My top ten Grand Seikos from the modern era

Introduction

With the recent appearance of Grand Seikos in the spring 2021 auctions, it is interesting to ponder on what the future may hold regarding the collectibility of the brand.

Naturally the focus of this site is on the vintage era, and I wrote about how the four VFA’s that appeared at Sotheby’s, Phillips, and Christie’s recent auctions fared in a previous article.

Depending on who you ask, you will get different answers to the question “How old does a watch need to be before it is considered vintage?”, but almost everyone would agree that anything over 30 years old certainly qualifies.

Now I’m not for one moment suggesting that this site is going to be branching out into dealing in watches from what is generally referred to as the “modern era” of Grand Seiko, but it is worth reflecting for a moment on the fact that considerably more time has passed between the relaunch of the brand in 1988 and today, than passed between the launch of the first Grand Seiko in 1960 and that 1988 relaunch.

Additionally, with the relatively recent publication of a superb new interactive resource that details every single Grand Seiko released in the modern era (more on this later), perhaps now is a good time to take a look through the modern “back catalogue”, and ponder on which references might be worth considering for those looking to build a collection of the modern Grand Seikos.

It’s all too easy to get swept up in the seemingly endless variety of references – both regular catalogue, and limited edition – that Grand Seiko have been releasing since the 2017 rebranding, and lose sight of the fact that there were some absolute stunners released between 1988 and 2016 that possibly many of today’s collectors aren’t even aware of.

So I thought it would be fun to go back through those releases and pick out my favourite ten, with the hope that it may inspire more people to take the time to look through the back catalogue and realise just how many hidden gems there are to find.

Criteria

This is very much a personal selection based on your author’s tastes, and hence very subjective. However, to ensure some diversity in the selection – it would be all too easy to select ten pieces that were only ever produced in double-digit quantities (there have been, believe it or not, no fewer than 138 separate references released in limited editions of under 100 units) – I did set myself a couple of rules up front.

  1. The ten selected watches must include at least one from each of the three primary Grand Seiko movement categories – Quartz, Spring Drive, and Mechanical.
  2. Whereas in the vintage era Grand Seiko was almost exclusively focused on “dress” watches, with neither any complication beyond day-date, nor any emphasis on sports functionality, in the modern era the brand has extended its remit significantly. As such, I decided  that the selection must also include at least one watch with GMT functionality, one with a chronograph, and one diver.

The final restriction is that I am only considering watches released prior to the rebranding and remarketing exercise that was introduced at 2017’s BaselWorld.

Pictured above are SBGA001 (on the left), and its rebranded replacement, SBGA201 (on the right).

As can be seen, the applied “SEIKO” text that is featured at the top of the dial on (almost) all examples of Grand Seiko references prior to 2017 is dropped, replaced by an applied “GS” logo and the printed text “Grand Seiko” beneath it, which was previously featured in the lower half of the dial. The earlier dial layout is ofter referred to by collectors as “dual branded”, or “SGS”, since both Seiko and Grand Seiko feature prominently.

Every Grand Seiko that “remained in the range” following the BaselWorld announcement had its dial layout updated, and was renumbered by adding 200 to its existing reference number. Thus, in this example SBGA001 becomes SBGA201.

Whilst perhaps not fully recognised in today’s collecting world, I am very confident that, in the future, the Grand Seiko collecting community will draw a line in the proverbial sand distinguishing between models launched prior to, and post, the rebrand, and that the pre-rebrand references will be significantly more sought after, in the same way that brass movement FP Journe’s are now far more desirable than their later gold movement counterparts, despite there being a period in the past when the opposite was the case.

The Plus9Time Modern Grand Seiko Database

I wouldn’t even know that there were 848 Grand Seikos from the modern era to select from for the purposes of this article, were it not for the astonishing research and work carried out by Anthony Kable.

Anthony is arguably the world’s foremost expert on all things Seiko, and his site – Plus9Time – is a veritable treasure trove of information that is essential to anyone interested in the brand.

In 2020, Anthony published a database detailing every Grand Seiko reference from the modern era, and he continues to keep it up to date with each new release. Whilst there are no doubt many Grand Seiko collectors who would be able to rattle off their top ten references for an article such as this one, actually validating that those ten truly were deserving of making the list would be impossible unless you could check them against everything that has ever been released.

