Grand Seiko 62GS and 'Spring' SBGA413, the Perfect Two Watch Collection
Universal Geneve grails; chasing down a rare Tudor Sub; and the Qatari prince and USC ("he turned in a Rolex with his final paper")
Building the perfect two-watch collection of vintage and modern Grand Seiko
This place is a shit show. The world, I mean. Despotic world leaders, a pandemic, and most importantly, watch designs that often seem garish, especially given the preceding two circumstances. The designs that aren’t so garish often turn the clock back fifty years for inspiration. For those looking for an escape, this has meant a turn to a soft, minimalist aesthetic — millennial pink, Ikea, Daniel Wellington. But now that aesthetic is exposing itself as a facade, papering over the complexities it pushes just beneath the surface.
For a watch collector, where is there to turn? Some find god. Others find Grand Seiko.
The brand, introduced in Japan in 1960 and rolled out internationally in 2010, is increasingly leading the watch industry forward. To understand Grand Seiko’s past is to understand its future: Technically superior, distinctive design. The brand’s grasp of Japan’s minimalist aesthetic melds with its technical mastery to provide the perfect antidote to a world gone mad. Modern releases stay true to the brand’s history while pushing its story forward in exciting, unexpected ways.
That’s why perhaps the perfect two-watch collection from Grand Seiko pulls from both vintage and modern to tell the brand’s story: The vintage 62GS (reference 6245 or 6246), and the modern Four Seasons “Spring” SBGA413.
Up until 1960, Seiko watches were the workhorses, the Honda Civics of the watch world. Then, Seiko started reading GQ and decided it would craft a true luxury product from design down to technical specs. The result was the Grand Seiko “First”, powered by the manual-wind caliber 3180 that met Seiko’s internal chronometer standards, as stringent as Swiss standards, calling for accuracy of -3/+12 per day. In recognition of the accomplishment, Seiko started using the word “Chronometer” on the dials of the First.
Upon hearing this, the Swiss kindly wrote a letter to Seiko demanding it please stop. Seiko took the letter as more of an invitation, deciding to send its best watches to the Neuchâtel Observatory trials in Switzerland to compete with Swiss-made chronometers. The first couple years were something of an embarrassment for Seiko, as it failed to place a caliber in the top 100. By 1967, things started to turn around: Grand Seiko placed five movements in the top 12. The next year, Seiko’s movements performed so well that the Swiss called off the entire competition. (You can still visit the Observatory’s website and search through historical results.)
So incensed by the Swiss and their attempts to prevent the use of the word “Chronometer”, Seiko developed its own internal “Grand Seiko Standard”, an even more strict standard calling for accuracy of -3/+6 per day.
62GS: Defining Grand Seiko
And so Grand Seiko set about developing the first automatic caliber worthy of the Grand Seiko moniker. The result was the 62GS, powered by the caliber 6245a with date complication and the 6246a with day-date complication. The 62 series was not a wholly new caliber, but rather the result of refining Seiko’s automatic calibers dating back to the first Seikomatics featuring Seiko’s “Magic Lever” winding system. The Seikomatic “Chronometer” was available as early as 1965, with both the movement and the case shape bearing a strong resemblance to the forthcoming 62GS.
The 62GS began rolling off the production line in July 1966, and production only lasted until early 1968. There are four versions of the 62GS (with the possibility of some transitional examples): The 6245- and 6246-9000 from 1966, featuring a 14kt lion medallion on the case back, and the 6245- and 6246-9001 from 1967, featuring a gold GS logo medallion.
If Seiko was sending movements across the world to dominate the Swiss just to settle a marketing scuffle, you can bet the automatic 62-series calibers were some of the most technically proficient in the world at the time. The calibers featured 39 jewels, beating at 19,800 bph. Having worn one for awhile now, there’s something about the movement itself that feels substantial in a way other vintage calibers sometimes don’t. You can feel it strongly, defiantly whirring — giving the Swiss a middle finger, but in that subtle, Japanese way — like the faceted, 36mm case just isn’t enough to contain this feat of Japanese engineering.
What’s even better, Seiko was also hard at work on the first commercial quartz wristwatch by this point, so it was crafting some of the most proficient, accurate mechanical movements not because it needed to, but as a pure illustration of craftsmanship.
Nowhere was this craftsmanship more apparent than in the design of the 62GS. By the mid-1960s, Seiko designer Taro Tanaka had begun to fully realize his “Grammar of Design” in Grand Seiko’s timepieces. More than a set of restrictive instructions on how to design a product, Tanaka created an entirely new approach to watch design that had Japanese identity and philosophy at its core. Japanese watches were no longer utilitarian products in which design and craftsmanship were an afterthought; these attributes became core to their identity, the expression of the design and of the craftsmen becoming the reason for their creation in the first place.
This design language is characterized by sharp lines, faceted surfaces and lugs, Zaratsu polishing, and simple, pure dials unlike anything found west of the Sea of Japan. The design of the 62GS is perhaps the purest distillation of these design principles, illustrated by the fact that Grand Seiko’s modern designs often lean on it.
The Grammar of Design manifests itself throughout the 62GS’s design: it lacks a bezel, meaning the box-shaped crystal is fused directly to the case, allowing for a wider dial opening. The faceted case and lugs make the case feel architectural, but its smooth mid case, accentuated by the hidden crown at 4 o’clock, lends it a countering softness. The faceted, Zaratsu-polished hands might as well be swords.
It’s like visiting Disney World for the first time: your eyes don’t know where to focus. The sharp lines of the 62GS make it feel technical and engineered — Tomorrowland, while the curving lines and pure dial maintain a sense of romanticism — Cinderella’s castle.
