Mega Hands-On Comparison Review Of The New Grand Seiko Four Seasons Collection, White Birch, Skyflake and Matrix
Editor’s note: This review of the new Grand Seiko Four Seasons collection and other GS watches is part of our watch photo reviews where we go hands-on with watches that can at least at the time of photographing be bought! For our other in-depth deep dives, please head to our dedicated review section here. Today’s watches are brought with the grateful assistance of J Farren-Price Sydney.
In A Nutshell
“Land really is the best art,” said Andy Warhol. Grand Seiko brings to our wrists the touch of the White Birch, the vivid imagery of the falling icy-blue snowflakes, the architecture of the Japanese wooden planks, and this Aussie winter, also the chance to spring into summer with the Grand Seiko SLGH005, SBGA407, SBGJ241, SBGJ251 and SBGJ249 respectively.
Before we head right in, if you wish to simply get the take-away, then it’s this:
- Shōsho or Summer dial – ref. SBGJ249 – $10’600 – Best Dial
- Shunbun or Spring dial – ref. SBGJ251 – $10’600 – Best Understated Elegance
- White Birch or Tree dial – ref. SLGH005 – $13’600 – Best Fit & Dimensions
- Skyflake or icy-blue snowflakes dial – ref. SBGA407 – $8’700 – Best Value For Money
- Matrix or the green-blue wooden planks dial – ref. SBGJ241 – $9’950 – Best in Colour-burst & Exclusivity
Intrigued? Read on…
Ever since the first Grand Seiko Snowflake SBGA211 from 2005 made landfall, the watch community has ‘woken’ to the Japanese luxury watch brand. Over the last 16 years, the brand has justly capitalised on the textured dial popularity (and the Spring Drive movement) of the SBGA211, presenting it as a definitive competitor to its competition.
Then in mid-2019, Grand Seiko launched the US only Four Seasons collection, named after Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter.
Out of all these numerous releases, two of the more notable models here in Australia have been the direct Snowflake descendent, the Skyflake SBGA407, and late last year’s Asia-only limited edition, the Matrix SBGJ241.
Continuing this trend into 2021 are the new Grand Seiko Four Seasons Collection with four different textured dials, with half of those featuring the Spring Drive movement.
Today, it’s a tale of 5 beauties. We go hands-on with and briefly compare the new Grand Seiko Four Seasons Collection (SBGJ249 and SBGJ251), White Birch (SLGH005), Skyflake (SBGA407), and Matrix (SBGJ241).
Let the nature inspired textured dial fiesta begin.
The New Grand Seiko Four Seasons Collection
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished,” said Lao Tzu.
On the mesmerisingly awe-inspiring dials of the new Grand Seiko Four Seasons collection, nature does not hurry; it sits there on your wrist, waiting for you to discover its beauty, slowly accomplishing everything that time wants to showcase.
Grand Seiko recently announced four new watches to celebrate Japan’s 24 seasons. The new Grand Seiko SBGJ249 is the summer version and the new GS SBGJ251 showcases the beauty of spring.
Why only four watches when there are 24 seasons? Because Japanese culture takes inspiration even from subtle changes even within the seasons. When you have moments in calendars to mark instances like the changes in weather, the behaviour or local flora and fauna, and also the eccentricities of the weather, you end up getting 24 seasons.
These 24 seasons or Nijushi-sekki divide the solar calendar equally in as many parts, and today with the new SBGJ251 and SBGJ249 we look at the spring and summer seasons, with two specific moments that mark the inspiration behind the dials of these watches.
The other two models announced are the SBGE271 (for the autumn equinox or Kanro) and the SBGE269 (for the winter solstice or Tōji). Though all the four are GMT watches, I appreciate that the movements have been split up, caters to the lovers of both the Hi-Beat 36000 GMT Caliber 9S86 and the Spring Drive GMT Caliber 9R66. The new SBGJ251 and SBGJ249 feature the former while the SBGE271 and SBGE269 feature the latter.
Springing To Life
Henry David Thoreau, the American naturalist, essayist, poet, and philosopher once said: “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth”.