Selecting a top ten

If you were to ask anyone familiar with Grand Seiko to name a reference, there’s little doubt which would be the most common answer.

And for sure, the original SBGA011 “Snowflake” would probably be a sure-fire certainty for many people’s top-ten. Afterall, it is considered by many to be “the” iconic Grand Seiko reference of the modern era.

Hodinkee, on their online shop, introduce the current, rebranded, iteration of the Snowflake – the SBGA211 – thus:

“It’s hard to imagine Grand Seiko today without the “Snowflake.” This Spring Drive-powered dress watch has helped propel the brand forward and reach a level of renown that would previously have been impossible before it expanded its distribution internationally in 2010, the same year the brand released the original Snowflake.”

Were the copywriters for the Hodinkee Shop aware of Plus9Time’s database, they would not have made the schoolboy error of stating the original Snowflake was released in 2010 (it was actually 2005), but there can be no doubting the reference’s importance for Grand Seiko.

But would the SBGA011 truly be deserving of a place in your top ten? 

A search of Anthony’s database returns no fewer than 25 different references with “Snowflake” dials – I honestly doubt that anyone on the planet would be aware of them all without having this essential reference available.

So for those of you having read this article who are inspired to come up with your own top ten Grand Seikos of the modern era, I would strongly urge you not to rely solely on the knowledge you have right now, and to use the Plus9Time database to fully explore the incredible depth of the modern Grand Seiko back catalogue.

After all – would you pick the SBGA011 “Snowflake” over this

OK, you probably know that one. And maybe you know this one too –

But were you aware that there were only 28 units manufactured of this reference –

And how about this

(If you want to learn more about any of the references pictured in this article, click on the provided links to be taken to the requisite entry on Anthony’s database.)

My top ten

So without further ado, excepting for a quick reminder of the “rules” – modern era pre-rebrand; at least one Mechanical, Spring Drive, and Quartz; at least one GMT, Chronograph, and Diver – I present my top ten modern Grand Seikos, in order of release date.

SBGS005

Last year we published an article covering what might be considered to be the “gap years” in the history of Grand Seiko – 1975 through to 1988 – where we proposed that Grand Seiko never really went away, it simply underwent a rebranding to “Seiko Grand Quartz” as the quartz juggernaut thundered through the 1970’s and 1980’s.

We closed that article detailing the four watches that “relaunched” Grand Seiko in 1988 – SBGS001, SBGS002, SBGS003 and SBGS004.

Some time ago your author completed a sub-collection of these four introductory references as full sets, complete with boxes and papers, and in basically mint condition.

The watches are pictured above next to their catalogue shots, but there was always one additional SBGS reference that I was really after, and that was the platinum cased SBGS005 introduced four years later, in 1992.

The SBGS005 is without question the most affordable platinum cased Grand Seiko you can buy, and it was also the first platinum Grand Seiko to be released since the close-to-mythical original Grand Seiko “First”.

But whilst its case material and relative affordability endear it to my personal collection, there is another – easily missed until it is pointed out to you – aspect to this watch that really makes it stand out.

Take a look at the dial, and compare it to the original four SBGS watches pictured above.

Just four years after resurrecting Grand Seiko, with watches that featured that now very familiar dial branding with “SEIKO” up top, and “GS Grand Seiko” down below, the platinum cased SBGS005 drops the “SEIKO”, proudly promotes “Grand Seiko” to below the 12 index, and features the “GS” logo above the 6.

Unfortunately I have not been able to track down any marketing material for the introduction of the SBGS005 to verify, but with the “Grand Seiko” script in the top half of the dial, this can surely only be a design detail deliberately harking back to the original Grand Seiko “First” in platinum.

There is only one other example of a pre-2017 modern era non-recreation reference with the “Grand Seiko” text featured in the top half of the dial. Have a search through Plus9Time’s database and see if you can find it!

The original catalogue description for the SBGS005 states that both 950 platinum and 18K white gold are featured materials, and so it is probably safe to assume that the dial indices – note that in addition to those of the hours, the dial also features applied minute markers – and possibly also the handset and date window frame are of 18K gold. Maybe the dial itself is?

With a case diameter of 34mm, the watch is perhaps a little on the small side for current “tastes”, but we don’t pander much to tastes round these parts – this watch just oozes class. And class, as they say, is permanent.

