SBGH035, the review
"SPECIAL" for several reasons
2014 was a particularly good year for Seiko.
- Presentation of the 9S86 Hi-Beat 36000 GMT caliber, winner of the “Petite Aiguille” Price at the GPHG competition,
- Tribute of the " Self-Dater” GS model of 1964 (GS57),
- Release of the Prospex collection in the Europe market,
- Presentation of 3 SPECIAL Hi-Beat GMT 36000 models.
Even if the "SPECIAL" word is of course relative to in the finely adjusted 9S85 caliber, the SBGH035 is also "SPECIAL" to me for several other reasons:
- It is not made in noble metal! Besides this significant financial aspect, it is rare to see a "SPECIAL" made of stainless steel. It is also a limited edition
- The dial is structured. To my knowledge this is the only model with such a dial among the mechanical collection. If the decoration of the dial is a much introduced tradition at Seiko, such structured dials are rather rare on the mechanical models: SBGH017 of 2012 produced to 150 pieces for the Asian market, SBGH031 for Asia also to 200 pieces (Superb!!), and even more confidential models. They are not the standard, far from it!
- The case does not look like all the traditional or contemporary models.
I guess you already understood that the SBGH035 was love at first sight to me and my love became stronger. Thanks to this review, I have the impression to rediscover some aspects of this emblematic model.
The case, unity ... and feminity?
The case is quite different from the designs provided by Seiko since its mechanical movement in 1998:
- It is not an updated design of the historic models like SBGW033, 039 and 040 and also to a certain extent the SBGR061 model which features circular cases with added on lugs (although more integrated into the SBGR061 model).
- Nothing to do either with the designs of the contemporary cases like SBGH001 and 005 in which lugs are an integral part of the case and are very strongly marked.
- We do not find either the design partially used for the 44GS and which can be found in SBGJ001, 003, 006 models, with again lugs as an integral part of the case but shorter and more sharped. - nor the intermediate design of the SBGR051, 053...
Homogeneity and femininity are the first words which came to me when I discovered the case. A perfect mix of curves and edges, polished and brushed parts. The general line is quite a very delicately one.
We find on the SBGH035 a kind of retaining wall in which the central part of the case seems to fit closely round. In profile, it gets thinner inward to prepare the integration of the bottom. It ends in soft lines up to lugs. The lugs have no edges, they are curved.
The top of this retaining wall is brushed. The side part is handled with the famous polishing called Zaratsu or blade polishing. This technique, exclusively entrusted to the most skilful and experienced craftsmen is made by carefully applying a rotating tin plate against the case at a very precise angle. As I notify in my 44GS review, the result is absolutely flawless and it is incredible to watch through a magnifying glass and also a challenge to be photograph!
I particularly enjoy the junction between the internal part of lugs and case.
The middle part of the case is more complex than it shows at first sight: it comprises several stacked elements which end by a shiny finish bezel crowned by a sapphire glass..
Some will find the thickness of 13,5mm a little high but like many people on Internet, I think that you cannot incorporate a devilish precision movement without taking technical constraints (size for example) into consideration. And personally, I think that the designers of Seiko particularly distinguished themselves.
Crown is at 3 o’clock. It is slightly fitted in a recess within the box which compensates the fact that the case is slightly thinness at the bottom.
It is magnificently worked and has a rounded extremity, featuring the GS logo.
- Manual winding,
- Quick-change correction for date (1st click),
- Time setting (2nd click with stop second).
The case back
The SBGH035 features a screwed case back and I guess its metallic part is rounded to soften the contact with the skin.
A sapphire crystal back reveals the caliber 9S85 "SPECIAL". I’ll get back to it later.
Some literature in English language explains:
- The model is a limited edition of 300 pieces,
- In stainless steel, made in Japan by the best craftsmen of the Shizuku-ishi Watch Studio, in charge of the production of the mechanical luxury watches Credor and Grand Seiko in Morioka,
- 10 bars water resistance,
- Fitted out with the caliber 9S85-00R0,
- Magnetic resistance of at least 4800A / hour (60 Gauss - ISO764:2002).
The dial, the pursuit of the Zen attitude?
The dial... What can I say about this dial? As I explained earlier, it is just right now unique among the GS mechanical collection. Would I dare to say that I do not understand why such a dial was not also associated with SBGH019, 020 and 022? However that may be, it quite takes part in the uniqueness of the SBGH035 in the current collection. Let’s not deny our pleasure, as it is a real delight for the eyes!
From distance, and particularly when we diagonally admire it, it seems totally plain and immaculate white, as fresh snow. Then, as we get closer, the uniformity turns into complexity with engraved concentric arabesques filling in the whole dial surface. The repetitive pattern also generates a sunray dial aspect.
I am totally ignorant in Japanese art, but the patterns remind me of some geometrical drawings of the dry Zen gardens (Karesansui). As it was assured me, that's actually not the case in reality (sic!).The pattern is stamped by a mold. The colour is deep. We can notice a pearly or iridescent aspect because after painting, the top of the dial is coated to give more in depth feeling to it.
