At the end of March each year the Baselworld watch show is held in Basel Switzerland. This is the premier annual watch and jewelry show where most manufacturers announce their new models. As the show occurs right at the end of the Japanese financial year it is allows these companies to outline their plans and major releases for the next year.
This year the biggest news from Seiko was their move to separate Grand Seiko into a standalone brand. This means that the main Seiko branding is removed from the watches and they will now simply state Grand Seiko.
To commemorate the change in this branding Grand Seiko has released a series of reissues of the first GS model. These models come in three different versions made with different case material but each house the manual wind 9S64 caliber that has been adjusted to -1 to +5 seconds per day. The premium version is the platinum 999 SBGW251 that features a carved Grand Seiko logo on the dial like the initial released versions of the 3180. The other versions are the 18K gold SBGW252 and stainless steel SBGW253. Both these models have applied logos like the later versions of the 3180.
These models are nice reproductions of the original and I really like the carved dials on the platinum version. The stainless version also has a nice addition of a gold medallion on the case back. The watches are also supplied with inspection certificates that are styled after the original GS certificates.
Over many years I have seen numerous comments stating that the Grand Seiko models are hampered by potential owners preconceptions of the Seiko branding. Any true watch fan knows that Grand Seiko are not the standard Seiko models that are seen at a local department store. If you are not aware of Grand Seiko already I am not sure that the change of the branding to just state Grand Seiko will make a significant impact.
I also would have assumed that the Grand Seiko group was already run quite independently and had not been significantly influenced by other divisions, so I am not really sure how much difference this will make to their general day to day operations. One advantage of the branding change is the ability to reduce down the dial clutter. This is nice for some models where there are a few lines of text so it can make the dial look a cleaner.
Grand Seiko also announced a new model and design with the SBGR305. This is an interesting design that reflects the classic design cues from the past but also brings a new contemporary point of view. Not only is the case and dial design new built from a new hardened Ti alloy but it also comes with a newly designed 9S68 calibre.
A much different styling can be seen in the new Grand Seiko ceramic Spring Drive chronograph models. The blue dialed SBGC219 LE (500 units) model comes with the 9R96 movement that is rated at +-10 sec / month while the SBGC221 white and SBGC223 black dialed models have a 9R86 movement rated at +-15 sec / month.
I like the general design of these models but the face is a little too busy and I am not a fan of the bracelet design at all. I think the models would look much better with a simple strap or plain bracelet. Unfortunately looking at the images of the watches it seems the central link on that bracelet is actually part of the case, so it is likely not possible to swap this to a strap. After seeing a couple of other photos from other sources I think these will look much better in person so I will hold judgement on these.
There were also a couple of Grand Seiko 600m diver models released. These are the SBGH257 a limited edition model of 500 pieces featuring a blue face, and the black faced non-LE SBGH255. Both watches have a Hi-Beat 9S85 movement and a great looking zaratsu polished Ti case. They each come with a Ti bracelet with adjustable dive clasp but the SBGH257 also comes with a blue silicon strap. I really like the look of these models and think they are a very nice addition to the line up.
The other change for Grand Seiko is that they will now come with a three year warranty instead of the two year warranty offered previously. While some retailers like the Seiko Boutiques may have offered an increased warranty the three year warranty will now be the minimum offered for watches purchased globally.
Other than the Grand Seiko independence the announcement of a 2000 piece 62MAS reissue was the other item that fans had expected but were excited to see. This reissue is a faithful reproduction of Seiko’s first diver model the 62MAS-10 released in 1965. The new version features the 8L35 movement that is used in the MM300 and a stainless case with a hardened finish designed to minimize scratches. This will also hopefully minimize any wear to the etched case back that features the original dolphin logo design. The other material change is the crystal which is now sapphire instead of the original acrylic. This model will be released in July.
It was nice that Seiko correctly presented the original 62MAS examples at the show and in the press shots on a tropic strap and not the ZLM01 waffle strap that has been used on previous photo shoots, but this was still not the original hole pattern.
While the design looks great and the upgraded materials are a welcome addition the price at does seem a little high. I am sure that the crystal is relatively expensive to manufacture but the case shape is obviously much simpler that the MM300 and the movement is the same. Seiko is continuing to do the same thing that they have done with some previous limited editions where a model is released in two versions, one for the international market and one for the local Japanese market. This essentially allows them to double the amount of units on offer. The international release is the SLA017J1 and the Japanese release is the SBDX019. Both models will be limited to 2000 units each. By producing 4000 units it would also help to minimize the costing for the case production by distributing the initial tooling costs.