SBGF003

We stay in the 1990’s – and with quartz – for the second of my selections, and make no apologies for it being a bit of an outlier.

1995’s SBGF003 was the first Grand Seiko of the modern era to feature a blue dial. In fact, it was the first reference in the modern era to feature a dial that could be referred to as “coloured”. All of the references introduced prior to this one had dials that were white, cream, silver, champagne, or gold.

With its blue sunburst dial, dodecagonal contrasting bezel and lumed indices and handset, there’s no arguing that the design of this watch is a bit “marmite”, and no doubt a few eyebrows will be raised by its inclusion on this list. But there is something intangible about it that I can’t quite put my fingers on that makes it very attractive – at least to me.

It’s not too hard to track down examples of this reference, and ones in average condition typically sell for well under $1k. I hope one day to find a mint example to add to the collection. This is certainly one of those watches where – despite the fact I’ve never actually seen one in the metal – I have no doubt the catalogue shots just don’t do the watch any justice at all.

Addendum August 2021

I have now managed to acquire a mint condition example of SBGF003, and can indeed confirm the comments made in the final sentence above!

SBGR007

The year 2000 was auspicious for many reasons, but naturally for this site, the most auspicious of them all was that it was the 40th anniversary of the birth of Grand Seiko.

Seiko have never been shy to celebrate an anniversary, and it almost seems these days as if every single year is an anniversary of some event or other in the company’s history. No sooner had the 60th anniversary of Grand Seiko been celebrated with a multitude of limited edition releases in 2020, than we find Grand Seikos being launched in 2021 that celebrate the 120th anniversary of Seiko, and the 160th anniversary of the birth of Seiko’s founder, Kintaro Hattori.

Clearly these celebrations have been going on for quite some time, although as more time passes, it is perhaps all too easy to lose sight of some of the key releases from previous anniversaries.

Released as a limited numbered edition of just 300 pieces in celebration of Grand Seiko’s 40th anniversary, SBGR007 is the first of the mechanical movement watches in my top ten, utilising the time-only 9S51 caliber that launched the SBGR series in 1998.

Cased in 18K white gold, this is an absolutely stunning watch, but what really makes it is not always obvious from the photos. The “Grand Seiko” text on the dial is – just like that on the dials of the earliest of the original Grand Seiko “First” from 1960 – hand carved.

Sadly whenever one of these becomes available, I don’t seem to have the spare cash lying around to purchase it. Maybe next time I’ll be lucky!

SBGW021

There was a time when, in reference to this watch, I rather rashly stated something along the lines of “if you have one of these for sale, I will fly anywhere in the world to purchase it”.

Sadly the days of being gainfully employed – not to mention being able to fly anywhere one chooses at a moment’s notice – are behind me, and so I am resigned to the fact that I will almost certainly never own my personal “grail” modern Grand Seiko. But that’s OK. Just the fact this watch exists is good enough for me.

But first, some context…

When Grand Seiko launched a platinum cased watch in 2021 to celebrate the 160th anniversary of the birth of Kintaro Hattori, they created a “homage” to the vintage Grand Seiko First in platinum, priced it at 10.5 million Yen, and released it in an edition of 50 pieces.

In the same year, they also launched a platinum cased watch – set with diamond and garnets – to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the founding of what would become the Seiko company, priced it at 20 million Yen, and released it in an edition of 15 pieces.

Also in the same year, they launched yet another platinum cased watch to celebrate that 140th anniversary, priced it at 6 million Yen, and released it in an edition of 140 pieces.

In 2007, Grand Seiko released the platinum cased SBGW021 at a price of 4.2 million Yen.

And they made 5 of them.

Five.

Grand Seikos with Arabic numerals are few and far between. From the vintage era there is just one – the 5646-7040. In the modern era, Arabic numerals are more frequently found on the limited edition references, particularly those created for the Seiko owned Wako department store in Ginza, Tokyo.

And being a time only watch, the SBGW021 is one of just four Grand Seiko references with full Arabic numerals, and the only reference where the numerals are hand carved into the dial.

The dials for the five examples of the SBGW021 were hand carved by Kiyoshi Terui. Terui-san was awarded the title of “Contemporary Master Craftsman” by the Japanese government in 2002, and in 2007 received the ultimate accolade that can be given for a man of his trade, the “Medal with a Yellow Ribbon”, by the Japanese Emperor.

