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Today we have the rare privilege of looking at 4 very special Grand Seikos that we almost never see. Going clockwise, we have the SBGJ225, SBGH025, SBGH031 and SBGL019. This order will be consistent, but keep in mind that these images aren't to scale. These are all prototypes that have made their way to various shows, so please excuse any minor imperfections and scratches you find. None of them will ever make it into a private collection.
As is so often the case, the real magic of Grand Seiko can be found in its dial, and these four watches more than most as all have very special and very elaborate details. Grand Seiko's are also well-known for their dynamic dials, which have very different appearances given the context in which they are viewed. Let's take a close look at each.
This view also highlights why Grand Seiko thoughtfully uses brushed hands on dark dial models and polished hands on light dial models. Here we see the hands on the two light dials reflecting my camera, which actually has the positive effect of increasing contrast against the dial. Yet, the brushed hands on the dark dials do not suffer the same fate, remaining bright. It's an interesting reminder of the practicality that goes into GS design beyond simply pretty dials and case polishing.
Beginning with the SBGJ225, my personal favorite, we see this beautiful pattern on the dial in combination with a sunburst texture. This is often referred to as the "Kasuri" model, or dial, due to the pattern of the dial which is designed to resemble the traditional Japanese weaving technique of the same name. When I look at it, I am given the impression of the ornate traditional fences I saw in China. The SBGJ225 has a fairly visible pattern and blue color even in low light, at least, relative to the other blue dial here. However, the sunburst does give it that special dynamic GS appearance, illuminating the pattern in some areas yet hiding it in others, depending on the dial's angle relative to the light. It is stunning in person.
Moving now to the SBGH025, which has by far the most visible pattern. I call it the peppermint swirl, but officially it's the Nakaishu 60th Anniversary, which I suppose has a better ring to it. It is, in essence, an SBGH001 with a unique dial, but what a dial it is. It has a slightly off-white color, and while it is the least "dynamic" of the dials here, it also looks impressive in every environment. The impression given by the texture of this dial is that the grooves are quite deep.
By contrast, the texture of the SBGH031 is extremely subtle. In these photos, I have made the exquisite patterns easily visible, but this is through the use of direct, bright lights. The upside, however, is that this is also the most dynamic of the dials. In low light, or to some degree even normal light, believe it or not, it almost appears to have a simple black dial, or perhaps a dark navy as light increases. However, almost as if it's kept a secret, in direct sunlight, the bright blue colors and lions appear. If you look very closely you can also see a wave pattern in between the diagonal lines. From a technical perspective, this is probably the most impressive dial of all of them here because it's just layers and layers of subtlety that 95% of people would never even notice. I think the SBGH031 is going to age remarkably well for this reason--it's almost like having an entirely different dial depending on the room you're in.
But by far the most interesting, and I suspect controversial, is the SBGL019, AKA the Terauchi LE. Where to begin with this one. I suppose I should start by pointing out that there is an incredibly subtle texture to the cream dial. Unlike the SBGH031, this never becomes obvious even in the most favorable conditions, but rather, requires a very close look to appreciate. In some of our other photos you'll be able to see it more clearly. Moving to the more prominent elements, we see the use of Roman numerals, or specifically, just two of them--an extremely rare design feature among Grand Seikos. As if that weren't unusual enough, they, along with the AUTOMATIC writing, receive a light shade of purple. Purple is an exceptionally odd choice of color for this very limited run of watches, and I've struggled to determine its inspiration. The color reminds me of the popular "fuji flower," known to us as wisteria, which has a very similar color, at least in its Japanese varieties. Here's an example of the flower in Toba no fuji, Kyoto. Of course, by now you're wondering about that applied power reserve complication, but that requires a bit more of a complex discussion than mere aesthetics.
Looking now from a different angle, we can see various qualities of these dials in new ways. Take, for instance, the SBGJ225 which still shines quite brightly, despite no longer receiving bright light, but likely due to its very dark color (relative to the shiny sunburst of the 225), the SBGH031's intricate patterns are beginning to become ever more subtle. Meanwhile, the SBGH025, immune to such concerns, still prominently features its swirl pattern. The direction of the swirl I find quite fascinating, as it appears to be "moving" counterclockwise, contrary to what one would intuitively design for a watch. As such, the smooth Hi-Beat seconds hand appears to be moving opposite the swirls on the dial. This might merely have been an aesthetic preference, or perhaps it subtly enhanced the contrast, or perhaps I'm thinking far too hard about it. Finally, we look at the extremely subtle texture of the SBGL019, but that requires a closer inspection.
Only here can we even begin to see the lines, and likely only because I'm directly calling your attention to it. It's almost so subtle as to be unnecessary, but I find that it's often this attention to detail that keeps Grand Seiko fans, like myself, coming back for more. It feels like they have layers to them that my other watches usually lack. Looking closely, we can also see the slightly unusual choice to use both a blued seconds hand and blued power reserve hand, and we get a good look at that applied PR subdial. While I'm not necessarily a fan of the placement, at least, being so close to the date, I can imagine Grand Seiko bringing back the applied PR in spring drives to give certain models a different look.
While we enjoy another angle of these Grand Seikos, I suppose it's finally time to address the elephant in the room, the power reserve complication--oddly enough, the only one here. To outsiders of the Grand Seiko world, this may seem fairly unremarkable, but if you've been with GS for a while, you'll know that, at least as far as we Americans know, automatic Grand Seikos, unlike spring drives, do not come with power reserves. But that wasn't always the case. This watch features the now-rare 9S67 automatic, which is more or less identical to the common, at least by GS standards, 9S65, but with the addition of a power reserve complication. Ostensibly, this movement had fallen out of favor at Grand Seiko by the time they opened their doors to the United States, and consequently, we Americans are relatively unfamiliar with it. While I'm glad the power reserve isn't on most automatics, unlike the case of spring drives, I definitely could see a role for this in at least a few watches even today. It is, in my view, underutilized.
So there are four rare Grand Seikos that most will likely never have the pleasure of seeing in person, although perhaps the people of Seiko Club SG have better access to these than we in the US.