20x the price. 20x the watch?

My Seiko 5 SNKL23K1 made me discover the world of GADA watches (although it is strictly not a GADA, we'll get there in a second). Smaller cases, which fit well my slender-ish wrist, black dials, simple case shapes, little complication, high legibility, daily wear pieces. These are qualities in a watch that fit my lifestyle very well. And I wanted more from all the above, but with better specs, and found these better specs beautifully packaged in a Grand Seiko SBGX261.

My first true luxury watch purchase on the traditional sense of luxury. I put a lot of thought and research behind this purchase for more than half a year, as this is no easy expenditure for a collector on the sub-€1000 end of the market like me. This GS will be sharing the same watch box as my Casio A500 and my Vostok Amphibia.

Does it all make sense?

Or are we watch aficionados just insane?

The SBGX261 retails for €2400 in Germany (although I paid much less for it, bought it pre-owned!). The SNKL23K1 can be bought in the grey market for roughly in the €120 range. This is, effectively, a 20 times price difference between the both watches. You could, in theory, buy a Seiko 5 SNKL23 for each employee of a small company as a Christmas gift for the price of one of the most affordable non-vintage Grand Seikos in the market. In a perfect world, in a world in which things make sense, in a world where concepts like luxury did not exist, the GS would be effectively a 20x better watch than the Seiko 5. It would be 20x more accurate, it would tell the time 20x better, it would be 20x more legible at a glance, it would be 20x more comfortable to wear... But is it...?

Will this comparison between both watch models challenge the well-known Law of Diminishing Returns? Or I just fell for the finest example of Japanese marketing? There's only one way to know...

The Dimensions

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Both watches are very similar in case diameter (37 mm), thickness (about 11 mm), lug to lug distsance (44 mm for the GS, 45 mm for the Seiko 5) and lug width (19 mm for the GS, 18 mm for the Seiko 5). I don't know the weight, I don't have a scale with me, but the GS feels heavier, particularly the bracelet. Probably due to the differences in the bracelet architecture, which we will discuss later in depth. An untrained person, a non-watch geek, say my mom, would literally look at both watches and think they're just different versions of the same watch and not give it a second thought again.

The Dial and Hands

The differences, however, start being very apparent up close, when you pick them up on your hands. You don't need a loupe, you just need your naked eyes and your fingertips. Good lighting helps, though.

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The Seiko 5 SNKL23 has become one of the darlings of the affordable watch fans due to its interesting and complex dial at an affordable price. All black, with sunburst effect in the center and pinstripes along the edges that change depending on how the light hits the dial. Super interesting, and something you don't see every day. And you sure don't see anymore for €120. The dial furniture is beautifully executed, the light bounces off the faceted indices and day-date window to favour legibility in a variety of conditions. The day and date wheels are color matched, bringing that extra touch of thought and detail to this piece, that is uncommon to find even in the pre-2019 Seiko 5 collections. In this specific exemplar, the day wheel is written in English and in Spanish.

The dolphin hands are delicate and subtly faceted in the same way the hour markers are, albeit with a poor application of Seiko's Lumibrite. Legibility is almost ensured in any situation, except in the dark. The Seiko logo and the "5" shield are flawlessly applied. They help give some depth to the dial and help it "look expensive".

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The GS logo is applied as well on the SBGX261, but other than that, all subtlety is gone in the GS. The hands aren't subtly faceted. They are cut, brushed and polished, they are engineered. The hour and minute hands are beveled on four sides with a brushed main surface. The hour markers are polished and brushed, with sharp transitions between surfaces, with the clear mission of reflecting the light in as many directions as possible thus maximizing legibility. The GS is so much more intentional than the Seiko 5 in that aspect.

My mom would pick the GS and think: "that's sure a dull dial, I prefer the one on the Seiko 5", and maybe rightly so. But the matte black dial on the GS is there to facilitate the job of telling the time and hands in the spotlight to the indices and hands. It is a suprisingly matte dial, that the GS marketing team would be happy to describe as the color of the night sky during the winter solstice over Nagano or something like that.

The SBGX261 is, objectively, compared side by side, a much more legible timepiece, and that is saying a lot from an SNKL23. The photos of a man with an iPhone 11 in his poorly lit apartment do not convey that, daylight is at a premium in Germany at this time of the year. But believe me, it feels like the GS is on a mission, it is there to perform a job of telling time at a glance. And I love that feature, as legibility at a glance is one of the few qualities in a timepiece that is a non-negotiable for me.

