Up Close: Grand Seiko Spring Drive GMT “Champagne Diamond” SBGE267G

Striking chestnut brown and gold.

Just announced as an exclusive for Seiko’s longtime distributor in several Asian countries, the Grand Seiko Spring Drive GMT “Champagne Diamond” SBGE267G is a variation on Grand Seiko’s longstanding Spring Drive GMT sports watch with its characteristic sapphire-covered bezel and sloping case flanks.

Dressed in richer colours than the black or blue of the typical Grand Seiko sports watch, the SBGE267G has a dial rendered in metallic brown that’s matched with yellow gold-plated hands and indices. Executed in steel, the SBGE267G is powered by the 9R66 Spring Drive movement that has a second time zone function. And it’s an edition of 140 pieces meant for five countries, making it a fairly small run relative to other recent Grand Seiko limited editions.

Initial thoughts

Over the last couple of years, Grand Seiko has rolled out a variety of limited editions in a diversity of dial colours, but the SBGE267G still manages to be be different. Its look is distinctly more luxe than the standard Spring Drive GMT – the chestnut brown employed for the dial is unusual for Grand Seiko and striking, particularly combined with the gilt hands and markers.

The brushed metallic dial surface catches the light nicely

In the usual Grand Seiko fashion, the quality of the watch is excellent, with the dial and hands being especially outstanding for a watch of this price. Fabricated with a diamond-tipped tool, the hour markers and hands all have razor-sharp edges and near-mirrored surfaces.

The inner 24-hour scale on the dial flange is discreet but useful for potentially tracking a third time zone

Because it’s a variation of the standard Spring Drive GMT, it wears the same. Large for a Grand Seiko at 44 mm in diameter, the case is also thick at 14.7 mm, a good part of it due to the bezel. This gives it a chunky feel that works well for a sports watch.

That said, the bracelet would pair better with the case if it was wider and slightly thicker. At the same time, the bracelet also lacks the fine-adjustment feature that later generations of Grand Seiko sports-watch bracelets feature.

The case sides are sloped outwards towards the bezel, such that its diameter is larger than the footprint of the case back

While newer Grand Seiko sports watches do have superior bracelets, they also cost more. For the quality of fit and finish, the SBGE267G is priced competitively at 8,828 Singapore dollars, which is about US$6,200, in part because it is equipped with an earlier-generation Spring Drive movement.

In contrast, the first watch with the new-generation Spring Drive 9RA5 movement, the Grand Seiko 60th Anniversary dive ref. SLGA001, retails for over US$11,000. The new movement is no doubt superior in construction, function, and finishing, but it does cost substantially more while also putting it in a more competitive price segment.

Chestnut brown

Rendered in a nuanced shade of reddish brown, the dial is finished with a radial brushing that allows it to catch the light, revealing the colour. It’s a richly-coloured livery that is not usually found on Grand Seiko sports watches.

Complementing the dial colour perfectly, the yellow gold-plated hands and markers are an ideal pairing. The GMT hand, however, is in a frosted silver that is usefully functional but doesn’t match the rich colours of the dial. The same can be said for the text on the dial that’s done in white; gilt print would have enhanced the palette.

All of the hands are impeccably finished

A key feature of the Spring Drive GMT is the sapphire-covered bezel. It’s essentially a slightly domed ring made of clear sapphire that sits over the bezel that has a luminous 24-hour scale. This leaves the bezel scratch-resistant – the hardness of sapphire is second only to diamond – while also giving it a glossy surface that evokes the Bakelite bezels of GMT watches of the 1950s.

Up close, the dial is practically flawless – a given for Grand Seiko watches. The most obvious aspect of its quality are the hands are markers. Sharply facetted thanks to the “diamond cut” production technique – fabricated with a milling tool that has a diamond-coated tip – they glint in the light.

Both the hands and markers are actually two tone in finish. All of them have mirror-polished flanks, but the hour markers have a fine, linear pattern on their tops, which is essentially the pattern left by the milling machine that makes them. And the hands are linearly brushed on the top; a brushed finish is practical likely due to the large size of the hands.

And even the smallest details, from the form of the power reserve hand, to the cut-out for the date, are all executed seamlessly.

The GMT hand against the precisely-cut date window

Polished steel

The case and bracelet are both steel, and finished in the Grand Seiko manner, which is to say very good. As with all Grand Seiko watches, the case is first finished with the Zaratsu flat polishing technique that relies on a proprietary machine to give the surface and extremely flat, mirrored finish. The result is a wonderfully clean and neat finish on the case and bracelet, with perfectly defined borders between the polished and brushed surfaces.

