“Wait. Haven’t we seen similar Grand Seiko designs prior to this? SLGA007? 008? Eh?”
Well, kind of. You’re not wrong thinking that. The Grand Seiko SLGA007 and SLGA008 are, strictly speaking, new models but if they look familiar, that’s because you’re probably thinking of the SLGH005 ‘White Birch’ and SLGH007 ‘Tree Rings’. Those two brought to the table Grand Seiko’s latest 9SA5 high-beat mechanical calibre.
This time round, the biggest changes lie within because the twins you’re looking at today come equipped with Grand Seiko’s new 9RA2 Spring Drive caliber. The movement itself is based on the recently-launched 9SA5 but differs in several key areas.
For those who aren’t too familiar with the Spring Drive concept, it is essentially a hybrid of a quartz and mechanical movement in that it employs a winding rotor (for self-winding capabilities) like any other mechanical watch and “suffers” from the same power reserve “issue”. However, it also depends on a quartz regulator instead of a traditional balance-escapement setup for much, much better timekeeping accuracy. The latter is always an advantage when pitching a quartz watch against a mechanical one. For the past several years, the 9R65 Spring Drive has been the go-to calibre.
Now, I’ll admit that is a painfully simple breakdown of an extremely intelligent movement but alas, I’m no watchmaker…
*clears throat* “Allow me to try and highlight what’s different…”
The immediate benefits of the new Spring Drive movements over its predecessors include a longer power reserve. Now, the 9R65 calibre wasn’t exactly horrid in this respect (72 hours in case you were wondering) but the 9RA2 stretches it to 120 hours or 5 days. How did they do it? A double barrel design was used this time round. The barrels themselves differ in size and GS has stated that this was one of the many steps taken in order to facilitate the other plus point of the 9RA2.
Thickness of the calibre has been successfully reduced from an outgoing 6 mm on the 9R65 to a much thinner 5 mm on the new 9RA2. This achievement stems from a myriad of design changes but we can thank the repositioning of the ‘Magic Lever’ within the movement.
Another advantage the new movement has over the old one comes in the form of improved accuracy. Again, this is all relative – the outgoing 9R65 was already accurate enough for all but the fussiest of owners. On the 9R65, Grand Seiko officially rates the accuracy at +/- 15 secs per month. With the new 9RA2, it’s rated at +/- 10 secs per month.
What’s changed? The IC (integrated circuit) contains a new sensor that measures the temperature within the calibre and “adjusts” for any changes in the quartz crystal oscillation rate caused by temperature changes. Clever stuff, I tell you. I had to read the press release and tech notes several times in order to understand close to nothing.
“Thanks for the eXpLaNAtiOn. Now, the watches…?”
Let’s begin with the Grand Seiko SLGA007 which will henceforth be referred to as the ‘Minamo Lake Suwa’.
(which will henceforth be referred to as the ‘Minamo’)
I know it looks like a ‘White Birch’ with a different dial but Grand Seiko has assured us that it’s quite different. It’s still inspired by nature, obviously. This time round, “the patterned dial evokes the gentle sway of the water surface of Lake Suwa, with ripples and shallow waves that create a pleasing sparkle at whichever angle the dial catches the light.”
In short, it’s a nice shade of blue. With a nice textured surface. And all this niceties are bolstered by the gold hands and GS logo, lettering. Nice.
I’m being serious here, folks. It’s a masterclass in putting out a refined, restraint dial-hand-indices combo that’s anything but boring. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is where Grand Seiko has truly found its niche.
Fans of the Spring Drive movement will no doubt notice one glaring omission on the dial of the new 9RA2-equipped models. The hate-it-or-love-it power reserve indicator is no more. The only visible “oddity” on the dial is a simple (but brilliantly finished) date window. The indicator is now visible when you turn the watch over and look through the sapphire caseback.
And here in lies the other benefit of the new movement. Although not a tangible plus point, I have to say that the new movement looks a fair bit better than its predecessor. Gone is the slightly industrialized look of the 9R65 in place of a more haute-ish finish we see here. The skeletonized rotor, blued screws and hand of the power reserve indicator is solid evidence of Grand Seiko’s continued efforts to place itself as a proper luxury brand.
“So far, so good. Anything else? What about the SLGA008?”
Well, the case dimensions are fairly sensible. And this is coming from someone with a 6-inch wrist, mind you. The stainless steel case of the ‘Minamo’ measures in at 40 mm by 11.8 mm. A stainless steel bracelet with a folding clasp and an 18k gold tab comes partnered with it. Lastly, the SLGA007 is limited to 2,021 pieces worldwide and is set to hit the market in December this year. Prices being at €9,100 (RM45,208).
Moving on to the Grand Seiko SLGA008 ‘Tree Rings’. In terms of case dimensions and tech specs, it’s the same story as the SLGA007. However, at an eye-watering €50,000 (RM247,408), you’ll need a Swiss bank account (heh) to even begin to consider such a timepiece. Best hurry though because the ‘Tree Rings’ is set to go on sale in November 2021 and is only limited to 140 units worldwide.
Why the massive price gap between this and the SLGA007 despite the same movement and aesthetics, you ask? The answer is simple. A case fashioned entirely out of 18k rose gold. Said case is paired to a chocolate brown crocodile leather strap with a tri-fold clasp with a push-button release. That also is made out of, yeah you guessed it, 18k rose gold.
So, there you have it. The next generation of Spring Drive movements are upon us and while they’re currently (kind of?) out of reach for all but the wealthiest of collectors, rest assured that it’s only a matter of time before we see the 9RA2 in regular production references at a more “affordable” price point.
I, for one, can’t wait.