‘Spring’ SBGA413: The next evolution
Modern Grand Seiko’s beauty continues to be borne from its steadfast devotion to drawing on its own design language. By Tanaka defining his Grammar of Design as a form of art deeply rooted in Japanese influences and culture, Grand Seiko uniquely draws inspiration from the natural elements of its home island. This has resulted in “Snowflakes” and “Peacocks,” but no design has been more audacious to date than the Four Seasons “Spring” SBGA413.
Much the way the 62GS was technologically groundbreaking and its design boldly different, the Grand Seiko SBGA413 accomplishes the same. It’s powered by Grand Seiko’s Spring Drive (9R65), a movement completely unapologetic in its embrace of both tradition and technology, something no other brand would dare do. But the SBGA413 goes further: while the case uses the 62GS’ profile, it’s larger (40mm), titanium, and contours to hug the wrist.
The domed crystal and bezel-less construction imitates that of the original 62GS, allowing a more complete view of the dial, and thank god for that. The textured dial has a subtle pink hue, inspired by the fleeting moment when sakura (cherry) blossoms fall into the water, creating flower rafts (hanaikada). The dial is a fitting tribute, as the pink comes and goes in different light, capturing the spirit of the ephemeral season — here one moment, gone the next. To say this is a fittingly Japanese tribute to one of Japan’s most iconic symbols is too cliche a phrase. It’s craftsmanship, pure and simple, to create something that’s self-referential, but not boastfully so, and to pay tribute to Japan’s heritage, while also pushing Grand Seiko’s — and Japan’s — story forward.
We often think of horological craftsmanship as those pieces commanding six-figure sums, but Grand Seiko is proof that an embrace of modern technology can lead to new opportunities to craft stories. If the 62GS is Disney World, the SBGA413 is Pixar: Grand Seiko’s full embrace of modern technology to craft a narrative that is innovative, yet timeless.
The perfect Grand Seiko two-watch collection
On their own, the 62GS and SBGA413 are both great watches. But they become much more when they exist in the same collection, perfectly representing Grand Seiko as it existed in the 1960s and as it continues to in 2020.
The 62GS shows Grand Seiko at its mid-century best, defining a unique design language that runs through the brand’s DNA to this day. The movement, while Grand Seiko’s first automatic, was something the brand had iterated on for nearly a decade, and was perhaps as accurate as any on the planet at the time.
Meanwhile, the SBGA413 is thoroughly modern, yet still distinctly Grand Seiko. Of course, it’s powered by the Spring Drive, Grand Seiko’s signature technology. It’s a caliber that, up until the last wheel of the gear train, is identical to a traditional mechanical movement. But it ingeniously embraces quartz technology in a way only Seiko can by using the mainspring to power an electrical regulator. The result is a consistent source of energy powering the seconds hand smoothly across the dial, rather than in small, fractional-second ticks like those of a traditional mechanical movement. Much has been written about the Spring Drive and the captivating effect of this smooth seconds hand, but nowhere does it feel more appropriate than gracefully floating over the subtle pink dial of the SBGA413. For a dial that itself is meant to evoke the moment cherry blossoms fall into the water, it’s fitting that the second hand has the same elegant, flowing properties as those “flower rafts”.
Only Grand Seiko could have the audacity to create a watch to encapsulate a season of an entire country and execute it this superlatively (by the way, they did this four times, as each of the U.S.-exclusive “Four Seasons” editions bring something to the watch table; the Spring just happens to be the best).
Even better, both of these watches present fantastic value. Indeed, one of Grand Seiko’s main selling points has been its ability to deliver watches that offer value others simply do not. It’s at once astounding — the level of fit and finish Grand Seiko delivers at relatively modest price points — but it also sells short the level of craftsmanship to focus too much on a Grand Seiko’s price tag. From its story to the dial and everything in between, there’s simply nothing like the SBGA413, whether at a competing price point or 10 times the Spring’s MSRP. For what it’s worth, the SBGA413 will set you back $6,300 at your local dealer — if you can find one in stock, that is.
Meanwhile, across the board vintage Grand Seiko continues to offer a tremendous value proposition. Almost every piece represents some aspect of horological history, technical wizardry, or just design badassery. A 62GS won’t set you back more than a few thousand dollars, though you might have to befriend a Japanese dealer to get your hands on a clean example. Because of its sharp lines and faceted surfaces, polishing the case of a 62GS can rob it of its structural beauty.
The 62GS and SBGA413 are superb watches on their own, but even better together. If you care about Grand Seiko’s history, its technical achievements and bold designs, I can’t think of a better way to illustrate it than through these two watches. Maybe this place isn’t such a shit show after all.
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A special thanks to @collectorscornerny for the SBGA413 photos and inspiration for this piece.
Through the Wire
🏆 Universal Geneve grail spotting: the iconic ‘prototype dial’ Compax, an oversize split-seconds up at Phillips’ Hong Kong auction, and a Compax retailed by Hermes. 🏃♀️ Chasing down the Tudor Submariner ref. 9401 ‘Hybrid’. 🧐 Swapping bezels, swapping dials? 🔖 The FedEx and UPS drivers delivering our watches are engaged in an epic game of tag. 👩💻 Chrono24 takes a look at its data to identify a few trends. 🚀 Fratello goes hands-on with the new Omega Speedmaster featuring the cal. 321. 🤴 The heartthrob Qatari prince and his time at USC (“A chauffeur later delivered the final paper in a bag that also contained a Rolex.”).
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(hat tip to Eric)
Great recommendations! I feel like slowly becoming infatuated with Grand Seiko (and honestly, Seiko as a whole) has been the next big growing development on my watch appreciation journey 😁