Grand Seiko SBGM235 9S LE Review
This is the new SBGM235, a GS limited edition that honors the 20th anniversary of the brand's 9S movement. Since then, we've seen a wide variety of 9S movements, starting with the first generation of the 9S, the 9S5 series, and now well into the second generation, the 9S6 series, as well as the modern-day legend that is the 9S8 series of high frequency movements. Odd, then, that in a watch designed to honor a movement, so much attention would be placed on the dial.
But what a dial it is. GS is known throughout the industry as having among the best dials made, yet the SBGM235 is impressive even by those standards. Each of the 20th anniversary limited editions, featuring a variety of current 9S movements, has an extremely complex, yet subtle from a distance, textured dial. It's completely fascinating, and reminds me a lot of the first time I saw the Snowflake in person.
The dynamic character of Grand Seiko dials is famously difficult to capture in photographs, and this one is no different. Unlike the Snowflake, this seemingly white dial turns somewhat silver in bright, direct light, and it has an something akin to a sunburst effect to it. The areas with "S" on it have slightly different surfaces than the others, leading to very interesting patterns as you change the angle of the dial.
A close inspection reveals a complex repeating pattern of symbols, notably G, S and something a bit harder to identify, which I've color-coded red for your convenience. I trust you can interpret the G and S on your own, but the remaining symbol is the old Daini Seikosha logo. That name may not be familiar to modern GS fans, but it's one of the two legendary studios that propelled the nascent collection to international chronometry success. Today you may better know it as Seiko Instruments, also known as SII (Seiko Instruments Inc.) and it continues to produce mechanical Grand Seikos decades later. Its collaborator, and rival, Suwa Seikosha, lives on as well, today known as Seiko Epson, and from that studio comes spring drives and quartz models. It is fitting, therefore, that the Daini logo is present on the 20th anniversary dial of the 9S mechanical movement, as it is the studio that is today best associated with conventional mechanical watches.
As you may have noticed, the SBGM235 is a GMT watch, and it features this gorgeous heat-blued 24 hour hand. The broad, flat surface really allows you to appreciate the blue when the light hits it just right. One aspect of good design that Grand Seiko often utilizes is using unified colors for certain functions. The SBGC001/SBGC201 is perhaps the best example of this, but the SBGM235 follows a similar scheme, with all blue elements relating to GMT, from the GMT logo, to the numbers on the 24 hour ring, to the 24 hour hand itself. This makes it extremely easy to differentiate hands at a glance. Note how the ring distinguishes itself from the complex texture by means of concentric circles, subtly drawing your eyes to it without overpowering the rest of the dial. This is also a good time to point out that, like most true GMT watches, the date complication is changed by means of rotating the independent hour hand instead of by quickset date.
While we're here, we might as well take a look at what are, in my opinion, perhaps the most beautiful watch hands ever made. These mirror polished dauphine hands are remarkable in person, with their broad top surface and beveled edges each reflecting different parts of your environment. Not only are they gorgeous, they are surprisingly legible. They may appear to be similar to the dial in this photo, but keep in mind that this was in an all-white studio environment. The real world is far more complex and the contrast between each angle on the hands makes them stand out against the white dial.
Although the SBGM235's dial is among the most beautiful dials I've seen in a long time, there is one design curiosity that I'm not sure about. I've selected two hour markers, one at 9:00 and the other at 3:00, to demonstrate an odd lack of symmetry here. This is not so much a unique feature of the SBGM235 LE, but rather, it is a carryover from its most similar non-limited companion, the SBGM221, so it isn't as if it is accidental--they could certainly have done it differently for the new SBGM235 if they had wanted. I'm just not totally sure I understand why.
The case, somewhat interestingly for the GMT model, is among the most demure of the collection, with subtly curving lugs and a 39.5mm size. Indeed, the SBGM235 is arguably, alongside the platinum SBGH265 VFA, the dressiest watch in the group, which is a bit odd for a complication normally associated with more aggressive sports watches.
The crown, with its almost vintage styling, is also a bit of a standout in the 20th anniversary models, having borrowed it, and its case, from the reserved SBGM221. Like most dress watches, it doesn't screw down, making it easier to wind and set, exactly as it should be.
One aspect I particularly love about this GS, and quite a few others, is the enormous box crystal, giving it a beautiful, but subtle, vintage touch. Unfortunately, such a massive crystal adds considerably to its thickness. Grand Seiko states that the watch is 13.7mm thick, although my own measurements were slightly greater than that.
Here's a closer look at the lugs, as well the lovely dark blue croc strap. Unlike the vast majority of Grand Seikos, the SBGM235 is not offered on a bracelet. However, I think it perfectly complements the blue accents on the dial in addition to the watch's overall dressy character.
And finally, we take a look at the movement, in this instance the 9S66, for which the anniversary is celebrated. It is a bit ironic that in a limited edition dedicated to the movement, so much of the movement is hidden behind the anniversary writing. I actually rather like the blue they've used for the writing and emblem, however. In this photo, it appears bright blue, but in real life, it has similar properties to heat blued hands--black in some lighting, blue in others. I only wish they had shown more restraint in the writing up top. Styling aside, it's easy these days to forget about the great contributions of the 9S movement, both to GS as a brand, but also to the watch world as a whole. While few of its standout features are industry firsts, the 9S has had a huge impact on standardizing the 72 hour power reserve, which we've seen multiple brands adopt many years later, and we are also seeing more and more Swiss brands offer a variety of non-COSC performance ratings, like Rolex and Omega. I can't attribute all of that to Grand Seiko, but I can contribute much of it to them.
Back in 1998, a time when most brands were still asleep at the wheel where movement design was concerned, Grand Seiko had already developed an all-new high performance automatic movement, the 9S55. Oft-forgotten is that it was accompanied by the 9S51, a no-date variant, and since then both have been phased out for the 9S6 series of movements, which emerged first in the rather obscure 9S67, to eventually be entirely replaced by movements like the 9S65 and 9S66, the latter of which powers this SBGM235. It was those second-generation movements, like this one, that really shook things up by upgrading the power reserve from the already impressive 50 hours to today's 72, alongside its 9R spring drive brethren, of course. And finally, we cannot forget the brilliant 9S8 series of movements, called the Hi-Beats for their 10 beat per second design. All of these began, humbly enough, in 1998, and this watch, among the others in the new collection of LEs, pays homage to these achievements.
The SBGM235 is certainly a worthy addition to any Grand Seiko fan's collection, but it's also a great place to start with GS. It is emblematic in many ways of Grand Seiko's greatest strengths, its movements, its finishing, and, of course, its dials. Is it my favorite of the 20th anniversary collection? That's an extremely difficult question, because I also love the brown dial SBGR311, the blue Hi-Beat SBGH267, and the platinum SBGH265 VFA. However, I think my favorites in this collection are either this SBGM235, or if I'm in the mood for a three-hander, the beautiful blue SBGH267.
The SBGM237 is a limited edition of 1,000 and each is priced at $5,300. Click here to learn more or to reserve yours.
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