The sophisticated simplicity of the Grand Seiko SBG253 is a throwback to a bygone era. Part of a trio of watches released this year by the Japanese haute horology brand to pay homage to the first Grand Seiko ref. 3180 from 1960, I was keen to get a hands-on look at this one from the time it was first spotted at Baselworld this March.
Grand Seiko, for the uninitiated, was borne out of Seiko’s pursuit of creating “the ideal watch” – a beautifully handcrafted timepiece that would be durable, legible and with higher chronometric standards than Swiss watches. The first Grand Seiko model was unveiled in 1960 with a hand-cranked movement, Caliber 3180. The watch sold for ¥25,000m, which back then was equivalent to two months’ salary of a college-educated professional. Though the first model had “chronometer” on the dial, Seiko removed this designation since these watches were tested at a standard greater than those followed by the Swiss industry.
In a strange case of irony, Seiko had to pull the plug on Grand Seiko production in 1975 as demand for mechanical watches dipped during the Quartz Crisis, the result of a technology that was pioneered by Seiko in the first place. Production only resumed in 1991, and in 1998 the second generation of Grand Seiko watches was launched with the new 9S5 series of hand-wound and automatic calibers. You can read more about Grand Seiko’s legacy here.
When it was first launched in 1960, Grand Seiko introduced the majority of the reference 3180 models in 80 micron gold-filled case, but some models were also made in platinum. The internet is rife with rumors that the 3180 was also made in stainless steel, but there has never been any official acknowledgement of these models from Japan. One theory is that stainless steel 3180 models were used as service watches.
The 3180 homage models this year are produced in stainless steel (SBG253), yellow gold (SBGW252) and platinum (SBGW253). Incidentally, this is the third time that Seiko has issued a 3180 homage model - the first one (SBGW004) in yellow gold with a limited production of 300 pieces was unveiled in 2001. Then in 2011, to celebrate its 130th anniversary, Seiko launched the 3180 models in steel, yellow gold or platinum, again as limited editions. So, the remakes this year aren’t exactly new, although Grand Seiko did unveil a cracking reinterpretation of the 3180 in a proprietary titanium alloy this year.
While the 2017 reissue retains the same design codes of the original, the case has been updated for more modern sensibilities. The highly polished stainless steel case of the SBGW253 is now 38 mm as opposed to the 35.8 mm of the 1960 original. The case is slim at 11.2 mm and features an 18k gold medallion with the historical Grand Seiko lion logo on the caseback and is fitted with a dual-curved sapphire crystal on the dial side.
The ivory white dial has a stamped Grand Seiko in relief and the faceted hour markers in steel and the characteristic sword-shaped polished hands to indicate time. A blued steel central seconds hand brings a pop of color to the otherwise sober dial. The dial is a study in sobriety – simple, classic and true to the Sixties aesthetic that inspired it. A lot of new vintage revival watches add an unnecessary date window as a concession to modernity but I’m glad that hasn’t happened here.
The re-issue is powered by the hand-cranked 9S64 first seen in the Grand Seiko 44GS Limited edition launched a few years ago. Developed and produced in-house, the 9S64 is a 24-jewel movement which uses Seiko’s proprietary Spron 510 mainspring alloy that guarantees a power reserve of 72 hours when fully wound. Typical of all Grand Seiko movements, the 9S64 is a beautifully decorated movement and has a variation of -3 to +5 seconds per day, tighter than Swiss chronometric standards.
The watch is paired with a black alligator leather strap with a tang buckle with a Grand Seiko logo in relief, just like in the original. The leather strap is supple and the watch sits very well on the wrist. At 38 mm wide, this is a lovely dress watch that is subtle, elegant and unassuming. In conclusion, the SBGW253 is a great watch for those looking to own a fine example of Japanese watchmaking and at a price of $5,900 (AED21,600), it remains well within the reach of enthusiasts.