Five things I hate about post-2017 Grand Seiko (and a few that I like)

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What follows is a kind of therapeutic purge, not to be taken too seriously, but all of which inspired by long-standing and heartfelt annoyances I have felt with the development of Grand Seiko’s marketing and branding strategy since 2017. It may present as rather negative but as you work through you will see that it’s not all bad. Herewith then, five things I hate (or find mildly annoying) about Grand Seiko 2017+.

1. The branding

Let’s get this straight.  I have no problem at all in Grand Seiko watches being branded and badged as Grand Seiko.  What I do have a problem with, from the moment Seiko carried out their realignment/rebranding exercise in 2017, is the layout that they chose to use.  For a nation with such an finely-tuned sense of the aesthetic, I just cannot understand how they could have authorised such a clumsy re-badging exercise.

I have explained in some detail my thinking on this issue in a previous post and two and a half years later, my opinion has not softened.  Quite the opposite in fact.   I hate it so much that it successfully disperses most fleeting urges I might have to buy a new Grand Seiko, with only a small handful of exceptions.

Those exceptions are exclusively watches designed since 2017 where it appears that the designers worked the new badging into the dial layout rather than simply plonking it onto an existing dial designed around the SEIKO upper, GS Grand Seiko lower, arrangement used up to that point.

I do recognise that my mind is so inured to the old layout that its programming cannot now be adjusted and consequently, that this snow-blindness of mine is not widely shared.  By way of a remembrance of fallen heroes, herewith a small selection of previously desirable models rendered somewhat less desirable by the rebranding:

From left: SBGJ019, SBGH037 and SBGR053.  RIP. (Photocredit for the third photo to Jack Road and Betty.)

2. They are too big

At the time of writing, Grand Seiko Japan lists 144 men’s watches under their ALL GRAND SEIKO models collection.  Only 30 of these are smaller than 39mm in diameter, covered by 7 case designs.  And of those, the only model I like is the SBGW257, yet another homage to the original 3180.  Unfortunately, it’s only available in platinum and consequently, completely beyond reach. There is a titanium version but that is fitted with a stupid blue dial. In any case, that collection is too big (38mm) to be taken seriously as an authentic homage to the original.  In principle, I like the SBGW231, a snip at 495,000 Yen, but that model has been spoiled by the re-branding.

Grand Seiko SBGW258 (left) and SBGW231 (right). Photocredit: adapted from images published on HODINKEE’s website

The previous incarnation of the latter, the SBGW031, was arguably almost perfectly formed.

Of the 114 options remaining as a potential Grand Seiko customer, the only models that are not excessively large for their type AND which I think carry off the new branding to an extent that does not completely kill them as prospective purchases, are mostly sports 9F quartz models with a couple of higher end mechanical watches raising a flicker of interest. 

In particular, I think the two recent Magnetic Resistant models, SBGX341 and 343 are something of a triumph.  There is not much wrong with either but I think the white dial is the more distinctive and interesting watch.

Photocredit: grandseikogs9club.com

I am also quite taken by the related GMT variations, but they are all very expensive for GS quartz, particularly the SBGN023, which is actually the only colour combination I’d be interested in.

Grand Seiko SBGN023, SBGN019 and SBGN021, left to right.

Another 9F GMT watch that caught my eye recently is the SBGN003 (and variations thereof). It looks confident and neat but again, I am not convinced by the position of the GS Grand Seiko emblem. 

Of the rest, like many, I was intrigued by the SLGH005 but it has three problems:  it has giant 22mm lugs, it’s too big at 40mm, it looks a bit too bling on its bracelet and it is too expensive. That’s four things actually.

The only other model that pricks my interest is the Spring Drive GMT SBGE253.  This one is unusual for a sports Spring Drive in that its case is only just a smidge over 40mm and so size wise it works.  I am not quite sure what I think of the black 24 hour bezel but in any case, its appeal is diluted, again, by the branding configuration.

I do realise I’ve focussed on examples that are, for the most part, not actually too large but my point here is that these are the exceptions rather than the rule.

3. Far too much choice

I’m sorry, but 144 models are way, way too many (and that’s just men’s watches).

The appeal of the modern GS used to be that they were hand-made, niche and fantastic value compared to mass market production line watches such as Rolex (arf!).  The current impression is that they are now knocking them out in such large numbers that you cannot help but wonder if they are able to maintain the quality.

4. Too many Novelties, Anniversary Collections and Limited Special editions

GS are not the only brand guilty of this (ahem, Omega) but it is just too transparently cynical.  They are trying to rinse you.  Resist!

Clockwise from top left: SBGA415, SBGA421, SBGH269, SBGP015, SBGA447 and SLGH003. Photocredits: All Grand Seiko except the last (wachtime.com).

I should add that I am not universally opposed to celebratory or special models because some of them have the potential to become bona fide classics.  The problem is that in recent times there are just too many of them to be ‘special’ and too many of them are aesthetically challenged (see point 5).

5. Too many tasteless, gaudy colour combinations

The modern GS has always been, for the most part, too large but they were at least somewhat subdued in their attempts to catch the eye of people weighed down by vast excesses of disposal income but entirely devoid of good taste.  No longer.

Good heavens above.

A whole blue collection, not all of which gaudy as such, but one which combines blue and red and sometimes gold in a way which to my eye is off beam.

While we are on the subject of unpleasant blue with gold highlights, I give you the SBGE248.

Photocredit: ablogtowatch.com

Conclusion

It is difficult to know whether this repositioning has been successful in terms of the financial bottom line given other perturbations to the wider market in recent years but I honestly believe that, regardless of how much money they are making, they are in danger of diluting and rinsing away much that was special about the brand.  I know plenty of you may not agree with some, or all, of the above.  If more of you disagree than agree then that may point to Seiko knowing far better than I how to market their watches (although I suspect that the type of person who reads this blog or subscribes to watch forums probably constitutes a very small fraction of the actual market). 

In spite of having started out writing this post in a rather grumpy frame of mind, I seem to have come up with rather a lot to like. Curious.