EDITOR’S PICKS: The best Grand Seiko watches – and movements – according to @mrgrandseiko

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Nick Kenyon

Editor’s note: Quality not quantity? Grand Seiko proves that you can actually do both. The sheer output of the Japanese brand is extraordinary. It feels like they’re constantly releasing new product across a bewildering range of categories from diving watches to GMTs and diamond-studded dress watches to pieces that walk the line between sporty and dressy. Whether you’re after quartz, Spring Drive, or mechanical, there’s a plethora of options. Frankly, it can be hard to keep up.

That’s why we spoke to Daniel Yong, a man who lives and breathes Grand Seiko. His Instagram handle is @MrGrandSeiko and he runs a blog called Mr Zaratsu in reference to the famed case-polishing method used by the brand. It’s safe to say he has immersed himself in the brand over years, building his scholarship of both vintage and modern references from Grand Seiko, which he shares with the enthusiastic online community. Unsurprisingly, Daniel is also an excellent source of information when it comes to the most noteworthy watches released in recent years, the references that have potential to become future classics, and what the legacy Grand Seiko has built over the last 60 years really means. (Unless otherwise stated, all of these stunning pictures are ours and taken by T+T’s Jason Reekie.)

interview Daniel Yong

Hi Daniel, thanks for taking the time today. You’re a Grand Seiko collector and it’s clear you have a deep passion for the brand. Why is that, and what speaks to you most about the Grand Seiko DNA? 

I love that the brand embodies everything about Japanese culture. The relationship with precision, craftsmanship, the incorporation of nature and constant evolvement is 100 per cent clear in their designs. With these aspects being formulated a few decades ago, the brand dared to take on the giants of the watch industry during the ’60s. Like, seriously, can you imagine how bad-ass you would have to be to one day stand up and tell your company that they were about to begin a mission to take on the best in the business and beat them at it? You’re either ballsy, stupid or truly believe in your products. I dare say that Grand Seiko is a combination of confidence, hard work and a strong belief that their products would impress once released into the world. That belief is super inspiring to me and a reminder to not just myself, but to all of us, that it’s a good thing to step outside of our comfort zones every now and then. 

To add on, Japan and its people have a history of living with nature. In this sense, being a country from Asia, there’s heaps of correlation with other Asian influences. In particular, my own. The Chinese (I’m also part Cambodian) and Japanese share a similar respect to nature and how it ties into our lives. This is seen in their design language. Take, for instance, the recent Grand Seiko Seasons editions, where they drew upon the changing environment to inspire the dial patterns and colours. Then you’ve got the way the brand plays with light and shadow. It’s just awesome that they can use something that occurs naturally to elevate the beauty of their watches. The thought that you could take something cold and machine-like, and illustrate a story with the environment is just so cool.

This year is the 60th anniversary of the launch of Grand Seiko as a brand. How do you look at Grand Seiko’s contributions to horology over that period? 

The first Grand Seiko Ref. 3180 from 1960.

Grand Seiko has provided the industry with something different. Something for collectors to be excited about while giving the competition something to be cautious of. When using the word cautious, we often use it in a way associated with danger. But I actually mean it as a good thing. When we are cautious of something, we tend to plan or prepare for it. Grand Seiko has forced other manufacturers to step up their game or be taken over by the “other”. This results in brands becoming better at what they do when they know that the competition is just as good. 

Furthermore, just look at Grand Seiko’s achievements within the last few decades! They have a range of case designs, dials and movements on their resume that range from quartz, Spring Drive and the mechanical 9S series. And note, these are all completely made in-house!

Of the innovations that Grand Seiko have been responsible for over the last 60 years, which is the one you are most interested in? 

If we’re talking about movements, my favourites are the manual-wind calibers, just like every other watch nerd. I currently own two by Grand Seiko. The 9S64 housed in my SBGW031, and the newer 9S63 with the quirky small seconds hand featured on the SBGK007. However, the one that excites me and keeps me engaged, is the Spring Drive and 9F quartz movements. The way that the Spring Drive seconds hand moves across the dial is like watching Roger Federer belt a winning backhand down the line followed with a flick of his locks. Just graceful, man. 

