What is there to say about a new Grand Seiko? Unless it’s something from the Evolution 9 series or something mechanically mind-boggling like last year’s syncopated Kodo, you already know what you’re getting. You know it’ll be elegant and relatively pared-back, with some gorgeous dial inspired by nature. It’s a template they’ve wheeled out time and again and one that, rather than getting tired, consistently shows a level of obsession with the subject that only comes from working in an isolated studio far from the world. When all you have nearby is forest, you can probably get a lot out of it.
Case in point, the new Grand Seiko ‘Yuka Momiji’ SBGJ273. As with a lot of seasonal Japanese words, the translation here is very specific. Momiji is the word given to maple leaves that have turned red during autumn, the exact, gorgeously bright colour you’re probably picturing right now. It’s that colour which is the focal point of the dial here – but that’s not all. The whole name means ‘floor maple’ and has an entirely different connotation, meaning the autumnal leaves that are reflected on the lacquered wooden floors of Japanese homes and temples. If you want to see an example then check out the Rurikō-in temple in Kyoto. It’s breathtaking and, like I said, it’s very, very specific.
It’s that specificity which makes perfect sense on the dial. Aside from the gorgeous red lacquer, an overt nod to the colours of a Japanese autumn, the grooves in the dial imitate the traditional floorboards turned red by the leaves. To my mind, it also has something of tree trunks lined up in a forest, but however you look at it, it’s bloody gorgeous. I’m not going to say it’s my favourite Grand Seiko dial to date – that’s not something I’m ever going to put down in writing. But it’s close.
In some ways it’s actually a lot more subtle than other finishes. Without direct light, it looks like a uniform burgundy colour, nothing too exciting there. I love burgundy (both wine and colour) as much as the next inebriated watch lover, but when it hits the light, the Yuka Momiji is something else entirely. Even our photos don’t really do it justice.
That said, at its base line, it is just a red version of February’s Yuki Gesho, which went with a fittingly wintery theme, with snow reflected in the floor boards. I just wanted to point out that the Yuka Momiji wasn’t the first; don’t let that detract from how lovely it is.
So yes, yes, pretty dial, but is the Grand Seiko Yuka Momiji anything other than face value? Well of course dear reader, this is Grand Seiko. The indexes are the kind of flawless Zaratsu polishing you normally only expect from master craftsmen in anime, albeit typical for the watchmaker. Even the golden GMT hand, a nice second nod to autumnal colours, is flawlessly crisp.
My only issue is on the wrist, and it’s a small one. At 39.5mm of stainless steel it’s a great size, but it’s actually a lot thicker than I was expecting at 14.1mm. Part of that’s the retro box crystal, but the case itself just feels chunkier than it needs to be. For something that’s ostensibly a dress watch, it comes a little too far off the wrist for my liking. So, I guess I’ll just need to stick to wearing it during the day.
Inside you have the most recent version of a Grand Seiko stalwart, the calibre 9S86. A hi-beat movement that oscillates 36,000 times an hour, it’s one of the most accurate movements out there – without treading into independently made, haute horology territory. Even then, it’s competitive. Grand Seiko’s hybrid Spring Drive might be more iconic, but for my money, the 9S86 is hard to (hi) beat, especially with a 55-hour power reserve.
The Grand Seiko Yuka Moniji is only available on a pretty classic bracelet. It’s well-made for sure, an ode to Grand Seiko’s whole ‘craftsmanship is in the details’ vibe, but I’d love to see this on a strap in a red to match the dial. It might be a bit much for some, but given it works on my favourite Reverso, I imagine it would kill here.
Now, price. The Yuki Gesho was priced at £6,400 for what is, essentially, the same watch. The Yuka Momiji is £6,600 and I think we can all agree that the extra £200 is money well spent. The whole watch is richer and more evocative than its white predecessor, the perfect partner for autumn. Or for a trip to Kyoto to see its inspiration.
For both watches though, that’s a solid price. Grand Seiko have been suffering a little from price creep as they tackle increasingly ornate finishes and more silhouettes and complications; six-and-a-half grand feels like the right level of accessibility for them, GMT and all. If I weren’t busy paying for a wedding, it would be a tempting prospect. Doubly so if I stop to think how many of these I could have bought for the same price.
Price & Specs:
- Model: Grand Seiko ‘Yuka Momiji’
- Ref: SBGJ273
- Case/dial: 39.5mm diameter x 14.1mm thickness, stainless steel case with Zaratsu polishing, red dial inspired by Japanese autumn scenery
- Movement: Grand Seiko calibre 9S86, automatic, hi-beat, 37 jewels
- Frequency: 36,000 vph (5 Hz)
- Power reserve: 55h
- Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, GMT
- Strap: Stainless steel bracelet
- Price/availability: £6,600