In case you haven't noticed, in recent years Grand Seiko has been evolving with a capital E. The brand was, once upon a time, sort of the Japan domestic market-only big brother of Seiko, but with beautifully finished cases and dials and high-grade mechanical movements not available in other mechanical Seiko watches. Today, all the quality which made Grand Seiko a byword for extraordinary value in luxury watchmaking is still there, but the name now means a brand separate from Seiko per se, and one which increasingly introduces replica watches which are aimed squarely at the very top of the luxury fake watch market.
Presented, therefore, for your consideration, the Grand Seiko SBGZ003 for the 20th Anniversary Of Spring Drive. This particular fake watch is part of a group of timepieces first launched in March of 2019, and this is the first opportunity we have had to go hands-on with one of them. One of two platinum-cased models, it uses the Grand Seiko Spring Drive caliber 9R02, which is similar in broad outline to the Credor Eichi caliber 7R14, but which bumps the power reserve up to 84 hours (compared to 60 hours for the 7R14).
Although a highly finished Spring Drive movement is something enthusiasts will more readily think of in the context of the Credor Eichi watches, Grand Seiko has been gradually introducing Spring Drive movements finished to the Micro Artist Studio standard. The Micro Artist Studio is located in Shiojiri, Nagano Prefecture, and the Shinshu fake watch Studio, which houses the Micro Artist Studio, is where quartz and Spring Drive Grand Seiko replica watches are produced. It also houses the workshops for all Grand Seiko cases, dials, and hands (assembly of mechanical Grand Seiko replica watches takes place further north in Shizukuishi, Iwate Prefecture, which is about a three-and-a-half-hour ride from Tokyo on the high-speed Shinkansen bullet train).
One of the more notable recent examples is the Grand Seiko Spring Drive 8 Day, which was first introduced in 2016 and which was the very first Grand Seiko to be produced by the Micro Artist Studio. Prior to that, the Studio had been best known for not only the Eichi replica watches but also for the Credor Minute Repeater and Credor Sonnerie.
The platinum SBGZ003, shown with its co-launch partner, the SBGY002 in yellow gold.
The difference between Grand Seiko as many of us came to know it, and the direction in which it is shifting the high end, is that at an under-$10,000 price point ?and often, under $5000 ?Grand Seikos sell not only on the strength of their own considerable beauty but on the wonderful value they offer as well. When we first started seeing them more often in the US, in the early-to-mid 2000s, they were very much an insider's fake watch but not only because it was rare to see them ?they were a token of connoisseurship as well. They signaled, for many of us, that the owner was someone who bought replica watches out of genuine knowledge and experience of watchmaking, and of craft in watchmaking. Those replica watches are certainly still in Grand Seiko's collections ?the fact that you can still get a mechanical Grand Seiko, and an excellent one such as the automatic SBGR261, means that value is still there and not going anywhere. At the price point of the higher-end Grand Seiko watches, however, the thought, "This is a fantastic value," becomes a question ?which is, relative to the rest of the market: "Is it worth it?"
Let's leave that very sticky question alone for a moment. In person, I can say without reservation that this is a spectacularly beautiful watch. This is partly because of the extremely high precision with which each component has been executed but there is more to it than that. Precision in manufacturing is always a laudable thing in watchmaking, and it is harder to achieve good high-quality consistency in precision manufacturing than many enthusiasts might realize. In the mid-19th century, as watchmaking began to become something not just for the wealthy, but for ordinary persons too, it increasingly became essential to not just achieve excellence, but to do so consistently. The best modern watchmaking weds unusually high precision in manufacturing with a particular design sensibility. You certainly get consistent and obvious high quality in terms of precision with Grand Seiko, at every price point, but what distinguishes Grand Seiko is that this is not just about precision as an end in itself ?it's also about achieving a very specific aesthetic.
The obvious comparison is to such iconic elements of Japanese culture as the Japanese sword, or katana, which in its classic incarnation is not brought into existence as a decorative object, but as a highly efficient tool. However, the katana is appreciated nowadays for its aesthetics at least as much as, and perhaps more than, its utility. These aesthetics are not the result of the pursuit of visual razzle-dazzle for its own sake. Instead, they arise as the end result of centuries of refinement of the techniques of sword-making and steel-making. You get a lot of the same thing with this fake watch ?not all Grand Seikos are such miracles of understatement, of course; some of them can be pretty darned extroverted ?but the SBGZ003 is a great example of how meticulous attention to perfection in craft can result in something that transcends craft itself.
In terms of physical dimensions, it's as deliciously classic a fake watch as you could want, at 38.5mm x 9.8mm. The case thickness is more or less in line with other contemporary high-end dress watches. For example, a Patek 5196G, which houses the hand-wound caliber 215 PS, comes in at 37mm x 7.68mm. Some of the savings in thickness in this case come from the use of a fairly small (21.90mm x 2.55mm) movement. The F. P. Journe Chronomètre Bleu is 39mm x 8.60mm (and has two mainspring barrels and a 56-hour power reserve, vs. a 44-hour running time for the Patek).ADVERTISEMENT
The most obvious comparison to the SBGZ003, however, is of course another Seiko ?specifically, the Credor Eichi II. The Eichi II leaves the impression of being an extremely flat watch, thanks to the simplicity and purity of the design. Its actual dimensions are 39mm x 10.30mm, so the SBGZ003 is in fact slightly (very slightly) smaller than the Credor. The Eichi II certainly has never struck me, on the rare occasions I've seen one in person, as a thick fake watch by any means and the SBGZ003 doesn't either.