Its literature comprises five lines using different polices. Seiko and the logo GS are made of steel and applied on the dial. The Grand Seiko font is bold black, whereas the "SPECIAL" logo is the same when it was created in 1970.
The HI-BEAT 36000 words relating to the movement are printed in blue, as a reminder of the sweep seconds hand colour. A tiny "Japan 9S85 00F0 R 2" at 6 o’clock completes the rather fertile literature of the dial! No Arabic numeral or Roman around the dial.
The use of magnifying glasses is revealing the great skill of the Seiko craftsmen. Despite the fact they engrave the dial, no flaw can be found. The cleanliness and the alignment of all the letters are impressive.
Hands and markers
I do not know if it is the dial rendering which highlights the explosion of light on markers and hands, but the result is absolutely stunning!
Markers are made steel and applied on the dial. They are together high and narrow. They are a combination of 9 faces totally polished by diamond-cut. The index at 12 o’clock is double.
Hands are also made of steel in a faceted Dauphine shape with a particularly sharp sledge. Their large surfaces still highlights the lighting effects of the markers.
The legibility is perfect, the extremity of hands shows through the small graduations of minutes.
Note that the sweep seconds hand is blue, which differs for example from the SBGW047 model which uses a dark sweep hand. Only the white gold version which uses the blue sweep seconds hand.
The engraved dial and the color of the sweep seconds hand allow make it easy to differentiate SBGH035 and SBGH019 models.
The day aperture is at 3 o’clock. Its bottom seems to be finished in brushed aluminum color, and the black letterpress is thin. It is raised by a steel edge, with mirror-polished effect.
On the other hand, there is a quick calendar correction using the crown but the date change is set between 11:30 PM and 0:30 AM.
The sapphire crystal features anti-reflective coating in order to enhance legibility and to reduce glare. It is slightly domed on both faces and raised about 1mm above the bezel. It helps highlight the depth of the dial.
As mentioned previously, the "SPECIAL" term applies to the movement inside the SBGH035 model, an fined tuned version of the standard 9S85 caliber. And the notion of “standard” should be used with caution when speaking of 9S Grand Seiko calibers.
Standard version of Cal. 9S85 - © Seiko Watch Corp.
The accuracy figures
Some researches show that the GS calibers accuracy is nothing to be ashamed of, as compared to their competitors.
A standard GS caliber is ranked above a COSC movement and comparing the accuracy of a Patek Philippe caliber to a “SPECIAL” GS is not illegitimate in my opinion.
Kobayashi Seiya analysis. The new GS standard has been established in 1988.
(*) see http://www.grand-seiko.com/manufacture/mechanical_02.html
The caliber 9S85 Hi-Beat was exclusively developed for the Grand Seiko collection in 2009, 41 years after the creation of the first movement Hi-Beat 61GS. Seiko manufacturing facilities make all of their components and used many leading-technical solutions to tune this 10-beat movement:
- MEMS technology (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems) for the escape wheel and the pallet design in order to build elements strong enough to support the imperatives and the constraints of high frequency,
- Patented alloys Spron 530 for mainspring, Spron 610 for balance spring more resistant against magnetic powers, shocks and a 55-hours power reserve.
The caliber 9S85 "SPECIAL" is more finely tuned than the standard movement because it needs to successfully pass the “SPECIAL” test inspection.
(*) See http://www.grand-seiko.com/manufacture/mechanical_03.html and http://www.seiko-cleanenergy.com/watches/mechanical-1.html
All the components are the same that the standard model, except the lion medallion in 18K yellow gold on the rotor, reminding the vintage GS middle emblem, as it was prior to the usage of sapphire crystal backs. This is the sign of an exceptional GS model.
The rotor beveling and polishing finish are particularly visible through the sapphire crystal back. Bridges and rotor are decorated with « Côtes de Tokyo ».
This level of surfacing does not only aim at improving aestheticism, but also improve the performances and thus the accuracy of the caliber. It is a clearly assumed choice by Seiko and not a will to compete with Patek Philippe or Vacheron Constantin surfacing.
Strap and buckle, soberness
Contrary to the tribute to the Vintage models, the watch does not come with an ardillon buckle but with a very sober and functional folding clasp. The bracelet is a satiny black crocodile.
Since several months, an idea keeps running through my mind: the making of a blue strap to highlight the sweep seconds hand. To be continued!
Wearing and conclusion
The SBGH035 fits perfectly on the wrist. It shows as a dressy but sober watch. Its weight is very pleasant.
In conclusion, the SBGH035 is an exceptional model in the current collection and grants me a lot of pleasure every time I wear it.
A special thanks to Keiko Naruse (Seiko brand PR and AD department) for the original Seiko pictures and her technical and historical points verification. The remaining errors are mine. Another special thanks to Frédéric, he succeeded in rereading and correcting my English. The remaining errors are mine too.
This message has been edited by cazalea on 2015-09-21 12:56:08