The Grand Seiko SBGW297 and SBGW299 focus on the details

One for the detail-oriented fans.

I would wager that every seasoned watch lover remembers exactly how they felt the moment they discovered the oft-obscured world of watchmaking. There is a rush of wonder when you realize that the hobby even exists. At that moment, you feel like Howard Carter peering into the blackness of the boy king’s tomb, blinking away the darkness and acclimatizing to the subtle glint of gold as it reveals itself to living eyes for the first time in centuries. You ponder (and can be forgiven for doing so) whether anyone else knows about it or whether you and you alone are destined to become its sole custodian for time immemorial. You consider keeping quiet and not telling anyone the treasures you’ve unearthed but, sooner or later, the desire to share overcomes you and you seek out like-minded weirdos. There must be one or two, right?

And then you meet someone much further along in their journey and your perception of the hobby is once more turned upside down. The world you thought you knew isn’t a world at all; it’s a universe entire. There are endless levels, esoteric nuances, and libraries full of knowledge desperate to be discovered and pored over. More baffling still, there are humans (who look vaguely normal for the most part) who communicate not with words, but rather with long strings of seemingly random numbers and letters, which you would have deemed gobbledygook were you not the only one who didn’t seem to understand.

No matter how long you spend floating around the watch universe, there will always be someone who knows a reference number you don’t (and will gleefully express mock shock when you shrug and admit your understandable ignorance). But for Grand Seiko fanatics, there are four characters you really need to know, no matter how recently you’ve begun your descent down the rabbit hole.


The Grand Seiko 44GS, 1967 (Image: Grand Seiko)
The Grand Seiko 44GS, 1967 (Image: Grand Seiko)

It’s a case reference, not a model number. It is, however, more famous among aficionados of Japanese watchmaking than any other case reference I can call to mind. First conceived in 1967, the 44GS platform was the perfect expression of Grand Seiko’s case finishing ability and it has not been topped since. In 2013, the brand saw fit to update the model, increasing its diameter in light of market pressure to do so, but it wasn’t really necessary. Sure, it would’ve taken incredible resolve (and perhaps a dash of recklessness) for Grand Seiko to ignore commercial trends and stick to its guns, but even given the brand’s desire to appeal to a broader, more international market, I’m not sure it would’ve done too much harm.

Case in point, just nine years later (and just five years after GS became a separate entity from Seiko), the mid-size 44GS was released in 2022. At 36.5mm in diameter, 11.6 mm thick, and a wrist-friendly 42.7 mm lug-to-lug, this was a purist’s dream. Now, Grand Seiko proudly adds the identically sized SBGW297 and SBGW299 to its Heritage Collection.


What we think about the SBGW297 and SBGW299

I’m very comfortable in saying, this iteration of the 44GS is the best yet. It is actually a little narrower (although also a little thicker) than the 1967 original, but that added boxiness makes it wear even smaller on the wrist, resulting in a curiously contemporary look.

As always, the product presentation suffers from two major problems that Grand Seiko seems unwilling to address. Firstly, the product photography is frustratingly sterile and does absolutely nothing for the incredible finishing of the case, dial, indices, and hands.

Secondly, and perhaps more unforgivably, the standard Grand Seiko bracelet design has borrowed a trick from the Omega Seamaster 300M with its insistence on holding back an otherwise heavenly creation. Although it measures just 18 mm at the lugs, it retains that width at the clasp and looks as out of place here as a doily in a Daft Punk music video. It’s stuffy, out of touch, and totally disrupts the otherwise exquisite balance between tradition and futurism the 44GS case was always able to strike.

Then again, these watches seem quite clearly targeted at those already acquainted with the brand, understand its foibles, and know how to get the best out of its watches (and by that I mean put both of these models on tapered leather straps immediately and thank me later). Thank the stars for those drilled lug holes, which make strap swaps all the easier.

Bracelet gripes and lackluster photography aside, I’m all in on these latest additions, but it is absolutely essential you get them on your wrist before dismissing them as a solid go-anywhere, do-anything option. The 100 meters of water resistance is thankfully retained despite the smaller case sizes, and the dials, while visually engaging, are quiet enough to work with smarter attire as well as more casual threads.

The hand-wound Caliber 9S64 won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but it is largely responsible for the slimness of these watches and, for my money, is something that will be celebrated by those who want an excuse to interact more intimately with such a finely decorated watch case, which incorporates Grand Seiko’s signature Zaratsu mirror polishing alongside its hairline finishing for unrivaled contrast.

Happily, though, the 9S64 has a 72-hour power reserve and thus will only need to be rewound every couple of days to maintain good performance levels, which is listed as a chronometer-crushing +5 to -3 seconds per day (when at rest).

For me, this twin release is a tacit triumph. It won’t set the watch community into a tailspin, but it should, at the very least, elicit a satisfied smile and a respectful nod of approval from those who care the most about Grand Seiko’s direction.

The biggest quandary raised by the watch head itself is which of the two dial colors to choose! The white of the SBGW297 is quintessentially Grand Seiko — clean and clinical but perhaps a little cold — while the beguiling blue might make better use of the fluted design that is sure to look 100 times better on the wrist and in natural light than any digital image could hope to match.

Whichever takes your fancy, I am sure you’ll find a faithful friend and constant companion in it, and that, just like the 44GS in mid-size, is exactly as it should be.

Tech Specs

Grand Seiko SBGW297 and SBGW299

Movement: 9S64
Functions: Hours, minutes, and central seconds
Case: 36.5 mm × 11.6 mm, lug-to-lug 42.7 mm, stainless steel case with magnetic resistance up to 4,800 A/m, and water resistance to 100 m
Dial: Blue or silver engraved sun-ray pattern
Strap: Stainless steel bracelet with three-fold clasp with push button release, 18 mm wide at the lugs
Price: USD 5,400


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