November 29, 2022

Every Sunday, we let two watches (and authors) compete against each other. Often, we choose two watches from different brands in the same style, complication, or price category. This week, however, we have two incredibly similar watches in our Sunday Morning Showdown. The Grand Seiko White Birch SLGA009 versus the SLGH005. These pieces have subtle differences that are hardly noticeable at first glance. The ultra-smooth sweep of the seconds hand might give away that one is a Spring Drive powered watch, while the other is not. But the now-famous White Birch dials also show subtle but important differences. One thing that is exactly the same, though, is the retail price of €9,500 ($9,100).

Does it even make sense to have these watches battle each other? We think it does. Some of you might have difficulty choosing between these two available Grand Seiko White Birch references. Both are stunning watches from the Grand Seiko manufacture, and the main differences lie in the technology of the movement. One is a Hi-Beat movement that ticks at 36,000vph and is part of the latest generation of Grand Seiko’s in-house movements with a special escapement mechanism. The other is the Spring Drive caliber 9RA2, the slimmest iteration so far, with quartz accuracy. RJ will take it up for the Spring Drive-powered White Birch from 2022. Lex will make a stand for the OG White Birch that came out in 2021, the SLGH005.

Seiko SPB143

Last week’s Sunday Morning Showdown

But before we dive into the world of White Birches, let’s quickly recap last week’s battle. In that competition, we also had two Japanese watches facing off — the Citizen Promaster Mechanical Diver 200M and the Seiko Prospex SPB143. These two watches were well received by our audience (and ourselves). The Seiko SPB143 has already been around for a while, and some of our editors have bought it themselves. Meanwhile, the other is a brand spanking new Citizen Promaster in titanium. Both watches are remakes of 1970s models by their respective manufacturers. The result? The Seiko SPB143 had an ever-so-slight advantage, taking the win with 51% of the votes.

Grand Seiko SLGA009 White Birch

RJ: Grand Seiko White Birch SLGA009

When Grand Seiko introduced the SLGH005 back in 2021, I was incredibly excited. The introduction of this White Birch was done digitally due to COVID, and I wrote a raving article about the SLGH005. I am familiar with the Hi-Beat movement, as my Grand Seiko SBGJ201 is powered by one, but this Hi-Beat caliber 9S85 was part of a new generation. I was getting ready to shell out the money for this beauty… until we received it in our office. “That’s not a White Birch!” I yelled at my colleagues, “it’s a Silver Birch!” And if you’re into shiny silver dials, it might be the watch for you, but sadly, it just wasn’t for me. Things changed when Grand Seiko introduced another White Birch earlier this year, the SLGA009. Not only did the designers make a few minor changes to the bezel, crown, and case, but they also installed a Spring Drive 9RA2 movement. On top of that, they made the dial whiter.  The dial of the White Birch SLGA009 seems to have a different finish, causing the white to be really white and not have a silver shimmer.

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Grand Seiko SLGA009 White Birch movement 9RA2

Spring Drive 9RA2

I am sure Lex will bring up his car analogy, but let’s not make the mistake of thinking this watch runs on a battery. Spring Drive is a technology that took Seiko 20 years to develop and has been maturing ever since it debuted in 1997. It is here to stay, and it does not require a battery to store the movement’s energy. The energy that the rotor generates and the mainspring stores is transformed into electricity, powering the little IC that controls the glide wheel. There’s no traditional escapement, but rather a little bit of technology that uses a quartz crystal to make this IC control the glide wheel at the highest precision. Open the hood of your (fast) car, and you will find that there is more technology and electronics today than there were in 1980. However, this watch is still not comparable to a car with an electric engine and a battery, but rather to a car with a proper engine and some electronics to make it run even better and more precise.

Some people shared their worry with me that Spring Drive is not exactly watchmaking in the traditional sense. And it is not, but Grand Seiko, Seiko, and Credor have been using Spring Drive technology for over two decades, so when will it be accepted? Once they have used it for 50 years? Or 100? Spring Drive is a very reliable technology that is here to stay. Piaget used similar technology at one point but could only offer it in a $70,000 watch. I would love to get a Grand Seiko with a Spring Drive movement. It is proven technology, and witnessing the smooth motion of the seconds hand is unbeatable. On top of that, the watch has a five-day power reserve.

All about preferences, not about the benjamins

Between these similar watches with an identical price tag, which one would you pick? Do you prefer a high-frequency mechanical movement or a Spring Drive mechanical movement? If insecurity about a quartz crystal inside a mechanical self-winding movement does not play a role and you like white dials, there’s only one option in this case. You need to have a bit of confidence to go with the Spring Drive movement, but your (watch) life will never be the same again. If it’s not because of the steady glide of the seconds hand, it will be due to the incredible precision this movement offers you.

