Seeing the Forest for the Trees: Introducing the Grand Seiko SLGH017 “Night Birch”
Grand Seiko improves upon the already very popular SLGH005 “White Birch” model with a case made from the brand’s proprietary High-Intensity Titanium alloy and a darker dial.
July has seen a flurry of ground-breaking watches, from record-breaking, ultra-thin watches to rule-breaking calibres. Suffice it to say that watch addicts have been spoiled for innovative timepieces lately.
Keeping up with all of the launches is feeling a little overwhelming at the moment, which is why we are grateful for the beautiful simplicity of the SLGH017 “Night Birch” from Grand Seiko.
So, although the “Night Birch” boasts impressive specs, it’s the nature-inspired aesthetic that has got us excited. Here’s why.
The history of the SLGH017 “Night Birch” goes back to 2020 when Grand Seiko introduced the SLGH005 “White Birch” at Miami Art and Design Week. The timepiece was an instant sensation.
Then, as the seasons passed, it also proved to have longevity, eventually winning the Best Men’s Watch category at the 2021 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. And this year, it took the Best of the Best prize at the Red Dot Awards.
The SLGH005 “White Birch” was also deceptively simple, featuring only the hour, minutes, seconds, and date. But, inspired by the majestic white birch tree forests near the studio in Shizukuishi, Japan, where all Grand Seiko mechanical watches are manufactured, the unique surface of the dial packed an undeniable emotional punch. After all, the natural world often reaches deep into the human psyche, and the SLGH005’s unique texture managed to draw upon all of nature’s meditative qualities and place them on the wrist.
So, following the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the Grand Seiko SLGH017 “Night Birch” features the same texture as the “White Birch,” except that the play of light across the two-dimensional black and gray dial of the SLGH017 is meant to evoke the same forest after dark.
Day vs. Night
The “Night Birch” is a natural outgrowth of the look of the “White Birch,” which was the first piece introduced by Grand Seiko employing its Evolution 9 style.
Based on a historical model, Evolution 9 timepieces have a supremely confident look, with bold hands and grooved, prominent markers. Another signature of the Evolution 9 style is its Zaratsu polished, distortion-free mirror finish and delicate hairline finish alternate that lend the look a refined feeling. For an extra sense of harmony, Evolution 9 cases have wide lugs and a low center of gravity that make these models feel and look balanced on the wrist.
The “White Birch” was a fine introduction to the Evolution 9 style. And the complex dial structure has popped up in other iterations, such as the Spring Drive SLGA009 “White Birch” and the Hi-Beat SLGH011 “Green Birch” models.
But using a black-and-gray dial makes Grand Seiko’s newest structure sing, as the moonlit effect allows the light to dance across the dial and onto the surfaces of the case. It’s difficult to capture this hypnotic effect in pictures but trust us when we tell you that while the texture is the same, the SLGH017 “Night Birch” is more visually dynamic than the “White Birch.”
We can’t explain how exactly. It must be witchcraft.
New Power Generation
The other big difference between the SLGH017 “Night Birch” and its predecessors is that, instead of stainless steel, the 40mm case and bracelet of the SLGH017 are made from Grand Seiko’s proprietary High-Intensity Titanium alloy. Ergonomically, this hard-wearing titanium alloy makes the watch lighter and more wearable, but the material also feels warmer than steel.
Moreover, Grand Seiko’s High-Intensity Titanium has a brighter finish than most other grades of titanium used in the industry. And, because it is so durable, there’s no need for surface coatings, which could dull its shine. Finally, combined with the alternating finishing techniques, this proprietary material lends the piece a sort of glowing effect.
Of course, the SLGH017 “Night Birch” has the same mechanical specs as its white and green Hi-Beat predecessors, employing the same calibre 9SA5 movement that is a thin (28.4mm x 5.99mm), efficient (80-hour power reserve), and precise (+5 to -3 seconds a day) movement. First introduced in 2020, the calibre 9SA5 was developed from the ground up after nine years of development led by movement designer Hisashi Fujieda. As one expects with Grand Seiko, the movement’s finishing is just as attended to as the elegant texture of the dial.
All in all, the Grand Seiko “Night Birch” is a force of nature.
Pricing & Availability
The new Hi-Beat 36000 80 Hours SLGH017 “Night Birch” from the Evolution 9 collection is available now and priced at $10,400. For more information, visit the Grand Seiko website.
(Images © Grand Seiko)