More than 50 years after first joining the Seiko group of companies, Terui-san still works for Grand Seiko, based at the Shizukuishi watch studio, with he and his team being credited with creating the carved dials found on the recently released SBGW263.

Turning over the watch, we discover something that is unique to the SBGW021, in that it has an “officer” caseback, with a hinged platinum caseback revealing a sapphire back beneath, through which the movement – that was built and regulated by another Seiko legend, master watchmaker Akira Oohira – can be viewed.

Note – I am extremely grateful to Japanese watch dealer Toshiaki Koike of WatchCTI for allowing me to use these caseback photos of SBGW021. Koike-san is one of only two watch dealers that I know of to have sold an example of this astonishingly rare timepiece.

Interestingly, both Oohira-san and Terui-san joined Daini Seikosha in the same year – 1970. It is remarkable to think that 37 years after they joined Seiko, they both had such pivotal roles to play in the birth of this specific reference. To the best of my knowledge, they both continue to work at the company to this day.

SBGB001

Grand Seiko first introduced a chronograph complication with the SBGC series that was launched in 2007. The SBGC series of watches, based on the 9R86 caliber, included a GMT function in addition to the chronograph. Presumably the “C” in the series moniker stood for “Chronograph”. Since the SBGB series watches were released several years later in 2013, clearly the codes for Grand Seikos are not released in alphabetical order.

Whilst SBGC references remain in the Grand Seiko range to this day, the SBGB’s had a very short lifespan, seemingly dropped from the range just a couple of years after their release.

There are just two references in the SBGB range. The white dialed 001 seen here, and a black dialed version numbered 003 (all white metal bezeled Grand Seikos have odd numbered references, with even numbers reserved for yellow or pink/rose gold cased – or bezeled – references).

With just the SBGB001 and SBGB003 existing, it means the 9R84 caliber powered SBGB series has the fewest number of references of all modern Grand Seiko series. Quite why they exist is a bit of a mystery, but with the SBGC series being exclusive to Master Shops, possibly the range was introduced to provide a chronograph to the regular dealerships. A Spring Drive chronograph certainly is something to behold, and I’m delighted to have an example of the SBGB001 in my own collection.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of GMT complications – after all, is it really that difficult to add or subtract a number from the hour to determine the time in another city?! – and feel that the lack of a GMT function on the SBGB’s makes the dial just a little cleaner and easier to read. 

Additionally, many collectors have commented on the arguably unseemly size of the pushers on many references in the SBGC series, with the watches gaining the rather unkind – if understandable – nickname of “Eccentrica Gallumbits” (for those not familiar with The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Google the name at your peril, and certainly not whilst at work!).

One additional benefit of not having a GMT hand is that the bezel on the watch can be used for tachymetric purposes. Whilst some SGBC references do have a tachymeter on the bezel, the vast majority use the bezel to display the 24 hour markers.

SBGW047

When coming up with the idea of selecting my favourite ten modern Grand Seikos from the pre-rebrand era, I wondered whether or not to allow myself to include any of the recreation “Historic Collection” models. 

I mentioned earlier how Seiko can’t let an excuse for an anniversary to go uncelebrated, and as part of those celebrations, Grand Seiko often release “recreation” pieces that are very closely modeled on pieces from the vintage era.

The first of these recreation references was the SBGW004 from 2001, a watch celebrating Seiko’s 120th anniversary, and that very closely resembles the first Grand Seiko from 1960. Ten years later, to celebrate Seiko’s 130th anniversary, Grand Seiko released a set of three more references – SBGW033 in steel, SBGW039 in platinum, and SBGW040 in yellow gold – that also harked back to the first Grand Seiko. 

Then, in 2013, 2014, and 2015, Grand Seiko released recreations celebrating (in order) the 44GS, 57GS, and 62GS.

Quite why these were released in this order is a bit of a mystery to me. Following the success of the First recreations in 2011, one could imagine that perhaps Grand Seiko would see some benefit to releasing recreations of the subsequent vintage watch series 40 years after the original introduction of each series.

Additionally, one might expect that having released recreations of the 4420-9000, 5722-9990, and 6245-9000, they would go on to release recreations of watches selected from the 61GS, 45GS, 19GS, and 56GS series, but this didn’t happen.

