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Hands-On The Grand Seiko Elegance Collection 'Slim' Hand-Wound Limited Editions

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One of the few quibbles Grand Seiko fans in particular, and watch enthusiasts in general, have with Grand Seiko watches is the relative thickness of the watches. To some degree, this is a consequence of Grand Seiko's decision to go with quite robust construction for their movements, but the desire for Grand Seiko quality and value in a more slim watch had in general remained unsatisfied, until the recent introduction of four new watches in the Elegance collection, which use a newly introduced hand-wound caliber. The new movement is the caliber 9S63, which is configured with a power reserve at 3:00 and a sub-seconds dial at 9:00. This yields wristwatches with a 39mm diameter and a height of 11.6mm, versus a bit over 13mm for a typical Grand Seiko time-and-date automatic. 

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The new hand-wound caliber 9S63.

The four watches were announced as limited editions, ranging in price from a $7400 steel model with a "Mt. Iwate" pattern dial, and three models in gold – one with a white dial, and two with dials decorated with maki-e Japanese lacquer. Maki-e is a lacquerware technique in which gold powder is used to create additional images or patterns on the lacquer.

In the metal, the steel model's very striking – it doesn't have the up-close feeling of subtle luxuriousness of the lacquer-dial models but it's an extremely handsome watch in its own right; the "Mt. Iwate" pattern has some of the captivating, world-of-nature vibe of the Spring Drive Snowflake, with some of the vivid iridescence of the peacock-dial Hi-Beat GMT.

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The model in gold, with a white dial, is almost a different watch completely (which you'd expect given the very different dial treatment and the yellow gold case). Of the three models, this is the one that feels the most classic in its execution; it wouldn't look out of place sitting next to some of the great mid-century time-only watches produced by Patek, Vacheron, and Audemars Piguet (the domed crystal and flatter-than-usual case has a lot to do with this as well). The opulence of gold is always an interesting thing to add to the Grand Seiko mix – the sheer level of attention to detail that Grand Seiko lavishes on the elements of each watch already make steel look like pure unobtanium, and in combination with gold you get a very definite, if also very discreet, lushness.

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The red urushi lacquer model with maki-e dial is extremely subtle in person. There's a pattern of striations in the lacquer that appears and disappears as the light changes, and it gives the dial a wonderful depth and feel of complexity without becoming lost in its own details, and as is characteristic of urushi lacquerware, the color shifts as the light changes. The maki-e Arabic numerals and markers give the same feel – their texture feels slightly organic and in both the black lacquer and red lacquer models, there's a sense of something organic under the dial which offers a marked contrast to the crisply flawless polish of the hands and case. 

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Though a difference of a couple of millimeters doesn't seem like much on paper, any watch enthusiast will tell you that it can make an enormous difference on the wrist. The new "Slim" models are of course not extra-flat watches – there are some extra flat movements in the Credor family, although as far as I know they've never been offered in a Grand Seiko case and appear to be mostly, if not entirely, Japan domestic market products. However, they do wear noticeably differently from the thicker automatic Grand Seiko models, and more so than you might think from the size difference alone as the "Slim" models have pretty highly domed crystals. 

The only hand-wound Grand Seiko that I've had a chance to spend any time with is SBGW231, which has no complications and no date, and is 37mm in diameter and 11.6mm thick. While the thickness of that watch is the same as the "Slim" limited editions, the latter do feel somewhat flatter on the wrist (possibly thanks to a different aspect ratio).

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Overall these four new models feel like a very refreshing and quite different update to the existing Grand Seiko families. 

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