clock. It was also the first Grand Seiko watch to function with an automatic movement. At the time, Grand Seiko had already become a popular choice, not only in Japan but also in other parts of the world. From there, the innovations from the brand just kept pouring in, building further upon the reputation of Grand Seiko as a quality manufacturer of luxury watches that constantly sought to upgrade itself.
Launching the Caliber 9S
Now, the previous few watches from the brand that we’ve discussed were definitely game-changers. They placed Grand Seiko firmly on the map as a luxury watch brand to keep an eye on. However, the Grand Seiko’s distinctive style wasn’t quite there yet. We’re talking about the distinguishing aesthetics and physical design of Grand Seiko watches. Sure, GS had already released a number of luxury timepieces but they were very much a callback to the conservative designs popularized by Swiss brands. So, in 1967, the company launched the 44GS — the watch that truly defined the Grand Seiko’s own style.
There are three main features from the 44GS that made the brand stand out from its competition. It was a truly iconic watch that allowed light to play beautifully off its surface no matter the day, time, or place. Firstly, the 44GS features flat surfaces that are true to their definitions — two-dimensional and extremely flat. Within the dial, the hands and hour markers of the watch were also designed to be wide and flat on the surface of the dial. However, the polished edges of the watch still allowed light to reflect off them well. Finally, the 44GS had distortion-free mirrored surfaces achieved through Zaratsu polishing. On top of its high-precision calibers, Grand Seiko made a step forward with the 44GS by improving upon their watches’ aesthetic designs, making them truly worthy of the luxury status.
From there, the company took a break due to the debut and increasing popularity of quartz movements. For the next 30 years, Grand Seiko took a backseat to let Seiko ride the tides to greatness with their quartz watches. However, this break didn’t cause Grand Seiko to disappear. Instead, the brand took its time to enhance the performance of its mechanical calibers. Grand Seiko used various tests to improve upon the performance of their movements. Moreover, their engineers and designers created a new balance spring that featured a special curved shape. These innovations resulted in the launch of a brand new mechanical caliber, the 9S5 series, which was first launched in 1998.
The Caliber 9S Series
The 9S5 caliber proved to be a great addition to Grand Seiko. In later developments, the brand also produced a new SPRON alloy for the mainspring as well as a new escapement, perfected with the advanced Micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) technology. New Caliber 9S versions continued to be released with different upgrades, such as the 9S6 with its 72-hour power reserve. The 9S8 also proved impressive with an improved 10-beat movement. The 9S caliber series proved to be the new Grand Seiko standard, with impressive accuracy that went beyond simple chronometer certification. Truly, it was on a different scale from the 1966 standards set by its predecessor.
20th Anniversary Models
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 9S mechanical caliber, Grand Seiko launched three new, limited-edition models of Grand Seiko watches in 2018. Each contained a different, special and newly-released 9S caliber movement, encased within distinctive 20mm cases.
The first model is a Hi-Beat 36,000 VFA Ref. SBGH265J. This watch, which comes in a platinum case, is a truly rare collector’s piece, with only 20 pieces released on the market. It bears the V.F.A. initials on the dial, which stands for Very Fine Adjusted. This abbreviation was first used in 1969. This abbreviation refers to the precision rate of the caliber, that exceeds that of the Grand Seiko Standard. Powered by the 9S85 Hi-Beat 36,000 Caliber, it boasts an accuracy rate of +3 to -1 seconds per day.
Then, there’s the Hi-Beat 36000 Special Ref. SBGH266J. Now, this is a classy yellow-gold watch, limited to only 150 pieces. This watch contains the movement commonly known as the Grand Seiko Special Standard. That means that the watch has an accuracy of around +4 to -2 seconds per day.
Finally, the main star of our article: the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 Ref. SBGH267G. It features a clean, traditional stainless steel case. Grand Seiko only released 1,500 pieces of this watch. The SBGH267G’s movement features a different, unusual oscillating weight made from titanium and tungsten. This weight comes in exquisite blue, due to anodic oxidation, which generates an oxide film via the process of electrolysis. We’ll be taking an in-depth look at the Grand Seiko SBGH267G, and all the great features it brings to the table.
Reviewing the Grand Seiko SBGH267
The Grand Seiko SBGH267 Limited Edition truly has its wonderful features, whether that’s due to the exquisite Grand Seiko design or the outstanding and distinctive movement. There’s something special about this stainless steel offering that makes it even more appealing than its higher-priced siblings. For sure, the VFA model in platinum and the Special Standard in gold are both true collector’s items. However, the SBGH267, with its more classic Grand Seiko look and equally outstanding performance, is the one that watch enthusiasts should really keep their eye on.
Right off the bat, it’s easy to see that this is a quality watch. We do have a lot of expectations with this watch, however. It’s a Grand Seiko watch with an iteration of the 9S and that alone bears more weight than it just being a limited edition watch. 9S is the first movement the Grand Seiko has released after 40 years of staying still. It features 36,000 vibrations per hour. The SBGH267 itself not overly fancy but its clean, professional exterior made from stainless steel is definitely luxurious, from its look to its texture and feel. Sure, the gold and the platinum models might seem more elegant at first glance. However, this is an equally refined offering with little details that truly make it a luxury watch hailing from the east.
