Review: Grand Seiko SBGK005
Have we forgotten to think with our hearts? It seems these days that you can’t talk about watches without talking about investment. Having a solid residual in a watch—in anything—is more than welcome—but is it worth it at the cost of why we chose to pursue our dreams in the first place? The Grand Seiko SBGK005 suggests not.
Think back to when you were a kid. I wanted to be an astronaut, a pilot, a racing driver. I dreamed of having a house like Tracy Island with a TV the size of the wall and a sound system that could quite easily tear the whole thing down to rubble. I wanted fast cars with big engines and loud, fire-breathing exhausts. I wanted a watch that looked like the inside of a tesseract. Do you know what I didn’t want? Residuals.
Financial security is one of those things you need, not want. If I want to buy a house, I need a mortgage. If I want to be warm inside said house, I need to pay the energy bills. If I want to avoid putting on weight, I need to eat healthily and in moderation. Child me could not have been less interested in those things.
Yet, as adults, we’re expected to think just as much with our heads as we do with our beating hearts. It makes sense; do whatever the heck you want, and you’d quickly end up in a bit of a pickle—but there’s a balance. When it comes to fine watches, I wonder if that balance has gone too far one way. Since certain watches and brands have and do appreciate from new, investment seems to have become the primary reason for choosing a watch.
Younger me thinks that’s a bit sad. Now, because there’s the possibility of buying a watch that can earn a bit of money, it seems like those that can’t—and let’s face it, that’s the majority—are completely discounted. What that means is there are a whole load of watches out there that people might really enjoy that don’t even get a second glance.
One of those watches is this, the Grand Seiko SBGK005. Let’s not beat around the bush—this watch isn’t going to make you any money. Of course, you can try and cheat the system and buy it pre-owned, but you’re still not going to beat the house, and someone somewhere still needs to buy it new.
So why would you buy it then? Because you want it. Because when you look at it, it makes your heart ache and your knees tremble. Because every time you think about it, you can’t help but smile. And if that’s what you want, no amount of financial security is going to do that for you. Let’s be clear—what I’m not saying is get yourself precariously in debt, not at all—I’m saying that if you buy a watch like you would a car, or a camera, or hi-fi, and assume that it’s going to depreciate, you can find something you’ll truly enjoy.
That’s not to say you wouldn’t enjoy a Rolex, or a Patek Philippe for that matter—not at all. But what you might do is miss out on the watch you’d enjoy the most. So why would the Grand Seiko SBGK005 be one of those watches?
At just 1,500 pieces, the SBGK005 is a watch only a handful of people are going to get to enjoy. And enjoy they will, more so than they would a Rolex. Don’t believe me? Here are three reasons why they would:
The first reason is one of passion. If you’re someone who’d consider binning the rock-solid residuals of Rolex for the thrill of something else, then you’ll know that the movement is a critical part of what makes a mechanical watch special. A Rolex movement is a fine movement, well-engineered and well finished, but—you can’t see it. It’s buried behind a thick slab of 904L steel, out of harm’s—and pleasure’s—way.
The SBGK005 is an entirely different experience. The movement isn’t just there to power the hands and make the watch work as a timekeeper—it’s there to be observed, enjoyed. Grained stripes so prominent they’re almost three-dimensional hit you the instant you look at the calibre 9S63, but once you’ve got over the glitz and glamour, the movement hits home with a secondary round of details that deserve deeper inspection.
The blued screws, for example, and the engraved, gilt text, are just the kinds of nods to watchmaking tradition that you’d expect to see on a classic movement. Then there are the modern touches, like the skeletonised pallet fork and escape wheel, fashioned using Seiko’s ultra-high-tech MEMS—that’s micro electro mechanical systems. An etching process that uses light projected through a mask, MEMS is found in the manufacture of incredibly intricate electronics like camera sensors and offers precision some five times greater than traditional machining—perfect for an escapement. Perfect—except for the great big logo slapped on the middle of the crystal. There’s no defending that.
The second reason you’d want this over a Rolex is one of experience. A Rolex is fine to throw on your wrist and forget about; it winds itself, keeps its power over a weekend on the bedside table, never misses a beat—but isn’t that kind of boring? The SBGK005, however, needs more input from you. The calibre 9S63 is hand wound you see, the polished mainspring barrel requiring human intervention in order to keep charge.
And doing so is a pleasure, the crown smooth and satisfying, the power reserve gauge creeping up to maximum without too many turns. It really lets you get involved with the mechanics of the thing, a rare experience in modern watchmaking. And the cherry on the top is that it offers the best of both worlds; a 72-hour power reserve means you won’t get sick of winding it.
The final reason you’d want this over a Rolex is one of pure aesthetics. Just look at this thing. A Rolex has always been a functional piece, with the luxury part shoehorned in in recent years, but this—this is a thing of beauty. The brushed hour and minute hands, polished on the edges; the golden, matte-finished logo; the trapezoidal markers, capped with grooves that catch the light no matter which way you look at them.
And the dial … the dial. As always with Grand Seiko, it’s inspired by the view out of the window—in this case, the volcanic ridges of Mount Iwate. It’s like a sunburst, but to call it that just doesn’t do it justice. There’s something organic about it, the way it seems to writhe under moving light, just like the rivers of magma bubbling beneath the sleeping mountain.
It’s a watch that’s been created by people who want you to feel something when you wear it, and it really, truly does that. Can the same be said of Rolex?
The very last point I want to make before we finish is this: there are no wrong answers in watch collecting. Do your research, be sensible—but ultimately, listen to your heart. If a watch you can enjoy for free or even at a profit is what sets your cockles alight, you go for it. If a watch that makes you wake up with a beaming face and a giddy head on collection day is the one you want, that’s the one for you. Whether it’s a Rolex, Grand Seiko or whatever—make sure that, ultimately, it makes you happy.
Looking for a Grand Seiko? Click here to shop now