Grand Seiko Spring Drive movement assembly, image credit : Grand Seiko
Grand Seiko was driven by the ‘determination to excel’ from its very start. The quest of making the ideal watch took Seiko team on a journey through many watches and calibers, which, 60 years later, left them with admirable collections. Each timepiece under Grand Seiko brand is not only a valuable addition to any collection, but still a worthy wristwatch and, not without reason, pinned to higher price end, at least when it comes to prices of Seiko’s pieces.
Today we’d like to take you on a journey through the bellies of Grand Seiko beasts during the years, to see what makes these pieces tick, so to say.
Before 1960, Swiss watches were the golden standard of accuracy, while Japanese timepieces were lower on the scale. It was the Grand Seiko that changed that fact.
Logically, the first Grand Seiko from 1960 had a mechanical caliber (and these are the first group we’ll discuss here). It was referenced to as 3180 (25 jewels, Seiko 5700 caliber family and 18,000 bph). Its accuracy was within ±12 to 3 seconds a day, but mind the fact that these were the 60s of the past century, which makes it awesomely punctuate. The first Grand Seiko had power reserves of 45 hours and it was the first Japanese made watch that was compliant with Swiss standard of excellence. Its successor was Grand Seiko Self Dater 44GS, from 1964, that defined Grand Seiko style and had 4420/4420B calibers inside (18,000/19,800 bph), with 27 jewels inside and belonged to Seiko 4400 caliber family.
Grand Seiko Self-dater, image credit : goodspress.jp
What followed was the first automatic Grand Seiko watch, 62GS in 1967. It has a self-winding mechanism on a 6245A/6246A caliber with 35 or 39 jewels (19,800 bph) from Seiko 6200 family.
Its successors were two 10 beat watches, automatic Hi-Beat 61GS with 61xx (family 6100) inside and the manual Hi-beat 45GS with 45xx (family 4500) in 1968. Both watches were the high end when it comes to punctuality, marked as V.F.A. aka Very Fine-Tuned watches and both beat at 36,000 bph.
The next introduction the same year was Grand Seiko for Women, 19GS with caliber 19xx inside (36,000 bph) from Seiko 1900 family. The year 1970 brought Grand Seiko Ultra Thin, automatic 56GS with 56xx caliber (28,800 bph) from Seiko 5600 family.
All watches and calibers mentioned above mark the Classic Grand Seiko era that lasted from 1960-1976. In 1976, the Grand Seiko went on pause for a decade, in order for Seiko to pioneer and explore the quartz movements.
In 1988, Seiko decided to revive the Grand Seiko brand, in combination with highly accurate quartz movements. The model that started the revival was the first Grand Seiko quartz watch, known as 95GS in 1988, with ± 10 seconds per year accuracy. In translation, this was far higher than with other known quartz movements at the time. The following year, 1989, brought the model 8NGS with about the same accuracy but with 10 bar water resistance added to the package.
More than a decade later, Grand Seiko 3FGS Quartz for Women was introduced in 1992, with ± 10 seconds per year accuracy. What followed was the Grand Seiko 9F8 Quartz in 1993 (the watch with revolutionary backlash auto-adjust mechanism) and, with it, the world saw the birth of the famous Seiko 9F family of quartz movements, marketed under "Quartz that surpasses quartz" tagline, which continued to evolve to the present day.
Grand Seiko 9F Quartz - SBGX267
Now, let us make a digression here and give you more info on why 9F still stands as a synonym for precision among quartz watches. Of course, that would also be the features that come with any of the watches containing movements of 9F quartz family:
The first development to the Grand Seiko 9F family of movements came in shape of 9F6 series in 1997, but not much was done in functional terms. At least not until year 2003, when Grand Seiko SBGX Quartz (2003) was presented to the world, with 9F61/9F62 movement and 40,000A/m anti-magnetic protection (which was the new peak when it comes to watchmaking). The 9F62 is the smallest of all 9F movements. Its best representatives today are models SBGX259, SBGX261 and SBGX263 from Grand Seiko Heritage collection.