Grand Seiko SBGH267 Specs
Before we get to our complete review of this watch, let’s first take a look at its specifications:
Model: Hi-Beat 36000, Caliber 9S 20th Anniversary Limited EditionReference Number: SBGH267Case Diameter: 39.5 mmCase Thickness: 13 mmCase Material: Stainless steel, Zaratsu polishedIndexes: Baton, laser polishedDial Color: Deep blueWater Resistance: 100 meters, 330 feet, 10ATMStrap/Bracelet: Three-link stainless steel braceletMovement
Caliber: 9S85Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, datePower Reserve: 55 hoursFrequency: 5 Hz (36,000 vph)Accuracy: +5 to -3 seconds per day Jewels: 37Diameter: 28.4 mmWinding: Automatic winding with tungsten and anodized titanium oscillating weightInformation: MEMS fabricated skeletonized escape wheel with micro-oil reservoir teeth, and MEMS fabricated skeletonized leverChronometer Certification: Grand Seiko Hi-Beat internally controlled
The case of the Grand Seiko SBGH267 is quite similar to the two other watches from the limited edition drop. Each watch carries a similar Grand Seiko Style that no other brand could emulate. We’re talking about the unusual designs we mentioned earlier — two-dimensional, impossibly flat and thin, and mirror-like in polish. In particular, Grand Seiko’s method of polishing their watches can only be achieved through Zaratsu polishing.
Zaratsu polishing has existed even before the beginnings of Grand Seiko. During the 1950s, the Hayashi Seiko factory had a polishing machine that had the words GEBR.SALLAZ engraved on it. This is the very place where a great deal of Grand Seiko watches are being manufactured. GEBR. stands for a German word that means “brothers.” Meanwhile, SALLAZ was the family name of the company that had built the machine. Indeed, the word Zaratsu was derived from the way the Japanese pronounced SALLAZ.
This polishing machine became prominent for one very clear reason. Instead of the sides of the rotating disc used to polish watches, the machine uses the front of the disk to polish the surfaces of the case watch. This allowed for a very distinct polish that provides exceptionally crisp case lines and a mirror-like reflection to whoever is looking at the case of the watch. No distortions, no weird faces. This method of polishing became what we popularly know today as the Zaratsu polishing. Now, not everyone can achieve this, that’s why it’s so unique to the Grand Seiko brand. Only the machine and Grand Seiko’s master craftsmen can make this work.
The dial of the Grand Seiko SBGH267 has a very unique motif. On the dial, you can find spiral engraving with letters of the Grand Seiko logo, along with the mark of Daini Seikosha. Daini is the other half of Grand Seiko and was responsible for developing the first Hi-Beat movement. The company is now known as Seiko Instruments Inc. The design of the dial is unparalleled; it comes in an exquisite, textured deep blue color like no other.
What we love about this design is that it successfully invokes luxury and class without having to use any precious metals at all. It doesn’t come in the usual gold, platinum, or even silver that is frequently used in luxury watches. It’s just a blue dial with a really great design that speaks for itself and adds even more dimension to an already impressive watch. Furthermore, as you might’ve noticed, the baton hands are not simply rectangular metal markers applied on the dial. They’re also raised to a height that adds volume and layers to an otherwise minimalistic watch. Even the date aperture comes with the same three-dimensional design, protruding out from the face of the dial.
Once again, this is where the Grand Seiko Style comes in. You can see the light play off every part of the watch — the shadows on the engraved dial, as well as the reflections on the sharp, polished edges of every marker and hand. The GS logo at the 12 o’clock position and the second hand both come in fine gold. It allows both to stand out from the stainless steel casing and markers, as well as the blue dial, giving the watch an aura of sophistication.
Now, the dial of the Grand Seiko SBGH267 is already very impressive. However, there’s nothing like a high-quality movement to make it all better. We’ve already gone through the makings and history of the 9S movements. Since this watch a tribute to that, we know that the same movement powers this watch. It displays a high level of accuracy and precision, as well as a power reserve that lasts up to 55 hours.
The 9S85 caliber movement on this watch doesn’t have quite the same accuracy and precision as the Very Fine Adjusted or Special models. However, Grand Seiko fans know that the performance of Grand Seiko movements frequently outperforms the standards which are promised. Grand Seiko watches are always better in practice than on the brochure, and this is no different. It is worth noting, though, that the movement of the SBGH267 stands out from the others as a particularly beautiful deep blue-colored movement that matches the blue motif of the dial. It has an anodized titanium and tungsten rotor as can be seen on the see-through caseback. This is very similar to the rotor of the 10th Anniversary GMT Grand Seiko. Although its caliber underperforms slightly compared to the Very Fine Adjusted and Special models, its gorgeous hue and more affordable pricing make the SBGH267 a very good deal still.
The Grand Seiko SBGH267 is a limited edition, Hi-Beat watch. That means that it’s bound to have a fairly high asking price. With only 1,500 editions available, it costs around 6,300 USD in retail. Now, that’s what you get for a luxurious, well-made, bang-for-the-buck wristwatch from Grand Seiko. Compared to other models like Rolex, the price isn’t that exorbitant and it definitely has a promising future ahead of it.Is the Grand Seiko SBGH267 a great investment piece?
The easy answer to this question is yes. The Grand Seiko SBGH267 is a great investment piece. This isn’t only because it’s a limited edition, though. For a long time, since the formation of Grand Seiko as a brand, its watches have long been in the line of sight of collectors. This adds the SBGH267 to the same pedestal. Indeed, reports have shown that, in the years after its release, collectors are certainly keen to pay more than the retail price of this timepiece just to own it. Right now, you can purchase one for around 8,800 to 9,000 USD. And that’s just a couple years since its debut. We look forward to seeing just how this watch will be valued in the future — we certainly expect it to just keep rising!
Grand Seiko SBGH267: Accuracy and Grandeur in One Perfect Package
This release from Grand Seiko is definitely one for the books. It displays everything we expect from the brand — an equally luxurious and functional watch without the sky-high prices of Swiss brands. What we can see with this watch is the future of Japanese luxury watch manufacturers. The SBGH267 forces Swiss watch purists to look their way and see just what else Grand Seiko has in store for the horology community.
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Photo credits: All photos courtesy of Grand Seiko’s official website.