Grand Seiko SBGA011
Angus Davies provides a “hands-on” in-depth review of the Grand Seiko SBGA011, the ‘Snowflake’ featuring an unusual dial reminiscent of freshly fallen snow. Moreover, this timepiece features the brand’s ingenious Spring Drive movement.
Purity is a highly prized virtue. The absence of pollutants or extraneous ingredients enhances pleasure and provides a notable freshness that is very appealing.
A glass of spring water, lungs filled with clear mountain air or a chaste bride dressed in white, evokes thoughts of cleanliness and rectitude.
Holding the Grand Seiko SBGA011 in my hands, the notion of purity readily comes to mind. There is a palpable clarity and air of goodness. The SBGA011 has a clean dial and sharp design, clarified to a seemingly simple form. However, the air of simplicity belies the complexity of its creation.
The canvas of the dial is beguiling. It was said to be inspired by the snow laying on the ground outside of the design studio nestled in the hills of Japan. The resultant surface is pure, subtle and gentle in character. The texture of the dial surface has a charming depth and quality that can only be truly appreciated with close association.
The sword-shaped hands on the Grand Seiko SBGA011 are magnificent. A perfunctory glance may assume them to be ordinary, however, this would be incorrect. Typical of Grand Seiko models, the understated nuances have to be studied to be fully appreciated. The hands are highly polished and faceted. Edges are crisp and surfaces are blemish free. The outcome of the accomplished polishing is a diamond-like brilliance, a quality which is evident wherever your eyes choose to dwell.
Whilst the hour and minute hands are beautiful, their form delivers much functionality, conveying time with perfect diction. A blued central sweep seconds hand interfaces with the chapter ring encircling the dial. Its motion is hypnotic, continuously moving in a seamless, gliding action that is very unusual. The unusual gait of the hand is due to its Spring Drive Calibre 9R65, a topic I will return to later.
Located between 7 o’clock and 8 o’clock is a power reserve indicator. It is depicted via a crescent-shaped aperture, on a lower surface, employing a hand that moves in an arcing motion. There is a significant difference in depth between the snailed area and the main dial surface which is very appealing, but no doubt very time consuming to execute. Whilst Japan is synonymous with the mass-production of consumer goods and cars, there is a welcome absence of expediency with Grand Seiko timepieces.
A date aperture, positioned at 3 o’clock, is enhanced with a polished frame, an attractive design detail which also aids interpretation.
The applied hour markers are a further highlight of the dial. They are faceted and feature several surfaces, all expertly polished. It is only by inspecting their comely lines that you fully grasp the labour intensive craftsmanship necessary to achieve this exquisite finish.
The titanium case, measures 41 mm in diameter and has a depth of 12.5 mm. It is dignified in character and should find favour with a broad cross section of wearers.
The case of the Grand Seiko SBGA011 does not look like titanium, appearing more like steel in appearance. This semblance is the result of the Zaratsu, or blade polishing, that Grand Seiko typically employs. The product of the artisan’s endeavour is stunning, resulting in a charming intercourse between light and metal.
Thumbing a Grand Seiko brochure before making the the acquaintance of the SBGA011, I noted the crown design of the model pictured and thought it appeared a little large. However, the crown appeared smaller once I placed the watch upon my wrist. Furthermore, it did not gouge or chafe the skin and confers ease of adjustment with its knurled profile.
A key aspect of the Grand Seiko paradigm is the “perfect legibility” of its models. This includes much attention being placed upon the sapphire crystal. It is slightly cambered and delivers time with a stunning clarity with a welcome absence of glare.
The screw-in case back features a large sapphire crystal, presenting the movement in full Technicolor splendour.
The self-winding Calibre 9R65 movement observed via the exhibition case back, is unusual. It is neither a conventional mechanical movement containing an escapement, nor, is it a quartz movement. This model features Seiko’s Spring Drive movement.
Seiko Spring Drive – background information
A conventional mechanical watch receives energy from winding the watch manually or from capturing subtle hand movements via an oscillating mass. This energy is stored in the mainspring within the barrel and is then transmitted via a series of wheels (the gear train) to the escapement and balance. The escapement releases small portions of energy which drive the cannon pinion (minutes hand), hour wheel (hour hand) and fourth wheel (seconds hand).
