By Meor Amri Meor Ayob

I have been collecting Seiko watches for years now. However, one sub-brand that I have yet to get my hands on is the Grand Seiko series. Recently, I was given the opportunity to re-address this situation with the acquisition of the Seiko SBGE001 Spring Drive GMT. The SBGE001 is a GMT watch. One of the bigger watches in the Grand Seiko range, it has a 43.5 mm diameter face and a 14.7 mm thick case. The stainless steel construction (including the bracelet) tips the scale at 177 grams. Powered by the Spring Drive movement, this is one of the most accurate hybrid mechanical timepieces one can find apart from pure quartz watches.

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The Spring Drive is a watch movement that was developed by Seiko Epson through collaboration with Seiko Instruments and Seiko Holdings. To date, it is the only commercially available wristwatch embedded technology capable of truly creating a continuous movement of the second hand, instead of the traditional beats per time unit as seen in quartz or mechanical watches. It uses a mainspring, barrel, automatic winder and stem winding like in a mechanical watch to store energy. The conventional escapement is replaced with a device that Seiko calls a Tri-synchro Regulator to regulate the unwinding of the mainspring. The regulator controls the use of the three forms of energy used in the Spring Drive mechanism; the mechanical power of the mainspring, the electrical energy generated from this mechanical power, and the electromagnetic energy that governs the rotation of the glide wheel. The energy produced by the glide wheel is used to power a control circuit and quartz crystal oscillator, which in turn regulates the electro-mechanical braking of the glide wheel.

The glide wheel’s speed is sampled 8 times per second (i.e. each time it makes a complete revolution around the regulator) and compared with the reference quartz signal by the circuit. A variable braking force is continuously applied to regulate the glide wheel’s frequency. This is the only movement with a time-only feedback (or phase-locked) loop in existence today. The Tri-synchro Regulator’s innovations result in a watch where the hands glide instead of ticking as in a conventional mechanical or quartz watch. This is because the movement never stops as in a traditional escapement; it is slowed to the proper speed by the brake. The movement is specified to 1 second accuracy per day. However, 1-2s per month is the norm.

The quality of manufacturing and finishing is unsurpassed and sublimed. Using the best modern Japanese manufacturing technology can muster; Seiko also infused the traditional arts to make the end result something spectacular. The ancient art of Karatsu “blade” polishing derived from the manufacturing the katana blade (or Samurai sword) has been utilized on the SBGE001. The perfect combination of the steel they use, the way it is forged, and the polishing technique applied, gives the piece a gorgeous sparkle that competes with the finest haute horlogerie anywhere in the world.

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The dial is all black with hour markers and a power reserve indicator at the 8 o’clock position. Where the fourth hour marker supposed to be has been replaced with a date window with a white background. Only four markers at the top-bottom and left-right planes are partially painted with luminous paint. There are two other scales provided; the minute scale at the edge of the dial and a 24-hour scale in Arabic numbering on the sloping chapter ring. The hour, minute and second hands plus the hour markers are brushed with a high polish beveling. The GMT hand is painted red and luminous paint is put on the arrow head part of the GMT hand. Only the hour and minute hands were given luminous paint. The second hand is polished to a mirror finish.  The whole dial is protected by a domed, dual anti-reflective coated, high-definition sapphire crystal.

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What makes this watch looks different than other is its sapphire bezel. Seiko created a domed sapphire crystal for the bezel that gives it a seamless transition from bezel to dial window. Under that crystal are indexes and numerals painted with luminous paint. Unlike other watches, the index and markers on the bezel can be seen in the dark. The bezel is bi-directional and allows you to view up to three time zones at once. The use of sapphire crystal instead of the more commonly used ceramics for the bezel show the length that Seiko would go through to make the watch special. Although using ceramic bezel will give the same scratch resistance properties as sapphire crystal, taking a harder and expensive route is a testament of Seiko’s watch making pedigree. Only a true watch enthusiast will understand and appreciate this effort.

The photos below show you how mirror-like the polishing was done on the watch. It was extremely difficult trying to get a photo without getting any reflection despite not using flash photography.

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The watch comes with a solid screw-down case-back. The Grand Seiko Lion logo is prominently etched in the center of the case-back. Under this case-back is Seiko’s in-house movement the 9R66. With 30 jewels, this watch has 72 hours of power reserve and a magnetic protection of up to 4,800 A/m or 60 Gauss. Accuracy has been officially rated at + or – one (1) second a day although in reality it is more like + or – one second a month! The watch has a dive rating of 20 ATM or 200 meters.

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The lumiBrite paint used in the watch is proprietary to Seiko. It is brighter, longer-lasting and completely free of radioactive substances. Prove of its capabilities can be seen in the photo below. Moreover, the luminous bezel makes it even gorgeous in the dark.

The watch uses a dual push button release  with the Grand Seiko logo prominently etched in 3D (the the photo below). The watch sits perfectly on my wrist. With my 7.5 inch wrist, the 43.5 mm wide SBGE001 has the right dimensions. The highly polished stainless steel casing and bracelet makes it pop in a similar way precious metals do.

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The use of sapphire on both the bezel and dial window makes it look as if it is one continues piece. It has aura of a piece of art. Like Goldilocks, the watch is not too big or too small; not too brash or too plain; not too tough or too fragile; it is just perfect.

After a week of wearing it, the same exhilaration still gets to me when I put on my wrist to start the day.   Overall, an impressive watch. For more info, please visit seikowatches.com

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MEOR AMRI MEOR AYOB – CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

Meor Amri is a passionate watch collector from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Having bitten by the horology bug in 2010, he has written extensively about the watch scene and has assembled a large collection of watches (excessively!!!) on his own free time. His blogs on the same subject are: Eastern Watch & Western Watch Read his articles here.

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