Most of my watches are complicated in nature. I don’t really do simple watches — I am not drawn to them. Even my simplest three-handers (plus date), have things about them (like accent colors) which make them less simple. Most of the time, that’s just fine.
Some of the time, it makes life slightly harder to go about. To select a single watch which fits anything and everything I might wear, is complicated by my watch buying tendencies. And I have long held that a Rolex Datejust (specifically the 36mm model) is among the best (if not the best) simple watches you can get, which will work for everything.
Then I saw a video on the Grand Seiko SBGX261 — this is Grand Seiko’s (more or less) entry level High Accuracy Quartz watch. It’s a simple watch in almost every way, and at 37mm, it is a compelling alternate to Rolex’s Datejust, or is it? I don’t know (ok, it’s essentially better).
Dimensions and Movement
As I mentioned, this watch is a 37mm case — which is a near ideal case size for wearing with anything from dressing it up, to shorts and a t-shirt. It’s a very classic size and slightly small so it draws less attention. That’s going to be a theme with this watch: drawing less attention.
The watch makes good use of brushed and Zaratsu polished surfaces to give it a classy look that works well across many styles. Lending to that is the slim 19mm band and the impressive 10mm thickness and 44.6mm lug-to-lug. It doesn’t look small on my 6.75” wrists, and in fact it looks about on par with my 36mm Datejust. Compared to the 36mm Datejust it looks visually larger on the wrist, but wears smaller. I would think it wears well up to about 7” wrist, larger and you might consider the 40mm variant of the watch.
(Datejust 36 & SBGX261)
The case is rated to 100m water resistance (GS notes that’s good for swimming and light diving) even though the crown is a small push-pull (no screw down). It’s a clean package which hides the gem of a movement inside the case.
Inside the case is Grand Seiko’s vaunted 9F quartz movement (9F62 in this case).This is what the watch world calls a “High Accuracy Quartz” or HAQ for short. This movement is rated at plus or minus 10 seconds per year with a 3-year battery life. For reference: Rolex rates watches are plus or minus 2 seconds per day and a stock quartz is about plus or minus 30 seconds per month.
There’s a lot of boring ways the 9F does this, but honestly it is impressive and yet boring. I’ve yet to see this watch lose a single second, so yeah. The thing is, the not boring part of this is the movement of the seconds hand.
Typically, on a quartz watch, as the seconds hand ticks the visual movement of that hand is very unsatisfying. The hand flicks, and stutters, flicks, and stutters. Like a ball that bounces off a surface — it’s all very expected and not special. The 9F though uses a couple of tricks to do essentially what I would describe as a dead stop. You drop the ball, and the ball doesn’t bounce, it doesn’t roll — it’s a gold medal gymnast sticking the landing. And then to mess with you more, the seconds hands always perfectly hits the center of the marker. Dead on, dead stop, every time. Flick and stick, flick and stick.
It’s mesmerizing to watch.
And it’s nearly silent — as silent of a quartz movement I have heard.
So yes: good case, good size, rather insane movement. It’s still quartz, but there’s a reason people make a big deal out of Grand Seiko’s 9F, and I have to say it seems completely justified after wearing one. I get it. I love it. Give me more.
On My Wrist
In many ways wearing this watch is akin to passing by something almost daily, while never realizing it is there because it seemed boring, but the moment you pay attention to it — it sucks you into how perfectly done it is. It takes a lot of work to make something this simple. That’s the SBGX261, it is boring perfection, simplicity refined, and I cannot get enough of it.
Now, actually, it’s not perfect. Grand Seiko needs to be honest that they are choosing aesthetics over comfort when it comes to the clasps they put on the bracelets. Too often people say “Grand Seiko bracelets suck”, but the truth is that the bracelets are just fine, but the clasp is annoying. This watch has a butterfly clasp that sits low, is not wide, and incredibly comfortable to wear. But it offers no micro-adjust and only half-links and full links to remove. For this watch and my wrist, it wears a touch too lose on the bracelet no matter what I do. But it almost doesn’t matter, because this watch looks better on leather anyway.
That’s the thing with Grand Seiko, they optimize the clasp to be less intrusive (have you seen some of those tool-less adjust clasps, they are thick and long), but the tradeoff here is that you lose micro-adjust. Sometimes this works out, sometimes it doesn’t, it will be wrist dependent.
When you wear this watch, the first thing you will notice is how thin it wears, at 10mm it is very nice on the wrist. Almost every cuff drops over it without issue, and it never seems to get in the way. The next thing you notice is the insane finishing. The black dial isn’t just a black dial — it seems deeper. I’ve heard Grand Seiko accomplishes this by adding vastly more layers of coating/paint than any other watch manufacturer does on a black dial. Regardless, it sucks you in.
The mix of polished and brushed surfaces has the light dancing all over the indices, the hands, and the case. The smooth polished bezel grabs your attention. The brushed surface of the hands plays with the polished chamfers to give you instant reading of the time. There’s almost nothing on the dial to visually distract you, so instead you watch time tick by in an almost too satisfying way.
There is no lume, and at times I miss that lume. But, lume also visually would break up these surfaces, and the way this watch is done — lume would be to the detriment of this watch, the antithesis of simple. But because this watch has a black dial, and utilizes more brushing on the hands then polishing, it’s less legible than Grand Seiko’s fully polished hands in super low light. Only when the light hits this watch, you’ll be able to see the hands easily. You need about 10% more light than the fully polished hands need.
The thing is, when I wear this watch — I almost never think about it. It flies under the radar for me — reliably telling the time. Yes — never grabbing my attention or that of those around me. That’s good in a way, especially for someone who wants to wear a special watch where no one else knows it is special — but also for someone who wants others to know it is something special, move along.
The design wears well with everything I’ve thrown at it, and then some. I can grab it and go, never worrying about the time being wrong — of course it won’t be wrong, I know because it is still running. It’s always right.
Wearing this watch is joy in a very simplistic form. Without the pomp and circumstance of a Rolex Datejust Turn-o-graph Thunderbird.
If we forgot all about watches for the past decade, and showed up today to make a watch. We said that we need to have one watch that works for everything, and is accurate. I think this is the watch you would get. I don’t know — objectively speaking — what the hell more you could want from a watch. And it’s $2,200. I know that’s not cheap per se, but it’s outright free in the world of Luxury Watches.
The question here is: what’s the purpose of this watch, where does it fit? Is it a casual watch that can dress up? A dress watch that looks sporty? Is it an Explorer I alternative? A Datejust alternative? Is it a go-anywhere, do-anything watch?
Yes. Pretty much that.
I’d contend that this is the smartest money you can spend in the luxury watch segment. It’s supremely versatile, without screaming “I SPENT MONEY ON THIS” — and at the same time it has the specs to back it up, and the easy wearing nature that we could all use more of in our lives. It’s not only usurped my wear of my Datejust, but some of my Tudor Black Bay GMT also.
I love it.