A few weeks ago, I agreed to take time out from my frenetic work schedule and spend a few days touring Budapest with my family. Numerous articles in magazines, showing journalists touring the globe, attending glamorous events, may lull the casual reader into thinking that writing about watches is one long holiday. Sadly, it is not. Invariably I work seven days per week, aiming to fulfill my writing commitments; hence, there comes a point when my wife has to intervene and drag me away from my laptop, forcing me to take time out.
Budapest, Hungary is an architecturally fascinating city. Moreover, I found the local cuisine and wine very agreeable and surprisingly affordable. I quickly relaxed, enjoying the late summer sun while bathing in the hotel’s rooftop pool. While sightseeing, strolling along one of Budapest’s delightful streets, I noticed a Seiko boutique in my midst. As this is not an everyday occurrence, my professional interest was piqued.
In my native England, there are no Seiko boutiques. The Japanese watchmaking company has some of its own retail stores in Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt, but it is fair to say they are not commonplace in Europe. As soon as I saw it, my gait hastened and I speedily crossed the threshold into the store.
I must point out at this stage that I am a huge fan of Grand Seiko. Whilst the brand’s products are sold in the United Kingdom, demand outstrips supply and I am often left craving to see a model that has failed to arrive in my home nation.
Entering the boutique, I chatted to the sales assistant and inquired as to how long the store had been open. To my surprise, he informed me that the store officially opened in a couple of days’ time. Eager to gain a scoop, I contacted the UK-based Seiko press team, got my name added to the guest list, and two days later attended the event.
A breathtaking array of models
A key benefit of visiting a Grand Seiko boutique is that a breathtaking array of models are always on display. Budapest was no exception: there were several references within the collection that I had not seen before, such as the gorgeous Spring Drive SBGE005, a handsome watch equipped with a GMT function. There were also some personal favorites, including the stunning SBGR061, with its ivory-toned dial and warm brown leather strap. I decided to focus upon one model – the Spring Drive SBGE005.
The Spring Drive movement within the SBGE005 is self-winding and highly innovative. The same know-how can be found in the ultra high-end Credor Spring Drive Minute Repeater, albeit in hand-wound form. The key benefit of Spring Drive is the remarkable accuracy of ± 1 second per day, surpassing the precision of most mechanical watches. My review of the achingly gorgeous SBGA011 provides a detailed explanation of the Spring Drive movement.
In common with other Grand Seiko timepieces, the readability of the dial on the Spring Drive SBGE005 is superb. The razor-like hour and minute hands are highly polished with sharp, faceted edges. They capture available light along their sumptuous surfaces and shine resplendently.
The central sweep seconds hand traverses the dial with an unusual stride. It neither jumps like a quartz-governed hand, nor does it dance quick-step, shuffling several times per second at a rate dictated by the balance. The slender seconds hand glides seamlessly, like a swan floating atop a smooth pond. Indeed, its serene action is hypnotic to observe.
The applied indexes are also polished to a blemish-free brilliance. Each facet, skilfully applied to the indexes, augments legibility.
Evidently, Grand Seiko is fastidious about the dial details on its watches. The date aperture is framed with a gleaming border and the numerals on the date disk are optimally sized and styled, enhancing the ease of read-off.
Completing the indications presented, a blue GMT hand collaborates with a 24-hour scale, presented on a flange encircling the dial and a power reserve indicator is located between 7 and 8 o’clock.
The “dual curved” sapphire crystal features a high quality nonreflective coating on its inner surface, mitigating glare and further contributing to the lucidity of the dial.
The 41-mm stainless steel case is perfectly attuned to current tastes. Indeed, the trend for oversized watches, highly popular only a few years ago, is definitely waning. The case height of 13.8 mm is greater than my “hands-on”experience would suggest. I suspect this is because the caseback sits much lower than the caseband, however, in reality the watch nuzzled into the fleshy part of my wrist, according a high degree of wearer comfort.
Where Grand Seiko dominates the majority of watch brands is in the zaratsu polishing employed on its cases. I can think of few other timepieces that deliver the same tactile delight as that proffered by Grand Seiko. The super-smooth case treatment, sometimes called blade polishing, is practiced by time-served expert hands, delivering a silk-like smoothness, absent of any sharp edges.
The caseback is equipped with a sapphire crystal, revealing the self-winding movement within. The three-rows bracelet and folding clasp, once again, reveal a palpable feeling of quality to their construction.
The Calibre 9R66A movement couples the emotion of a mechanical movement with a quotient of ingenious technology. The unidirectional oscillator is controlled with an electromagnetic brake, hence the absence of the ‘tick-tock’ sound typical of a movement equipped with a Swiss lever escapement.
Despite embracing modernity, Grand Seiko has not eschewed craftsmanship. The partially open-worked oscillating mass is adorned with a sunray motif, while the bridges below feature a series of vertical stripes, similar in concept to Geneva stripes, but with a decidedly Japanese character.
The movement contains 30 jewels and has a power reserve of 72 hours.
While I appreciate each element of the Spring Drive SBGE005, I concede some readers may still favor a Swiss lever escapement, enjoying the metronomic beat of a pallet jewel interfacing with an escape wheel. For these traditionalists, Grand Seiko offer an alternative model, equipped with its high frequency 36,000-vph (5hz) movement, the SBGJ001. This watch includes a GMT function and shares many of the attributes of the Spring Drive SBGE005, albeit not matching its peerless level of precision.
The problem with Grand Seiko is once you become smitten with one model, you invariably feel encouraged to buy another. I like both of Grand Seiko’s approaches to the dual-time indication and ultimately, if I had the fiscal means I would readily select both.
My Grand Seiko experience in Budapest reminded me — not that a reminder was needed — why I hold this Japanese watch company in the highest esteem. The watches are crafted to a high standard, offer excellent precision, prove simple to interpret, and confer excellent wearer comfort.
I have no doubt that Grand Seiko will prove popular with Hungary’s watch buying public and, based on my friendly encounter with the Budapest boutique’s staff, it deserves to flourish.
Model: Grand Seiko Spring Drive (Ref. SBGE005)
Case: Stainless steel; diameter 41 mm; height 13.8 mm; sapphire crystal front and caseback
Functions: Hours; minutes; central sweep seconds; power-reserve indicator; date
Movement: Caliber 9R66, self-winding movement; 30 jewels; power reserve over 72 hours
Bracelet: Stainless steel bracelet with folding clasp
Price: £4,500 (MSRP as of September 2015)
Where I tried on the watch: Seiko Boutique Budapest, 1065 Budapest, Bajcsy Zs. út 15/d