The Topper Blog consists mainly of original writing by Rob & Russ Caplan with occasional special contributions and interviews. All photography in the blog is taken at Topper Fine Jewelers , or on location unless otherwise indicated in the photo captions.

Welcome, Grand Seiko! A Look at Three Automatic GMT Models

It's an exciting time at Topper Fine Jewelers as we have now received the first delivery of our newest brand, Grand Seiko. While Grand Seiko has an incredibly dedicated and knowledgeable fan base among watch collectors, we suspect this will be the first serious look at Grand Seiko for many of our clients. Accordingly, there are a few recent accolades to point out that Grand Seiko fans are well acquainted with, but may be new to those less familiar with the brand. Grand Seiko is being taken seriously by some of the most notable critics of the watch world and, as a result, has been racking up awards and praise. In 2014, Grand Seiko won the "Petite Aiguille" (best watch under $10,000) from the Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) for their green-dialed Hi-Beat 36000 GMT (SBGJ005), the limited edition sister of the two Hi-Beat GMT pieces featured below. In addition, Jack Forrester, managing editor of Hodinkee named a cream colored SBGR0061 his choice as favorite watch under $5,000.

Usually our blog posts center on discussions of new releases. However, as the entire line is new to us, our coverage of Grand Seiko will be a little different. This first post examines three of the Grand Seiko GMT models: the Automatic GMT (SBGM021) which has been in the line for a few years, and two 2015 Hi-Beat GMT models, a steel version (SBGJ003) and a titanium model (SBGJ013).

Grand Seiko Automatic GMT (SGM021)

The SBGM021 lists at $4,400 and is a great launching point to begin discussing Grand Seiko in general. Like with their entire line of watches, appreciation for the craftsmanship and relative value of this piece increases the more closely one examines it. First and foremost it's extremely readable. The cream colored dial provides a nice contrast to the raised indices and high polished hands. Tthe GMT scale, blued GMT hand, and high polished hands are all distinct from each other making it easy to read. The tone of the watch is part heritage piece and part sport watch. Many design attributes harken back to the 1960s in general, and to 1960s Grand Seiko specifically. This is especially true of the the sapphire crystal. It's a not just a domed crystal, but boxed with substantial height. Unlike some similar crystals that have a pronounced halo on the outside edge, there isn't much of a halo at all on Grand Seikos. In that way it reminds me of the crystals on the Zenith 36,000 VPH and Glashutte Original Senator 60s. The second hand bends at the end so that it can be clearly seen through the side of the crystal. The leather strap has both minimal padding and a fine grain. It also reminds me of the heritage straps used by Glashutte Original.

Note the "boxed" dual-curved sapphire crystal. It provides considerable height with a subtle halo effect.

The SBGM021's second hand bends at the end so it can be seen through the distorted dome.

The thinly padded and small grained strap evokes the 1960s similar to those on the Glashutte Original Senator 60s.

The high polished hands and blued GMT hand of the of the SBGR006.

A look at the horns of the SBGM021.

A wrist shot of the SBGM021.

The SBGM021 features the 9S66 calibre. Like the similar non-GMT 9S65, the movement beats at a similar rate to most Swiss watches in our store; 28,800 per hour. The watch features a 70-hour power reserve and a plus minus accuracy range that has undergone a higher standard than the COSC test. While COSC certified pieces are accurate from -4 to +6 seconds a day, the 9S65 is accurate for -3 to +5. This model only costs $300 more than the three-hand SBGR0061. Even though the price difference is small, the GMT functionality is consistent with high-end Swiss manufacturers such as Rolex and Omega. Instead of having to set the GMT hand after setting the local time (like the ETA 2893), the watch features "quick hour" setting. This enables changing local time without "hacking" the watch and allows the date to change forwards and backwards. This system also prevents any "danger zone" from 9:00 PM to 3:00 AM where one might damage the watch by changing the date if the date complication is already in the process of changing.

