Top of the Pops: Grand Seiko Diver SBGA231

I am a long-term watch collector. Most of my pieces I acquired for less than 1.000 Euro, many even for less than 500. I do own many Seikos, some Swiss brands, some German and very few microbrands. So the acquisition of a Grand Seiko is not a normal thing for me – it’s very very special, it’s top of the pops in my collection. And I don’t mean the price point. Well, at least not only…

Let’s have a look at history first, because history is important for every serious watch collector. The first watch called Grand Seiko was released 1960. It was manufactured at the Suwa Seikosha factory (today: Seiko Epson). The movement was the handwinding 3180.

First Grand Seiko (Picture copyright by Seiko Corp.)

In 1967 Daini Seikosha (today: Seiko Instruments) produced their first Grand Seiko, the 44GS. The design became a milestone for future Grand Seikos, you can see the genes of this design even in the recent collection. The movement was a milestone too: The 61GS was a self-winding movement with an accuracy of +/-2 sec/24h (that’s what Rolex guarantees today) and it won some Swiss Chronometer competitions, something never heard of before. Another great movement was the hand winding 5722. You can see the beautiful Grand Seiko from 1967 with this movement, watch is property of my my friend ajiba54.

44GS from 1967 (picture copyright by Seiko cCorp.)
57GS from 1967 with 5722 movement

I cant’t list all milestones from Grand Seiko, if you are interested you can visit the Grand Seiko Homepage of your country, where you can find lots of material. Two more events I will mention:

In 1988 the first Grand Seiko Quartz was released, the 95GS movement had an accuracy of +/-10 sec/month, better than todays normal Quartz movements. Grand Seiko watches with Quartz movement in the recent collection have an accuracy of +/-10 sec – in a year!! All components are made by Seiko itself, including the selected Quartz crystals.

Grand Seiko with 95GS Quartz movement from 1988 (picture and watch by ajiba54)

The other important milestone was the release of the Spring Drive movement, first appeared in Grand Seiko in 2004. I think we should have a closer look at Spring Drive, because this is a movement like no other.

In 1977 a young engineer named Yoshikazu Akahane had the idea to put the best things from a Quartz and a mechanical movement together in a whole new type of movement to bring his vision to life: a movement that shows the continuing flow of time. The second hand should not make one step per second like in Quartz watches and not some little steps like in mechanical watches (the High Beat movements make up to 10 steps per second), it should move without any steps in a continuous move. It took him and his team 22 years until this vision came true. In 1999 the movement worked as he wanted. It took another 5 years to optimize the concept for a Grand Seiko with the 9R65 movement. This movement is used until today and it’s also the heart of my SBGA231.

9R65 Spring Drive (Picture copyright Seiko Corp.)

Spring Drive has a mainspring like any mechanical movement as the source of the power and a self-winding mechanism to power it up, so no battery is needed. The self-winding mechanism is more or less the same Magic Lever construction as in any automatic Seiko. But the accuracy of the watch is not controlled by a balance wheel like in mechanic movements but by a highly accurate Quartz crystal oscillator and an electronic circuit. The second hand is moved by a flywheel and is slowed down by an electromagnetic brake. So you have the advantage of Quartz (high accuracy) and mechanical movements (high tourque, no battery) combined and as a special attribute the continuous moving of the second hand. Because of the mechanical parts the Spring Drive movements don’t reach the accuracy of the Grand Seiko Quartz watches. Grand Seiko guarantees +/- 1 sec/24h or +/-15 sec/month. However my watch after five days doesn’t show any difference compared to the atomic time. But the reason I bought a Spring Drive watch was not accuracy, it was the moving of the second hand. Look at the short video.

In May 2019 I put my hands on first demo models of the new Seiko LX series and decided: Once I have the money I will some day buy the LX Land. All LX models are with Spring Drive movement and all are made of titanium which makes the watches very comfortable to wear.

Seiko LX Land

But when unexpected the money knocked on the door I want to be really, really sure to buy the best Spring Drive Seiko for me and I tried some other models, including the GS Diver, although it seems too big for me reading the dimensions: 45mm diameter, 50,4mm lug2lug size and a height of 14,2mm. But it’s not the first time a watch has a completely different appearance as you would expect. The curved case fitted perfectly on my wrist (I had this experience with the even bigger Sumo before) and the special conical bezel insert gave it a height of only 12,5mm on the edges of the watch – this watch would easily fit under any shirt cuff.

GS Diver Titanium SBGA231

The GS Diver SBGA231 is – like the LX models – fully made of titanium. Surprisingly it doesn’t look like titanium, there is nothing left of that typical grey colour. Compared to my other titanium watch, the Shogun Red Zimbe (https://michaelswatchblog.de/2019/10/12/the-red-side-of-life-seiko-shogun-zimbe-red-spb099/) it’s even more shiny. I don’t think anybody will identify the material as titanium just from the looks. He only will be suspicious when he gets the watch in his hand. Why is this watch so light weighted? The total weight with full bracelet is 131 g, compared to 201 g of the steel version SBGA229. It’s also 1.000 Euros more expensive, but it’s worth every cent, believe me, because this is an extremely comfortable watch in this version.

One follower of my Instagram channel asked me to compare the GS Diver with my Marinemaster 300 (SBDX017). The MM300 has a diameter of 44mm, a Lug2Lug size of 49,6mm and a height of 15,3mm. So the MM300 seems to be a bit smaller. But that’s not what your eyes see. Especially the conical bezel insert makes the GS Diver looks smaller. And the MM300 has a weight of 230 g. Because of its monocoque case it’s even heavier than the steel version of the GS Diver. And the height gave it totally other proportions. It lays heavy on your wrist, feeling indestructible whatever will come. If you like this feeling more than a very comfortable watch, then the steel version of the GS Diver or the new Marinemasters are the right watches for you. If not…

Marinemaster 300 SBDX017

Let’s have a look at the bracelet: The very beautiful polished and satin parts gave the watch a distinctive and noble look. Shortening is very easy with the typical Seiko collar/pin System. The clasp is technically the same as the Marinemaster clasp with the same diving extension system, but it seems better finished. You have also four normal positions for micro adjustments.

The case has drilled lugs for easy strap change. But why do you want to change this beautiful bracelet? The case has the beautiful Zaratsu polish, hand made by experts in Seikos Grand Seiko factory in Shiojiri. This is for sure the most beautiful watch case I have ever seen. And even the indices are hand polished, you can see the high quality everywhere you look at this piece.

All in all it’s a true masterpiece and really top of the pops in my collection!

Diameter 45 mm
Lug2lug 50,5 mm
Height 12,5 – 14,2 mm
Movement 9R65 Spring Drive
Lug width 22 mm
Golden GS Logo indicates the titanium version
Conical bezel insert
Power reserve indicator (all Spring Drive movements have a power reserve indicator)
Perfect hands finishing
Lume pip
Crown
Bottom with GS Lion Logo
Lumibrite
Masterpiece
Wristshot

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