Birch trees, part of the Betulaceae family of plants, flourish along the northern parts of the northern hemisphere. Different types of birch trees are distinguished by their characteristic bark, and it is the appearance of this bark that often gives each variant its common name. For example, the Asian birch, otherwise known as the Japanese white birch, features a distinct papery, white bark. These white birch trees flourish in wet soil and cool environments, and are native to Manchuria, Korea, and, as the colloquial name suggests, Japan.
Japanese culture has long venerated the natural world, and it is an idea that is deeply rooted in Shintoism. Unsurprisingly then, Japan’s forests account for nearly 70% of the nation’s land area. Shizukuishi and Shinshu, the homeplace of Grand Seiko’s two studios in Iwate and Nagano prefectures, respectfully, are known for their thriving white birch (shirakaba) forests. Like many of Japan’s natural wonders, these groves, which surround the physical workshops, serve as inspiration to two timepieces in Grand Seiko’s Evolution 9 Collection: SLGH005 and SLGA009.
Unveiled in 2021, SLGH005 introduced Grand Seiko’s white birch dial, pairing it with the new Evolution 9 design language and Hi-Beat 36000 9SA5 caliber. A year later in early 2022, Grand Seiko presented SLGA009, the second interpretation of the white birch theme, this time running on the new 9RA2 Spring Drive caliber.
The dial of SLGH005 is press patterned to create a deep-set texture that captures the visual consistency of the many white birch tree groves surrounding the homeplace of Grand Seiko’s mechanical timepieces. The effect here is highly organic, with no repeating patterns across the dial giving it a natural look. The white color of the dial represents the white of the tree bark, and it can appear as matte white, metallic silver, or something in between—all dependent on the light. This texture also appears more prominent due to the dial being closer to the sapphire crystal than other models in the catalog.
Produced by Shinshu Watch Studio, SLGA009 offers a different expression of shirakaba. Visible though a dual-curve sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating, the dial of SLGA009 is notably more subtle in its approach. Unlike the deep, grainy waves of the SLGH005 dial, the SLGA009 dial texture is more delicate and features a smoother top surface. Additionally, there is more of a consistency to the pattern across the dial, giving it a slightly less organic look, but it is one that still feels tethered to the natural world. This dial treatment pairs beautifully with the “frost” finishing of the movement visible through the sapphire case back.
Despite both watches being expressions of shirakaba, each studio offers its own distinct execution on the theme. To learn more, visit the links below.