Long Term Ownership of Three Grand Seikos

If Grand Seiko isn’t on your wishlist, then you need to update your wishlist.

Charleston, South Carolina Summer of 2022. I told my wife “let’s stop into the Rolex AD, I’ll buy a GMT Rolex if they have it, otherwise we should be pretty safe.” I walked out with a Grand Seiko, the SBGM221 — a watch we both spent the rest of the trip admiring. In the coming year I was lucky enough to add two more Grand Seiko’s to my collection, the SBGE285 ‘Mistflake’, and the SBGX261. I still have all three, and they are my favorite watches I own.

A lot of watch reviews focus on what it has been like to wear a watch for a month, maybe two at the most. Many reviewers are anxious to get the content out there, or to review the watch before it looks worn, such that they can maximize the resale value and get their next watch to review. The watches I buy are ones that I intend on keeping for life at the time I buy them. Though it may not work out that way in the long run, that’s the mindset I take when buying a watch.

With a year plus of wear on each of these watches, I thought I would take time to talk about the Grand Seiko brand itself and the common aspects among these three watches, and then each watch individually and how they’ve faired.

Suffice to say, I think Grand Seiko are producing the best watches on the market — and it’s not even close.

Common Elements of the Brand, Common Worries Buyers Have

Most brands have some common elements, and Grand Seiko is really no different there. I am pulling out three things worth highlighting, which I have seen some people very concerned about in the past from a longevity standpoint.

Zaratsu Polish

One of the most famous elements of Grand Seiko design is the Zaratsu polishing done to polished surfaces. This method of polish is done by hand, and is so precise that it offers distortion free reflections. And man do these surfaces reflect. It’s tremendous looking in person.

The big concern people have is over how durable this polishing is. No one wants to baby a watch, and this finish being a core design element, you also don’t want to see this disappear to scratches overnight. This was a big interest to me as well: how madly will this patina over time.

What most don’t know, is that for whatever reason, this polishing is very durable, and resists a lot of scratches. My wife has a highly polished Grand Seiko and all three of mine have this polishing on the outer case. All four of those watches look almost like new. A polished surface on a Swiss watch like Rolex or Tudor is very prone to accumulating small hairline scratches (the type easily polished out by light hand polishing), but that’s not been the case with any of the Grand Seiko watches in our home and I cannot sort out why.

The only Grand Seiko I have which shows marks/scuffs on the Zaratsu surface is on the titanium model, which is to be expected on the softer material.

But the notion that “I would buy a Grand Seiko, but I would scratch up the polishing too much, so I cannot buy one” is a fallacy not based in reality. Don’t let the polish scare you off, it is fantastic, and durable.

The Bracelets

A big complaint with Grand Seiko is that the bracelets are not very good. And I agree to a point. While I’ve not tried a diver bracelet from Grand Seiko, the bracelet that came on my SBGX261 is far from amazing. It’s not in any way bad, but there’s a distinct lack of finite adjustment, such that finding the fit you want can be challenging at best, or impossible at worst. From a construction standpoint, I see no reason to complain, and it’s a vastly better watch bracelet than any Vintage Rolex you might buy.

That said, the bracelet on my EVO9 SBGE285 is a really nice bracelet, bordering on quite great. While it still lacks the finite adjustment, the construction of the bracelet, and overall feel, exceeds that of my Rolex’s bracelet.

No matter what, I’ve found adjusting a Grand Seiko bracelet is tedious at best, and downright frustrating if you don’t have the proper tools. They are not all constructed the same, and can range from pins with collars, to impossibly small screws. Take care when doing this.

Overall, the complaints about Grand Seiko bracelets seem warranted, only if for the lack of easy and/or finite adjustment. Grand Seiko really can, and should, do much better here. The notion that the bracelets are outright bad though, seems rather unwarranted — they are still a high quality and well made bracelet with excellent finishing.

Accuracy

On this list, I have three different movements. The unique Spring Drive, the basic Automatic GMT, and the vaunted High-Accuracy Quartz, but we also have a hand wound mechanical from Grand Seiko in our home. All four of those movements, all different, are impressively well regulated and accurate. The Spring Drive is sub-half a second per day off of dead even accuracy. The quartz — I’ve yet to be able to determine if it is anything other than perfectly accurate. The GMT Automatic is within ±3spd specs, which is almost Rolex’s standard.

The mechanical was in the same realm as the automatic, but it did experience an issue which required a service to rectify. At this time, I have no idea what the issue we encountered was/is, so I’ll update later.

Grand Seiko underpromises and over-delivers on their stated accuracy, and outside of a METAS certified Omega, or a modern Rolex, I’ve yet to have a watch which outperformed them. But if accuracy is what you want, the 9F quartz movement really is something to behold. These watches cannot be certified under Swiss programs, as they are not Swiss watches — but they very much do perform as well, or better.

SBGM221G

If I take any conditions out of my watch choices, and just say “which is the one watch you would happily grab everyday” it would certainly be this watch. The design hits all the right notes for me, and it wears easily with most things I wear. Toss it on a more casual band, and it dresses down nicely. The only downside is the lack of water resistance, and that’s essentially the only thing which would hold the more practical parts of my head back from saying this would be the one of the three I would keep.

