Grand Seiko SBGM221 review

by Lewis Butterfield
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The nature of time. 

At first glance, the phrase reads as if some form of pseudo philosophical jargon, the kind of slogan born in the Grand Seiko PR departments internship program. That is, until you hold a Grand Seiko in your hands, until you feel the piece and experience the brands physical manifestation of their philosophy. For the past week or so, I have been taking a look at the Grand Seiko SBGM221 GMT. A watch from the Elegance line of Grand Seiko, and for that week I have found myself both enamoured and underwhelmed by the nature of this timepiece.

As a brand, Grand Seiko prides itself in their craftsmanship, they have been heralded for the famed Ziratsu polish, and admired for the intricacy and complexity of their dials. So it should be noted right away, the finishing and construction of the SBGM221 is first class. The watch has clearly been held to a very high standard during production, nothing is out of place, nothing is even remotely undercooked.

The SBGM221 spans a precise 39.5mm in diameter by an equally precise 13.7mm thick. Lug to lug the watch measures 46.3mm, this is achieved by the use of dramatically yet elegantly down curving lugs which hug the piece on to your wrist. I have a wrist size of 17.5cm and found the piece was right in the sweet spot of comfort for me personally, the watch could comfortably be worn down to as little as 15cm due primarily to the curvature of the lugs. 

The case of the SBGM221 is where I found the most wonder within the watch. Grand Seiko have employed the use of Ziratsu polish to perfection yet again. The watch features no matte or brushed finishing to its steel case or lugs, but with the clever use of bevelling and Ziratsu tin plate polishing, the case feels to be a conglomerate of textures, working in unison to create something truly beautiful. In particular, the bevelled edge of the lugs grows larger from the case to the tip, creating an almost waterfall like illusion that the bevel becomes the side profile. The case is not a sheer drop from the high polish bezel, it curves and swells around the piece and seemingly tucks into the screwed down case back. 

There is an absence of sharp edges to the case but always an abundance of precision. Each section rolls on to the next seamlessly and without fault. The knurling of the crown grips easily and winds the watch with satisfying ease. 

Being wound by the pull out crown is Grand Seiko’s calibre 9S66 automatic GMT movement. The 9S66 features a 3 day power reserve along with the integrated 24 hour GMT function. Being a fully integrated brand, each and every component of the movement is completely in house, and held completely to Grand Seiko’s lofty expectations. 

The brand guarantee the piece to keep time accurate to -1sec to +10sec per day throughout normal usage. This standard has been tested in house to 6 positions in a similar fashion to that of METAS.

The 35 jewel movement is well finished, the striping is even and consistent, the jewel atop the balance is well seated and vibrant. The only complaint to be had is that perhaps the finishing is a little plain, the rotor is partially skeletonised and often covers the only bit of depth in the balance spring. Opening up the main plate a little more and further skeletonising the rotor could leave the wearer with an even better view behind the sapphire case back. 

Functionally the movement operates smoothly and as expected. Hand winding is performed with the crown pushed in, pulled out to position one allows independent adjustment of the hour hand without adjusting minutes or the GMT. This function allows for a semi quick set date ability when you cross 12 o’clock, a date that can be adjusted bidirectionally I should add. At position two, the minutes and GMT hand are set. The addition of an independent GMT hand would have been a welcome one, but realistically the movement is simple to use and more than adequate for the price point.

As standard the watch features a dark brown crocodile leather strap, fixed with a stainless-steel twin trigger deployant clasp. The clasp is the style of deployant that mimics a classic tang and buckle attachment, throughout my time with the watch I found it to be secure and have never had the buckle release unexpectedly. Exterior decoration continues to be a strong point for the watch here, with the words Grand Seiko adorning the buckle inside a hammered dimpling texture.

It is dial side however, that my adoration of this watch slows somewhat. Grand Seiko have produced some spectacular dials in their history, the most famous of which “The snowflake” is a personal favourite. This is a brand that has emulated seasons to perfection on the faces of its watches, a brand that proudly had concentric radial spirals, trace the tessellated dial pattern on the SBGH267.

You may then understand why the ivory dial used in the SBGM221 leaves me feeling slightly underwhelmed. 

In every other way, the dial is as crisp and as well crafted as you expect with a Grand Seiko time piece. The hour markers are cut and polished superbly, they catch light with remarkable results. The bevelling applied to the hands adds depth and character, coming to a sharp and precise point that even under macro you cannot find a fault. The deep blue steel GMT hand is just the right length and shape that it both offers legibility when needed, but fades from view when not.

The printing of the GMT 24 hour numerals is crisp and clean, as too is the printing of Grand Seiko below the applied GS logo at 12 o’clock.

All of the precision that has gone into creating the dial of the SBGM221, is let down slightly by what can be described as a beige dial colour. I can’t help but feel that even a clean crisp white would have offered more to the wearer than the SBGM221 currently does. 

The SBGM221 is a watch I want to fall in love with, it has everything going for it. The movement is well made, decorated well, and offers a genuinely useful complication. The case is absolutely brilliant, it holds all other dress watch cases to a standard that frankly, many do not achieve. But unfortunately, the lack of inspiration in the dial leaves me wanting more. I am aware that this is a purely subjective criticism of the visual appeal of the watch, you may love the ivory colour, there is no denying the quality of the SBGM221, but watches are a personal expression. They are an expression of the wearer, and for me the SBGM221 gives and impression of beige and its just not one I can get behind in the end.

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