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Review: Grand Seiko SBGV245

Since discovering them some twenty years ago, I have been privileged to not only handle and enjoy but also own some incredible watches. From the Rolex Submariner to the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, each one has brought a different kind of pleasure—but none more so than this, my very own Grand Seiko SBGV245. Here are five reasons why this watch is the best I’ve ever owned.

The Looks

I first discovered this Grand Seiko SBGV245 quite by chance. As a habit I browse various different watch sites just to keep an eye on what’s what—and by which, I mean see if there’s anything to spend my money on. Now, a little bit about me: I’m pretty tight with my money at the best of times. Occasionally I’ll splash out, but rarely by impulse. I recently bought a telescope, a lovely Skywatcher 80ED to do a bit of astrophotography. The cost: around $500. The lead time to committing that $500? About two years.

So, when I browse, it rarely yields anything. Even when a watch is a bargain price—I dunno, I just get wallet shy. The SBGV245 was different. I saw it up for sale—pretty soon after launch, too which is never a good sign—at a hefty reduction from the RRP. It was quartz, the wrong side of $1,000 for an impulse purchase and at the time, was only available in Japan, making it an unofficial import and therefore void of warranty.

Steer clear, right, especially for someone as penny pinching as me? But something struck me about it. If you search for this watch on Grand Seiko’s website, you’ll be disappointed by the way this thing looks, but in actual photos taken by an actual person that haven’t been retouched to oblivion? It looked stunning. The stumpy, integrated lugs, angled aggressively and polished to a high shine; the shifting luminance of the dial sheltered below a sturdy bezel; the razor-sharp hands and markers and gloss black seconds—everything about the way this watch looked got me hook, line and sinker. Long story short, it’s the only watch I’ve bought on a whim.

The Finish

Nothing can prepare you for the part of a Grand Seiko that makes it Grand: the finish. Now bear in mind that this commentary comes with the experience of owning an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, which, inside and out, is one of the most intricately and finely finished watches ever made, so it doesn’t come lightly. Never mind for just over $1,000—this Grand Seiko has some of the best finishing I’ve ever seen, period.

The details I mentioned that caught my attention in photos? Well, this being my first ever Grand Seiko experience—let alone first I’d owned—you can imagine the apprehension between the dreamy high of buying the watch and the lucid low of actually waiting for it to turn up. Like I said, I don’t buy things on impulse. The wait was, therefore, horrible.

But I needn’t have worried. Quite the opposite actually, because thanks to Grand Seiko’s almost religious approach to making watches, the SBGV245 is a marvel to behold. To be quite frank, over two years on, it’s still hard to believe to this day. A healthy layer of anti-reflective coating on the underside of the crystal makes the most of what’s going on beneath, which, although simple, I have yet to find a single flaw with.

If you’re new to all this, let me explain something. It is rare at the level of scrutiny that we put a watch under that we don’t find fault. Good watches aren’t perfect. Excellent watches still have the odd blemish, albeit tiny. This? Nothing. Nada. Zip.

The Brand

I’ll caveat what I said about owning a Rolex and an Audemars Piguet: when I owned them, they were not as expensive as they are now. Nowhere near. As they stand today, a Submariner is a push and the Royal Oak is—well, it’s dead to me. And for me, that’s done something to the brands that takes some of that appeal away. The popularity sours how special they are, if even just a bit. Yes, that’s right: I’m a hipster.

I don’t wear skinny jeans and thick-rimmed glasses, but I do watch A24 films and listen to Half Moon Run. That’s why, for me at least, the brand that is Grand Seiko is hugely appealing. I’ve recounted before the story of Grand Seiko’s—to use a hipster term—disruptive rise in the 60s, how it took on and beat the Swiss, and that’s pretty neat. What really appeals to me is how it’s doing it all over again.

Five or so years ago, Grand Seiko, outside of Japan at least, was at best a head-scratcher. Spend thousands on a Seiko?! From Japan?! It would have been easier to sell sand to a Jawa, and they’re not even real. But by the time the SBGV245 was released, there was enough low-level noise about this watchmaker to reassure me that I wasn’t buying a dud.

And since then, that quiet hum has exploded into a roar as Grand Seiko seems to have decided it’s going to take over the world. During 2020, despite the pandemic, it’s been one of the fastest growing luxury watch brands ever, occupying the top ten best-sellers list—and that’s no mean feat. Looking at the SBGV245, it’s easy to see why.

The Movement (No Seriously)

One of the big question marks over buying this watch was its movement. It is, after all a quartz, which is not only the complete antithesis of the watchmaking I had grown to admire and enjoy, but also the very weapon Seiko used to destroy the Swiss industry in the later part of the 20th century. There’s an analogy there I’m pretty certain you can think up yourselves.

Quartz. A battery and a circuit board. No hairspring, no regulation, just one measly tick per second. Except, the calibre 9F82 has all those things. This is a hand-built movement with the same level of engineering thought and refinement applied to the brand’s mechanical offerings—and in some cases, more. Take the second hand, for example. A typical quartz movement has backlash, a quiver with each tick. A hairspring-equipped gear in the 9F82 counteracts that.

And this isn’t some plastic, throwaway movement; it’s made in metal, finely decorated and a visual treat in itself. It’s a shame there’s no sapphire case back through which to admire it. When the case back does come off to replace the battery, the fine adjustment regulator will also be revealed, demonstrating Grand Seiko’s commitment to the longevity and quality of this movement—which is rated at a mind-blowing ten seconds per year.

The level of detail invested into this movement even includes a commitment to the brands signature sword hands. Quartz doesn’t typically have the torque required to move such heavy hands, and so the 9F82 was engineered with a twin pulse control motor—that, yes, makes the second hand tick twice every second, albeit imperceptibly—giving the hands the drive they need without exhausting the battery any faster.

And if you needed any more reason than all that, it’s also in-house. I mean, properly in-house. Even the quartz crystal used to regulate the watch is homegrown by Grand Seiko.

The Price

It’s been mentioned a few times, but this watch offers a lot of value for money, especially at the price I paid for it. Had it not been so, I probably wouldn’t have purchased it—but I’m so glad I did. Knowing I can enjoy everything it offers is one thing—that knowledge is made so much sweeter because of the tremendous investment that it was.

And I don’t use the word investment lightly. Unbeknownst to me, the SBGV245 has apparently been discontinued. It wasn’t purchased with any intention of it being an appreciating asset—if you want any proof of my inability to successfully take advantage of watch appreciation, there’s a thoroughly depressing video on it somewhere—but it seems, inadvertently at least, that this is the case.

Prices have been creeping up over the last year and supply seems scarce, and a quick finger-in-the-air calculation puts me up around $1,500. I mean, appreciation is only worth something when the asset is sold, and that means selling the SBGV245. Now that I’m not so sure about.

The Grand Seiko SBGV245 will never be the best watch ever made, but then again, I will never be able to afford the best watch ever made either. What it is for me is a balance of many of the parts of watchmaking that I admire and enjoy most in a package that is beautiful, exquisite, unique and good value. I don’t feel afraid to wear it, I don’t worry about it tanking in price, I love the way it looks and it’s turned me around on quartz—what more could anyone ever possibly want from a single watch? That’s why, for me at least, it’s not only the best watch I’ve ever had, but the one I’ve owned the longest as well—and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.

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