These new Grand Seiko timepieces may celebrate the beauty of the nijushi-sekki, the bamboo floorboards, the falling snow or the birch trees; either way, they cast a horological spell that any collector will find hard to break.
Exhibit A: The Best Dial
The SBGJ249 represents the Shōsho or high summer — summer solstice — inspired dial and retails for 10’600 AUD. It’s meant to replicate the ending of the rainy season. This season is best described with warm south winds, blooming of lotus flowers and baby hawks learning to fly high in the sky.
The water flows gently. The soft warm summer wind strokes it, creating ripples that shimmer under the summer sun, creating myriad designs that evoke a sense of soulful calm. Meet the dial of the new Grand Seiko SBGJ249. The Zaratsu polished appliqué indices and branding at 12’o clock bloom like flowers. And on this base, a long second’s hand glides at 10 beats per second, mimicking the hawks that gracefully soar above Japan’s majestic water-bodies.
The Shōsho SBGJ249’s dial is a light magnet – allow the light to touch it and it explodes, like a calm river turning into a raging natural beauty. The texture like in all of these watches changes at different angles.
The dial itself is pretty much straight out of the GS playbook: while Grand Seiko’s signature dauphine hour and minutes hands are present right in the centre, the analog ring for the second timezone features alternating printed Arabic numerals and triangular markers. The blue GMT hand on the SBGJ249 (and the golden-coloured hand on the SBGJ251) provides for a nice contrast.
Grand Seiko watches are famous for their high level of Zaratsu polishing and the new Grand Seiko Four Seasons Collection is no different; the hand-finished black polishing of the lugs and the watch case reflects light nicely. And like other GS timepieces, the case of the Shōsho SBGJ249 features superb finishing including bevelled surfaces and excellent readability with polished and faceted hands and applied indices.
My favourite architect (and one that I admired the most when I was practising the field) Frank Lloyd Wright once said: “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you”.
The dial of the new Grand Seiko SBGJ249 is beautifully orchestrated with a silver-blue-purple wave pattern that in my opinion is not only the best GS dial yet but also presents collectors a chance with staying close to nature while never being failed by the brand’s Hi-Beat 36000 GMT Caliber 9S86.
Exhibit B: The Best Understated Elegance
The SBGJ251 on the other hand represents the Shunbun or the spring equinox time and retails for 10’600 AUD. Even though this season is famous for the pink cherry or sakura blossom season, GS has opted for a green dial with rose gold-tone accents to represent the fresh green vibe of the first rendezvous with spring.
This perhaps makes sense given GS released a pink dialled Spring version back in 2019 for the US-only limited run, the gorgeous SBGA413. And coincidentally, the SBGH271 released in 2019 was the summer edition, but with its green dial with gold accents, looked fairly similar to this new Shunbun SBGJ251. The major difference between the two though is that while 2019’s SBGH271 was a time and date only version, the new SBGJ251 adds the GMT complication.
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better,” said Albert Einstein.
The dark green textured dial is almost black under indoor lighting, ‘springing to life’ under natural light. At a glance it’s just a plain green dial; but on closer inspection, it marvels under the beauty of subtle textures.
Collectors who wish to own a GS textured dial timepiece but also want a more traditional looking dress watch, should pair this with a brown alligator strap to own any room they walk into.
It’s the most understated of all the new Grand Seiko Four Seasons Collection watches, and given 2021’s obsession with green dials, fits right in with the current fad.
Both the new Grand Seiko SBGJ249 and GS SBGJ251 further the brand’s foray into nature-inspired dials, but since we are on the topic of nature, there is one more recent GS offering that’s worth mentioning, the “White Birch” SLGH005.
Exhibit C: The Best Dimensions, Case Design & Ergonomics
The new Grand Seiko Heritage Hi-Beat “White Birch” SLGH005 is another novelty from this year, this time marking the brand’s experiment with inspiration drawn from the white birch tree forests that grow near the Grand Seiko Studio in Shizukuishi. It retails for 13’600 AUD.
It features the rather recent in-house 9SA5 that also features a Hi-Beat movement beating at a frequency of 5Hz. The dual impulse calibre 9SA5 comprises of 47 jewels, an 80-hour power reserve, and a stated accuracy of +5/-3 seconds per day (mean daily rate).