Possibly with the impending rebrand in 2017, there simply weren’t the resources available to continue this series of “Historical Collections”, as they were marketed at the time.

Personally, I find this one of the biggest disappointments of the entire modern era. There was a very limited “Historical Collection” box set released alongside the 62GS recreations that was promoted as part of the 55th Anniversary celebrations of Grand Sieiko in 2015. Just 55 box sets were available, with each set including an example of the steel cased recreations of the 44GS, 57GS, and 62GS.

The fact that Grand Seiko actually held back 55 units each of the SBGW047 (44GS recreation) and SBGV009 (57GS recreation) to put with the SBGR095 (62GS recreation) for this box set surely demonstrates that there was a longer term plan in place at some point, but as each subsequent year passed without further historical collections of the later vintage series appearing, the more despondent I grew that this particular dream would ever be realised.

Just imagine if Grand Seiko had continued with these “Historical Collection” releases, and that ultimately there were recreations of iconic references from every vintage series released. And that there was a box set including all eight watches. Heck, with the scale of Grand Seiko’s ambitions these days, you could have a limited box set in each of steel, gold, and platinum case metals.

Something for the 2020’s perhaps? Let’s see if 2024 brings a 60th anniversary Historical Collection recreation of the 57GS…

But back to reality.

There simply wasn’t any way I could put together a list of my ten favourite pre-rebrand modern Grand Seiko references without including what I consider to be the greatest recreation that Grand Seiko have produced in the modern era – the SBGW047.

None of the other recreation watches manage to recreate their original vintage counterpart quite so well as the SBGW047 recreates the 4420-9000. A cross-check of Plus9Time’s database provides the missing information (long since lost in my memory!) that the “anniversary” that this watch was released to celebrate was “Seiko 100th Year of Watchmaking”. Yes of course – 2013 was the 100th anniversary of the launch of the Seiko Laurel. Makes perfect sense to release a 44GS homage in 2013. One year before releasing a 57GS homage under the “50th anniversary of 57GS” banner, and two years prior to releasing a 62GS homage celebrating the “55th anniversary of Grand Seiko”. But I digress again…

Although ever so slightly “upsized” to a case diameter of 37.9m to suit modern tastes (the original 4420-9000 was 37mm in diameter), in almost all other aspects, the SBGR047 is a very faithful reproduction of the vintage watch, a NOS example of which is pictured below –

Gloriously, Grand Seiko chose to stick with the early-dialed variant of the original 44GS, hence the “Diashock” text below “Grand Seiko” in the bottom half of the dial.

Being a keen aficionado of the vintage watches, I couldn’t possibly select any of the “First” recreations for this list, simply because Grand Seiko cannot recreate their dials accurately. Nor can they accurately recreate the dial of the original 43999 from the 57GS series.

Why not?

Because the original dials have the word “Chronometer” on them, and those pesky Swiss somehow have managed to convince the watch making world that they can retain exclusive use of the word. And to whomsoever is responsible for this anachronistic, narcissistic, self-aggrandizing, pompous, and frankly deeply jingoistic abuse regarding the “ownership” of a word in the English language, I say “damn you”. 

That, unlike its historical collection brethren, the SBGW047 is able to accurately recreate the dial of its vintage counterpart sets it apart from them. The 62GS SBGR095 also “benefits” from the original 6245-9000 on which it is based not having that sacrilegious word on its dial, but other design differences between the modern creation and its vintage counterpart – not least the size of the crown – mean it doesn’t hold a candle to the 44GS recreation.

And of course, the 44GS is arguably the iconic Grand Seiko.

SBGJ005

Whilst discussing the SBGB001, I mentioned that I’m not really much of a fan of GMT complications. To me they just seem to add a lot of fuss to a watch, without really providing that much additional useful information. A true world timer though, that tells you the time in major cities worldwide at just a glance? That’s a whole other story. But a story for another day.

If it wasn’t for my self-imposed rule that a GMT should be included as one of the watches in my top ten, this watch wouldn’t be here. Had I chosen a SGBC reference over the SBGB001 (and a couple were tempting), then the GMT checkbox would already have been ticked. But the SBGB001 won out, so a solus GMT is needed for the list.