Seiko also announced a couple of other lower priced dive watches that were inspired by the classic design. These are the SBDC051 in black with a bracelet and SBDC053 in blue with a strap. I think these are nice and while they do take some design cues from the 62MAS they are a new design and are not to be considered as a reproduction or reissue. Many Seiko fans have complained about the choice of the hands but if people were not familiar with the 62MAS and instead just viewed these as a new design I think they would have found wider acceptance.
The divers have a dedicated microsite that highlights the new models: http://www.seiko-prospex.com/sea/thefirstdivers
In addition to the divers the Seiko lineup also included some additions to the Presage family. These are the new cocktail time models. The new models feature Presage on the watch dial and are available in a couple of styles. The first is the SSA34x models with a central power reserve hand and a date dial at the 6 o’clock position based on the 4R57 calibre.
The second style is a traditional three hand design with a date window at 3 o’clock.
These models are very similar to the previous Cocktail Time models but in addition to the inclusion of Presage onto the dial they also feature downgraded movements changing from the 6R15 to the 4R35. The main difference in the movement is the change in the mainspring material from the SPRON510 providing a 50 hour power reserve in the 6R15 compared to the SPRON110 based 4R35 with a 41 hour power reserve. The accuracy also drops on these models from the -15/+25 sec/day on the 6R15 to the -35/+45 sec/day on the 4R35. It is disappointing to see these models change to a lower spec’d movement. Update: there has been some pricing seen online for these new models and the price seems to have been reduced from the original Cocktail time models inline with the movement reduction. The reduced price will make these models more accessible to buyers and I think collectors will try to aquire the previous models where available.
Expanding the Astron lineup was the announcement of the new 8X42 big date caliber. This new movement is available in a special limited edition (5000 pieces) Novak Djokovic model the SSE143. The movement is also available in standard release models in both Ti and stainless steel.
There was also a couple of JDM only Astron releases announced. The first was a collaboration with HondaJet on the limited edition (2000 units) SBXB133 model. This model features distinctive HondaJet blue accents along with a HondaJet logo and conversion scales on the back of the watch. The design was overseen by HondaJet president and CEO Michimasa Fujino. It will have a price of ¥280,000 and be released on June 23rd.
There was also a limited edition (20 units) Astron model commemorating the 5th Anniversary of the series. This is the SBXB134 and it features a solid 18K pink gold case with a hand sewn crocodile leather band. This model is priced at ¥4,000,000 and will be available August 11th.
Rounding out this year's announcements were a couple of special limited edition Credor models. The first is the GBBY989 which features a relatively simple front face but comes with an elaborately carved and inlaid engraved 6890 movement that can be seen on the case back. This design is an example of うらまさり where a plain outer facade is presented but an elaborate interior design is present. This is more commonly seen with clothing with a plain outer surface but luxurious and elaborate lining. This model will be released on July 8th and have a price of ¥9,500,000 with just 8 examples being produced.
The other Credor model announced was the GBBD961 featuring a 6899 caliber and engraved cherry tree motif. This model will be released on May 12th, it is produced in 18K white gold and will have a list price of ¥4,400,000.
Overall this was a very interesting Baselworld with some nice announcements, there is an obvious shift to move the Seiko brand into a higher tier and it will remain to be seen how the separation of Grand Seiko into an independent brand actually effects the models in the market place.
Official Press Releases can be found following:
Grand Seiko in 2017. The next step forward.
Grand Seiko explores its history and looks to the future.
The Black Ceramic Collection. Titanium and ceramic in perfect harmony.
Pushing the boundaries. The Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 Professional 600m Diver’s.
Seiko in 2017. Tradition, innovation and much more.
Astron GPS Solar. Performance, precision and Novak Djokovic.
Seiko's first ever diver's watch is re-born in Prospex.
From the cocktail bar to your wrist.
JDM: Credor GBBY989 and GBBD961 Engraved Models
JDM: SBXB133 HondaJet and SBXB134 5th Anniversary Gold Astron
Update: Seiko has posted the videos of the Baselworld press conference as below.