Grand Seiko has dropped a number of new releases for us to discuss and debate during Watches & Wonders 2022. Jon has introduced you to a few (here), while I professed my love for the new Spring Drive Diver right here. In addition to those releases, Grand Seiko is rounding out its novelty lineup with a fresh take on a contemporary classic – the Grand Seiko Spring Drive Chronograph GMT .
Similar to what we saw with the Spring Drive Diver SLGA015 and the Spring Drive GMTs (SBGE283 and SBGE285), the new Spring Drive Chronograph GMT SBGC249 and SBGC251 include a case design influenced by the new-for-2022 “Evolution 9” design codes, which are intimately informed by Grand Seiko’s famous 44GS case. This new Chronograph GMT case looks like it could possibly be the most wearable Spring Drive Chronograph GMT yet, even if the specs don’t quite come across that way.
Grand Seiko lists the dimensions at 45.3mm × 15.8mm, compared to the stout 43.8mm ×, 16.1mm dimensions of the original Spring Drive Chronograph GMT and the 44.5mm × 16.8mm size of the extra-angular 2020 refresh. The dimensions, to my eye, appear to be a touch more ergonomic than previous iterations, which should allow even more people to experience this high-tech Grand Seiko line-up. I particularly appreciate how the twin chronograph pushers and three o’clock crown have been downsized and streamlined. Of course, the two watches are both sculpted out of the same high-intensity titanium we saw on the Spring Drive Diver SLGA015.
Another new addition is, for what I believe the first time on a Grand Seiko Spring Drive Chronograph GMT , a bidirectional external 24-hour bezel with a sapphire crystal insert. The original Spring Drive Chronograph GMT placed the 24-hour scale on an internal flange and used no external bezel, while later releases incorporated fixed bezel inserts made of ceramic (and occasionally other materials) labeled with tachymeter scales or non-adjustable 24-hour scales. By being able to adjust the bezel in either direction, in conjunction with the GMT hand on the dial, the Spring Drive Chronograph GMT can now be used to indicate the time in three separate time zones at once.
Aesthetically, the SBGC249 has a blue dial with yellow accents; it’s a limited-edition release of 700 pieces to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Grand Seiko’s first Spring Drive Chronograph GMT, the SBGC001, which came to market in 2007 as the most complex Spring Drive development yet. The specific Spring Drive movement inside the anniversary release is the caliber 9R96, a more precise version of the 9R86 caliber that was present in the 2007 release. It’s more-or-less identical to the 9R86 other than being adjusted to ±0.5 second per day, or ±10 seconds per month.
The SBGC251, on the other hand, is a non-limited release that features the same case and bidirectional bezel as the SBGC249, but comes in a largely monochromatic colorway featuring a black dial with primarily white accents for the sub-dials, hour markers, and bezel. There is, however, a splash of aqua blue on the GMT hand as well as the printed GMT text above six o’clock. The movement inside the SBGC249 is the conventional 9R86, which is pretty sweet in its own right (I highly recommend taking a look at this deconstruction by The Naked Watchmaker), offering accuracy up to ±1 second per day, or ±15 seconds per month.
The Grand Seiko Spring Drive Chronograph GMT watches have always been, in my opinion, one of the most intellectually stimulating watches in Grand Seiko’s collection. They often get a bad rap among conservative watch collectors who will (fairly) lament the watches’ sizable dimensions. And I do understand that perspective – I’d be wary to drop approximately $10,000 on a watch I might not feel comfortable wearing due to its large size; especially since, unlike the Spring Drive Diver models, I’ve always found examples of the Spring Drive Chronograph GMT to wear true to their stated dimensions. To put it frankly – these are big watches that wear big.
That said, I can’t help but crack a smile when I see one of these watches in person. There’s just so much going on! You have eight different hands on the dial, each diamond-polished to the same standard you’d expect from Grand Seiko. The movements operate using Spring Drive but still utilize a column wheel and vertical clutch, for precise engagement of the chronograph functionality. The movements are fully integrated and are always a pleasure to look at, which is something you honestly can’t always say about many other self-winding chronographs out there.
There’s also the local jumping hour hand, that offers “flyer” GMT functionality compared to the lesser “caller” iteration, and also the just plain wild dial orientation. Clockwise from 12 o’clock, there’s an elapsed minutes sub-dial, a framed date aperture, a 12-hour chronograph counter, a power-reserve display, and running seconds. It’s busy but it feels like it’s complicated for a reason, with each detail placed with purpose rather than thrown together.
I have a hard time believing that Grand Seiko has been producing the Grand Seiko Spring Drive Chronograph GMT for 15 consecutive years now. (Where has the time gone?) It dates back three years prior to when Grand Seiko entered international distribution, in 2010, when the prestige and prowess of Grand Seiko watchmaking was but a whisper in the Western world. Fifteen years later, the Grand Seiko Spring Drive Chronograph GMT maintains that same aura of authenticity. It hasn’t lost any of its original mechanical panache.