Hands-On: Grand Seiko Air Diver SBGA229

This review was written and submitted by @ATXWATCHR

The choices for a dive watch, especially one that’s higher end, can be befuddling. But not really, once you narrow your criteria. Do you want to fly under the radar, or broadcast yourself proudly? Do you worry about your wrist size? Finish? Accuracy? Heritage and story? Interesting and distinctive dial? My criteria were clear:

  • Fly under the radar, meaning no Rolex cyclops (but wanted a date for day-to-day wear)
  • Size is no issue, I really don’t care if others think a watch is too big or too small for my wrist
  • A finish with attention to detail and highest accuracy possible
  • Enjoy admiring my watch (but can quickly tire if something is too different)

As you are reading this article, I’m sure it is no secret as to which watch I ended up choosing. The clichés you read about Grand Seiko are all… true: amazing finish and accuracy, little architectural details you discover over time, and the anonymity of a non-mainstream brand. And yes, that sweeping seconds hand is mesmerizing.

As you are already armed with a backpack full of GS  clichés (which are, again, all true), let me get right down to the crux of the matter here.

PROS:

  • The finish is unparalleled, Patek-like detail
  • Accuracy is +0.3 seconds per day by my measurement
  • Anonymous, unless you’re at a Redbar event
  • Drilled lugs offer convenience and security
  • Price. At US$6,000 it’s $2,550 cheaper than a Submariner Date and about half the cost of a new Sea Dweller
  • You can actually buy one at that price retail from a dealer (!)

CONS:

  • The slide extension of the bracelet clasp will expand each time you lift the clamshell, forcing you to slide it back before it’s re-fastened. 
  • In addition, the clasp feels incongruously light and cheap as compared to the watchhead and bracelet or an Oyster clasp (tough competition indeed)
  • Bezel is hard-coated stainless steel instead of ceramic, as you might expect
  • Bezel detent is ambiguous compared to other dive bezels

The list of Cons is easily outmatched by the stunning finish and build quality of the watch. If you are a 100% bracelet person, take the watch on and off several times and ensure the slide extension doesn’t annoy you. Or just put it on a strap of course. 

The bezel does move in a quieter, smoother movement; think of a worn manual gearbox rather than a new one that snicks crisply and precisely through the shift gates. This buttery movement is as pleasing to operate as the sweeping seconds hand is to watch. And yet, I find myself going around the world a few times when zeroing to the 12 o’clock position, missing it the first or second time.

This model also is available in titanium (SBGA231), resulting in a 30% weight savings. If you’re worried about its heft, try on both. The titanium is $1,100 more expensive than the steel.

SPECIFICATIONS:

  • Case and bezel, stainless steel and black hard-coated stainless steel
  • 44.2mm x 14.0mm
  • Weight with bracelet: 200g Head only: 104g
  • Lug-to-lug: 51mm
  • Lug width: 22mm
  • Water resistance 200m
  • Movement: Spring Drive caliber 9R65, rated accuracy +/- 1 second/day
  • Antimagnetic to 4800 A/m (60 gauss)
  • Bracelet and clasp, stainless steel with three-fold clasp and wet-suit extension.
  • Currently priced at US$6,000

4 thoughts on “Hands-On: Grand Seiko Air Diver SBGA229

  1. Stunning beauty but I can’t help to shake that Submariner feeling. I feel like this is one I have to try in real life first. Looks great on the straps, not so much on the bracelet (based on the pics here).

    Thanks for highlighting this one !

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