The 40mm x 11.7mm watch weighs 178g, is water-resistant to 100m, and the overall aesthetic is referred to by the brand as the “Series 9 Design” that will be “an important part of the Grand Seiko’s signature in the years to come”.
We will be reviewing this separately in more detail soon, so stay tuned.
Bonus Exhibit: Best Value For Money
The Grand Seiko ‘Skyflake’ SBGA407 is the baby blue version of the fan favourite GS Snowflake SBGA211 and retails for 8’700 AUD. The dial of the SBGA407 features a pattern that draws differing imagery based on the angle and the lighting. The texture of the traditional Japanese Washi (和紙) paper is beautifully replicated, and nicely mimics the falling of the icy-blue snow.
The uniquely textured baby blue dial, the classic round case inspired by the 56GS watch from 1971, the hypnotic sweep of the Spring Drive powered second’s hand, the raised, faceted and rectangular appliqué hour markers, a perfectly proportioned 3’o clock date window, the welcome 3-day power reserve, and the daily wearable 100m water-resistance, all join forces present with an unbelievable bargain for less than 9000 Aussie dollars.
We recently went hands-on with this in great detail, and you can read about it here.
And An Appearance By A Rare Guest
The Grand Seiko Heritage Collection SBGJ241 is a limited edition Asian-market only release of 700 pieces and retails for 9’950 AUD. The green dial elicits a strong emotional response due to the stunning combination of youthful forest greenery as reflected in the wooden floors of traditional Japanese architecture.
The beauty of the GS SBGJ241 is not simply superficial though; while the teal green adds a sense of adventure to one’s watch collection, the watch features the same movement as the new Grand Seiko Four Seasons Collection SBGJ249 and SBGJ251, the calibre 9S86.
Nature is the perfect artist; and I am glad Grand Seiko has managed to capture one essence of it and bring it to 700 wrists. Again, like the ‘Skyflake’ SBGA407, we went hands-on with it earlier this year in more detail, and you can read about it here.
Specifications of the new Grand Seiko Four Seasons collection
The specifications and case measurements of the four new Grand Seiko Four Seasons collection watches are not disruptively new, and we have discussed them in detail earlier with Grand Seiko’s other models. That said, the “Series 9 Design” language and the movement of the White Birch is definitely special.
Briefly, both the new Grand Seiko SBGJ249 and SBGJ251 feature the calibre 9S86 that is an automatic movement using the brand’s MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical System) technology. It is the GMT version of the base calibre 9S65. It uses a reverser gear train system, hardened components that help improve the durability of this reverser system, and a semiconductor manufacturing technology to produce watch parts.
The calibre 9S86 beats at the high frequency of 5Hz (36’000 A/h), comprises of 37 jewels, and boasts of a decent 55-hour power reserve. It also has a stated accuracy of +5/-3 seconds a day when static while the normal usage accuracy should be around +8 to -1 seconds per day.
Come to think of it, the GS SBGJ241 with the Hi-Beat movement meets Elegance collection’s ‘Skyflake’ SBGA407 DNA to off-spring the new SBGJ251 and SBGJ249.
Grand Seiko Wrist Drive & Comparisons
To be honest, if you end up with any of these five watches, you can’t go wrong. They all have their innate charm, bring something unique to your next RedBar or watch meet, and depending upon wrist sizes and budgets, cater to pretty much everybody.
You get the real feel for these pieces when you take them for a test drive, and besides how the dials look under different lighting, the case measurements, the weight, the lug-to-lug distance, the lug interhorn spacing, and the pricing, all make a difference as to how one perceives these.
SBGJ249 and SBGJ251 on the wrist
Both the new Grand Seiko SBGJ249 and SBGJ251 measure at 39.5mm x 14.1mm. They weigh in at a decent — not too light like the titanium Snowflake and not too heavy either — 150g on a stainless steel bracelet (with a three-fold clasp with push-button release). The lug-to-lug measuring comes in at convenient for slimmer wrists ~46.5mm, which for my roughly 16cm wrist is perfectly fine. The movement provides a decent 55-hour power reserve but the downfall is the low 30m water resistance.
