W&W 2024 – Grand Seiko Evolution 9 Collection – SLGW002 and SLGW003, “Birch Bark”

Picture this: you’ve been on your watch journey for a few years now, you’ve done the classics, and you might have one watch a bit left of centre. But what’s next? I would make the bet that something elegant, refined and containing some horological chops is up next for consideration. But what to choose? At Watches and Wonders 2024, something familiar, yet different made its debut at the fair that got the enthusiasts all fired up – a pair of watches that follows Grand Seiko’s nature-inspired pieces, but with some serious horology contained within. The new SLGW002 and SLGW003, known as the “Birch Bark” is arguably the dress watch of the fair, combining elegance and horological prowess that might make them your new favourite dress watch.

The first Grand Seiko watches were created to be low maintenance, easy to wear, highly legible and incredibly beautiful. This was later combined with Seiko’s history in chronometry, with their expertise in high precision and high-beat movements. The new “Birch Bark” models combine this beauty with a manually wound high-beat movement that continues this legacy in their precision watchmaking. 

Seiko is synonymous with the Hi-Beat movement, amongst only a few manufacturers able to produce a watch with a higher beat rate as the key to precision. A fundamental theory to the Hi-Beat movement is that the increased frequency divides one second into smaller intervals, thereby, increasing the precision of the timepiece. The faster movement of the balance wheel would also assist in recovering from positional changes faster than that of a watch with a slower beat rate. Today’s Hi-Beat movements echo Seiko’s pursuit of precision in the late 1960s, and incorporate new manufacturing techniques to ensure reliability and performance. Not only is it uncommon to find high frequency watches from other brands, but Seiko took steps in manufacturing key escapement components to help cement it’s position in precision and reliability. 

The two “Birch Bark” models come in two guises – the SLGW003 in Brilliant Hard Titanium, and the SLGW002 in 18k Rose Gold which is limited to 80 pieces worldwide at Grand Seiko Boutiques. Both of which have a dial that echoes the bark of the birch trees that grow near the Grand Seiko Studio Shizukuishi where all of Grand Seiko’s mechanical watches are made.

Following the Evolution 9 design codes, the elements of the dial including the hands and hour markers still follow these principles, albeit they have been slimmed down to create a more elegant face of the watch. The lugs too have been narrowed to create a more elegant silhouette, and the centre of gravity of the watch has been brought down closer to the wrist, for a more comfortable and stable wear on the wrist. The case size also reflects its elegant nature, measuring in at 38.6mm in diameter, and 9.95mm in height – perfect dress watch proportions.

Housed within the watch is the new 9SA4 movement, and whilst it may look like the movement is its automatic brother (the calibre 9SA5) with the rotor removed, the 9SA4 actually has around 40% of its components that were uniquely developed for this calibre, specifically with manual winding in mind. The 9SA4 beats at 36,000vph, making this a high-beat movement, and also incorporates the Dual Impulse Escapement from Grand Seiko – essentially power from the barrel is more efficiently delivered directly to the balance wheel through a unique escape wheel and pallet fork architecture. With its two power barrels, this combination enables a long power reserve of 80 hours. With its focus on manual winding, special attention has been paid to the winding click of the power barrel. Its shape is reminiscent of the wagtail – a bird that is indigenous to the Morioka region of Japan, near where the Grand Seiko Studio Shizukuishi is located. One final touch of this watch as a manually wound watch is the power reserve on the plate-side of the movement – a finishing flourish for a dress watch that will only be enjoyed by its owner. As with all Grand Seiko watches, the movements are graded according to the Grand Seiko Standard – -3/+5 seconds per day, in six positions (as opposed to the traditional five), three different temperatures, and across a period of 17 days.

It is certainly no wonder why the Birch Bark watches received so much fanfare and attention during Watches and Wonders 2024 – it signified the return of the dress watch, and its importance in the world of watchmaking. The days of the everyday watch are not gone, but the prominence of the dress watch will slowly regain its position as it did before the craziness of the pandemic. With the Birch Bark, Grand Seiko have made a firm statement that they are committed to their customers in developing watches that suit the zeitgeist – with its incredibly beautiful dial and extremely capable movement, the Birch Bark sets the standard for dress watches in its category, and we cannot wait to see what other creations from Grand Seiko will house the new movement.

Technical Specifications

Caliber 9SA4

Driving system: Manual-winding

Frequency: 36,000 vibrations per hour (10 beats per second)

Accuracy (mean daily rate): +5 to -3 seconds per day

Power reserve: 80 hours

Number of jewels: 47

Diameter: 31.0mm, Thickness: 4.15mm


18k rose-gold case and clasp (SLGW002)

Brilliant Hard Titanium case and clasp (SLGW003)

Box-shaped sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating on the inner surface

See-through case back

Water resistance: 3 bar

Magnetic resistance: 4,800 A/m

Diameter: 38.6mm, Thickness: 9.95mm

Crocodile strap with three-fold clasp with push button release

Approximate recommended retail prices: $45,000 (SLGW002), $10,700 (SLGW003)

Limited edition of 80 (SLGW002)