Escapement Watch Review: Grand Seiko SBGA029


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Angus Davies reviews the Grand Seiko SBGA029, in this article from the online magazine Escapement.  The SBGA029 is a divers’ watch featuring the brand’s highly impressive Spring Drive movement.

Japan has a rich tradition of diving. The Ama are Japanese female divers who, with their lungs filled to capacity, free dive for up to a minute collecting pearls in often freezing waters. Historically, it was felt that ladies were physiologically better suited to diving than men because they could hold their breath for longer and they benefit from an additional layer of fat to insulate them from the cold waters. This type of work is tough and treacherous, necessitating a robust character to meet the challenge.

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Venturing beneath the ocean’s waves can take its toll on the human body and just about every other object which comes in contact with the corrosive salty waters. Divers’ watches appeal to me because of their tough, resilient construction; they are built to withstand the hostilities of water, pressure, and salt. Indeed, there is an honesty and an integrity to a divers’ watch that I find most appealing.

Seiko Professional 600m Hi-beat Calibre (circa 1975)
Seiko Professional 600m Hi-beat Calibre (circa 1975)

Seiko developed its first divers’ watch, water-resistant to 150 meters, in 1965. Thereafter, it continued a relentless development program, releasing ever more impressive watches, such as the Seiko Professional 600m Hi-beat Caliber pictured above, capable of tolerating increasing depths beneath the waves. While I admire the practicality of these timepieces, the design at times does appear somewhat utilitarian. By contrast, the Grand Seiko SBGA029, to my eyes, is a very handsome divers’ watch, while still retaining an intrinsic strength which lends itself to subaquatic adventure.

The dial:

The hour and minute hands are bold and lined with luminescent material. They differ from the usual razor-like hands I am accustomed to seeing on Grand Seiko watches, and are clearly designed to be more visible underwater where light is restricted.

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A slender central seconds hand interfaces with the markings depicted on the minute track and glides around the dial in a seamless sweep motion. The unusual gait of the hand is the result of the Seiko Spring Drive movement, which includes an oscillator that rotates solely in one direction, unlike a conventional balance wheel in a Swiss lever escapement, which moves to and fro. A luminescent circular counterweight sits on the central seconds hand, close to its fulcrum. The hour markers are mainly circular, save for 6 and 9 o’clock, where rectangular batons feature, and at noon, where a triangular index is deployed. Each hour marker is outlined with gleaming metalwork, providing clear delineation from the main black dial canvas. An aperture is positioned at 3 o’clock, presenting the date in black text on a crisp white disk. Seiko refines each numeral on the date disk of its Grand Seiko watches to achieve optimum legibility and clarity.

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In common with other Spring Drive models, a power-reserve indicator is located at 8 o’clock, revealing the status of the mainspring. This model has a maximum water resistance of 200 meters. While Seiko offers professional divers’ watches capable of withstanding greater depths, I suspect the water resistance of this Grand Seiko will prove more than adequate for the majority of watch consumers who seldom venture deeper than the shallow end of a swimming pool. A key strength of this dial is the user-friendly dial layout and ease of interpretation. The clarity of the dial design is excellent.

The case:

The stainless steel case measures 44.2 mm in diameter with a height of 14 mm. This is larger than many Grand Seiko models, proving especially suited to my generously proportioned wrist. The size of the watch provides sufficient scale to aid read-off but doesn’t feel unduly large, according a comfortable fit.

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A similar model, the Seiko SBGA031, is offered in lightweight titanium, costing a few hundred pounds more, but I did not find the stainless steel option especially heavy, weighing 201 grams. The bezel is stainless steel and unidirectional. The upper surface of the bezel is presented in black, hard-coated stainless steel.

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Adjacent to the crown are protectors, reinforcing the watch’s sense of ruggedness. In addition, on the vertical surface of the crown, the initials “GS,” for Grand Seiko, are proclaimed.

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The bracelet has a superb substance to its creation, with a three-fold clasp and an extendable section for wearing over a diving suit. There is a welcome sense of security provided by the clasp, which locks into position and is released with a push-button.

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Note – case back pictured with protective film affixed

Traditionalists will appreciate the solid case back, de rigueur for divers’ watches. However, there is a little part of me that misses the opportunity to see the movement within, such is its profound beauty.

The movement:

The SBGA029 contains the Caliber 9R65 Spring Drive movement. While in this instance it is hidden from view, I have seen the uncased movement before and can vividly recall its splendid finishing.

The Calibre 9R65 Spring Drive movement features within the SBGA011, which I have previously reviewed and a detailed description of its specification and Spring Drive technology is provided for those of inquiring mind.

Needless to say, Seiko’s Caliber 9R65 is a very impressive movement, delivering a degree of accuracy seldom encountered with self-winding watches. The watch has a stated accuracy of +/- 1 second per day, which comfortably surpasses the COSC chronometer certification standard.

Closing remarks:

I have never hidden my admiration for Grand Seiko. A recent trip to Seiko’s various manufacturing operations in Japan reaffirmed my respect for this brand and the watches that bear its name.

I appreciate the aesthetics of several divers’ watches and this Grand Seiko proves to be no exception. The display is clear and simple to interpret. The case and bracelet feel strong and deliver a comfortable fit. The movement is superbly finished and the Spring Drive technology provides an impressive level of accuracy.

The Grand Seiko SBGA029, similar to the Ama, appears born to dive. However, more pertinently, this watch seems ideally suited to life on terra firma, delivering an attractive mix of attributes and an appeal most profound.

Technical Specifications:

  • Model: Grand Seiko SBGA029
  • Case: Stainless steel; diameter 44.2 mm; height 14.0 mm; water-resistant to 200 meters; sapphire crystal front and solid caseback.
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; central seconds; date; power-reserve indicator.
  • Movement: Calibre 9R65, self-winding movement; Spring Drive; 30 jewels; power reserve 72 hours.
  • Bracelet: Stainless steel bracelet with three-fold clasp with secure lock, push button release and diver adjuster
  • Price: £5200 (as of 1/8/2015)
6 Responses to “Escapement Watch Review: Grand Seiko SBGA029”

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  1. spider boy

    I have both sub and sbga029 , finishes and workmanship, the gs is far more superior , i felt i had a bargain when wearing the GS.

    Reply
  2. Fabio Anderaos de Araujo

    Despite the quality and merits of the Grand Seiko Spring Drive Diver’s 200 meters, there is an aspect unbeatable in Rolex Submarine watches: the superb design.

    Reply
  3. Annabel Robin

    It’s price is similar to that of the Rolex Sub, but the GS is a more interesting watch whose merits are under-appreciated by occidental buyers.

    Reply
  4. Bert Kanne

    Likely one of the most finely engineered and manufactured dive watches on the market. The accuracy is unheard of in an automatic watch. In many ways it is superior to a Rolex Submariner and I assume it is a fraction of the Rolex ‘ s price!

    Reply
    • But then, you can go anywhere in the world and sell your Rolex at a decent price. Investment-wise Rolex is unbeatable.
      You are right, though, Grand Seiko is superior.

      Reply
    • I have a Rolex Submariner and a Seiko Ananta Spring Drive GMT, although I do not own a GS. They are both great watches. The quality of the Ananta is absolutely astonishing so I can guess the GS would be as well.

      Reply
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