Watches with GMT functionality play a significant part in the modern Grand Seiko range, and have done so ever since the introduction of the first Grand Seiko GMT in 2002 with the SBGM001. A quick check of Anthony Kable’s database shows that to date, there have been no fewer than 150 Grand Seiko references with a 24 hour GMT hand. Not being a fan of the complication, picking one wasn’t particularly easy, but in the end, the SBGJ005 gets the nod since it marked an important historical milestone in the modern Grand Seiko era.

Launched in 2014, as the first model with the newly developed hi-beat 9S86 caliber, it was entered into the “Petit Aiguille” category at that year’s Grand Prix D’Horlogerie de Geneve awards, and – no doubt helped a little by the lack of the word “Chronometer” on its dial – it won its category, and was instrumental in getting the wider watch community to sit up and take notice of Grand Seiko’s creations. Notably, the watch utilised the “44GS” case, and its green dial featured the now very well known “Mount Iwate” texture. It was released as a limited numbered edition of 600 pieces, and following its success at 2014’s GPHG, proved to be a very popular piece with collectors.

SBGA129

It would be hard to imagine anyone coming up with a top ten list of Grand Seikos from the modern era, and not including a “Snowflake”.

The reference that made my list is rather significant from a personal perspective, in that it was actually the very first Grand Seiko that I ever owned. I purchased the watch on a trip to Hong Kong in 2015, during which I had every intention of actually acquiring “the” Snowflake, the SBGA011.

In my wanderings around the city, I somehow managed to stumble across a watch shop in a back alley that had quite a few Grand Seikos available, including the coveted SBGA011. But when I held the SBGA011 in my hands, what I wasn’t in any way prepared for was just how light the watch was, given that it was made from titanium.

My heart sank, and I handed the watch back to the shopkeeper, saying that I was disappointed because I had been looking forward to buying it, but now for the first time actually having handled the watch, it was simply too light for me – I fancied something a little more substantial on my wrist.

This wasn’t an authorized dealer – this was a grey market dealer whose stock had been parallel imported from Japan. And the timing of my visit turned out to be absolutely perfect.

The shopkeeper pulled another box from behind the counter that he said had just arrived a couple of days previously, and took out the watch pictured here – the SBGA129.

In my hands, there was a night and day difference to the SBGA011, because this watch was made from stainless steel. It had the same snowflake dial, but a couple of red accents that changed it slightly from the standard piece. I fell in love with it instantly.

Never having heard of the reference previously, I asked the watchmaker what it was, and he explained that it was a limited edition of 359 pieces made for the “Association Japon de la Haute Horlogerie” (“AJHH”) – an organisation established with the aim of passing on the culture and traditions of luxury watches to the next generation.

As soon as I heard the words “limited edition”, I feared for the worst. My funds were limited, and I knew I had just enough to cover the cost of the regular Snowflake that the watchmaker had shown me previously. No doubt this watch, that he informed me he had just a single example of, would be substantially more expensive.

Astonishingly, the opposite was the case – the SBGA129 was actually several hundred (US) dollars cheaper than the SBGA011.

All the while this conversation had been going on, there were two other people in the small shop, and I couldn’t help noticing that they were paying rather too much attention to the discussion I was having with the owner. Naturally I didn’t hesitate to close the deal, and promptly handed over my card to make the purchase, walking out of the shop the proud owner of my first Grand Seiko.

I no longer own the watch as I parted with it the following year in order to free up some funds to feed my vintage Grand Seiko obsession, but whilst it was in my possession I photographed it many times, sharing the astonishing quality of the work of the craftsmen and women at Grand Seiko. In the time since I first started to share photos of my SBGA129, several dozen people contacted me to say that the images directly led them to purchase their first Grand Seiko.

The SBGA129 is now one of the most sought after references from the modern era amongst the ever growing community of Grand Seiko collectors, with the few examples that surface trading for multiples of their original retail price.

SBGA143

Seiko has a long history of producing dive watches, reaching back to the legendary 62MAS from 1965. However, there were never any dive watches in the vintage Grand Seiko era, and following the rebirth of the brand in 1988, it was 20 years before the first Grand Seiko dive watch was born.

In 2008, Grand Seiko released a pair of dive watches, the SBGA029 and SBGA031, cased in stainless steel and titanium respectively. Both watches were limited distribution to Grand Seiko “Mastershops” only.

