Why not...? "Bling" and the Grand Seiko SBGC 230
“Bling” is a word that we generally prefer not to use when talking about watches. And yet it’s an important word. And an interesting one, too.
“Bling” came from Jamaica, and very quickly established itself in the world of hip-hop, and then rap, where it summed up the ostentatious jewellery worn by musicians. It subsequently worked its way into our everyday vocabulary, where it now describes a look, a style and an attitude.
Bling is polarising, to say the least. But, might there not be room for “good” bling and “bad” bling?
Let’s start with the bad, or at least, what I consider to be bad. Rappers with their caps pushed down to their eyebrows, Instagram pictures full of banknotes, diamond-paved watches and the keys to supercars, all set against a gold-heavy bling-bling bedroom decor. This kind of bling is a mishmash of excess, inferiority complexes and vulgarity. What’s more, this conspicuous display of wealth is all too often just a parade of counterfeits, occasionally called out by internet “fake hunters”. But we ignore this vulgar bling at our peril. It’s very real, and it’s practically a religion on the streets of that great metropolis across the pond, Los Angeles.
A step down from the pinnacle of bad taste comes what we might term “intermediate bling”, which is neither overly trashy, nor terribly acceptable, but far more widespread.
It’s the attitude of people who want to be seen, who like to show off and advertise their success. It’s less extreme, perhaps, but no less real, and possibly even more troubling. It’s the accumulation of brands without any concern for style; buying a watch “because it’s a Rolex”, not because you have an appreciation for horological history, and plastic surgery that’s so unsubtle you can spot it from across the street.
But what’s fascinating about bling is that it’s not just about things. It’s an attitude.
Let’s take Patek Philippe, for example. The brand’s advertisements often show a handsome family scene that might be taken from somewhere in Cologny, Neuilly or on 5th Avenue. But the brand is actually a bling icon! The same goes for the Audemars Offshore and, obviously, Rolex.
Almost anything can become “bling”. But bling can also be appealing and fun, as in Elton John’s Rocket Man alter ego.
Rocket Man is the perfect example of acceptable bling. Ostentatious jewellery, but nuanced with class and a eye for style, and which also – very importantly – doesn’t take itself too seriously. Worn by Elton, Chopard and Cartier are cool bling. Rocket Man even celebrates the brand in one of his hit songs.
But Elton’s not alone. A few months ago, Adrian Levine sported a Rolex Daytona Rainbow during the Superbowl half-time show. And there’s no shortage of celebrities who have been spotted wearing “loaded” watches.
And thus, another question presents itself. Is bling, by its very nature, indissociable from celebrity culture? Perhaps so, in the sense that it presupposes an ability to own very expensive items.
But I also believe that anyone can do bling. There’s my bling, our bling. After all, we all have a little bit of an exhibitionist, provocative, “in your face” side.
In an increasingly standardised, controlled, antiseptic world, bling can be a form of stylistic resistance, a way of shocking people out of their comfort zone. Yes, it sends an egotistical message, but it’s also a way of saying, “This is what I like and I don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks.” I’m sure everyone recognises themselves in that phrase, just a little bit. Think back to a time when you felt like that, and remember the smile on your lips ;)
Bling can be liberating, and that’s why it’s so appealing. I once read that pornography is “the eroticism of the other”. The same goes for bling. It’s the provocation of the other.
So, let’s acknowledge our inner bling, if only for a moment. Let’s admire a fine watch produced by a brand that would shudder at the thought of using bling-bling imagery, but which has just released an incredible, provocative and amusing piece that deserves our attention.
Why Grand Seiko?
I already talked about the Japanese Haute Horlogerie brand in one of my “Why Nots”.
The Japanese watch industry produces some magnificent watches, and at a time when we’re celebrating the first Swiss automatic chronographs, we shouldn’t forget that in the East, in 1969, Seiko was also offering a beautifully crafted automatic chronograph.
Japan is “the other” watchmaking country with, at the top of the pyramid, Grand Seiko, a manufacture that produces movements that are fully the equals of their Swiss counterparts. For many collectors, Grand Seiko is a worthy rival to the haute horlogerie maisons of the Joux Valley.