And the 9F quartz? I just love how it goes against what traditional fans think is true horology. Who doesn’t like a bad boy that doesn’t follow the rules? The fact that the movements in the Grand Seiko quartz pieces are highly decorated is a statement that they are proud of their technology. And let’s not forget how accurate these things are —  up to +/- 5 seconds per year! There’s also the fact that the quartz line is generally more affordable than their mechanical or Spring Drive line, which is a bonus. I also love the idea that the average person can get a piece of the brand and join the “Grand Seiko family”. 

But, to be honest, I’m not really much of a technical guy. Don’t get me wrong, I love everything about learning how a movement works, but the aesthetics of the design is more important for me. I want the watch to look good on my wrist! In saying that, the Grammar of Design is the innovation I am most interested in. It’s what makes Grand Seiko instantly recognisable and distinguished from their European counterparts. The idea of having multi-faceted surfaces on the case that interact with light and shadow is awesome. I’m excited to see where the brand takes this design language in the future. 

Zaratsu polishing

What is your favourite of the special limited edition pieces that Grand Seiko have released to celebrate the 60th anniversary, and why? 

Man, this is like asking me to pick my favourite food! I adore the majority of the releases, but the two that stand out for me right now are the SBGW258 and the SLGH002. Do you see a pattern? In the words of Goldmember from the Austin Powers film, “I love gold!”

Grand Seiko SBGW258 SBGW257 SBGW259
The Grand Seiko SBGW258 on the right.

But hold up, let me explain why I love these two. The SBGW258 is another re-creation of the first Grand Seiko. While it’s not the first in yellow gold (think the SBGW004 and SBGW252), it finally offers fans an exhibition caseback. The first Grand Seiko is my favourite vintage Grand Seiko for aesthetic reasons and its history. The SBGW258 is faithful, but with a modern case size that would look good on both slender and big wrists. While that yellow warm tone of the gold provides a level of class, and induces nostalgic feelings of being embraced in your mother’s arms as a child.

The caseback of the Grand Seiko SBGW258.

The SLGH002, on the other hand? Now this is a completely new design from the brand. Firstly, it’s also gold. And then it’s almost like the designers at Grand Seiko took the ‘Grammar of Design’ rules and injected it with Bane-like steroids (I hope your readers are Batman fans). If you look at it closely, there’s an incredible amount of workmanship on display here.

Grand Seiko SLGH002
The Grand Seiko SLGH002.

A case that features a clever combination of brushed and polished surfaces, providing a backdrop for the dial, which, in my opinion, is where the main event starts. From the indices to the new hour and minute hands, there’s a complex design language here that used the different facets to play with the light. This is obviously to enhance the beauty and legibility. I’m telling you, the SLGH002 will adapt to light or dark rooms, and still blind the wearer and those around them as it sparkles. 

Grand Seiko SLGH002
The Grand Seiko SLGH002 dial.

What are your thoughts on the 2020 Grand Seiko collection overall, including the limited editions? Are there any specific pieces or themes that stand out to you as interesting? 

There’s plenty to say about the collection overall, but if I could sum it up in one word, that word would be ‘elevated’. Since the return of the brand in 1988 with the first Grand Seiko quartz, they have always used designs that we love and are familiar with. In 2017 when they started operating separately from Seiko, the brand proved that these existing designs were also popular with new collectors. Fast forward to the present day, Grand Seiko has become a brand that every serious watch collector knows about and wants.

Grand Seiko has always been a brand that innovates and constantly evolves, pushing their limits in both technology and design. For example, the SBGK series and the previously mentioned SLGH002. But not only is the brand experimenting with new cases and dial designs, they’re beginning to use precious stones as seen in the SBGD205! Grand Seiko has always wanted to operate as a high-end manufacturer and I honestly believe they have only just started. So, if I could go back to why I chose the word ‘elevated’, I think it’s because the brand is now telling us that they’re ready to provide both old and new fans with designs not seen before.

