Grand Seiko SBGH267 with Grand Seiko caliber 9S, Image source: timeandtidewatches.com
As we've discussed in our Grand Seiko posts, the craftmanship of this brand goes in the luxury niche in its whole course, but when it comes to its caliber 9S series, there’s a whole new story going on. Let’s start by saying that the whole Grand Seiko caliber 9S family, basically built on the updated version of 5200 caliber is called Modern Grand Seiko Mechanical. Now, let’s see why.
The 5200 automatic family of movements was introduced by Seiko in the 1970, as the last series in the classic era of Seiko’s automatic movements. Its movements could be found in legendary watches such as Lord Matic and King Seiko 52KS. Even though the series beat at 28,800 bph. it was classified as “Hi-Beat” by Seiko, so we can classify it as one of the predecessors of the true “Hi-Beat” beating at 36,000 bph. If you’re tracking the Seiko history long enough, you know that there were other predecessors aside from this family of movements, such as those beating at 36,000 bph, for example the Grand Seiko 61GS from 1968, but that’s the story for some other time. Since 5200 is used as a base for 9S series, we’ll hold on to that for now. The 5200 line was discontinued in 1976, as the era of electronic watches starting to bloom, but it was resurrected in the 90s, giving birth to 4S15 caliber and its derivatives in Seiko line, as well as the 9S series in Grand Seiko. Let’s just mention the calibers in this family: 5206A and 5216A from the 1970 (23 or 25 jewels), 5245A and 5246A from 1971 (25 jewels) and 5256A from 1973 (25 jewels).
King Seiko 52 Special, Image source: reddit.com
Before the 9S series is invented in 1998, Grand Seiko went hand by hand with Swiss watches, but after setting the new GS standard (so called ‘Grand Seiko Special Standard’) with the introduction of 9S, the bar was set way higher. As some may already know, the new GS standard produces mechanical movements with accuracy of +4/-2 seconds per day, or even less. Add exceptional craftsmanship of its makers on top of that and luxury watchmaking, at least when it comes to mechanical watches, can’t go much better than that. No wonder Grand Seiko is one of the favorite choices among serious watch collectors.
The whole concept of Grand Seiko can be simplified to the idea of making the best watch in the world. Similar to that, the 9S series represents the highest bar so far in the world of mechanical calibers. When you take into account that each mechanical caliber has between 200 and 300 parts, you can imagine how perfect each of them must be to do its role in impeccable time-telling. For this, Grand Seiko uses so called MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems) technology to produce escapements, but no technology can assemble parts like keen eyes and steady hands of astonishingly trained craftswomen and men in Grand Seiko empire. Exactly this, the human factor, is what Grand Seiko claims to be their secret to such precise timekeeping. In the modern world, the world of machines doing so much of the human work, it sure is an accomplishment worth the additional cost of their timepieces.
With 9S caliber series and its new standard, Grand Seiko introduced a 17-day trial, which means each mechanical movement is tested under rigorous conditions for 17 days. That includes conditions such as different positions, temperatures and many other, and only if the caliber fits the very strict standard, it can be marked as Grand Seiko.
Grand Seiko 9S55 caliber , Image source: gs-story.com
Grand Seiko 9S movement series has many calibers in its bag and they all fit one of the three groups. The first group is the beginning of the 9S series, the 9S5x range of calibers, introduced in 1998. All 9S5x movements beat at 28,800 beats per hour.
The first watches introduced in 9S series was marked SBGR Grand Seiko Automatic. The first one was run by caliber 9S51, that was an update to the old caliber 5200 and had 24 jewels. Watches having it are Grand Seiko Automatic SBGR002, SBGR007, SBGR013 and SBGR033.
Alongside it 9S55 was introduced the same year, with date, 26 jewels and accuracy of +5/-2 sec per day. Both previously mentioned models are marked as SBGR, so we have Grand Seiko automatic date versions: SBGR001, SBGR003, SBGR005, SBGR009, SBGR011, SBGR015, SBGR017, SBGR019, SBGR023, SBGR025, SBGR027, SBGR029, SBGR031, SBGR035, SBGR037.
In this 9S5x range, we also have hand-winding version, the 9S54, from 2001 and GMT version, the 9S56, from 2002. The hand-winding version is marked SBGW and has 20 jewels, while GMT version, marked SBGM Automatic GMT, has 27 jewels. The Grand Seiko GMT version comes also with 9S66 movement. If you want to look up the 9S54 watches, search for marks: SBGW001, SBGW003, SBGW005, SBGW007, SBGW008, SBGW009, SBGW011, SBGW012, SBGW014, SBGW021, SBGW023 or 130th Anniversary SBGW004. The automatic GMT version can be found by marks: SBGM001, SBGM003, SBGM005, SBGM007, SBGM009 and SBGM011.