Since the first GS was released in 1960, the Grand Seiko factories have produced pieces with a classically understated design. Perhaps even too understated. It’s hard to find a GS that lets go, that provokes or disturbs. In the world of Grand Seiko, harmony is a fundamental value, and luxury is discreet by definition. Like Rolex, Grand Seiko’s watchmakers pride themselves on doing what they do well, but better; producing simple watches with subtle and refined finishes.
But for anyone who knows Japan, it’s not all uniformity and zen. You only have to walk through the streets of Shibuya or Shinjuku to realise that there’s more than a hint of crazy in the Land of the Rising Sun. There’s style, provocation, even transgression.
That’s the Japanese bling-bling side, and it does come as something of a surprise. The new Grand Seiko SBGC 230 is a perfect example.
The Grand Seiko SBGC 230 Burinburin (Japanese for bling)
Chronograph Spring Drive GMT SBGC230 © Grand Seiko
After seeing a photo of the 230 for the first time, I wasn’t prepared for the shock it would give me when I saw it in real life a few weeks later.
The Grand Seiko SBGC 230 is a GMT Spring Drive chronograph, produced in a limited edition of 100. It celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Spring Drive movement, one of the most innovative and exceptional calibres in modern watchmaking.
The Spring Drive is a genuine legend; a combination of mechanical and electronic, a revolutionary hybrid design that remains unequalled in terms of precision. To celebrate, Grand Seiko pulled out all the stops, taking the opportunity of Baselworld to unveil a number of new Spring Drive watches. Most are classical in style, with the kinds of beautiful dials we have come to associate with the artists employed by GS.
But the SBGC 230 is a different kettle of fish. The chronograph takes the new sporty chronograph design and translates it into rose gold. And that changes everything.
It’s a monster, with a diameter of 44.5 mm and a depth of almost 17 mm. On the wrist, the gold definitely makes its presence felt. It’s heavy, chunky and... what can I say... bling-bling! The case has been treated with Zaratsu polishing, which produces some incredible finishes, particularly on a case of this type with its sharp angles.
The intense dark brown dial is busy, like the engine of a muscle car: it has enormous hands, generous markers and four subdials. Three are for the chronograph, plus there’s the power reserve display common to all Spring Drives. Added to that is a GMT hand and a black sapphire 24-hour bezel.
The movement is a Spring Drive 9R96, which supplies a 3-day power reserve and guarantees a virtually unheard-of precision of +/- 10 seconds per month.
Finally, the Grand Seiko SBGC 230 is fitted with a shiny burgundy crocodile strap that sets off the red gold case.
As I said, the GS is... a lot.
What does the Devil’s Advocate think of it?
Bling! He loves it. Excess and provocation are music to the ears of our Baal. And this GS has him clapping his hands in delight. Clearly, the main point in its disfavour is that it’s extreme. But that’s why we love it.
My only real quibble is with the shiny strap. It’s just a bit too burin burin ;) A matt version would have been better. And the price is very high, even for an exceptional piece produced in a limited edition of 100.
But apart from that, bravo for having taken the risk, and introducing a chronograph that will leave no one indifferent.
How to wear the Grand Seiko SBGC 230 with style
I know what you’re thinking: do I dare to go for the full bling look? Maybe... Maybe not.
Let’s start with a Lucky Brand t-shirt. The California brand has a number of Rocket Man tribute versions. You can choose between a black or a red “Rocket Man” or, my personal favourite, a grey “Elton John”.
Over the t-shirt, let’s add a Battle Skull denim jacket by Ed Hardy, the brand of the late Christian Audigier, couturier to the LA glitterati.
The trousers can be a bit more understated. No denim; off-white chinos will do the job nicely.
On the feet, a pair of sensible white Louis Junior Orlato sneakers by another Christian, Mr Louboutin.
And you’re all set to maximise the potential of the Grand Seiko SBGC 230.
Off you go! And don’t forget: sometimes, bling is good!
From the very beginning, Grand Seiko has been pursuing the essential characteristics of a watch: precision, beauty, legibility. Its design reflects the unique Japanese sense of beauty. The brand will continue to reach new heights as a global brand.Find out more >
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