Is the GS 20x more legible than the Seiko 5? I wouldn't say 20x... But I would easily say 2x.

The Case

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The case of the Seiko 5 is stunningly finished for a piece on its price range, with a brushed side, a beveled edge, brushed lugs and bezel polished in three surfaces (!). The fixed bezel is reflective enough to see myself when looking at it, but I see a distorted version of myself. The transitions in the case are soft and fuzzy. Rough edges can be identified with the naked eye and certain edges on the underside of the case are a tad too sharp for my taste.

The GS has, literally, less transitions than the Seiko 5 on its case!! Crazy when you think about it. It's got a polished case, a polished bevel, brushed lugs and a polished bezel. But boy, all this polishing is done to the highest of standards. It is all mirror finish, with the famous Zaratsu technique (this can't be a GS review if I don't say Zaratsu at least once). But now seriously, the reputation of Zaratsu is wholeheartedly justified. Again, it is one of these things that can only be appreciated holding the watch on your hands and seeing how your eyes react to changes in the viewing angle. I could use this case and bezel as a mirror to shave in the morning. No matter what surface of this case you are looking at, you will see yourself on it. Again, different to convey in a picture, but the differences between the both watch models are there.

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Is the GS 20x better finished? Is there 20x more effort put in the polishing of the case of the SBGX261? It's up to you to decide the multiplying factor you give to Zaratsu polishing. 5x maybe? Again, rely on your fingertips to help you "see" the differences.

The Bracelet and Clasp

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The bracelet is the category in which the Seiko 5 suffers the most. The SNKL23 is equipped with an infamously awful bracelet, which tapers from 18 mm to 16 mm if I remember well. It is almost a rite of passage for all owners to just get a jubilee bracelet from Uncle Straps, put it in, toss the original bracelet on the box and forget it ever existed. It is rattly, it is fiddly to adjust, it's got some awful sharp and salient stamped links, it flimsy, it has hollow endlinks you can just bend with your fingers... Oh, did I mention it is a hair ripper too? It's shockingly bad, but these are undoubtedly the corners that are cut to sell this watch for the price it sells. But hey, at least the clap has got microadjustment holes on this poorly stamped clasp.

... which is something that Grand Seiko generally does not offer in its watches. The GS bracelet is not easy to adjust either; I had to bring mine to a watchmaker for the job, as I couldn't do it myself. Once well adjusted though, the experience on wrist with the SBGX261 is sure different when compared with the SNKL23.

The GS sits more confidently on the wrist, the lugs are sharply curved down, so the watch hugs your wrist. The bracelet is more substantial so the piece feels more balanced. This oyster style bracelet is comfortable, helped by smoothly brushed surfaces. All skin-contacting surfaces are brushed with care and feel very silky and premium to the touch while the solid endlinks grant robustness. These 19 mm endlinks are machined to a fine tolerance, it is impossible to put them in the lugs at a skewed angle. They have to come in straight or they won't fit. Comparing them against the flimsy and hollow Seiko 5 endlinks wouldn't be fair. Still, 19 mm lug width, clearly chosen to be harmonious with the case while limiting your choices in case you want to put this watch in a different strap, which is anyways an easy task thanks to the drilled lugs. The Seiko 5 does not have drilled lugs.

However, the lack of microadjustment in the clasp is the bane of the existance of many GS fanboys and fangirls and I quickly learnt why during the last few days of honeymoon. There are some times I would appreciate just one extra microadjust hole. Just one. Besides that, the clasp is machined to tight tolerances and it shows. I was surprised that the scissor foldover didn't pinch my skin when closing it, as the other watch I have with this sort of clasp pinches my skin painfully if I don't close it in a certain way.

Is the bracelet on the GS 20x better than the one on the Seiko 5? Probably somewhere in the 10x range for me, but because the SNKL23 stock bracelet is shockingly bad and it pulls hairs. I've read plenty of diverse opinions on GS bracelets in general, hating on the lack of microadjust. It has not been a deal-breaker for me so far, but is the watch really 20 times more comfortable? Not sure about 20x but sure it is 2x or 3x more comfortable.

The Water Resistance

None of these watches are divers, so WR is not paramount. The Seiko 5 has 50 m WR rating, which technically inhibits this watch of qualifying as a GADA watch. The GS has 100 m WR. So... 2x better? Sure not 20x!