Grand Seiko SBGR251, 9S caliber 9S65, Image source: forum.tz-uk.com
The 9S6x series is basically the second generation of modern Grand Seiko movements. Its calibers were introduced between 2006 and 2011 and all of them also beat at 28,800 bph. They are also called “3 Days” movement, as they power reserves have 72-hour power reserve. This was possible because the introduction of stronger Spron 510 mainspring, which led to this becoming the new standard for Grand Seiko mechanical watches.
The year 2006 brought the automatic movement 9S67 into the Grand Seiko story. It had 41 jewels, date and power reserve indicator. These watches are marked as: SBGL001, SBGL003, SBGL005, SBGL007, SBGL009, SBGL011, SBGL013, SBGL015 and SBGL017.
Four years later, in 2010, Grand Seiko introduced another two automatics, the 9S65 and 9S66, both with 35 jewels and accuracy at +5/-3 seconds per day, with the latter being GMT version. The Grand Seiko caliber 9S65 watches are marked SBGR051, SBGR053, SBGR055, SBGR057, SBGR059 and SBGR061, plus the 44GS homage versions SBGR081 and SBGR083. The GMT versions are only two: SBGM021 and SBGM023.
The year 2011 brought the manual hand-winding movement Grand Seiko caliber 9S64, with 24 jewels, which can be found in watches: 130th Anniversary SBGW033, SBGW039 and SBGW040, as well as in 44GS reissues SBGW043, SBGW044, SBGW046 and SBGW047.
A year later, in 2012, the 9S65’s antimagnetic version was introduced with watches SBGR077 and SBGR079.
Aside from these, there’s also caliber 9S63 with 33 jewels inside, that has manual winding with a small seconds’ hand.
Grand Seiko Antimagnetic SBGR077 & SBGR079, Image source: ablogtowatch.com
As it usually goes with grand Seiko, the 9S8x series raised the bar again when it comes to precision and, later, the power reserves. The whole new range of calibers beat at astonishing 36,000 bph, which set a new level to work on.
The introduction of 9S85 movement with 37 jewels happened in 2009. Its accuracy was set to +5/-3 seconds per day and the movement held power reserves of 55 hours.
It is considered that this one has evolved from Seiko’s “Super Hi-Beat” caliber 8L88, that beat at mind-blowing 43,200 bph, made for Seiko’s ultra high-end line Credor. By the way, if you want to look up more on this watch, look up “Credor GBBX998”. Only one watch is produced in 2008 and that specimen was priced at more than $600,000.
Back to the Grand Seiko 9S8x range, Hi-Beat automatic watches with 9S85 inside are marked: SBGH001, SBGH003, SBGH005, SBGH019, SBGH020, SBGH022 and SBGH023.
The 9S86, aka the GMT version of 9S85 was incorporated in watches: SBGJ001, SBGJ003 and SBGJ007.
Grand Seiko SBGJ201 Hi-Beat 36000 GMT, 9S Caliber 9S86, Image source: timezone.com
Alongside all previously mentioned movements, the 9S series also holds the caliber 9S27, that tries to balance this whole awesomeness in slim case. With 35 jewels inside, it uses Spron 610 alloy to keep it as handsome as possible.
The whole Grand Seiko 9S family of movements seems like made to compete with some of the top brands of Swiss watches. Its precision, design, power reserves and exceptional craftsmanship seems to do it with ease. All movements in this series are made with a special devotion, have rhodium plating and Tokyo Stripes finish, therefore, they’re reserved only for Grand Seiko watches.
Aside from that, the 9S series includes some timepieces that match the worth of those from 9R series, with Spring Drive inside, at least among mechanical watch lovers. So, we’d say the 9S are more on the classic side. It’s hard to choose one over another when it comes to these two so it can only come to the question whether you like your watch with the piece of quartz inside. If you’d prefer to have it without, then you can’t go much better than the “Hi-Beat” Grand Seiko line. If we talk about the accuracy in real time, you probably won’t even notice the difference. The only difference you could notice are power reserves, as Grand SEiko Spring Drive went way ahead, but if you’re on the regular move, the 9S will serve you more than well.
In case you are wondering whether you should choose Grand Seiko over Swiss watches (even we do love many of them), there are many reasons to do so. One of them is that Grand Seiko is often on the more affordable side, at least judging by the exceptional time-telling piece you can get for your money.
Another one is that each watch has a legendary history built inside. Just think about the time its craftswomen and men spent mastering their crafts, on top of Seiko’s rich history, shaped by dreams, often seeming impossible. And Seiko proved one large thing with Grand Seiko line - that nothing is impossible if you dream big and work hard.
Written by M.H. , images by others as noted
Continue to read the Whole Grand Seiko Reading Series
The Road To Grand Seiko - SUWA & DAINI Seikosha
Seiko vs Grand Seiko - Grand Seiko Timeline
Grand Seiko Spring Drive vs Hi Beat
Grand Seiko Movements, 3 Driving System
Grand Seiko Boutique Limited Edition SBGJ235 Hi-Beat 36000 GMT
Grand Seiko 9S Movement
Grand Seiko Spring Drive 9R movement