Over the past few years, Grand Seiko has often taken inspiration from nature for its special models, presenting a humble take on Fine Watchmaking – the Japanese way. In 2021, Grand Seiko pulls the covers off of their latest creation that not only represents the beauty of nature found near the brand’s studios, but also houses their most compelling mechanical movement to date – the Grand Seiko SLGH005 White Birch/Shirakaba.
Grand Seiko has very often taken its inspiration for its watches from nature and landscapes surrounding its workshops. Case in point, what is arguably Grand Seiko’s flagship model, “the Snowflake” (SBGA211), which takes inspiration from the fresh snowfall near Seiko’s Shinshu Watch Studios where the Spring Drive calibres are built. Another example of this is the US exclusive “Japan Seasons Special Editions” series of 62GS-cased models that take their inspiration from the seasonal variation in Japan’s fauna and landscape throughout the course of a year. It has been noted that Grand Seiko’s studios are nestled in beautiful areas of Japan – in particular, the Shizukuishi Watch Studio is located in the Iwate Prefecture, an area known for its pristine natural features. It is only fitting, then, that the Grand Seiko SLGH005 (also known as the White Birch or the Shirakaba) takes its inspiration from the picturesque surroundings of the Shizukuishi Watch Studio.
The Grand Seiko SLGH005 White Birch/Shirakaba (We will refer to this watch as the White Birch from here on) has a very distinctive dial, taking its inspiration from the White Birch forests that grow near the Shizukuishi Watch Studio. The dial has a pattern that is reminiscent of the layers of bark that grow on White Birch trees, and furthermore, has a grained texture upon closer inspection. The overall design of the watch is what Grand Seiko terms as their “Series 9” design, which was originally introduced with the 60th Anniversary models in 2020. In particular, the case was given alternating finishes between brushed and Zaratsu polished surfaces to give a refined glow, and the dials were designed with legibility in mind – wider markers, especially the “triple index” at 12 aid with this design element. The hands are also widened to aid with legibility, especially the hour hand. This is not to say, however, that elegance is lost with this design objective – it appears that balance and refinement has been retained, in part with the grained and polished surfaces on the hour hand itself. With all of these design elements combined – the texture of the dial, combined with the Series 9 design cues, the overall appearance of the White Birch is distinctive, yet restrained at the same time. While these two characteristics may seem to be at odds with each other, the details are what matter with Grand Seiko, and for those with a keen eye for detail, the White Birch provides a wealth of eye candy for those looking at it.
Housed within the Grand Seiko White Birch is the 9SA5 movement, the latest generation in Grand Seiko’s Hi-Beat movements. The new movement includes a myriad of improvements including a higher power reserve of 80 hours through two power barrels, and a slimmer construction that reduces the height of the movement by almost 15%. This latter improvement enables the construction of slimmer watches that sit closer to the wrist, making for a more comfortable wearing experience. What is the most curious, however, is the new Direct Impulse Escapement that was unveiled with this new movement.
In essence, Hi-Beat watches are power hungry, and the use of the conventional Lever Escapement introduces inefficiencies in power transfer during operation. The Direct Lever Escapement helps to resolve this issue by having the escape wheel directly impart energy to the balance wheel, instead of indirectly as seen through the Lever Escapement. This helps to ensure optimum balance wheel amplitude and increases the efficiency of the movement as a whole. Furthermore, the balance spring features an optimised Grand Seiko over-coil to aid with more regular beating of the balance wheel, and it is free sprung, leaving the balance less susceptible to shocks.
The question remains – will this become the new flag-bearer of the Grand Seiko collection, and supplant the Snowflake as the iconic model of the brand? We at ISOCHRONO would say no, but not for the reason you might think. Grand Seiko is best represented by its two movement technologies – Spring Drive and Hi-Beat Mechanical. The Snowflake already contains the Spring Drive movement, representing the technical marvel unveiled by the brand in 1999, while the White Birch, containing the latest generation 9SA5 is a testament to what the brand is capable of in the mechanical watch space. As such, we believe there is now a contender for a second flag-bearer in the Grand Seiko line-up – one that represents Spring Drive (the Snowflake) and now one that represents the next evolution in Hi-Beat Mechanical (the White Birch).
The Grand Seiko White Birch, then, continues the brand’s fame as Japan’s watchmaking powerhouse – paying tribute to Japan’s nature whilst being incredibly innovative in movement development and execution. In addition to the Series 9 design, the White Birch carries the legacy of the Grand Seiko Grammar of Design, whilst being future-forward in terms of the way watches will be built by the brand. With all said, it also helps that Grand Seiko has created a watch packed with a myriad of details, from dial, to hands, to case and to its movement. It is no wonder why this watch should therefore lead Grand Seiko’s charge into Fine Watchmaking, and show the industry what a challenge the brand can muster.