Beyond the obvious, some of the finer details are the polished ring in between the sapphire bezel and crystal, as well as the polished top of the bezel with brushed flanks for its notches.

The relief logo cast on the crown is done in considerable detail

Spring Drive

Underneath the solid case back is the 9R66 Spring Drive movement. A hybrid movement that combines a mechanical mainspring and going train with an electronically-controlled flywheel oscillator, Spring Drive keeps time to within a second a day at its worst – and is often spot on – making it several times more accurate than a conventional mechanical movement.

While the electronic component of the movement might make traditionalists wary, Spring Drive makes sense in a sports watch that might be subject to the very things that throw off the timekeeping of a mechanical movement, namely shocks and substantial temperature variation.

Introduced in 2006, the 9R66 movement is one of Grand Seiko’s first-generation Spring Drive movements, yet it can still go toe to toe with newer movements in terms of functionality, reflecting the technical advancements in its construction. It has a 72-hour, or three-day, power reserve, along with the GMT hand. Because it was constructed from the ground up as a second time zone movement, as opposed to being an add-on mechanism, the local-time hour hand is independently adjustable in one hour steps – and the date moves in sync backwards and forwards – making changing time zones when travelling a breeze.

The case back is solid and decorated with the Grand Seiko lion emblem in relief, which was one standard for Grand Seiko watches, though display backs are gradually becoming the norm

Concluding thoughts

While the construction and finish is very much the usual Grand Seiko quality, SBGE267G sets itself apart from the brand’s numerous limited editions because of its striking colour.

More importantly, the SBGE267G costs almost the same as the standard version the Spring Drive GMT in steel, the SBGE201. If you like the colour, the SBGE267G pretty much a no-brainer given the parity in price with the standard model and comparatively small, 140-piece run. And the SBGE267G is also accompanied by a Grand Seiko novelty: a set of beer glasses emblazoned with the lion emblem that changes colour according to the temperature of the beverage within.

Key facts and price

Grand Seiko Spring Drive GMT “Champagne Diamond”
Ref. SBGE267G

Diameter: 44 mm
Height: 14.7 mm
Material: Steel
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 200 m

Movement: Cal. 9R66
Features: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, and second time zone
Frequency: Spring Drive
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 72 hours

Strap: Steel bracelet

Limited edition: 140 pieces
At Seiko boutiques and retailers in Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Hong Kong, and Macau
Price: 8,828 Singapore dollars including 7% GST (equivalent to US$6,200)

For more, visit Thongsia.com.sg.

This was brought to you in collaboration with Grand Seiko Singapore.


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Baltic Introduces the Aquascaphe GMT

A "big crown" GMT.

Having made its three years ago with the affordable, vintage-inspired HMS and Bicompax – like many other brands in the segment – Baltic soon expanded its catalogue to include a similarly retro dive watch (and just last week an edition for Dubai retailer Perpétuel). And now the dive watch gets  second time zone function with the launch of the Aquascaphe GMT.

Introduced in three variants – with the most striking being the version with an orange and blue bezel – the Aquascaphe GMT is very much modelled on 1950s “big crown” dive watches, but with a sapphire-covered bezel and Swiss-made Soprod movement.

Initial thoughts

The Aquascaphe GMT continues to play to the strengths of Baltic, a French brand that manages good, vintage-inspired design in a a compact package, and at a modest price. Admittedly, such vintage-inspired watches are not particularly original, but they are have appeal, particularly since modern construction give them a practicality and robustness that the vintage originals lack.

Credit goes to Baltic in giving the new GMT enough character to make it reasonably original. For instance, the 24-hour bezel is offered in interesting combinations of colours that are not the usual “Pepsi” or “Coke”, from a restrained grey and blue to a vibrant blue and orange.

The rest of the GMT is similar to the original Aquascaphe dive watch, which means a handsome, compact case with good enough finishing for the price. But the GMT does diverge from the time-only dive watch in its hour markers that are printed instead of applied, a simpler execution but probably necessary due to the GMT hand.

At around US$1,100, the GMT is almost twice as expensive as the dive watch, so in absolute terms it is not quite as strong value. That said, it is still good value, because of the new movement. The GMT is the first instance of Baltic using a Swiss-made movement, instead of the Chinese-made Miyota found in its earlier models; because Miyota does not make a second time zone movement. While both movements are likely just as reliable, the Swiss calibre costs substantially more, hence the price.

While still attractive and affordable, the higher price also means the GMT has more and stronger competition, such as the Mido Ocean Star GMT that is similarly priced but takes a more modern design approach.

