A mechanical watch can have hundreds of parts, all obviously being very important. One of the most vital parts in a movement would be the escapement/balance wheel. These components regulate the accuracy of the timepiece. The escapement propels motion to the balance wheel and the balance wheel swings back and forth, acting as a pendulum, to regulate the movement of the second hand. The swinging of the balance wheel is often referred to as the “heart beat” of the watch, and with each beat, it allows the second hand to advance an allotted amount. Older watch movements had 5 beats per second (18,000 bph), advancing the second hand 5 “ticks” per second. Today, most movements have a rate of 8 beats per second (28,800 bph) or 8 advancements, that can measure up to 1/8 of a second. Starting in the late 60’s, about 12 manufactures (one being Seiko) have made 10 beat per second movements (36000 bph) that seem to be extremely difficult to find from most manufacturers today.
The overall goal of the “Hi-Beat” is accuracy. By having a higher heart rate, the second hand will progress 10 times a second (as opposed to 8) not only making the second hand appear smoother, but also giving the piece higher accuracy. One down side was that wear on the movement occurred faster due to the accelerated pace.
Seiko was the 1st in Japan to introduce a 36,000 bph movement, labeling it the 61GS. The movement 1st appeared in Grand Seiko in 1968, a year after Longines Ultra-Chron movement and a year before Zenith’s El Primero. There weren’t tons of GS’s made with Hi-Beats, but Seiko did utilize the 36000bph movement in other lines such as King Seiko, Lord Marvel, and some of their divers. Many of which are now collectors items.
Unfortunately, hi-beat watches became nearly extinct after the “Quartz Crisis” of the 1970’s-80’s. While Seiko lead the way of the “Quartz Revolution”, they did not completely forget about their mechanical timepieces, but it was certainly not their main focus. Unfortunately, Grand Seiko was a brand that suffered due to the quartz movements and production came to an end in 1975. Due to high demand, Grand Seiko reappeared in 1988 in an all Quartz format. In 1998 Grand Seiko re-introduced its 1st mechanical movements to the 2nd generation brand, but it wasn’t until 2009 when the 1st Hi-Beat Caliber came back to GS. It was 41 years since the last GS Hi-Beat was available and Seiko had developed the perfect tools to put inside this new introduction.
The SBGH001 & 005 are the 1st to contain the new and improved Hi-Beat 9S85 movement. Over the years, Seiko’s technology has come a long way and it truly reflects in these pieces. The balance wheel/hairspring (which generally sustains the most damage in a Hi-Beat) is made from Seiko’s in-house developed SPRON 610 alloy. The SPRON 610 has twice the strength, durability and shock resistance compared to previous alloys. It’s also 3 times more anti-magnetic. It seems as if the alloy was developed specifically for the intense motions found in the Hi-Beat.
Another major contributing factor is the way the parts are manufactured (mainly the escapement gear and pallet fork). Seiko utilizes MEMS technology (which Seiko Instruments Inc. has been developing for decades) for the manufacturing of the escapement gear. Micro Electrical Mechanical Systems allow Seiko to make smoother, lighter and harder precision parts. Another benefit is that, because of MEMS, the gear can store and distribute lubricants over a longer course of time, preventing the quick deterioration generally caused by 10 beat movements.
The SPRON alloy is not only used for the balance wheel, but a variation SPRON 530, is used for the mainspring to give the watch a 55 hour power reserve on only one barrel. The 530 alloy makes the mainspring more durable, shock resistant, anti-magnetic and can also withstand the extra torque needed to make the rate 36000 bph.
As you know, a key element to Grand Seiko is accuracy. To ensure these pieces have the highest accuracy, Seiko developed the Grand Seiko Standard back in 1960 (when the 1st Grand Seiko was developed). The standard used today was established in 1998 and still involves more tests in more positions and at more temperatures than today’s Chronometer standards. Six positions, rather than 5. 3 temperatures, rather than 2. 17 days rather than 15, and they are also rated to +5/-3 sec a day as opposed to +6/-4. Each GS Mechanical comes with a certificate stating the watch has passed all testing required for the GS Standard.
While there is beautiful decoration to the movement, the exterior of these pieces are finished immaculately as well. Seiko has 5 master craftsmen working in their factory in Suwa, Nagano Japan to execute this unique finish. Zaratsu polishing is the same technique used on Katana blades and produces a mirror finish. It is truly incredible. As in other Grand Seiko’s, the hands and index markers are brought to razor sharp edges with Zaratsu polishing to create a radiance almost like a diamond. This allows the smallest amount of light (a good example being moonlight) to be picked up and reflected, making the watch more legible at night. This is one of the reasons you do not see too much lume in Grand Seiko.
The SBGH001 has a silver type dial, similar to the champagne in texture, but much more white. In most lighting, the dial appears to be a matte white color, but if you angle it the right way and look close enough, there is a sunburst silver pattern that is quite stunning. The blue second hand also adds tons of character to an already gorgeous piece.
The SBGH005 is very subtle, but very unique. As the 001, the dial appears to be a flat matte finish (except black instead of white), but in reality is incredibly detailed. In direct sunlight, or any bright light shining directly on the face, you will notice a texture. It almost seems to be similar to a wood grain. It takes a very close look to notice, but is well worth it. I personally think it is one of the most unique dials in the GS series. The black has incredible contrast with the stainless steel hands, making it incredibly legible. Legibility is another one of the key elements to all Grand Seiko pieces.
Please feel free to check out the YouTube video I posted to see these mechanical masterpieces in motion. It is one of the smoothest actions I’ve seen in a mechanical.
The Hi-Beat movement is truly something special. It’s pure mechanical at its finest and has an incredible history. Spring Drive is one of my favorite movements, but the quality of these Hi-Beats really shine through. If you’re into accuracy and aren’t into Spring Drive (or more likely already own some and want something different), this is an amazing piece to add to your collection.
Wishing everybody a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2012! Thank you for all your support!
Joe @ AZ Fine Time