For too long, Grand Seiko aficionados have pined for a sporty Spring Drive-powered GMT watch that was not the size of a dinner plate. In the year the Japanese brand turns 60, this wish was granted - and how! Grand Seiko introduced three sleek new references – the SBGE253, the SBGE257, and the SBGE255 – in the fast growing Sport collection that presents a strong alternative to the more conventional mechanical GMT sports watches out there.
While it is available in three colorways – black, blue, and green – today we take a closer look at the most sober (and versatile) of the lot, the black SBGE253. Grand Seiko’s sports watches tend to be a little flamboyant in terms of design and size. Spring Drive GMT models of the past (like SBGE201) were presented in a 44 mm case – and while one could argue that it’s perfectly alright for a sports watch to have that girth, it immediately puts it beyond the scope of people who don’t want to draw too much attention to their wrists.
The SBGE253 uses a stainless steel case that is 40.5 mm wide and 14.7 mm thick. As is wont with Grand Seiko, the case has a mix of brushed and tin-polished (Zaratsu-polished) surfaces. It has a fixed sloping black ceramic bezel with a 24-hour scale with only the even numbers showing. The case is topped by a dual curved sapphire crystal and is fitted with a stainless steel caseback featuring an engraving of the Grand Seiko lion symbol. Depth-rated to 200 meters, a screw-down crown is placed at the 4 o’ clock position.
The black dial’s furniture includes the characteristic multi-faceted and polished hands and indices, a red GMT hand that takes 24 hours to complete one rotation around the dial, a power reserve indicator and a date window at 4 o’ clock. The presence of a date window is a polarizing topic among enthusiasts – I would have happily taken the middle ground had the date wheel been in the same color as the dial as opposed to contrasting white. As for the power reserve indicator, I do not see the need for this complication in any watch that has a movement with a self-winding rotor. In an ideal world, the power reserve indicator should only appear on manual-winding watches. Instead of a bi-colour GMT bezel, Grand Seiko opts for a two-tone rehaut. The semi-circular section of the rehaut (the inner flange of the bezel) from three o’clock to nine, is picked out in silver gray to display at a glance whether the GMT hand indicates AM or PM. The 24-hour markings on the rehaut has the odd hours displayed as opposed to even ones on the bezel.
The big draw of this watch is its movement, the Spring Drive GMT Caliber 9R66. Seiko produced the first prototype of the Spring Drive-powered watch in 1982. Seiko credits Yoshikazu Akahane with pioneering this proprietary technology. The engineer set out to create the perfect watch, a timepiece that would tick three boxes – the accuracy of quartz, the perpetual power supply of an automatic caliber, and possess the kind of refined finishing seen on mechanical movements. It took 17 years to develop the first production model in 1999.
Caliber 9R66 has an incredible average accuracy rating of ±1 second per day or ±15 seconds per month. It has a power reserve of 72 hours and a stop seconds function for accurate setting of time. It also has an independent second time zone hand that can be adjusted to local time without stopping the movement. The watch is fitted with a matching steel three-link bracelet with a three-fold clasp with push button release. The brushed outer links have polished flanks and the central ones have polished borders and the half-links near the clasp promise a more precise fit.
It is no secret that GMT models are enjoying a real surge in popularity. The SBGE253 offers a credible alternative to more conventional mechanical models. The build quality is excellent, the watches sits well on the wrist, and the movement is like nothing else out there. At AED23,500, it’s not the most affordable option, but it certainly remains the most interesting option in that price range.