Four years later, in 2012, Grand Seiko released a limited numbered edition of 200 pieces of SBGA071.

SBGA071 was an evolution of SBGA029, again in a stainless steel case, with the dial changed from black to blue, a gold second hand, and with the applied Seiko and GS logos – along with the Grand Seiko text – in gold.

Four years after that, in 2016, the dive watch that makes my personal top ten was released – SBGA143, a further evolution following the lineage of the SBGA029 and SBGA071.

SBGA143 was a numbered limited edition exclusively available from the Wako department store in Ginza, and – with just 30 examples being made – it is not just the only Wako limited dive watch, it is also one of the rarest Seiko dive watches ever produced.

Evolving from the SBGA071, SBGA143 differs primarily in that the dial colour is a much more saturated blue, and also by swapping around the silver and gold coloured elements. The second hand is changed from gold to silver; power reserve hand from silver to gold; lume surrounds from silver to gold; applied GS and Seiko logos from gold to silver; and the “Spring Drive Diver’s 200m” text changes from silver to gold.

The final tweak was that the dial colour continued through to the power reserve, where an almost hidden Grand Seiko lion can be found.

SBGD001

The final selection for my top ten Grand Seikos released in the modern era prior to the 2017 rebrand was, at the time of its release, the most expensive Grand Seiko ever made.

Like the first watch in this list, the SBGD001 is cased in platinum, but unlike the SBGS001, it could never be described as “affordable”.

However, the reference easily justified its retail price of 6,000,000 Yen not just because of its substantial platinum case, but due to the exemplary workmanship that went into its creation. It was a landmark watch because for the first time, Seiko’s famed “Micro Artist Studio” – usually busy handcrafting Credor “Masterpieces” such as the Eichi II, Minute Repeater, and Sonnerie – created a Grand Seiko.

Enough has already been written by every major watch blog regarding this watch that I don’t need to go over it in detail, but suffice to say, the combination of a triple barrelled Spring Drive movement that is finished to “Dufour” levels of quality and provides 8 days of power reserve, along with an exquisite “diamond dust” dial with hour markers and a handset that only Greubel Forsey could compete with, cased in Zaratsu polished platinum, makes for a compelling watch that was an absolute certainty to make this list the moment the idea of forming it popped into my head.

And of course it “bookends” this list along with the platinum cased SBGS005 quite perfectly.

Introduced at BaseWorld in 2016, SBGD001 was in production for less than a year before it was replaced by the rebranded SBGD201 – a watch that remains in the Grand Seiko range to this day.

As such, it is the perfect swansong watch for the pre-rebrand modern era, with – and I have this on very good authority – just eight examples ever manufactured. Historically, precious metal cased Grand Seikos from the modern era have not proved to be particularly wise purchases from an investment perspective, often being available at significant discounts to their original selling prices just months after being launched. However, the SBGD001 is demonstrably an exception to that rule, with an example selling at Phillips’ recent Geneva Watch Auction XIII for CHF 88,200.

Whilst this list is not in anyway intended to be one that highlights watches from the Grand Seiko back catalogue that might make smart investments, I can’t help thinking that those very few owners out there of this reference will not be too concerned about any possibility that their watches may depreciate in value in the future.

Closing thoughts

Well, once again, an article that I thought would comprise just a dozen or so photos with a paragraph or so of text accompanying each one, has turned out to be a multi-thousand word epic.

For those who made it to the very end, I sincerely thank you for your dedication and diligence, and hope that you have enjoyed the read. 

With hundreds of references to choose from, I initially thought this top ten would be very difficult to settle on, but in fact nine of the ten watches came to mind almost immediately, and despite my checking every single watch in Plus9Time’s database, they all stayed the course.

Hopefully this article will encourage more people to think about which references would make their top ten. Maybe there are some that I have not given sufficient thought to that would find a way onto my list?

I will be sharing a link to this article on the Facebook Grand Seiko Owners Club group – hopefully people will share their thoughts on this list, and also their own top ten (please keep to the same rules!), over there.

Finally, I am eternally grateful to Anthony Kable for his incredible work in creating the Modern Grand Seiko Database, which was the source for all of the catalogue images used in this article. Additionally, Anthony very kindly provided the mosaic used in the banner image for this article.

 

Gerald Donovan

June 2021

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