Grand Seiko ‘Blue Snowflake’ SBGA407
The Grand Seiko ‘Blue Snowflake’ SBGA407 combines a prepossessing pale blue dial and an ultra-smooth Zaratsu polished case with a high precision Spring Drive movement. However, are these attributes enough to tempt an existing Snowflake owner to flex his credit card?
In 2010, Grand Seiko unveiled a remarkable watch with a white ‘Snowflake’ dial, the SBGA011. The dial epidermis was designed to replicate the appearance of freshly fallen snow, as seen through the windows of the firm’s Shinshu Watch Studio. This Seiko production facility is the home of Grand Seiko’s revered Spring Drive movements, something I will return to later.
While I frequently see exquisite watches and feel justified in proffering generous praise, I am unable to purchase everything I admire. However, the SBGA011 was different, surpassing mere admiration. After seeing the watch for the first time, I vowed that I would acquire a Snowflake as soon as the opportunity arose. Eventually, my aspiration was realised and the SBGA011 was mine.
Over the years, like many watch fanatics I have ‘flipped’ one watch to facilitate the purchase of another. However, no such indignity has befallen my SBGA011. It is frequently affixed to my wrist and we will forever be lifelong companions.
This model’s talents go beyond its prepossessing face. Its titanium case is incredibly light, exhibits a mirror-like appearance and feels as smooth as silk. The innovative Spring Drive movement is automatic, incredibly accurate and possesses a seconds hand with the most serene gait. The hands and indexes eschew luminescent treatment, however, this does not present a problem, as the merest suggestion of light causes the gleaming hands and indexes to readily reveal their presence.
I am not alone in recognising the brilliance of the SBGA011. Over the years, I have met several other Grand Seiko fanatics who have also succumbed to the Snowflake’s pure complexion, silky contours and outstanding accuracy. Despite being unveiled 10 years ago, the brilliance of the white Snowflake continues to shine brightly. While such words as ‘iconic’ and ‘legendary’ are overused in the watch industry, they seem most apt when discussing this watch.
At Baselworld 2017, Shinji Hattori, the Chairman and CEO of Seiko Holdings Corporation announced that Grand Seiko would operate separately from other Seiko companies. This clearly had implications for retailing, the brand’s online presence and, most pertinently, the branding of dials.
My cherished SBGA011 features prominent ‘Seiko’ branding below noon and additional ‘GS’ and ‘Grand Seiko’ text above 6 o’clock. However, as part of the rebranding of Grand Seiko, the lone ‘Seiko’ name was removed and the ‘GS’ logo and name were repositioned and now sit in the upper hemisphere of the dial.
Kaizen, the Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement, has enhanced the face of the Snowflake. While the dial of my SBGA011 has a very clean appearance, the newer dial has definitely delivered advancement.
A new white Snowflake SBGA211
As part of the re-branding, the Snowflake received a subtle makeover of the dial and a new reference number, the SBGA211. It retained the titanium case, inspired by the legendary 44GS model of 1967 with its curved sideline, part recessed crown and its multi-faceted hands and hour markers. Likewise, the Calibre 9R65 was carried over to the new model without any modification.
At the same time, Grand Seiko also released the SBGA259 which was virtually identical to the SBGA211 but supplanted silver-toned hands and indexes with gold-hued items. Personally, this model has never appealed to me in quite the same way, possibly because the golden tones diminished the pure, unsullied quality synonymous with the inaugural white Snowflake. Nevertheless, I accept that not every reader will share my opinion.
A new blue Snowflake SBGA407
Last year, the Japanese luxury marque unveiled a new Snowflake with a bewitching pale blue dial.
Recently, I had the opportunity to admire this new model at close quarters with a loupe in hand to see if it evoked the same horological lust that I felt when I first saw my beloved SBGA011.
A few years ago, I witnessed a few brands unveil watches with blue dials. I can remember at the time thinking dials sporting such bold hues would fall out of favour in due course. However, with the passage of time, I have been proved wrong.
Nevertheless, while blue dials are still very much en vogue, Grand Seiko has not followed the well-trodden path of others, selecting a shade I cannot remember seeing elsewhere. Its tone has a subtle, gentle character and brings to mind the fresh, crystal-like structure of snow.
The hours and minutes are pronounced with clear tone, using the brand’s tried and tested, facetted Dauphine hands. The angled edge of each hand exhibits an extraordinary brilliance. The hour markers are rectangular and feature facetted sides. Moreover, the leading edge of each index, positioned closest to the fulcrum of the dial, are also facetted. Interestingly, the opposite edge of each hour marker, positioned adjacent the rehaut, eschews facets, providing a crisp vertical plane. The marque’s obsession with the smallest of details is one of the many reasons why I am a devoted follower of ‘GS’.
A blued central sweep seconds hand circumnavigates the dial with graceful poise and its hue contrasts beautifully with the pale blue backdrop.
The date aperture at 3 o’clock is framed with a polished silver-toned border. The date pairs black numerals with a white disc. One of the endearing traits of Grand Seiko watches is that each numeral on the date disc has been optimally sized in order to augment readability.
