Feature: Grand Seiko Shunbun vs Taisetsu
At some point in every watch person’s life, whether for real or hypothetically, there comes a decision. Shunbun or Taisetsu. Spring or winter. Cherry blossom or … the other one. Two great watches, and only one outcome. Winter is coming… or is it?
The problem all started back in 2005 when Grand Seiko announced to the world—well, at that point, just Japan—the Snowflake, a watch that bucked the trend for boring dials by sculpting a miniature snowscape right there, front and centre. It was such a revelation that despite it being a domestic watch, collectors around the world found a way to get their hands on it anyway, and so sparked the decision to formally launch Grand Seiko worldwide in 2010.
The ability of this breath-taking dial to persuade people to spend—as Nico Leonard says—over a grand on a Seiko was not lost on the big bosses back home, and so spun a web of wonder, inspired by the natural world just outside the Grand Seiko studios. From the terrain of Mount Iwate to the waves of Lake Suwa, no organic moment goes unnoticed.
And so, in 2019, Grand Seiko trolled the rest of the world by releasing a spread of watches that celebrate the four seasons in the US only. They did that with the Kira-zuri too and I still haven’t forgiven them for it. Anyway, as part of that collection there were two high beat mechanicals in steel, the Autumn and the Summer, and two Spring Drives in titanium, the Spring and the Winter.
The first two in steel are great watches, but everyone went ballistic for the other two. And now, by the grace of Grand Seiko, you can buy them outside of the US, too. We are truly humbled and blessed. The question is, assuming you don’t have the funds or the insanity to buy both—which do you pick?
Let’s start with what’s the same, namely the case, bracelet and movement. It’s the 40mm, bezel-less 62GS case in high-intensity titanium, an alloy that Seiko claims is more scratch-resistant than standard titanium. The 62GS name comes from its release in, yes, 1967, designed by Taro Tanaka to catch the light with its long, unbroken bevels from tip to toe. If you know anything about Grand Seiko, you’ll know it takes making things shiny very, very seriously, and the 62GS is that mentality personified.
The bracelet is a Grand Seiko bracelet, which means you’ll either try it and think it’s a perfectly fine bracelet or you’ll be outraged by its lack of screws in place of cheapy pins, the use of half links instead of micro adjust and only a very minor taper. Personally, I think it looks better on a strap anyway.
Inside both is the same Spring Drive calibre 9R65, which combines quartz accuracy with mechanical autonomy for a battery-less, self-winding, one second per day accuracy and 72 hours’ power reserve. Whilst not as nicely finished as the brand’s latest 9RA5, the last-gen movement allows the watch to be significantly cheaper than 9RA5-equipped watches at £6,200 for either watch, a £2,500 saving. Overall, it’s a uniquely styled watch with the box crystal doing bezel duty and the lugs extending endlessly on either side—but the real party’s on the inside, behind the crystal.
Of course, with this being Grand Seiko, it can’t just be the pink one or the grey one. They both have their own stories—mythology even—that further separate the two and makes choosing even harder. We’ll start with the Shunbun, which of course draws its delicate pink hue from the cherry blossoms that decorate Japan during springtime. To you and me, that would probably be enough to make us think, “Oh yeah, that’s rather lit or whatever.” But not Grand Seiko.
They take the tale a step further by likening the scale-like texture to the way the cherry blossom petals look when they’re blown onto the water, where they swirl and float. You won’t be surprised to learn that the Japanese have a very specific word for this natural wonder, Hanaikada, which translates as “flower raft.” Evocative.
What’s particularly eye-catching about the Shunbun is the level of pink it is. Sometimes it’s all the pink, and sometimes it’s none of it. Using the ancient Japanese art of wizardry, Grand Seiko have managed to make the dial have a set of seasons all of its very own. It can vary from virtually silver to full powder puff pink, and the variations between the two are so varied it seems like you might never see the same shade twice.
A gold logo adorns the top of the dial and a date over on the right, with the contentious power reserve reminding you how full it is when you wear an automatic watch that by its very nature keeps itself full. Hands and markers are all silver, and are sharper than a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. The seconds hand gets a pleasing cap on top to hide the hole. Remember this. This is important.
Over to the Taisetsu and it’s a similar—by which I mean different—story. Despite seeming random, the dial is actually the exact same pattern—swirl for swirl—as the Shunbun’s, but in grey it takes on a very different tonality, and inspiration. This time we’re recalling crystalline snow glittering on the surface of boulders under the cold winter sun.
They don’t seem to have a name for that one, but nevertheless the colour change evokes a completely different experience. It’s punchier, more contrasty. The texture is much more noticeable and three-dimensional. It’s almost holographic. The monochromatic palette is tonally very similar to the darker grey of the titanium case, giving the impression of being a solid block of the metal, unlike the lighter, more delicate Shunbun.
It’s the perfect backdrop for a heat-blued second hand. The rest of the dial furniture is identical to the Shunbun’s, making the only pops of colour the gold logo and the blued second hand. It’s a nice touch, adding an extra chill to the already chilly dial. But there’s a small, confusing detail: remember that neat little cap on the Shunbun’s second hand? The Taisetsu doesn’t get one. You simply get raw hole. That’s a sentence I never expected to say.
The net result is that two very, very similar watches are actually very, very different. One looks fresh and light, the other cold and heavy. They weigh they same but you’d never have guessed it. And I suppose that’s the point. Well done Grand Seiko for capturing the very essence of a season and somehow squishing it into a watch.
So how to pick? Yeah, well I intimated that perhaps there might be a clear-cut way to make that decision, but I just don’t have the answer. Or do I? How about this: do you get SAD, aka seasonal affective disorder? The spring’s for you. Do you look forward to the miserable winter weather so you can hunker down on the couch with the duvet and a hot chocolate to watch black and white 50s movies? Get the winter. That’s the best I’ve got.