As a rampant Seikoholic, the question was not if but when I would get my hands on a Grand Seiko. My first quality watch was a Seiko 5, and from there I moved slowly up the Seiko pyramid of watches with plenty of detours; a Seiko 5, then a SKX, then a Sumo, then a Marinemaster 200m, and then a Marinemaster 300m. I was recently allowed the chance to spend time with a Grand Seiko of my choosing for this review. Now with a plethora of models that caught my eye, it was this Grand Seiko SBGH295 Sōkō Frost automatic that spoke to me most.
As the first Grand Seiko I have been able to spend a good chunk of time with, I was curious as to just how good these increasingly expensive watches would be. Without too many spoilers, even my lofty and admittedly fanboy expectations were exceeded in nearly every regard.
Grand Seiko SBGH295 Sōkō Frost Specs
|40mm x 12.7mm x 47mm
|9S85 Hi-Beat Automatic
Into the wild blue yonder
I think the only possible starting point on this, or nearly any, Grand Seiko is that captivating, frosty blue dial. Part of the Grand Seiko Heritage Collection, they say this dial is inspired by the clear blue skies over the Sea of Japan during the early winter months. This is similar to the kirazuri ‘ice blue’ dial that was first introduced with the new watches of the USA Exclusive Limited Edition collection from 2018.
If it was any other watch brand, I would write that stated inspiration off as pure marketing jargon, but Grand Seiko do things differently. The tone is a delicate, arctic shade of blue that seems to float over the dial like a cloud of mist as light passes across it.
There is a subtle and fine cross hatch pattern gently etched into the surface of the dial, giving it a perceptible but intangible texture. This dial is not a one trick pony. Its quality shines through in any lighting scenario. This dial is meant to be discovered and its allure grows the longer you spend looking at it. This dial stands heads and shoulders clear of what any brand is doing under the $10,000 price point. Grand Seiko are truly masters of their craft, allowing us the opportunity to strap a piece of art to our wrists.
Razor-sharp hands & indices
Incredibly, the hands and indices match the quality of that stellar dial. The indices are stepped and then trapezoidal, rising discernibly from the dial and then sharply angled toward a finely brushed plateau on top.
The facets are mirror polished, and the juxtaposition between that high polish finish and brushed top means that some part of the index is always gleaming in any light. The hands are sharper than a scalpel, consistently and elegantly brushed flat and mirror polished on the sides.
The second hand is blued in a complimentary darker shade of blue, displaying a glossy, lacquered finish. The date window is no afterthought, applied and faceted to the same degree as the indices. Every piece of furniture on this dial twinkles back at you through a flat sapphire crystal.
This crystal has some anti-reflective coating, enough that it is pretty clear most of the time but not too much to perhaps distort the color of the dial with that blue hue common to most anti-reflective coatings.
Expertly-finished Grand Seiko case
The stainless steel case is yet another highlight reel for the maestros over at Grand Seiko. This 40mm case size wears beautifully, and that 40mm size is surely destined to compliment nearly every wrist out there. For this style of watch I typically lean more towards the 38mm diameter range in my preferences, however I was again pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed the size and presence of this 40mm case. It wears like a true 40mm, no smaller or larger. The lugs curve down from the mid case to a comfortable 47mm lug to lug.
These lugs are a work of art, a complex compilation of angles and finishes that makes a well cut diamond look as lustrous as pond scum. The center section of the case is an immaculately brushed flank sandwiched between the zaratsu polished bezels on the top and underside of the case. This zaratsu polishing is done by hand by case material wizards with years of experience at Grand Seiko’s best workshops. The polished bevels of this watch reflect light like a mirror.
The bevels on the top side of the watch slowly twist upwards and surround the sapphire crystal in place of a traditional bezel. The watch wears thinner than the stated 12.7mm depth, as about 1-2mm of that is the flat, box crystal that protrudes above the bezel-less case. This watch’s case makes close peers like the Omega Aqua Terra and Rolex Oyster Perpetual appear utterly pedestrian; the Grand Seiko’s case is class leading. Water resistance is 100m with the help of a screw-down crown.
