Grand Seiko Revives the “First” in Titanium and Japanese Lacquer

Black urushi with maki-e detailing.

Twenty twenty-three is the 110th anniversary of the first-ever Seiko wristwatch, an occasion that has resulted in series of limited editions, starting Presage SBP359 and continuing with Prospex SPB333 “White Birch”. Now the anniversary edition goes upscale with Grand Seiko.

The brand has debuted a remake of the first Grand Seiko, the ref. 3180 nicknamed “First”, but with a twist. The Grand Seiko Watchmaking 110th Anniversary Limited Edition SBGW295 takes after the vintage original in terms of design, but does so with a titanium case and striking dial finished in black urushi with gold-powder markings.

Initial thoughts

Grand Seiko has done several reissues of the “First”, most of which look virtually the same. So yet another limited-edition remake of the 3180 would certainly be much less compelling. The SBGW295, however, is notably different, in a good way.

At first glance, it’s apparent that the dial of the SBGW295 is special. Urushi has a deep, glossy finish that will contrast perfectly with the markings in sprinkled gold powder, also known as maki-e. Add to that the titanium case and the result is a handsome watch with a high-contrast aesthetic that is atypical of Grand Seiko.

But the SBGW295 does cost US$13,800, which is expensive for a time-only watch of this quality and specification, as well as being pricey relative to Grand Seiko’s own offerings. It costs 50% more than the equivalent titanium model of the most recent “First” remake, albeit one without a lacquer dial. The dial admittedly is more artisanal than usual, so perhaps the price can be forgiven, especially since it is a limited edition.

Urushi lacquer and maki-e

To create this illustrious dial, Grand Seiko turned to traditional Japanese arts.

First was urushi, lacquer obtained from the sap of the Japanese lacquer tree. Urushi has been used for centuries in Japan to create beautiful and intricate works of art. Here the lacquer gets its high gloss, jet black finish from the addition of iron powder

To complement and contrast the urushi base, the brand tapped Isshu Tamura, an artisan who specialises in maki-e, a traditional lacquer technique that relies on sprinkled powder and flakes to create a decorative pattern. This dial features 24k gold powder applied by hand to form the hour markers and logo.

Aside from the dial’s unique colour scheme, the rest of the SBGW295 retains the dimensions of previous anniversary models. The retro case measures 38 mm in diameter and 10.9 mm in height.

Most notably, it is in “brilliant hard titanium”, an alloy developed by Seiko that is lighter than the grade 5 titanium used for most timepieces. At the same time, it is much harder than stainless steel, boosting its scratch resistance.

And to go with the titanium case is a strap designed specifically for this model. It’s made of narrow fabric and leather strips that have been woven with a technique traditionally utilised to make parts of samurai armour.

Like earlier iterations of the 3180 remake, the SBGW295 is powered by the cal. 9S64. Since its launch almost a decade ago, the calibre has served as the mainstay for its dress timepieces.

It sports a respectable power reserve of 72 hours and an excellent daily rate of +5 to -3 seconds per day according to Grand Seiko testing standards.

Key facts and price

Grand Seiko Watchmaking 110th Anniversary Limited Edition
Ref. SBGW295

Diameter: 38 mm
Height: 10.9 mm
Material: Brilliant hard titanium
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 20 m

Movement: 9S64
Features: Hours, minutes, seconds
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Winding: Hand wind
Power reserve: 72 hours

Strap: Fabric strap or leather strap

Limited edition: 500 pieces
Availability: Starting February 2023 at Seiko boutiques and retailers
Price: US$13,800

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