What We Know
Last year was an exciting one for Grand Seiko.
With the original White Birch Hi-Beat, the SLGH005, the brand officially announced its Series 9 design (though the watch seems to have been quietly introduced earlier) with a stand-out dial that quickly became a fan favorite. This piece brought GS’s year-old escapement to a more affordable and non-limited production model. So it was little surprise when the watch was picked as the Men’s Watch of the Year by the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève and by HODINKEE’s own Logan Baker as his favorite new watch of 2021. I’ll leave you to decide which honor is more prestigious.
Six months later, the brand introduced the new 9RA2 movement with five-day power reserve in the SLGA007 and SLGA008, moving the power reserve to the movement side of the watch and resolving a pet peeve of GS Spring Drive fans.
So today’s introduction of the Grand Seiko “White Birch” Spring Drive Caliber 9RA2, the SLGA009 from here on, might not be a surprise. Just as the Series 9 design evolved from the brand’s historic 44GS case, the watch is a logical continuation from a brand built on meticulous revision. Alongside the Zaratsu polished Series 9 case, the distinct bark-like dial, truncated hands, and thick, grooved markers return, unmarred by a power reserve indicator that’s easily viewed behind the sapphire caseback. It’s there that we find the most unique change: A newly “frost”-finished 9RA2 movement.
The ‘White Birch’ timepieces, both high-beat and Spring Drive, will officially form the new Evolution 9 Collection starting in February.
What We Think
When I think about Grand Seiko, the two things that come to mind are snowflakes and white birch – natural elements that remind me of home. When I return to New York City from the northwoods of Wisconsin, I inevitably get nostalgic for the trappings of wilderness, among them a nice snowy landscape like the beautiful stand of trees outside my parents’ back door.
Out of over 5.2 million trees in New York, there are only 371 Betula papyrifera, or paper (white) birch. But it just so happened that the press release for this watch arrived in my inbox after a morning spent staring at the city’s first snowfall of 2022 – snowflakes, baby! – so I left my apartment in search of those trees.
The nearest birch, on East 57th Street, was surrounded by construction, a portable toilet, and scaffolding, its spindly branches still holding piles of fresh snow. It was admittedly a far cry from the forests of Shinshu, the idyllic home to the Grand Seiko Spring Drive studio and inspiration for the birch bark dial. Amidst the noise of the street and the remnant holiday lights on the trees nearby, this tree lacked it’s signature curled white bark and it didn’t stand out unless you looked for it. But it still felt special to see, knowing what it was.
That’s been my impression of spotting a Grand Seiko in the wild, and I mean that in the best possible way. There’s nothing obtrusive about a GS. Instead, what you get is something that feels particularly special and fascinating when you experience it for yourself; a watch that cuts through the noise.
That was especially the case with last year’s SLGH005 White Birch Hi-Beat, which earned rave reviews nearly across the board, especially for a design that walked the line between sporty and elegant and set the tone for GS, moving forward. It’s hard to see how a watch that’s similar in so many ways would be any less of a success.
Photos can’t really do a Grand Seiko justice, and I still remember the fascination when I first saw Zaratsu finishing in person. And as someone who grew up looking at watch movements more than dials, I’m hopeful I’ll have a little of that sense of wonder when I see the frosted 9RA2 in person. The “frost” finishing on the movement stood out in press photos, but just as Jack longed in his original review to see the birch bark dial for the full effect, I’ll need to see the movement in person. On paper, it makes sense to match the cool tones of birch bark dial and blued seconds hand with a frosted movement and I imagine it will (maybe counterintuitively) warm the movement, visually, for a nice balance.
The SLGH005 has been out nearly a year now and hopefully many of you have gotten a chance to see one in person. At $9,100, the new SLGA009 still remains relatively expensive compared to the competition and is indicative of Grand Seiko’s rising prices. But if you liked last year’s release and were waiting for a Spring Drive with an extra 40 hours of power reserve over the Hi-Beat, your patience has been rewarded.
Case Material: Stainless steel
Water Resistance: 10 bar
Strap/Bracelet: Stainless steel
Caliber: Spring Drive Caliber 9RA
Power Reserve: 5 days (120 hours)
Winding: Automatic winding
Additional Details: Accuracy within ±0.5 seconds per day (±10 seconds per month)
Pricing & Availability
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The HODINKEE Shop is an authorized retailer of Grand Seiko watches; explore the collection here. For more information on the SLGA009, visit Grand Seiko.