The usual Grand Seiko bracelet gripe
What is far from class leading is the stainless steel bracelet with a three-fold clasp that adorns the Frost. Grand Seiko’s bracelets are much maligned, so I went into this experience expecting to loathe this bracelet. However, while it is not as good as some of its competitors, this bracelet is actually very comfortable and wears well.
It is finished to the same high standard as the rest of the watch, and is devoid of rattles. The push-button release clasp looks great, and while its small size means there are more links to assist in wrist articulation, it also means that there are no micro adjustment options.
Most watches in and around the $5-10k mark that this Grand Seiko occupies have a tool-less quick adjust clasp type, and this one does not permit any flexibility in size without adding or removing whole links. I was able to get a perfect fit, but my wrist shrinks and expands a couple centimeters throughout the seasons so if I had this watch any longer it would undoubtedly be a problem.
This is a problem that is slightly alleviated by the inclusion of an extra blue croc strap in the box and drilled lugs that make strap changes painless. The lugs on this watch are the odd 21mm width Seiko perplexingly love, worth noting here but not the big deal it used to be as odd sized straps are easier than ever to find.
Silky-smooth Hi-Beat 9S85 movement
Inside this watch is the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 9S85 automatic movement—not a Spring Drive. It is a beautifully decorated movement, with deep striping broken up by the occasional gold filled text. What makes this movement special is its beat rate of 36,000 beats per hour, 10 ticks a second. Noticeably smoother than the traditional 28,800 vph that most Swiss watches tick at, the blued second hand glides across the dial. In order to facilitate this enhanced beat rate, GS developed key technologies such as MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical System) implementation in the construction of the components and a new alloy for the mainspring.
MEMS is an entirely in-house innovation originally intended for semiconductor manufacturing that allows bits like the escape wheel and pallet fork to be made with precision of less than one ten thousandth of a millimeter. It also allows more intricate designs like oil reservoirs incorporated into the end of each and every gear tooth.
The new mainspring alloy, Spron 530, delivers 6% more power than its predecessor and a 5-hour boost to the power reserve while maintaining the same corrosion resistance, magnetic resistance, and durability properties. In an age where many watch brands are content to just drip feed slightly longer power reserves and label that innovation, Grand Seiko again leads the way in horological progress.
Is it for you?
There are so many watch brands out there who compete for your hard-earned dollars, especially in this $5k to $10k price point. There are some brands who are coasting on the coattails of their own history or others whose hype and status propel them into perpetual relevance. And then there are brands like Grand Seiko who put forth such a fantastic level of effort and high degree of attention to detail that we are forced to take notice.
Grand Seiko’s love and passion for the art of watchmaking shines in every facet, gear tooth, bevel, and texture. Quality abounds in every angle of viewing. And not just sheer quality, Grand Seiko isn’t content to do things the way they have always been done to the best standard possible.
They blaze their own trail with purpose and accuracy. This special edition SBGH295 Frost does not feel like a Swiss or German luxury watch. It has a uniquely Japanese flair and zest that cannot be matched. Whether it is the hi-beat movement that is a marvel of modern manufacturing or the dial that encapsulates the first frost of autumn in Kyoto, Grand Seiko merges the line between the art and science of watchmaking. The $6,900 USD may at first sound like an exorbitant price for a Seiko, but once you hold a Grand Seiko in your hand you’ll understand why they are so special.
With seven grand you are cross shopping Rolex Explorers, Omega Aqua Terras, Breitling Chronomats, IWC Mark XXs, and a myriad of other non-diver everyday watches. I actually love each and every one of those timepieces, but this US-exclusive Grand Seiko Frost SBGH295 has a quality and allure that is unparalleled and would easily be my pick of the litter. Huge shout out and thank you to Moyer Fine Jewelers for making this hands on review possible. I can easily recommend them to anyone interested in Grand Seiko or any of the other brands on your wishlist. Feel free to explore their site or if you’re local to their brick and mortar location in Westfield, Indiana stop in and visit them in person.
Ben is a midwesterner who was infected with the watch contagion when he needed a watch to time his long runs in high-school. Now as a mildly functional family man his fleeting fascination has hemorrhaged into terminal obsession of all things clocks and watches. He loves hunting for eclectic watches well off the beaten path. Adequate culinary concoctions, mediocre photography, and massive enthusiasm for cars and all of the dying sci-fi franchises round out his other passions.