The Credor Eichi II.
The other major point of comparison between the SBGZ003 and the Eichi II is the movement. The Eichi II uses the caliber 7R14, which is a second-generation Spring Drive version of the 7R08A, the original Eichi movement. Although the basic technology and a lot of the basic appearance of these related calibers have stayed the same over the years, there has been a steady stream of minor and not-so-minor changes as well. These changes notwithstanding, the movement in its essentials was, and remains, a unique presence in high-end horology, with the smoothly sweeping seconds hand as one of the signature design elements of both Eichi replica watches and of the SBGZ003 ?the "tell" of Spring Drive.
Caliber 7R08, in the original Eichi, from 2008 (and discontinued in 2012).
The 7R08 was a demonstration that classic, really high-end fine watchmaking techniques could be convincingly adapted to Spring Drive, and with an aesthetic unique to Credor and the Micro Artist Studio. The movement was made of German silver (also known as maillechort, and which is used by, among others, A. Lange & Söhne, who use it exclusively in all their movements). Rather than using Geneva-style stripes, the Micro Artist Studio opted for very fine horizontal brushing, with a three-bridge construction laid out in basically horizontal lines. The mainspring barrel is decorated with an openworked representation of three stylized bellflowers (Platycodon grandiflorus, which is native to the far East, including Japan). The two shock-protected pivots on the lower right are supposed to represent the eyes of a frog looking at the Moon, represented by the crescent cutout at the upper right.
Spring Drive caliber 7R14, as seen in the Eichi II.
For the Eichi II, the movement received some significant aesthetic updates. Most notably, the center bridge was replaced, and the horizontal lines of the 7R08 gave way to a sort of modified 3/4 plate design, with the division between the two plates sweeping smoothly down from the mainspring barrel to the edge of the movement itself. The frog's eyes beveling is gone, and instead, there are two curves in the inner edges of the two plates, framing the last train wheel and the Spring Drive Glide Wheel. Spring Drive fans will remember that the Spring Drive movement is powered by a mainspring and that, instead of a mechanical escapement, there is a flywheel ?that's the so-called Glide Wheel ?whose rate of rotation is controlled by an electromagnetic brake, and which also acts as the power source for the quartz-controlled timing package.
The 9R02, in turn, introduced further alterations albeit in a more subtle fashion than the more visible differences between the 7R08 and the 7R14. Probably the two most obvious are the configuration of the power reserve indication and an alteration in the geometry of the inner edge of the larger of the two bridges. The frog's eye-style inner corner has returned, although it's not quite as literal an evocation of the eyes of a frog as in the 7R08. The power reserve hand has shortened; the sector for the power reserve is no longer a shallow curve, but a circular track instead. The Credor logo and the Seiko Time Corp. engravings are also absent. The 7R14 has a 60-hour power reserve; the caliber 9R02, on the other hand, offers 84 hours of running time.
If we now return to the question, "Is it worth it," (and the "it" here is substantial; $57,000, versus $52,500 for the Eichi II) I think the answer has to be a resounding yes, at least if we evaluate the SBGZ003 by the exacting standards of traditional high-end watchmaking. The most essential expression of craft in fine watchmaking, after all, is in movement finishing, and the 9R02 has all of the masterful execution of its vocabulary that led none other than Philippe Dufour to say, at the HODINKEE Collector's Summit four and a half years ago, "If you want to know where the best movement finishing is, I'm sorry, it's not in Switzerland right now." The original 7R08 movement was already a spectacular example of the watchmaker's art, and I think that the Micro Artist Studio has absolutely continued to refine the design and clarify it, giving us what I think is the most beautiful version of a hand-wound Spring Drive movement yet. The Eichi II evoked virtually universal admiration among connoisseurs, and I think there is every reason to hold the SBGZ003 in the same high regard ?and it is perhaps even more suitable than the Eichi II as a high-end daily-wear watch.
In the last few years, Seiko has, especially in the spin-off of Grand Seiko as a separate brand, started to feel a bit more like a watchmaking group than a single brand, and indeed, Grand Seiko and Credor have to be evaluated very differently from Seiko's other product families. The SBGZ003 is continuing proof of Grand Seiko's commitment to the highest levels of fine watchmaking and to its right to be considered there as at least a peer to any of the more traditional players, in Switzerland and elsewhere.
For an excellent and very detailed side-by-side comparison of the 7R14 and the 9R02, check out this article by SJX. You can read our in-depth story on the Eichi II here; our 3-part video series on the evolution of Spring Drive is right here.
The Grand Seiko Elegance Collection SBGZ003 For The 20th Anniversary Of Spring Drive: case, platinum, 38.50mm x 9.80mm, 30-meter water resistance, sapphire front and back. Movement, hand-wound Spring Drive caliber 9R02, 84-hour power reserve, power reserve indication on the movement bridge; bellflower-motif openworked mainspring barrel; ±1 second per day maximum deviation in rate. Croc strap with matching platinum folding clasp. Price, $57,000. See it online at grand-seiko.com.Seiko Grand-seiko Spring-drive