Exclusive to the US market — yet internationally attainable thanks to the ubiquity of e-commerce — Grand Seiko’s latest consists of two Spring Drive-fitted three-handers, inspired by the Japanese lunisolar calendar. Believe it or not, charming cultural motifs aren’t even the most interesting thing about these watches…

The ‘Shadow’ variant (SBGA429) of Grand Seiko’s new Soko release. Both watches are sold with a steel bracelet and deployant strap.

Following the success of the USA-exclusive ‘Seasons’ collection that launched last June, Grand Seiko is once again returning to the Land of the Free(ish) with a more compact, yet no less compelling edit of two new special editions. Dubbed ‘Soko‘, these Spring Drive watches are a continuation of Grand Seiko America’s ongoing seasonal release strategy: this time exploring the Japanese 24-solar-term calendar. For context, Soko is the period traditionally corresponding to the final days of autumn, translating into English as “frost descending.”

Rather than opting for a straight-up depiction of frost — something that was arguably already nailed to great effect in the SGBA211 ‘Snowflake’ — Grand Seiko has decided to visualise the Soko phenomenon through the imagery of a bamboo forest. More specifically, both the darker and lighter variations of Soko models depict frost as it appears in Arashiyama — a nationally designated site known for its breathtaking greenery and natural soundscapes.

This unmistakably Japanese mirepoix of climate and scenery translates to each of the new watches in differing ways. For the ‘Light’ special edition (SBGA427), the dial is vertically brushed in a faintly metallic light grey: channeling the appearance of bamboo stalks clustered tightly together, under a thin canopy of morning frost.

By contrast, the ‘Shadow’ (SBGA429) evokes the same imagery, albeit at a different time of day and under a suitably clandestine layer of mottled blacks, greens and charcoals. Elsewhere, both dials are executed using an identical layout: exhibiting a date window at three o’clock; green seconds hand; fan-shaped power reserve; and the aggressively polished indexes that are classic Grand Seiko.

Even in profile, the reduced 39mm diameter of these new Soko special editions will be highly regarded amongst Grand Seiko enthusiasts.

Moving to the proverbial outside, long-time Grand Seiko stans will immediately notice the downsized cases used for these pieces. Amongst the brand’s regular collectors, a common complaint has always been the thickness of what often amount to relatively simplistic watches — three-handers, GMTs, and so forth. Happily then, somebody at Grand Seiko America has clearly been listening, as these Spring Drive watches measure 39mm (certified ‘daily wearer’ territory). More importantly, the cases are 12.5mm thick — a drastic reduction in size, considering that 14mm and change was the accepted norm as recently as four years ago.

In service since 2003, the calibre 9R65 is a mainstay of the Spring Drive lineup. What it lacks in ornamentation it makes up for with performance: operating at ± 1 second per day with a power reserve of 72 hours.

At just shy of HK$40,000 (approx. RM22k), I can’t stress just how competitive the Soko edition’s value proposition is. The 9R65 Spring Drive from which these watches derive their timekeeping isn’t a particularly ‘beautiful’ movement — certainly not by the standards associated with traditional Franco-Latin watchmaking — but take your associative biases out of the equation for a moment and consider what it is you’re practically getting for the price of admission.

The short answer? A thoroughly original solution to maintaining precision, uniformly high standards of aesthetic finishing and a movement that’ll work well into the weekend without breaking a sweat. How many other brands in this segment can be accused of imposing such high standards on themselves?

The Grand Seiko ‘Soko’ US editions are available with either a silver (SBGA427) or grey dial (SBGA429). To learn more, visit Grand Seiko online.

This article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Hong Kong.

PohNee Chin
Editor, Kuala Lumpur
Poh Nee is the editor and writes about travel and drinks. When she's not living out her holiday dreams via Google Earth and sipping on an Old Fashioned down at the local bars, you can find her snug at home bingeing on Netflix and mystery fiction.