For the Grand Seiko lovers, the replica Hi-Beat GMT SBGJ019 is a choice.
A longstanding criticism of Grand Seiko, external to GS collectors anyway, was that their watches were just too conservative and too dressy. Outsiders demanded larger, sportier and more contemporary models in the vein of the ultra-popular SBGE001. Grand Seiko listened, and never more so than in 2016, releasing not one but four new black ceramic models, almost entirely to the exclusion of traditional Grand Seikos. This fake SBGJ019, however, is an exception to the rule, a gift from Morioka to the GS faithful.
The replcia SBGJ019 ticks all the GS boxes: gorgeous, textured dial, hand-finished steel accents and case, along with subdued, lume-less styling. The manually assembled movement, the relatively new 9S86, is also a bit of a love letter to traditional Grand Seikos, being of the Hi-Beat variety.
The dial work is especially interesting. It has a beautiful, but subtle, black sunburst dial, which is not uncommon among GSes. But the GMT numerals actually receive their own black ring with a distinct sunburst finish. You have to look for it, but it’s quite beautiful.
The hands are largely traditional for GS. As is almost always the case, brushed dauphine hands are used on the black dial, greatly increasing legibility, and it’s accompanied by matching applied indices. The interesting part is the GMT hand, with its red tip, namely that the metal is very dark, which may be coated in something, but it has the interesting effect of making the hand even more distinct from the main hands.
To aid in legibility, the minute and seconds hands are gently curved downward, placing them closer to the dial at the end and compensating for their relative height.
The fake SBGJ019 seems to share the 39.5mm case of the popular SBGR061, which is itself inspired by the 1960 Grand Seiko, as opposed to the GSes of the late 1960s which have been more influential in the brand’s contemporary case design.
Naturally, given the SBGJ019’s dressy approach, the crown doesn’t screw down although the watch is rated for 30 meters, approximately 29.9 more than the replcia SBGJ019 wearer will ever use.
The fake watch has a suitably demure lug to lug dimension of 46.75mm and a thickness of 14mm. Curiously, that’s slightly thicker than the 13.9mm specification from Grand Seiko. It’s thicker than I’d like, and perhaps this is more a commentary on the modern watch industry than the GS itself, but it’s well within normal parameters for an automatic watch these days.
The replica SBGJ019 features one of Grand Seiko’s highest end movements, the relatively new 9S86. You’ll remember the 9S86 as the first Hi-Beat GMT movement that Grand Seiko has ever made and one of only a handful in the world.
Here we see the balance wheel, and to a small extent, the escapement. This is where the magic happens, namely the timekeeping. GS’ top-grade mechanical movements, basically the 9S85 (non-GMT) and 9S86 (GMT), beat 10 times per second, as opposed to almost every other watch’s 8. This feature is shared by extremely few movements in the world today. Essentially, the only other serious 36,000 BPH competitor you have in this price range is Zenith, but stylistically, and in terms of complications, it’s so wildly different that even Zeniths can’t be cross-shopped.
Despite its high frequency, a property known to reduce the effective power reserve of a watch movement, the fake 9S86 still manages 55 hours, an impressive 15 more than average and 5 more than most of its similar competitors at Zenith.
In overall design, like many Swiss watches today, it borrows much from German design, namely the 3/4 plate, but the unique diagonal stripes, often called Tokyo stripes, and bold gold writing set it apart from a sea of great looking, but familiar, Swiss and German movements.
I’ve been a Seiko fan for far longer than the brand has been in America, and as such, I could fairly be labeled a traditionalist. I daily wear an SBGH001, powered by the similar 9S85 movement, for largely the same reasons I love this SBGJ019. It has a beautiful dial, a superb movement, and while it doesn’t look out of place today, neither would it 50 years ago. The SBGJ019 is a watch for people like me. Some have been quick to criticize GS for its forays into larger, more aggressive watches, but I haven’t been one of them, and the existence of models like this is precisely why.
These are the kinds of GSes I prefer, but as long as Grand Seiko still attends to their existing base, I see no problem with them expanding and reaching new audiences. In fact, it’s a great thing because it shares this legendary brand to a greater number of people than it otherwise could if it stuck only to its classics. For me, however, I’ll take the replica SBGJ019.