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The differences in the design of the case, bezel, and crown are rather negligible. It is about the dial and movement. For €9,500 ($9,100), you are buying an amazing watch that can easily be put against some of the big Swiss players. The Spring Drive version in particular is more precise than any Rolex. And Grand Seiko watches also have the finish quality of a watch classified as Haute Horlogerie. You can’t go wrong with either version in the end. Just know that one is a White Birch, and the other is a Silver Birch.

Grand Seiko White Birch SLGH005

Lex: Grand Seiko White Birch SLGH005

Let me get straight to the heart of the matter, the caliber 9SA5 that beats inside the SLGH005. This Hi-Beat movement debuted in 2020, and if I’m allowed a car analogy, it could very well be compared to a normally aspirated engine. That is to say, it’s not a hybrid power source, but a motor that only uses fuel and also doesn’t require the aid of a turbo or a compressor. And since Grand Seiko is from Japan, I will use a Japanese-engine analogy to compare the movements inside the SLGA009 and SLGH005. Inside RJ’s Grand Seiko of choice beats a high-tech equivalent of the Lexus LC 500h 3.5-liter V6 full hybrid powertrain.

My mechanical LGH005 choice is more closely related to the Lexus LFA’s screaming 4.8 L 1LR-GUE even-firing V10. A Toyota engineer described the engine’s sound as “the roar of an angel,” and although it comes very close to being a high-revving Formula 1 engine, it is also a very reliable power plant. Just like the Hi-Beat caliber 9SA5, it mixes performance with everyday capabilities while preserving the emotional spark.

More on the Hi-Beat caliber 9S85

The predecessor of the caliber 9S85 had an adequate but outdated power reserve of 55 hours. The new movement has a much improved and very impressive 80 hours of power reserve. To achieve that while maintaining a 5Hz frequency, the Grand Seiko engineers created a movement with a twin-barrel system that’s just 5.18mm thick. Another very impressive point is the extra-flat gear train with exceptionally tight tolerances to ensure optimal and uninterrupted operation. Additionally, the use of ultra-efficient escapement components helps raise the power reserve while at the same time ensuring great accuracy.

The claimed accuracy of an SLGH005 outfitted with the caliber 9S85 is +5/-3 seconds per day. And that works for me. I don’t need the ±10 seconds per month (±0.5 seconds per day) of a Spring Drive movement because I switch watches often. And I have a strong feeling I’m not the only one; RJ, are you reading this? I don’t think I need to mention that the finishing and decoration of the movement are of very high standards and an absolute joy to behold. My opinion is that the artisanal caliber 9S85 offers more viewing pleasure than its Spring Drive opponent with its industrial looks.

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Small yet big differences

The biggest difference with the SLGA009 is, without a doubt, the movement. All the other differences are almost unperceivable. You have to know where to look. And that’s what I did. The crowns have different proportions, and the cases, although both have the same design, are slightly different in size. The SLGA009’s case measures 40 × 11.8mm with a lug-to-lug length of 47.6mm. The SLGH005 measures 40 × 11.7mm and has a lug-to-lug length of 47mm. The differences are measured in tenths of millimeters. And since we’re talking numbers and small differences, the weight of the two watches also differs slightly. The all-mechanical SLGH005 weighs 178 grams, and its hybrid counterpart, the SLGA009, is two grams lighter. If you can feel that weight difference on your wrist, I suggest heavy medication to calm your nervous system down.

Grand Seiko White Birch SLGH005

Dial details

The devil is in the detail and on the dial of both Grand Seiko creations. The SLGH005 is slightly more silvery, whereas the SLGA009 is more white. And since I already have a very white SBGX341, I prefer the slightly grayer tones of the SLGH005. Also, the pattern is slightly different; you have to look very closely and concentrate to see that the motif of the birch bark on the dials varies. Another difference is the size of the minute track; it’s slightly wider in the SLGA009, as you can detect by looking on the right side of the date window where the mechanical version has a black minute mark on the dial and the Spring Drive watch doesn’t.

Grand Seiko White Birch SLGH005

Price is not an issue

The price tag is equally heavy. Both watches have a suggested retail price of €9,500 ($9,100). The biggest of the marginal differences is the dial color. It’s a matter of preferences. Do you prefer your birch a bit more silvery or more on the whiter side? The big decider is the heart of the watch matter: do you want a 100% mechanical movement, or do you want to glide through time with a hybrid? I have made up my mind in this particular showdown, and I opt for the Hi-Beat SLGH005 because of its evolutionary take on a traditional approach. I also prefer the more rhythmic motion of the seconds hand over the steady glide of a Spring Drive-powered one. If I want to look at a gliding hand, I will go to the station and look at a clock.

Both authors of this article have shared their thoughts and preferences regarding these White Birches. Which one would be your choice? Vote below!

Grand Seiko White Birch SLGH005 Vs. White Birch SLGA009