This is an in-depth review of the Grand Seiko SBGM003 GMT automatic with ivory dial.
The Grand Seiko GMT SBGM003
By Su JiaXian
I first encountered this watch several years ago when a notable personality on this website acquired one; he posted some excellent photos of the watch which caught my attention. Back then the Grand Seiko line was not available outside of Japan so I had to wait till Seiko finally decided to market the Grand Seiko range in Asia.
That finally happened in 2005. Seeing the watch in person at the Seiko showroom sealed the deal - I had to get one. But the Grand Seiko line costs 25% more expensive outside of Japan, so I decided to wait for the chance to get one in Japan. Other watches got in the way but this watch always remained at the back of my mind. Later last year, the day of reckoning arrived when a good friend told me he was going to holiday in Japan - I had to write out a cheque when he returned.
I’ve worn this watch for several months now but I have yet to tire of it. Despite its conservative, almost staid, design, it is a beautiful watch. As with all other Grand Seiko models, this watch has lots of shiny bits. Nearly all the metal parts of the face are bevelled and polished, the hour markers and hands are themselves miniature works of art.
Even under a loupe - or a 100mm macro lens for that matter - the finish on the markers and hands is immaculate, all edges are perfectly sharp. The 24-hour hand, blued by hand over a flame, is a beautiful deep blue that complements the rest of the dial. Attention to detail extends to even the frame around the date window. That displays two different finishes, the outer rim is polished while the inner portion is frosted.
Worthy of mention is the seconds hand, which is ovoid in cross-sectional shape rather than flat. The seconds hand curves down towards the dial at the minute markers to prevent parallax error; what is interesting is the way that curve is created - a craftsman uses a rolling pin like device to form the curve for each seconds hand.
Quality is also top notch in the dial itself. It displays a perfectly smooth ivory lacquer finish along with flawless printing of text and numbers. Some may find the five lines of text - “Seiko” and “GS” and “Grand Seiko” plus “automatic” and “GMT” - overpowering and redundant but I think the dial actually looks better with all that writing.
Like the dial and hands, the case is extremely well made. It is polished throughout and is bevelled on the edges of the lugs and bezel; the bezel actually has three surfaces. One of the highlights of this watch and other models in the Grand Seiko line is the domed sapphire crystal. It is reminiscent of the domed acrylic crystal found in vintage watches which is no doubt the intention of its creators, judging by the aesthetics of majority of the Grand Seiko line. Such crystals are expensive to manufacture and consequently are rarely used in watches of this price.
The diameter of this watch is 39.5mm, an ideal size, but it wears slightly larger for two reasons. One is the light coloured dial and relatively thin bezel, the other is that the lugs narrow towards the strap, meaning the inner width of the lugs is wider at the bezel than at the strap. That gives the impression that the dial and bezel are larger. The watch is 13.5mm thick, with about a millimetre or two due to the domed crystal.
On to the clasp - like the rest of the watch, it is very well finished; the steel keeper is brushed with polished bevelled edges and the “Grand Seiko” text on the buckle is well embossed. The design of the clasp is clever, it combines both a folding claps and a tang buckle, and the latter can be removed for the watch to be worn on a pin buckle. One drawback is that the steel keeper can rattle when the watch is worn.
Functionally, this watch works perfectly. It offers a dual time zone function that works like the classic Rolex GMT-Master II, a quick-set 12-hour hand that also changes the date forwards and backwards. Rotating the hour hand multiple times to reach the correct date can be tedious, but once set it is very convenient to use when travelling. Adjustment is also helped by the appropriately sized crown which is easy to grip. Waterproofing is to 30m, enough for daily activities and travelling.
Timekeeping is never an issue with Grand Seiko watches. Seiko emphasises the accuracy tests that all Grand Seiko watches must undergo in order to achieve the “Grand Seiko standard” and my particular watch runs about three to four seconds fast a day, excellent by any standard.
This model, the SBGM003, retails for JPY451,500 with tax, and JPY430,000 without. The tax-free retail is equivalent to US$4341 or so, which is tremendous value, especially since this can usually be purchased with a small discount from smaller shops though not the big department stores like Isetan or Takashimaya.
When I first received this watch I wrote this on the forum, “I rarely make absolute statements but in this case I am sure that the external components, dial, hands, case and crystal, are of the best quality and finish I have ever seen on a watch in this price range.” I suspect Seiko can achieve such quality due to its large production volume and sophisticated production technology, rather than using more labour. But that is beside the point. The fact that Seiko can create a watch like this at this price point is remarkable.
Addendum: click here for a review after 18 months of ownership.
Photo courtesy of Morioka Seiko Instruments Inc.
This watch is also available with a display back and an engraved gold rotor from the factory store at the Morioka Seiko Instruments Inc. factory in Iwate Prefecture on Honshū Island where the Grand Seiko watches are made. This factory special edition has the model reference SBGM00C and retails for JPY472,500 with tax, a small premium over the regular production model. Unfortunately one has to buy it in person at the factory, there is no mail order.This message has been edited by SJX on 2010-07-15 23:39:34