The gemset Grand Seiko SBGD205.

Over the last few years Grand Seiko feels to have exploded onto the world stage of watches. Why do you think this is? Is it simply more energetic market development from the brand, or was the watch world ready to accept them all of a sudden? 

There were a number of key factors. With online platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, the brand was already slowly making a presence into the mainstream by collectors and enthusiasts alike. Then, of course, you have popular and highly influential online watch editorials, such as your site and others, that have been promoting the brand. However, credit needs to be given to the brand itself. After years of being available only in Japan, 2017 saw a new direction and strategy for Grand Seiko. I mean, what’s happening with the brand in the US is amazing. And only recently, the brand opened a boutique in the Place Vendôme in Paris.

The location of the new Grand Seiko boutique in Paris.

Speaking personally, the move to place Australia’s first-ever Grand Seiko boutique right here in my city of Sydney was an awesome strategy. I’ve had non-watch friends make remarks about seeing the boutique and looking through the display windows in awe, at the beautiful origami and watches. This, my friends, is how you get people talking and asking questions! 

The Grand Seiko boutique in Sydney.

With this impressive growth in knowledge of Grand Seiko recently, what do you hope to see next from the brand? Do you think they are on the right path in terms of their collections? 

I honestly think that they should continue releasing a bit of everything. Speaking of what I personally want to see, I want to see smaller-cased watches! The earlier vintage Grand Seiko models of the ’60s and ’70s are popular — in my opinion, anyway — because they wear smaller. I would love to see a new collection of smaller-cased watches that would speak to both men and women. Or even keep the current designs but offer them in at least two to three different sizes. 

In terms of the collection as it stands now, I find that there’s already a huge diversity. There really is something for everyone. From the most basic quartz model, to something high-end with a Spring Drive movement. Relatively speaking, they have a piece to match most budgets!

Maintaining a look at the future, where would you hope to see Grand Seiko after another 60 years?

Firstly, I hope that I’d still be alive! But I do hope that the brand continues to evolve while also remaining true to what makes them so unique. Who knows, there might be another technological advanced movement or two to come! 

You recently started an Instagram account that celebrates the best of the Grand Seiko community called @grandseikofamily. The Seiko and Grand Seiko enthusiast communities are clearly extremely close-knit and passionate. What is it about Grand Seiko that attracts such a devoted following? 

I can only speak from my own experience, but the Seiko and Grand Seiko community has always been one to embrace new and old collectors or curious people alike. Snobbery isn’t really a factor within these circles either, which is great. 

Once upon a time, the brand was very niche, and the people collecting them were serious watch nerds who also loved to share and learn from others. Even if they didn’t share a photo of a Grand Seiko (most likely because they were saving up to get one), they would share their thoughts and opinions on others. As a teacher, I always value inclusivity and welcome all those to learn. Life’s better when everyone is learning together and sharing opinions respectfully. And with that in mind, those are pretty much the values found within the best group on Instagram for Grand Seiko collectors. 

While I’m sure you have a few on your list, are there any specific Grand Seiko references from the last few years that you would really love to own? 

I always have heaps of fun thinking about this question, so thanks for asking, man! A majority of these are similar to or were actual pieces that I used to own. I once possessed the SBGM031, which was a limited-edition GMT from 2012 that featured a dial layout similar to the SBGM221.

Image: @mrgrandseiko

The difference between the two is that the SBGM031 featured a beautiful dark blue dial with a striking gold GMT hand. One day I would love to return this model to my wrist. And then there’s the new SBGW258 that I previously mentioned.

Grand Seiko First
The Grand Seiko SBGW258 on the right.

That faithful re-creation of the first Grand Seiko in solid yellow gold is just gorgeous! And I would love to one day add a Spring Drive and one of Grand Seiko’s dive watches into the collection. As you can see, Time+Tide readers, I ask you to be cautious of buying your first Grand Seiko. Because when you finally do, the bug is real and I doubt there would ever be a cure!