Grand Seiko models such as the SBGM021, embrace modern materials, but in a different way than some of the most featured brands at Topper. For instance, the hairspring and mainspring are made of an alloy material called SPRON. Seiko has several grades of SPRON, and Grand Seiko specifies a certain mix to perform each specific function. For instance, the hairspring is made out of an alloy called SPRON610 which enhances the anti-magnetism, shock resistance, and durability of the part. The mainsprings are have two different alloys depending on the beat rate: SPRON510 is used for eight beat watches and SPRON530 is used for high beat models.

The sapphire crystal caseback of the SBGM021.

The 9S66 calibre of the SBGM021.

The nickel escapement wheel and pallet fork are engineered using MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems) technology for enhanced precision and durability. This helps make the watch extremely precise, but its material remains susceptible to magnetization. Image courtesy of Grand Seiko.


In contrast to the SBGM021, the steel SBGJ003 ($6,000) and the titanium SBGJ013 ($7,000) feature the Hi-Beat 9S86 Calibre. The "Hi-Beat" term refers to the movement's beat rate of 36,000 VPH (vibrations per hour), which is 5 Hertz (Hz) or 10 oscillations (or "beats") per second. The Topper Blog recently wrote about another Hi-Beat Seiko, the SBEX001, a diver featuring a non decorated version of the Hi-Beat movement hidden inside a monocoque constructed case.

While more beats would theoretically indicate more precision, most of the Grand Seiko "Hi-Beat" models offer the same -3 to +5 rating as the models that beat at 28,800 BPH (or eight beats per second). The exception to this are a few models that have accuracy from -2 to +4 seconds a day. The most tangible benefit of the higher beat rate is that the second hand moves considerably smoother than do those on watches at the slower, more traditional speed of 28,800 vph or 4 Hz. It should be noted that both the Hi-Beat and the eight beat have the same recommended three year service interval. As would be expected with a higher beat rate, the power reserve is shorter on the Hi-Beat models in comparison to eight-beat models (55 hours versus 72).

While the case design of the Hi-Beat GMT evokes the original Grand Seiko designs of the 1960s, the watch seems much more formal looking than the SBGM021. This is due to the more contemporary sapphire crystal and more conventional dial color. The Hi-Beat GMT models also look more conservative due to the twenty-four hour scale being moved from inside the markers outward to the chapter ring.

The stainless steel SBGJ003 is the sister watch to the award winning green dial SBGJ005. Like its green 2014 counterpart, it features a radial pattern inspired by the view of Mt. Iwate from the offices of Grand Seiko's Shizuku-ishi Watch Studio. The pattern is similar to a sunburst dial, but features a series of short lines instead of continuous long ones emanating from the center. The titanium model SBGJ013 has a dial pattern similar to some of the Swiss "teak yacht deck" concept dials. Instead of trying to evoke the even grooves of a yacht deck, the watch features smaller vertical lines. The dial of the SBGJ003 is a dark black and features a red GMT hand. The SBGJ013 features a dark gray or anthracite dial with a gold GMT hand.

Both watches feature 40mm cases that are approximately 14mm thick. As expected, the titanium model is considerably lighter at 105.5g versus 158.4g for the steel model SBGJ003. Both watches have screw down crowns and can be worn for any occasion.

There is a lot to cover with Grand Seiko and this post just scratches the surface. Some of the features that we will want to highlight in future Grand Seiko articles will be details on the manufacturing of their dials, hands, and the hand polishing (Zaratsu) of their cases. The latter of which is unrivaled at this price point. Expect to see a lot more Grand Seiko posts from Topper in the near future!

The radial dial of the SBGJ003.

The brushed hands and markers of the SBGJ003.

Another view of the radial dial and brushed surfaces of the SBGJ003.

The red GMT hand and framed date wheel of the SBGJ003.

The 14mm profile of the SBGJ003.

A wrist shot of the SBGJ003.

The titanium SBGJ013.

The vertical dial pattern of the SBGJ013 and gold GMT hand.

The brushed hands and dial of the SBGJ013.

A side view of the SBGJ013.

The case back of the SBGJ013.

The polished and beveled case of the SBGJ013.

A wrist shot of the SBGJ013.

The Topper Blog consists mainly of original writing by Rob & Russ Caplan with occasional special contributions and interviews. All photography in the blog is taken at Topper Fine Jewelers , or on location unless otherwise indicated in the photo captions.