The story of the Grey Ghost is a chapter of the Seiko Kinetic JDM diver saga, mostly known outside Japan for a unique watch, the SBCZ005, which was the last iteration in a long(sih) line of interesting diving watches.
Why was the Grey Ghost nicknamed as such? The three main characteristics are: titanium construction, Scuba classification (200m rated diver) and most important, the magical sandpaper-like dial that produces a very unique effect IRL of having the indexes pop-out as if through a mist. All of those watches have a day-date Kinetic mechanism (English / Kanji)
Our story starts in 1993, an age when the Internet-based grey market didn't exist and online forums were still in their infancy. A host of exceptional JDM watches never found their way outside Japan other than the odd foreigner buying a watch or two on a trip to Japan. There was no Seiya, Higuchi, Chino, or any practical way of seeing a JDM watch even in a photo.
The very first Grey Ghost was the SBBW007, in 1993. The SBBW series included a large number of watches (>50 case numbers with additional dial iterations). The first watch of this series was the SBBW001, a watch that won a Good design award (that's the predecessor of the red dot award) back in 1992
Based in this case design Seiko produced a titanium variant with a stainless steel caseback, added for the first time this unique dial and a very 90s-looking titanium bracelet with a partly stainless steel buckle with a diving extension.
This year, 1993, marked the first change in nomenclature for the Kinetic technology, from the 1990s "Auto Quartz" to the "AGS - Automatic Generating System"; the first SBBW001 batch actually had the AutoQuartz sign. This change was related to a trademark issue with the Swiss ETA that already manufactured an 'autoquartz' movement (that was not technically related to the Kinetic technology, but it simply marked a quartz movement that could be repaired contrary to earlier quartz movements). The brand new at the time 5M2X movement became the pillar of the Kinetic movements since all future iterations 5M4X, 5M6X and 5M8X share the same dimensions and openings, almost all mechanical parts and only differ in the electronics, gradually offering higher reliability and lower energy consumption. List price for the SBBW001 and the SBBW007 was a whopping 70,000 and 85,000 yen respectively. To put this into perspective, the 4S15 Alpinists on the same catalog had a list price ranging from 33,000 yen for the SS version to 45,000 yen for the titanium version. Considering today's prices on the used market those prices back then seem incredulous but hey, Seiko then thought that 'All watches would someday be made this way'. This case design is affectively nicked as the 'Starfish'.
The second iteration of the Grey Ghost in 1996 brought a complete case redesign. From this point on the sleek case of the Grey Ghost is solidified. The code is SBBW049 and the movement 5M43. Power reserve with the old capacitors was a week long but with the new lithium-ion upgrade reaches up to four months. List price was 50,000 yen, a considerable drop since the Kinetic craze had started fading (the Alpinists retained the exact list price they had before). The same watch on rubber rather than bracelet carries a different code, SBBW053. On the dial we still find the AGS moniker; now however there's a flashier twin brother with golden indexes and crown, the SBBW051 (case number is the same).
That's a watch with a fabulous champagne dial of amazing detail you rarely see outside Grand Seiko. I managed to hunt down an example which happens to be the best looking one I've seen on photos.
For reference sake I must note that there's another watch with the Grey Ghost dial but made with stainless steel and a totally different case design, the SBBW011. Also, I'm led to believe that there was a similar sibling to the SBBW007 with a champagne dial as well, but I cannot attest to that.
Which brings us to the last iteration, which is also the best known and photographed, the SBCZ005. This now follows the new nomenclature for Kinetic JDMs. Pretty much everything looks like the previous iteration save for the change from the AGM to the KINETIC moniker on the dial, and for a brief period of time that also included the 5M43 movement, soon replaced by the 5M63 with an improved power reserve up to 6 months.
I must note that regarding the nomenclature, Seiko has been very inconsistent with the Kinetic watches; there are two lines, the SBBWs and the SBCWs which sole criterion for inclusion to one or the other appears to be list price, with anything 101,000 yen as a SBCW, a typical example being the AGS Landmaster with the stainless steel listing for 100,000 yen and dubbed SBBW005 while the titanium version listing for 130,000 yen and dubbed SBCW001. Hence in the SBBW line there are also the SS Landmasters and the Fieldmasters, watches that are non-divers.
There's a number of beautiful and underrated divers in the SBBW range that really deserve a few words. My favorite beater at the moment is the titanium SBBW023 with a very unique and funky purple sunburst enamel dial.
I have to mention two of my favorite watches the SBBW045 and 047. They share the same case number (5M43-0010) and differ only in dial and bezel design. Produced during 1996-8 (?) and featuring a one-piece titanium case associated with the Marine Masters and Pippin Kinetics. Their lower list price of 70,000 yen gave them a SBBW classification. Extremely rare watches, to the point of not having a nickname, so I would christen them the 'Unobtaniums'. Those photos are the only ones online you'll find them both at the same spot.
Magical dials and very unique titanium bezels. The 045 has a very nice contrast of the vintage-styled dial against the gold indexes while the 047 has a truly unique and hard to photograph sandpaper-like dial with small red details among the blue backdrop.
With the right lighting the results in photography and IRL are just amazing
There's a number of interesting SBBWs I'm still on the lookout for. The reason I started this thread was that I don't feel this piece of Seiko history has been covered as well as it deserves to.
You'll find more photos here
That's all for now, if anything else comes up I'll update the thread
Please do chip in with your own photos of any SBBW divers!
Thanks for checking this thread out and for reading!