A recessed power-reserve indicator is positioned adjacent 8 o’clock and features an understated, yet legible scale, showing the energy held within the spring barrel. The recessed area incorporates snailing, providing a tasteful contrast with the main dial epidermis.
The Grand Seiko ‘Blue Snowflake’ SBGA407 is housed in a 40.2mm Zaratsu-polished stainless steel case. This outstandingly smooth case is expertly polished by an artisan working in the brand’s Shinshu Watch Studio.
The artisan places the case within a special holder which is then positioned against a rotating wheel. The wheel is liberally coated with a mildly abrasive liquid and the operator skilfully manipulates the case against the rotating wheel. The objective is not to alter the shape of the case, merely to polish it. This technique takes several years to master and an inordinate amount of patience to execute, but the resultant appearance provides justification for the effort expended. Placing a Zaratsu polished case against a piece of graph paper reveals a virtually distortion-free reflection.
Overall this watch is neither overtly retro or contemporary, however, the box shaped sapphire crystal does doff its hat to watches of yesteryear. The vertical plane of the crown is domed, heightening the overall sense of style. While some bulbous crowns can impinge on free movement of the wrist, no such problems will afflict the wearers of this model. Indeed, like my cherished SBGA011, the Grand Seiko ‘Blue Snowflake’ SBGA407 provides peerless wearer comfort.
The SBGA407 is fitted with an exhibition caseback which allows curious wearers to view the Caliber 9R65 Spring Drive movement.
This unique movement features a barrel containing a mainspring just like a regular mechanical watch. Power is transmitted through a series of gears, typical of a mechanical watch. However, a small rotor, connected to the gears, generates an electrical charge which in turn powers an electronic circuit board and quartz oscillator. Instead of a conventional balance wheel, the Caliber 9R65 features a unidirectional glide wheel and rather than employing an escapement, the rate of the glide wheel is controlled by an electromagnetic brake, governed by the aforementioned electronic circuit.
The Caliber 9R65 fuses two forms of watchmaking, mechanical and electronic, conferring an incredible degree of precision. Indeed, Grand Seiko state the accuracy is ± 1 second per day, surpassing most mechanical chronometers. One could describe Spring Drive as the horological equivalent of a hybrid car, synergistically combining two technologies.
The oscillating weight and bridges are decorated with a striped decoration, similar to Côtes de Genève. In addition, various bridge and rotor surfaces feature chamfered edges, adding a quotient of brilliance to the movement’s appearance.
The power reserve is sufficient to allow the watch to run autonomously for 72 hours.
For a more detailed explanation of the Spring Drive movement, see my review of the SBGA011.
A few years ago, I joined other journalists from around the world and visited Seiko’s various operations in Japan. During the trip, the brand frequently talked about how Grand Seiko is always trying to create the ‘ideal’ watch. The company’s personnel defined ‘ideal’ as a timepiece that delivers ‘precision’, ‘durability’ and ‘beauty’. In my opinion, the Grand Seiko ‘Blue Snowflake’ SBGA407 fulfils this remit magnificently.
The texture of the dial and its eye-catching pale blue shade are extraordinarily beautiful. Furthermore, the proportions and execution of each dial component are delightful.
Appraising the Zaratsu-polished case, its refinement is manifest. The case diameter is modest and should suit most wearers. However, the case thickness of 12.8mm may prove a tad chunky for those wearers who prefer watches with a svelte waistline. Personally, when I affixed the watch to my wrist, everything felt most agreeable.
As stated earlier, Spring Drive was invented by Seiko and it is unique to the brand. Observing the central seconds hand in flight proves hypnotic. Its seamless advance delivers a welcome alternative to the staccato rhythm of a quartz movement or the busy shuffle of a mechanical movement equipped with a Swiss-lever escapement. Most pertinently, Spring Drive is incredibly precise yet, unlike a quartz watch, there is not a battery in sight.
Throughout this article, I have not hidden my admiration for Grand Seiko. Sadly, I know there will be some watch collectors who have not yet tasted the sweet flavour of Grand Seiko ownership. I hope this review causes them to revisit their opinion of the brand.
Finally, all roads lead me to the question of whether the threshold has been reached where I transition from journalist to customer. With two children at university, I won’t be buying the Grand Seiko ‘Blue Snowflake’ SBGA407 next week, however, I can say categorically that acquisition is not a matter of ‘if’, but rather ‘when’.
- Model: Grand Seiko ‘Blue Snowflake’ SBGA407
- Case: Stainless steel; diameter 40.2mm; height 12.8mm; water resistance 10ATM (100 metres); box-shaped sapphire crystal to front; sapphire caseback.
- Functions: hours; minutes; central sweep seconds; date; power-reserve indicator
- Movement: Caliber 9R65; Spring Drive movement; 30 jewels; power reserve 72 hours.
- Strap: Blue crocodile leather strap paired with a 3-fold clasp with push button release.
- Price: £5,250 including VAT (RRP as at 3.2.2020)