The Lume

The lack of lume in the GS is a blessing in disguise. If you're going to do a shoddy application of it, like in the SNKL23, just don't put any lume at all and keep it simple. Just a personal opinion on that.

The Crystal

Sapphire on the GS, Hardlex on the Seiko 5. Hardlex is generally hated by every reviewer under the sun, but I'm a believer in Hardlex. Never had a single scratch on a Seiko watch equipped with a Hardlex crystal and this SNKL23 is no exception (wearing watches in rotations also helps a lot). Hardlex is great, but popular wisdom knows that sapphire is the gold standard. Many are ready to pay a premium for sapphire crystals. I couldn't care less about them, so you choose your multiplier here.

The Movement

You know the gist if you've read about Grand Seiko 9F movements. Accuracy of +/-10 seconds a year, thermocompensated 520 times a day, no recoil on the seconds hand, instantaneous day change at 00:05, assembled by one Japanese master watchmaker and regulated by another that look at a snowy landscape every time they look out of the window... you know the drill.

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(Image source: Grand Seiko)

There's entire videos on the internet singing the beauty and accuracy of this type of movement and for a good reason. Heck, even the movement is decorated! How rare it is to see a decorated quartz caliber? I would love to mod this watch and put a glass case back on it as some other GS quartz models have, but I haven't found relevant results yet for that search.

9F62 pitted against... a Seiko automatic 7S26 movement. You can be happy if the SNKL23 deviates +/-10 seconds... per day. This is an already outdated movement, vastly superseeded by the 4R36. No hacking, no handwinding, short power reserve... Probably the real reason why the venerable SKX was discontinued.

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(Image source: Strapcode)

Don't get me wrong, my Seiko 5 has never told the wrong time by much! But this is because I wear it on a rotation and I have to set it and give it the Seiko shuffle every single time I pick it up. Annoying. But hey, it's a mechanical watch. I like mechanical watches, and enjoy looking at it through the display caseback, even if it's not really decorated and the brushing is so rough that it is visible to the naked eye.

The GS does not require a shuffle. It requires a battery change every 3 years or so and it will keep ticking, keeping almost atomic time, until the next battery change.

An anecdote. I received this watch direcly from its previous owner. I don't know when the previous owner had last set the time. But when I checked the time agains the atomic clock in time.is, the GS was running around 0.5 seconds fast. I just started laughing out loud.

Is the 9F62 movement 20x better than the 7S26? Well, it is more than 20x more precise...

The Conclusion

This SBGX261 is a vastly superior timepiece when rationally pitted spec by spec against the humble SNKL23K1.

As I tried to convey in this very long post, the SBGX261 is a very intentional watch. It is a small package of precision equipment engineered with a very specific task at mind, and none other: telling time accurately at a glance in comfort. It is a tool at the service of its wearer that achieves carrying its job out brilliantly while looking brilliantly. We need to give this success to Grand Seiko and bow down.

But... "vastly" is a very relative concept. We were talking at the beginning of a price gap of 20 times in between both watches. Is the SNKL23 20 times really worse of a watch? Well, it does tell the time semi-accurately. It doesn't fall apart when you wear it. It will probably last you decades if you take care of it. It is very legible. It will never run out of battery if you wear it every day. As difficult as it is for me to say this, there is a big bay in between both watches, but not a 20x one...

But this is the allure of a luxury product, even at its entry level category, you are not paying only for the product, but for the research and development invested on it, for the craftsmen and craftswomen that have put together and regulated this timepiece, for the precision machinery used in the manfuacturing of the parts, for the extra level in polishing... and yes, for the security that it gives to the wearer to have the words Grand Seiko printed on the dial.

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The Law of Diminishing Returns relentlessly prevails again and it hits like a freight train. Good that I paid around a 66% of the retail price on this watch! Have we all been duped by the finest examples of Japanese marketing? Have we been influenced by the videos of very focused Japanese master watchmakers handling diminute parts looking at their microscopes while calm music plays in the background? It's up to you, I guess. My mom would probably agree. I don't.

I will conclude saying that this post was very healthy to write. I hold a degree in mechanical engineering, although my professional career brought me on the path of structural dynamics and I never drafted or designed for a living. However, analyzing both watches really brought me back to my lessons at uni, where tolerances, materials science, adjustment between parts, manufacturability, purposeful design, were just part of the curriculum. It has forced me to think again as a mechanical engineer and I'm happy of having made such a good thought exercise.