Grand Seiko Sport 9F86 Quartz, image credit : hodinkee.com
Grand Seiko SBGX Antimagnetic 9F61 (models SBGR077 and SBGR079, resistant up to 80,000 A/m) from 2012 and Grand Seiko SBGV Quartz Tribute Self Dater 9F82 (SBGV009) from 2014 were no less worthy than the following 25th anniversary edition GMT model, especially if you remember that all of these watches are Grand Seiko, meaning they are handmade and tested by exquisite knowledge of the best of Seiko’s watchmakers. Note that 9F82 is almost the same as the standard caliber 9F62, but only slightly larger to fit the larger case of Grand Seiko.
The Grand Seiko Quartz GMT model was introduced in 2018, as a part of Grand Seiko Sport collection (models SBGN003 and SBGN005). There is also a limited edition: model named Grand Seiko Sport 9F86 Quartz Limited Edition 800 pcs (marked SBGN001) and its accuracy is adjusted to ±5 seconds per year. Comparing that with the fact that the accuracy of the whole 9F family is ±10 seconds or less per year makes it a super-hot catch among collectors.
Besides incorporating the latest technologies, Grand Seiko relies on the exceptional craft or its watchmakers, who can adjust parts by hand unbelievably precise. The human devotion to go into the detail as small as 1/100 of a millimeter in combination with high precision technology for parts making are what Seiko claims to be the secret behind its new generation of mechanical movements, named 9S family.
Along with it, the new GS standard was introduced in 1998, setting the bar higher than that of Swiss watches, but the things didn’t stop there. When it comes to the 9S series, we now also have the ‘Grand Seiko Special Standard’ with accuracy of +4/-2 seconds a day. So, let’s see what calibers fit into this family.
Basically, the 9S family can be divided into three groups of calibers:
Now let’s mention them in that order.
Grand Seiko Hi-Beat Automatic V.F.A. Limited edition 20th Anniversary of Caliber 9S, image source : monochrome-watches.com
The new generation of mechanical Grand Seiko movements was presented in 1998, with the model Grand Seiko SBGR Automatic (models marked with SBGR) with 9S51 inside (24 jewels and 28,800 bph). It was basically an updated version of the 5200 movement. The same year saw the release of models updated with date and a jewel more (also SBGR models) with movement 9S55 inside their cases.
The next development in 9S movements was named 9S54 in 2001, had manual winding and a decrease in jewels (20). It was presented in Grand Seiko SBGW Manual Winding models.
Grand Seiko SBGM Automatic GMT was introduced in 2002 with 9S56/66 (28,800 bph, date, GMT, 27 jewels) and a fourth, GMT hand.
9S67 movement was presented with Grand Seiko SBGL 3 Days Power Reserve in 2006 (28,800 bph, date, power reserve indicator, 41 jewels).
The year 2009 brought the evolution of Hi-Beat movements with 9S85 movement, that pitched the accuracy to +8/-1 in normal usage. Grand Seiko SBGH Hi-Beat owned 55 power reserve with this caliber inside (36,000 bph, date, 37 jewels).
Grand Seiko SBGR077 & SBGR079 Antimagnetic with caliber 9S65 inside, image source : ablogtowatch.com
Caliber 9S65 was presented with Grand Seiko SBGR Automatic 3 Days in 2010 (28,800 bph, date, 35 jewels) and Grand Seiko SBGR Antimagnetic in 2012 (28,800 bph, date, 35 jewels).
The new Hi-Beat wave brought the GMT update to the 9S85 with the release of Grand Seiko SBGJ Hi-Beat GMT in 2014, moved by 9S86 (36,000 bph, date, GMT).
We also want to mention the luxurious Grand Seiko STGK Ladies Automatic presented in 2018 moved by the tiny caliber 9S25/27 (28,800 bph, date, 33 jewels).
