Grand Seiko Evolution 9 H-Beat

You may or may not be surprised to know that Grand Seiko was the only non-European watchmaker to have a booth at Watches & Wonders 2024. Even though the other Japanese timepiece companies haven’t quite figured out what their relationship with Switzerland’s watch tradeshows should be, Grand Seiko is firmly dedicated to the fact that its brand and products are just as good (if not often better) than much of what you’ll see in the expansive Palexpo hall each year. I like that attitude, even if the luxury offshoot of Seiko as a concept has not quite settled into what its long-term brand personality or image is necessarily going to be. What is certain is that Grand Seiko is confident in its deserved reputation for craftsmanship and detailing, along with the position of its products in the market. That means Grand Seiko is, in many ways, different from the brand I first got to know about 20 years ago, and that, as a concept, Grand Seiko has a lot more stories to tell and innovations to offer.

One of the new Grand Seiko watches for 2024 is an extension of the Evolution 9 case family known as the Evolution 9 Hi-Beat “Genbi Valley” SLGH021. Genbi Valley is a place in Japan whose green-blue waterways inspired the textured dial of this particular Grand Seiko watch. I will be the first to admit that while most limited-edition Grand Seiko dials are beautiful, I don’t really know precisely what Grand Seiko was always thinking when it designed them. I suppose the true mystery to me is whether the brand saw something in nature and then wanted to remember it in wristwatch form, or alternatively, if it was simply experimenting with interesting textures, materials, and colors. Once it settled on something it liked, it then polled the team to ask, “Does this remind you guys of anything?” Eventually, I will learn the answer as to whether the dial or the inspiration comes first.
The Evolution 9 case is supposed to be a slightly sporty, albeit still elegant, dressy watch. Here it is in Grand Seiko’s “Ever-Brilliant Steel” and sized at 40mm wide, 11.7mm thick, and with a modest 47mm-long lug-to-lug distance. It has a 22mm wide (at the lugs) matching steel bracelet that is quite comfortable and closed on a Grand Seiko folding deployant clasp. At this time, the bracelet does not have a micro-adjust feature, but I understand that Grand Seiko has been developing one for a while. I would like to think that when it comes out with a modern micro-adjust system for its bracelets, such a deployant will be (as much as is practical) backward-compatible with existing bracelet hardware.

The Evolution 9 case is also water resistant to 100 meters and has a flat, AR-coated sapphire crystal over the dial. While not particularly distinct from many other Grand Seiko dials, the Evolution 9 face is clean, classic, and very legible. Inside the SLGH021 watch is one Grand Seiko’s in-house made “hi-beat” (high-beat) automatic movements which operate at 5Hz (36,000 bph). This makes the Hi-Beat movements a bit more accurate over time than a 4Hz mechanical movement because the faster speed is better at averaging out rate result errors that can occur in the spinning balance wheel. That said, for more accuracy, there are Grand Seiko’s Spring Drive movement models, as well as its high-accuracy quartz watches, as well. If you want the most sophisticated fully mechanical movements Grand Seiko makes, the 5Hz calibers are for you.
You can view the nicely decorated caliber 9SA5 automatic movement through the sapphire crystal window on the back of the case. In addition to its 36,000 bph operating speed, the movement has 80 hours of power reserve. Grand Seiko claims accuracy of +5/-3 seconds per day, but many people who wear these watches suggest even more accuracy than that. The 9SA5 movement features indication of the time with central seconds and the date. I really enjoy Grand Seiko Spring Drive and quartz movements very much, but if I wanted to go mechanical in a Grand Seiko, the 9SA5 mechanism is beautiful to look at, and no slouch performance-wise.