We watch nerds will simply never stop debating on bang for buck, on value propositions, on money well or badly spent, on spec monsters made in China for pennies on the dollar, on marketing budgets... I hope this post will stir this debate once again.

Reply
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Thanks for the comparison. There’s a lot here, but I’ll just say that “luxury” is a nebulous concept. Basically, if you’re comparing watches on specs and logic, luxury probably isn’t the way to go. So no, one isn’t “20x better” than the other, but that’s not the point. People buy luxury items because of the way those objects make them feel.

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A very long analysis, and worth every word. Thanks. This debate comes up in so many areas of life where one has to assess relative and absolute value and opportunity cost. I find there are areas and times where “the bay” you mention isn’t worth crossing, and areas and times where it is. I console myself that as long as I don’t buy the more expensive thing (home, car, insurance, food, watch, etc) too often, I’ll be ok.

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To me, the GS would not be worth the price. Yes, the quartz crystals are grown by GS…..the movement is accurate….blah blah; BUT at the end of the day, they tell the time.

Most of us probably don’t need an amazingly accurate watch like we’re coordinating a Black Ops mission and if so, we probably wouldn’t be wearing a GS in the field.

Anyhow, I enjoyed reading this for sure….but overall that’s what makes me a budget collector.

The watch world is getting smaller, companies and subsidiaries buying up each other, so when push comes to shove, many of the watches have parts from similar areas. Some from Switzerland, some Japan, some Indonesia…..

For me, the price would be justified if all parts, all pieces, all movements, were made in house by the manufacturer.

Then, that would be kind of like the Tesla of watches…..all made in house and revolutionized like Elon did with some of his production line.

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It is amazing how good Seiko 5's are for the money. I'll never be buying a GS as I just don't have that budget, but that's OK, because Seiko 5's are great.

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You have a wrong base for your math calculation. It's a Seiko 5 so 20 divide by 5 is 4. So the Grand Seiko is 4 times more of the Seiko 5 😂😆😉

Jokes aside, you probably read this article about Seiko and GS factory visit. It's an eye opener. I recently visited Japan and can definitely relate to what's described here:

https://monochrome-watches.com/a-week-in-japan-with-grand-seiko-reveals-secrets-of-the-brands-unique-craftsmanship/

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Value does not scale linearly with price.

Watches are veblen goods at the higher end with much of the value for such luxury watches in the brand itself, which takes years to attain via marketing & actual achievements made to innovation.

Watches like most products, naturally improve over time as once rarer features like Sapphire glass, water resistance, GMT.... all get more attainable.

Brands that offer more features for the same price (many microbrands) versus a luxury brand can do so because they don't have as much brand equity. If Rolex decided tomorrow to offer mineral glass, 50m water resistance instead of 100-200M, and 316L instead of 904L... it would take a long time before this has much impact on most of the brand's customers.

Trained as an engineer like you, I also took a look at the component parts and was surprised at how little % of a watches price is represented by intrinsic value beyond the premium price segment of the market though this differs at the sub $500 price point where each $ spent typically brings some noticeable improvement to function & materials.

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Nice bit of love for the Seiko 5 here: https://youtu.be/sRE3Ji5zl_I?si=zZX8-wbSTKURFIJf

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Would one want 20 Seiko 5s or just 1 GS?

I’d pick the GS in a heartbeat.

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weathermanx

Nice bit of love for the Seiko 5 here: https://youtu.be/sRE3Ji5zl_I?si=zZX8-wbSTKURFIJf

Thanks for the link! Actually I did have this video on my “Watch later” list but your suggestion made me go and watch it. I knew about Seiko’s Magic Lever, but never got it explained to me, let alone in that level of detail.

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The more you pay, the more it's worth. - Don McLean

Seiko, to me, is perhaps the most interesting watch manufacture on the planet, as they offer ridiculously-affordable watches in both the mechanical/automatic field as well as quartz, and the farthest North of the horological high-end, producing virtually everything in-house at both ends.

I can't quite reach the heights of Grand Seiko with my budget, but I have managed the middle-rungs via the SARB017 Alpinist, and, reaching further back, their pioneering efforts at presenting the world's first automatic chronograph to be put in serial production, the 6139. Horological greatness, at least in regard to Seiko, is available up and down the price scale, if one knows where to look. And that's one of the appealing aspects of the brand. I have two bog-standard Seiko 5s I wouldn't give up for the world, given their details and timekeeping ability. Cost and value clearly don't travel on a linear scale.

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