The lion has long been emblematic of Grand Seiko, with the king of the jungle making its debut on the case back of the first-ever Grand Seiko timepiece from 1960. The choice of the lion as the brand’s mark was simple: it reflected the ambition of the Grand Seiko team to make the best timepieces of which they were capable, what they would describe as the “king of watches.”
In 2019, Grand Seiko unveiled three references (SBGA403, SBGC230, and SBGC231), all featuring dial and case designs that pulled cues from the Grand Seiko lion. Last year, in celebration of the brand’s 60th anniversary, Grand Seiko released reference SBGC238, a limited edition based on the same design as those three watches, but this time also pulling inspiration from indigo-dyed Japanese armor worn by samurais.
Some history first. The distinctive indigo dye known as “Katsu-iro” has a long tradition stretching all the way back to 15th century Japan during the Sengoku period. The unique blue hue of this indigo dye signified victory, and it was proudly used to color the armor worn by samurai. This color motif is carried over to the dial and bezel of reference SBGC238, offering a vibrant burst of blue against a warm 18k rose gold case.
The case measures 44.5mm in diameter and 16.8mm thick. It boasts a strong, angular design, with numerous facets throughout that are emphasized through an eye-catching blend of Zaratsu-polishing and hairline finishing. This contrast is most notable along the top of the lugs, which are designed to look like a lion’s claw. Despite the angularity of the design, the case has a gentle curve along its underside that allows for a highly ergonomic fit on the wrist. The 24-hour bezel insert is sapphire on top of a blue metallized surface, and the 18k rose gold base is fixed against the mid-case.
The dial bears a pattern representing the mane of the lion, and here its rendered in blue. Contrasting against the dial base for a highly legible display are bold markers and hands, both filled with the brand’s highly luminous paint, Lumibrite, which ensures excellent nighttime visibility.
Chronograph functionality is arranged in an incredibly legible way on the dial. A thirty-minute register is positioned around two o’clock, a twelve-hour register below that at four, and an active seconds hand is placed at nine. Additionally, there is a power reserve indicator around seven. The chronograph second hand is rendered in a contrasting gold-tone, color-matching the hands on the two chronograph counters. A GMT hand allows for tracking of a second time zone.
Around back, an exhibition case back shows off the stunning caliber 9R96, which features an 18k gold insert in the oscillating weight. This is a special Spring Drive caliber, with enhanced accuracy rated to ±0.5 second per day (or ±10 seconds per month). “Limited Edition” and the serial number are also printed on the case back, with “60th Anniversary 1960-2020” featured on the crystal sapphire glass in rose gold.
The accompanying strap is “Katsu-iro” blue crocodile leather paired to a three-fold clasp with a push-button release. The grooves of the crocodile strap are applied with real rose gold paint, giving the strap a look that evokes battle-worn samurai armor.
Limited to just 100 pieces, reference SBGC238 is available for $44,300.