  • Fantastic Style and Versatility: it can be dressy, it can pull down. The ivory dial blends well with a ton of different things, and the GMT complication keeps it from being a ‘simple’ dress watch.
  • Surpringsly Easy to Lose Yourself in the Dial: the ivory moves from cream to white depending on the lighting and it somehow looks deep. The high polish on the hands and index markers is something I find myself staring at for no reason, and then realizing I forgot to actually read the time when I look away.
  • Shiny, Not Scratched to Hell: the entire case on this watch is polished, and yet even with it being my oldest (and likely most worn) of the three, it has no real scratches on it to show the wear and use. It is actually surprising to me that it doesn’t have more scratches.
  • Big Aligator Strap Fan: a common thing to do with this watch is to take it off the stock Aligator strap and move it to something more casual like a suede strap. It certainly looks great on that, but you should embrace the Aligator. It looks better, and dresses up shorts and a t-shirt well, while still blending in with everything else. Don’t be scared of it, embrace it.

For the price this watch sells at, I am astounded anyone buys anything else as their first luxury watch. It hits all the marks.

SBGE285 ‘Mistflake’

I went in looking to buy a completely different offering, and something around 1/3 the price of this watch. Then I saw this in the case, I saw it in my hand, and then on my wrist. I couldn’t get it out of my head. The dial, that gray, what is this. I love it.

  • Tremendous Dial: the idea here is taking the ‘snowflake’ dial and making it a foggy-white-grey color which harkens to something in Japan related to morning mist. In practice this dial goes from blending in color with the titanium case, to looking near white. The texture adds a lot to how this dial plays with light and you’ll start to notice the light around you, as you’ll want to see the dial in that light. This type of dial is what Grand Seiko is known for, and it’s really well done.
  • Spring Drive is Perfection: the accuracy of the Spring Drive is astounding. The sweeping movement is mesmerizing. And the entire package really does make you wonder why every ’mechanical’ watch isn’t yearning to have a Spring Drive movement. This is an exceedingly good movement.
  • Quite a Good Bracelet, Quite Finicky to Dial In: despite looking rather simple, this bracelet is quite something. I’ve found it very comfortable to wear, but it took a lot of time and patience to dial in. It’s a pin and collar system with full and half links to adjust it. Playing with adding two half links or a full link and back and forth to find the right fit is very tedious and frustrating at times. But once I got it adjusted correctly, it wears very comfortably and looks great. It could be easier, it should be easier, but the bracelet itself is quite good once you get over that hurdle.
  • The Most Comfortable Watch I Own: related to the bracelet, but it’s more than that. The Evolution9 series cases from Grand Seiko are designed to wear really well. A strong downturn on the lugs, and what Grand Seiko calls “a low center of gravity” means that even with the watch being larger and taller than others, it hugs your wrist a lot better and doesn’t seem to ‘toss around’ your wrist as you are more active during the day. It’s easily the most comfortable watch I own across any brand.
  • A True One and Done: everything about this watch is setup to be the only watch anyone would need. Flat out. GMT, accurate, durable, and good water resistance, lots of personality. It’s all there.
  • Grand Seiko Doesn’t Get Enough Credit for the Titanium they use: they call it ‘High Intensity’, which seems designed to take a really strong Zaratsu polish — and man does it. They make a lot of Titanium, and they should get top marks for how well they execute on it. The only downside with it, is that it is softer in material, so the polishing on the angle of the bezel, does have a few scuffs in it. Nothing too bad, and nothing out of the norm for a sport watch — but it’s not indestructible by any means.

This watch ticks every box for me, and then some.

SBGX261

Sitting at the bottom end of pricing for men’s Grand Seiko watches, the SBGX261 is even better than I expected, but in almost completely different ways than the above two watches. It’s the perfect utilitarian watch, exactly what you need from a timing device, with just a splash of flair to remind you that this is something more than your standard Seiko.

  • A Better Datejust: I went into owning this watch with the thinking that it’s actually a better Rolex Datejust. Now, a little over a year later, I know I’m right on this one. The idea of a Datejust is to show the time and the calendar date, then to package it all in a watch you can slap on your wrist and wear everyday of your life without a single worry. A Datejust does this pretty well, but the SBGX261 does this exceedingly well. There’s absolutely nothing at all to worry about with this watch, for any reason.
  • Disappears on Wrist: with the smaller 37mm case size, this watch will absolutely disappear on your wrist, and slip under nearly every cuff. If you are someone who always feels slightly bothered by a watch on your wrist, this is the watch you are going to want.
  • Movement is Precision, and Feels like Precision: the 9F is plus or minus ten seconds a year. Yeah, awesome. But more than that, the seconds hand tick is so precise visually that it draws you right in, where the classic Grand Seiko finishing on the hands and index markers keeps to locked on the dial. It’s all quite satisfying to look at.
  • Verstility in Straps: something I didn’t expect with this watch is how well it wears with a very wide variety of watch straps. It seemingly takes any color and style strap, and wears it with ease, making this watch vastly more versatile than any other watch I own. I rarely were this on a bracelet, as the bracelet is just above average here — instead I opt for a leather strap to match the season of the year. From candy pink, to light grey, to olive green — they all work very well. Toss on a nice black leather, and you have your formal watch too.
  • Jump Hour Hand would be a game changer: this is my only nitpick with this watch — changing the hour means losing the dead on time keeping and needing to align it again. The larger model has a jumping hour hand to handle this, but the SBGX261 does not. It would be a huge deal if it were added here.

When I wear this watch, I don’t worry about much with it. It’s always accurate, it will withstand anything I do, and it looks great. It’s astounding to me that this is priced as low as it is.

To Sum It Up

Pick any two of the above, and you’d have a two watch collection to rival any other, and which would cover your every need. Have all three, and you’ll find yourself having to remember you should wear your other watches.

And then there’s the other part. The part where I look at ‘what watch might be next’ and find myself thinking ‘yeah but Grand Seiko does it better, so I should get another Grand Seiko instead’. I’m somehow even more of a fan of Grand Seiko after having all these for over a year now than I was after the first watch from Grand Seiko.

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