The Spring Drive movement features a mainspring but does not have a traditional Swiss lever escapement to proportion energy. In the case of Spring Drive, the mainspring drives the hands, but delivers a small portion of energy which is converted into electricity. This electrical energy powers an integrated circuit which powers the Tri-synchro regulator.
The Tri-synchro regulator controls and releases an electronic brake which regulates the unwinding of the mainspring. There are some notable differences this delivers.
Firstly, there is no tick. Personally, I enjoy the noise of pallet stones interfacing with an escape wheel and it seems strange that no noise can be heard.
Secondly, the glide wheel, or controller, is unidirectional i.e. there isn’t the usual to and fro motion of a balance wheel. This results in the hands moving in a constant seamless sweep. It proves mesmerising to observe and is distinctly different from the one second jumping hand of a quartz watch or mechanical timepiece with dead-beat seconds.
Lastly, there is the aspect of accuracy. The Spring Drive movement within the SBGA011 is said to be accurate to +/- 1 second per day. By contrast COSC (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres) test movements over several days, in five different positions and at three different temperatures. If the watch is within an average daily rate tolerance of -4 to +6 seconds and it meets the other testing criteria, it receives a chronometer certificate. This perfectly illustrates the timekeeping prowess of the Grand Seiko and shows its deviation of +/-1 seconds per day as truly exceptional.
The oscillating mass is partially open-worked, features a sunray motif and is engraved with the brand’s nomen and logo. Bridges are beautifully presented with clearly defined lines, similar in appearance to Côtes de Genève motif and with marvellously chamfered edges much in evidence.
I confess, I am left cold by the notion of a quartz watch. They seem inert. However, the Spring Drive is not a quartz movement, it harnesses the majesty of a mechanical movement but with clever innovation.
By adopting this approach, Grand Seiko delivers some tangible benefits that are difficult to argue against. Moreover, some established names in the upper echelons of Swiss haute horlogerie have also explored the benefits of combining mechanical movements with electronics.
With Spring Drive there is no battery which requires replacement. All energy is provided by a conventional mainspring, an aspect I find very attractive.
I used the term, “conventional” to describe the mainspring, but it is actually a further example of the company’s ingenuity. The SPRON 510 alloy was created by Seiko and exhibits high elasticity. It is yet another contributing factor to the accuracy of the Grand Seiko SBGA011, as well as delivering an impressive power reserve of 72 hours from its sole barrel.
Purists may argue that a mechanical watch should have an escapement and emit a traditional tick. A few years ago, I would probably have shared the same opinion. However, I am drawn to the notion of accuracy, the exquisite motion of the central seconds hand and the finely finished Calibre 9R65 movement.
There is much mechanical virtue housed within the case of the Grand Seiko SBGA011.
Whilst discussing the Spring Drive movement, the notion of purity may be debatable and different opinions may well be voiced. However, I suggest, there can be no arguments regarding its immaculate dial and case; it has a fresh, clean, goodness that is difficult to deny.
The no-compromise execution of the hands, hour markers, dial and case perfectly demonstrate the praiseworthy prowess of the Grand Seiko’s artisans.
In the world of high-end watchmaking, the term “Manufacture” is used by companies who make their own movements in-house, but no watch brand can truly be considered a “Manufacture” in the absolute sense. Hairsprings, jewels or sapphire crystals are often sourced from third parties. However, Seiko with its inovative Spring Drive movement, is the exception. Literally every component is made in-house. Perhaps this is a further illustration of the purity Grand Seiko ownership bestows.
- Model: Grand Seiko SBGA011
- Case: Titanium; diameter 41.0 mm; height 12.5 mm; water resistant to 10 bar (100 metres); sapphire crystal to front and caseback.
- Functions: Hours; minutes; central seconds; date; power-reserve indicator.
- Movement: Calibre 9R65, self-winding movement; Spring Drive; 30 jewels; power reserve 72 hours.
- Bracelet: Titanium bracelet with three-fold clasp with push button release
I would like to thank CW Sellors Jura, for kindly providing access to this remarkable timepiece.