In 1993, Seiko launched the first Grand Seiko timepiece outfitted with Caliber 9F, an ultra-precise, extra-durable quartz movement that had been five years in development. This groundbreaking movement, which took the Grand Seiko’s reputation for elegantly simple design and timekeeping accuracy to new levels, gets a shout-out in 2018 from the newly independent Grand Seiko brand, with two limited-edition watches that will make their world debut at Baselworld 2018.
What made Caliber 9F so notable at the time was the unconventional thinking that inspired it. Rather than focus on adding additional functions (calendars, chronographs, alarms, etc.) to existing quartz watch movements, as so many brands were doing back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the Grand Seiko team decided to double down on the timekeeping essentials, making a quartz movement that was more precise, more robust, and more suitable to the Grand Seiko’s elegantly simple aesthetic. The result (in the 1993 watch pictured above) was a movement with the same long, broad hour and minute hands that could be driven without putting undue stress on the battery; a calendar change for the day-date display that was instantaneous; a “backlash” auto-adjust mechanism that prevented shuddering of the seconds hand; a twin-pulse control system for increased torque; and a special shield that protected the gear train and motor from dust. Most importantly — and the reason Caliber 9F has become regarded as one of the finest, best-performing quartz movements in the world — it maintained a precision of just +5 to -5 seconds per year.
The first of the two homage pieces launching this year, the 25th anniversary of the movement’s debut, is a fairly faithful re-creation of the original 1993 reference, with the same curves and contours to the case and bracelet. The case is larger, however, at a more 21st-century-contemporary 39.1 mm in diameter. The Grand Seiko logo replaces the Seiko logo at the 12 o’clock position, as it now does on all new Grand Seiko models as of 2017. A five-pointed star — symbolizing, the brand says, the +5 to -5 seconds-per-year precision — appears subtly above the 6 o’clock position. The most noticeable area in which the new Caliber 9F watch — Ref. SBGT241, limited to 1,500 pieces — differs from its historical inspiration is the dial, which features a relief pattern based on the traditional symbol for quartz (Seiko, of course, being the watch brand that pioneered the use of quartz oscillators in watch movements). Otherwise, the dial’s sword hands, applied indices, and day-date window at 3 o’clock are very similar to the original’s. The solid, screwed caseback is graced with Grand Seiko’s now-familiar lion emblem in yellow gold. The movement is Caliber 9F83, a modern descendant of the first Caliber 9F, which has since expanded to become a family. The watch will retail for $3,400 and will be available in April 2018.
The other commemorative edition, limited to just 600 pieces, takes its design cues not from the 1993 model but from the now-iconic Grand Seiko 44GS reference from 1967. Its case is a smidgen larger, at 40 mm in diameter, and it carries another member of the modern Caliber 9F family, the 9F82, which powers a simple date display rather than a day-date combo. The other major difference here is the bezel, which is in 18k yellow gold, echoing the golden hue of the quartz-pattern-motif dial, hands, and indices. The steel bracelet is also different, in a more traditional three-link style rather than the 1993 model’s combination of links and Milanese-type beads in the center.
What really makes the second model (Ref. SBGV238) notable is its use of a clear sapphire caseback to show off the movement — a feature exceedingly rare in the world of quartz-powered watches, even those possessed of as much prestige as the Grand Seiko. It’s well-chosen here because of the attractiveness of the movement, with its use of a striped pattern on the gold-colored plates. Each of the watches are numbered, 1 – 600, and will be available, Grand Seiko says, only at retailers in select markets, priced at $4,800.