SLGH005 on the wrist
The White Birch SLGH005 measures at a slightly wider 40mm diameter but is considerably slimmer at only 11.7mm. The White Birch weighs 178g on a stainless steel bracelet (with a three-fold clasp with push-button release) and has a rather large 22mm interhorn spacing.
Given it measures roughly the same 47mm lug-to-lug, the main difference between SLGH005 and SBGJ249 boils down to the thickness, and for someone like me, the White Birch definitely is a better fit.
The two’s dial textures are very similar: the SLGH005 features vertical waves and the SBGJ249 features horizontal waves. The SLGH005 is more muted though, preferable for someone with more classic tastes, whereas the SBGJ249 is right up my alley; it’s more youthful and colourful. Instead of being a pale white, it is more of a silvery under-layer with blue and purple colour changes. The added GMT function is also welcome, and the price difference of 3’000 Aussie dollars makes me personally prefer the SBGJ249.
That said, anyone with slimmer wrists than mine, people looking at purely dress watch aesthetics, or active enthusiasts who would be subjecting the watch to water, should definitely go for the White Birch SLGH005 as it features a proper 100m water resistance compared to the SBGJ249’s “splash resistant” 30m rating and a more weekend friendly 80-hour power reserve.
SBGA407 on the wrist
The Skyflake measures the biggest in diameter coming in at 40.2mm and sits in the middle with a thickness of only 12.8mm. It also weighs exactly half of theWhite Birch SLGH005, coming in at only 89g on the crocodile leather (with a three-fold clasp with push-button release). It boasts of an impressive 72-hours power reserve and ±1 second per day / ±15 seconds per month (average) accuracy. The timepiece is also water-resistant to 100m.
Like I said earlier, this for only $8’700 is the best deal, but the decision to buy it compared to others is not so straightforward.
Grand Seiko doesn’t make it easy to compare these; the SBGA407, unfortunately, measures the biggest lug-to-lug with a reading of 48mm and features the somewhat annoying 19mm lug inter-horn spacing making it harder to find replacement straps. It also features the 7.30 power-reserve indicator that I believe belongs on the case-back.
SBGJ241 on the wrist
The SBGJ241 measures roughly the same size as the new Grand Seiko SBGJ249, 40mm diameter and 14mm thickness. Its case design is different to all the watches here, inspired by the famed 44GS design from 1967. It features a wide mirror surface along with a curved sideline that meets the reversed slanted bezel wall and the case side to seamlessly place the watch on the wrist.
With a convenient 20mm interhorn spacing, 55-hour power reserve, a decent lug-to-lug of ~47mm, and an impressive 100m water resistance, it is one of the best colourful GMT dress watch options out there. The catch? 44GS wears a bit bigger than most Elegance Collection cases, and the watch is Asia exclusive and limited to 700-pieces.
The Comparison Verdict
I hope this review was able to help you decide which one is the right fit for you. Buy what floats your boat.
If you want exclusivity, get the limited edition Matrix. Want a mesmerisingly smooth gliding second’s hand and exceptional accuracy? Get the least expensive Skyflake. Have smaller wrists but big wallets? No question, get the White Birch. And want a mixture of all? The new Grand Seiko Shōsho SBGJ249 says hello.
That’s All Folks!
The new Grand Seiko Four Seasons Collection (SBGJ249 and SBGJ251), White Birch (SLGH005), Skyflake (SBGA407) and Matrix (SBGJ241) are excellent examples of Pythagoras’ wisdom: “Leave the road, take the trails”.
The brand chooses to leave behind the frequently taken road by a number of famous Swiss brands that are hell-bent on repeating the same dials year after year. By taking the lesser-known trails, not only do the dials of Grand Seiko watches feature textures reminiscent of nature rarely seen, but they also bring that elusive x-factor to any watch collection.
If thou hast been enamoured by any of these, please head to the GS website here or visit their authorised retailer J Farren-Price at 80 Castlereagh St, Sydney (02 9231 3299). To explore the J Farren-Price website, please head here. All images unless otherwise stated are ©WatchYaGonnaDoAboutIt.