During the course of its history, Seiko proved that there are no mountains high enough inside the walls of its factories. That becomes even more true when Grand Seiko is in question. Therefore, Seiko has many stories close to fairy tales inside its pockets. What stands behind these stories in reality are extreme efforts, that most people just wouldn’t be willing to give. But in Japan, there’s a word for that - “Kaizen” - that closely translates to continuous improvement. Here’s one of those stories.
Back in the 70s, a young engineer had the courage to put his idea about the ‘everlasting watch’ into motion. Long story short, the man named Yoshikazu Akahane envisioned the mechanical watch with the accuracy of electronic watches. We can only imagine the determination of a man that held on to the idea during the course of 22 years, enduring setbacks on each corner and testing over 600 different prototypes. The end result was a revolution, simply said. The revolution called Spring Drive, born in 1999. The Spring Drive was in alignment with natural course of time, by telling it silently and perfectly accurate, as it naturally flows.
Grand Seiko Spring Drive 9R65 movement, image source : timelessluxwatches.com
But the first Spring Drive caliber wasn’t also the Grand Seiko Spring Drive movement, since it lacked power reserves dictated by new GS standards from 1998. The first Grand Seiko Spring Drive caliber was named 9R65 and was released in 2004. The beauty of it, which equals the functioning of a Spring Drive, was that it combined traditional mainspring with an electronic regulator. Now, we’ll make sure to analyze the parts that make a Spring Drive into details some other time, as it is a wonderful universe that any serious watch lover is thrilled to dive in. For now, it’s important that the Spring Drive offered the best of both mechanical and quartz movements. Watches driven by it were powered with motions of their wearers, but with accuracy levels far higher than any other. The 9R65 was an automatic caliber with manual winding, had 30 jewels and accuracy of ±1 second per day.
Grand Seiko Snowflake, image source : fratellowatches.com
Probably the most famous watch from Spring Drive driven Grand Seiko is the so called ‘Snowflake’, with its magnificent white dial. Officially marked as Grand Seiko SBGA Spring Drive Power Reserve, it had the very first Grand Seiko Spring Drive movement inside, along with 72 hours of power reserves. Add precision of one second a day to the package and you get quite close to both everlasting and ideal watch. There’s also the Snowflake GMT version worth mentioning, containing 9R66 inside (30 jewels, date, GMT). Another watch worth mentioning with the same caliber inside its case is Grand Seiko Spring Drive Diver 200m.
Grand Seiko SBGC Spring Drive Chronograph arrived in 2007, hiding 9R86 in its case (50 jewels, date, GMT, Chronograph). The version with the new case and caliber 9R96 (50 jewels, date, GMT, Chronograph) was released in 2019.
The freshest development when it comes to Grand Seiko Spring Drive calibers include movement 9R02 with two mainsprings, 39 jewels and 84 hours of power reserve and caliber 9R01 with three barrels, 56 jewels, 192 hours of power reserve and astonishing accuracy of ±0.5 seconds per day.
Since Grand Seiko stands for luxury that includes both Seiko’s best watchmakers and advanced technologies, one can never go wrong by choosing any of the above-mentioned movements. All of these watches are still handsomely priced, which speaks a lot about their worth. But to be honest, Spring drive benefits of both mechanical and quartz parts so it seems like by going with one of its Grand Seiko calibers may be the best decision. However, there are still plenty of gems for both quartz and mechanical fans out there. One thing is for sure, though - Grand Seiko driving system may only get better with time.
Written by M.H. , Photo by others as noted
Continue to read the Whole Grand Seiko Reading Series
The Road To Grand Seiko - SUWA & DAINI Seikosha
Seiko vs Grand Seiko - Grand Seiko Timeline
Grand Seiko Spring Drive vs Hi Beat
Grand Seiko Movements, 3 Driving System
Grand Seiko Boutique Limited Edition SBGJ235 Hi-Beat 36000 GMT
Grand Seiko 9S Movement
Grand Seiko Spring Drive 9R movement