The Grand Seiko SBGA373 Spring Drive is so good it needs two parts...
Join us as we continue our deep look at the Grand Seiko SBGA373 Spring Drive. Let's start with the incredible dial...
Whilst a lot of emphases is quite rightly put on Grand Seiko’s Zaratsu polished cases, I actually think the dial, hands and indices are where the brand really shines (pun intended). Don’t get me wrong, I adore the Zaratsu case finishing as much as the next guy, but for those like me who wear their watches daily that perfect finish won’t stay unblemished for long. On the other hand, the dial, hands and indices should stay looking pristine for many years or decades before tarnishing, and the finishing of these parts is at least as impressive, if not more.
Grand Seiko’s sunburst champagne dials are among the most difficult to make, with each watch undergoing an epic 12-stage manufacturing process, surpassing even the Snowflake. A little-known fact about the SBGA373 is that the dial colour differs slightly to other champagne models within the range, falling somewhere between champagne and silver, something that can only really be seen by comparing them side-by-side in person.
The multi-faceted, hand-finished and hand-applied, baton-style indices are just perfection. They are mirror finished and razor-sharp, cut at just the right angle to maximise reflectivity and light and shade. Even though colour contrast is low between the dial, indices and hands, legibility is outstanding in all but very low light due to the contrast the facets bring. A double baton sits at the 12 o’clock position.
The wide, facetted and mirror-polished, dauphine style hour and minute hands are diamond-cut so precisely that you’d swear they could cut you like a scalpel if you were to pick one up. The slender lancet-style, thermally blued second hand with its glide motion is said to ‘reflect the natural and continuous flow of time itself’.
A larger than average quickset date display with well-chosen font, spans the full extent of its beautifully deep-bevelled frame. The date window clicks over very reassuringly bang on 12 o’clock.
The Power Reserve (PR) sub-dial is countersunk into the dial and located between seven and eight o’clock. Concentric, ribbed, partial circles emanate from the centre post of the PR indicator hand and outside of that is a concertina-like, three-dimensional stepped scale. Again, Grand Seiko put their own spin on this complication, with the PR indicating ‘full’ when the hand reaches the bottom of the scale, rather than the top.
The closer you look at the watch face the more evident Grand Seiko’s attention to detail becomes. For example, the main Cannon Pinion to which the hands are attached is covered with a polished and bevelled cap, as is the PR pinion. I actually don’t know why so many other brands overlook this detail, but heaven forbid Grand Seiko would be so uncouth as to leave an unsightly mess.
The dial text is kept to a minimum but also absolutely flawless. The applied ‘GS’ initials sit below the 12 o’clock marker, with the words ‘Grand Seiko’ printed below that. ‘Spring Drive’ in a smaller font sits above the six o’clock marker. Finally, toward the outer dial edge between the six and seven o’clock markers is ‘Japan 9R65’ which refers to the movement and a more cryptic ‘- OCFO T 2’ between the five and six o’clock markers, which I’m led to believe refers to the dial code.
In all of the above respects, the SBGA373 is beyond reproach. Every single element stands up to full scrutiny under a 10x loupe, with no imperfections whatsoever.
The wearability of the SBGA373
Weighing in at 148g, I’d say it wears true to size. Its nuanced case shape hugs the wrist very well, meaning that most wrists could accommodate it. The fact that the crown is half-tucked away helps with wearability and I’ve not experienced any ‘dented hand’ phenomena or marked wrist due to crown protrusion. However, comfort is a trickier aspect. If you’re lucky enough to achieve the perfect fit on the bracelet then it’s an extremely comfortable watch, but I’ve only been able to achieve the perfect fit for approx. half the time I’ve owned the watch, which quite frankly does annoy the heck out of me.
Things we would change
Negatives for me are linked to potential long-term ownership costs, both in terms of servicing and refinishing.
The recommended service interval is every three to four years, which compared to many other brands’ recently revised servicing schedules seems quite frequent, and with the movement being unique to Grand Seiko you really have no choice but to send it into them. Thankfully, this can now be done at the UK service centre and I’ve been quoted a price of £320, which to be fair seems very reasonable.
If however, you want to freshen up your Zatatsu polishing, you must send your watch to the extensively trained artisans in Japan as the UK service centre does not currently have the skills to carry out a ‘polishing service’. And sadly, the downside to Zaratsu is that every war wound hurts even more than normal, exacerbated further still by the fact that it’s not something your local watchmaker will be able to rectify. The cost for this is just over £300 if completed at the same time as a service.
Other than that, my only negatives are linked to the bracelet. The lack of micro-adjustments on the clasp is frustrating, as is the fact it has a 19mm lug width.
From a more subjective point of view, for some people, the fact that the Spring Drive movement has no ‘tick’ due to the lack of pallet fork and balance wheel might be a negative, but I hope that anyone buying this watch would know this beforehand. For me, the smooth sweep of the second-hand offers suitable compensation anyway. Finally, whilst the SBGA373 is certainly not a thick watch, I’d like to see Grand Seiko get it below 12mm.
Some final thoughts on the SBGA373
Nearly all of my initial negativity towards Grand Seiko was due to preconceptions, a lack of understanding and not having seen any in the flesh.
Whilst I do remain conflicted about my Grand Seiko, it’s for entirely different reasons, that are less easy to articulate. It’s a supremely accurate, meticulously well-crafted watch with revolutionary engineering that took decades to perfect. In fact, my only significant negative is the bracelet clasp, which is unacceptable at this price point. Otherwise, I’d say it’s pretty damn perfect. But maybe that’s its problem. For all the innovation, maybe it’s a little too perfect. I can’t put my finger on why, but I just don’t connect with it quite as strongly as some of my other watches, despite its superior credentials. There are many features that are unique to Grand Seiko, yet somehow it still lacks a certain ‘je nais ce quoi’.
I guess, ultimately, whether Grand Seiko is for you will partially depend on the nature of your character as much as the watch’s. If you’re the type of person that loves perfection and is always examining your watch under a 10x loupe for specs of dust than they may be the brand for you. If they are, then I can’t think of a better model to choose than the SGA373. It is quintessentially Grand Seiko with its GS44 case and 9R65 Spring Drive movement. On top of that its beautiful champagne dial, quirky PR complication and thermally blued second hand bring just enough interest to the face to stop it being a plain Jane.
However, for all its attention to detail and scintillating finishes, the SBGA373 somehow still manages to come across as quite conservative-looking. So if you’re less obsessive in your pursuit of perfection and tend to like watches with busier dials that are a perhaps a little less restrained, this may not be the watch for you. Even then though, you’d be wise not to dismiss the brand completely as more adventurous options are available, especially if you’re prepared to pay a slight premium for a limited edition model. But don’t hang around as Grand Seiko prices are only going in one direction and that’s up!
Would I buy it again? Most certainly, but I’d wait until they had revised the bracelet. The level of finishing and engineering really is beyond reproach and only by buying pre-owned could you hope to find a watch so meticulously executed at this price point from any other brand.
If I ever come to sell it, I think the reason will be due to my frustration with the bracelet clasp. For now, though, it occupies a unique place in my collection and I get to enjoy watching the ultra-smooth sweep of the blued second hand for a little while longer.
The Grand Seiko SBGA373 (Heritage Collection) is available for £4,700. To find out more be sure to head over to the Grand Seiko website here.