Vintage look, modern quality

The most attractive part of a modern watch with retro style is practicality. Featuring a screw-down crown – which is not strictly necessary but reassuring – the GMT has 100 m water resistance.

A more interesting detail is the domed, sapphire-capped bezel, which is meant to evoke bakelite bezels of the 1950s, which were notoriously fragile but charming in their own way. The construction of the bezel also means its numerals are filled with luminescent paint, a useful feature is that often lacking in watches with ceramic bezel inserts.

Second time zone

Based on the Soprod M100 (which in turn is derived from the A10, in turn derived from the Seiko 4L), the Soprod C125 inside is identical in size to the ETA 2893 and works similarly.

It has a second time zone display read via the GMT hand and 24-hour bezel, but because it a retro-fitted complication, instead of being an integrated mechanism, the local time hand cannot be adjusted independently. Instead, the GMT hand is adjusted in an hour increments. That means adjusting local time is somewhat cumbersome, as setting local time will also change home time, which will then need to be corrected after.

Key facts and price

Baltic Aquascaphe GMT

Diameter: 39 mm
Height: 12 mm
Material: Steel
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 100 m

Movement: Soprod C125
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, and GMT
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 42 hours

Strap: Rubber strap or steel “beads of rice” bracelet

Limited edition: 600 watches in the first production run, with additional runs to come
Availability: Now at Baltic’s online shop and authorised retailers
€930 excluding tax

For more, visit baltic-watches.com.


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Audemars Piguet Introduces the Code 11.59 Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon

With an aventurine-glass dial.

Launched with a solid-colour, grand feu enamel dial, the Code 11.59 Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon has been given simple but significant facelift with a new dial that’s a mix of aventurine glass and vitreous enamel. Made up of ground, powdered aventurine glass mixed with enamel powder, the dial has a deep, glossy surface with the characteristic sparkly metallic inclusions of aventurine glass.

Initial thoughts

When Audemars Piguet first launched the Code 11.59, only the perpetual calendar model had an aventurine-glass dial, and it was one of the best looking watches in the line up. Though not exactly identical, the aventurine-glass dials on the new tourbillons are no doubt as appealing, especially since they fill up the expanse of the dial.

Even though the Code 11.59 lacks the desirability of the fashionable Royal Oak, it is an appealing watch when done right, as this one is. The new dial is a good fit for the case, which was well done to begin with. Featuring a fairly complex construction for a round watch, the case is sharply finished. Arguably the only downside of the case is its size, which is not large at 41 mm wide, but feels chunky on the wrist.

The cal. 2950 made its debut last year with the Code 11.59. Also found in the recently launched Royal Oak tourbillon, the cal. 2950 is an attractively designed movement with an unusual detail: a grande sonnerie-style winding click integrated onto the barrel ratchet wheel.

With a retail price of about US$150,000, the Code 11.59 tourbillon is a lot of money but within the ballpark of such watches from comparable brands. Considering the enamel dial as well as a newly-developed movement, it is actually a reasonable proposition as such things go.

Octagon sandwich

The key feature of the Code 11.59 design is the sandwich-style case, which has an octagonal case middle in between the bezel and case back. All of the case elements are finely finished, with brushed top surfaces flanked by polished bevels, just as like a Royal Oak case.

Solid gold like the case, the hour markers and hands are a plain baton shape, and seemingly float on the glossy aventurine-glass surface. Because aventurine-glass has to be fabricated at high temperatures – like how glass is blown – applying it to the dial is made feasible by mixing it with enamel.

Essentially also powdered glass mixed with pigments, the enamel mixture melts along with the ground aventurine glass during the firing process, creating a finely flecked surface that is then polished to be perfectly smooth.

Over on the back, the cal. 2950 is visible. It has a 65-hour power reserve, along with a flying tourbillon regulator.

Key facts and price

Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon 41 mm
Ref. 26396BC.OO.D002CR.01 (white gold)
Ref. 26396OR.OO.D002CR.02 (pink gold)

Diameter: 41 mm
Height: Unavailable
Material: 18k pink or white gold
Crystal: Sapphire
Water-resistance: 30 m

Movement: Cal. 2950
Functions: Hours, minutes, and tourbillon regulator
Winding: Automatic
Frequency: 21,600 beats per hour (3 Hz)
Power reserve: 65 hours

Strap: Alligator with pin buckle

Availability: Only at boutiques
Price: 133,000 Swiss francs including taxes

For more information, visit Audemarspiguet.com.


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