The Grand Seiko SBGA211G (nicknamed Snowflake by fans) was released to global adoration when it was first released in October 2005 as the SBGA011G, at a time when Seiko and Grand Seiko were intrinsically linked. Grand Seiko became a single entity within the Seiko empire in 2018.
It fast became the luxury marques fastest seller. Coinciding, a few years later, with the decision to allow Grand Seiko watches to be officially retailed outside of Asia the Snowflake almost single handedly put Grand Seiko on the world map.
It became a fan favourite and was heralded within the press for a few reasons. The fine textured dial was unique and hit a chord with its subtle inflections that was created to reflect the granular snow on the peaks of the Shinshu mountains, hence the adopted moniker.
On one of the walls within the Suwa Seikosha factory, where the first ever Grand Seiko was created and where the Snowflake is now hand made, there is a collage of about 12 images that showcase each stage the dial goes through to produce that now-famous design. Interestingly, the idea of the snow swept dial, which most believe to be a world’s first, was first experimented with back in 1971 with the Seiko 56GS.
The dial was inspired by the Hotaka mountain range, that can be seen from the Shinshu Watch Studio.
The calming effect of the dial was further enhanced by the mesmerising glide of the second hand, as a result of the proprietary Spring Drive movement. Few watches on the market can induce a state of tranquillity than a Snowflake. It is the horological equivalent of meditation. I often find myself lost in the seductive movement of the blued seconds hand as it glides across the topographical dial. People some times witness me having just looked at my Snowflake and then, psychosomatically, want to know the time, and I have to confess that I don’t know. I haven’t look at my watch for the time. I’ve simply been surveying the dial for a discrete moment of pure serenity.
This extraordinary timepiece has now been joined by another Snowflake. The name is the same, the movement is the same, the hands are the same but everything else is different. Despite this the Blue Snowflake has that same immediate impact at the extremes of covetability.
Just like the original Snowflake, SBGA211G, before it the new blue Snowflake, SBGA407, comes at you from two distinct sides to capture your heart and imagination with the unique dial and exclusive Spring Drive movement. Either are the equivalent of a wrist worn Pincer Movement.
The SGBA211 case is constructed of Seiko’s High Intensity Titanium®. This is a harder wearing version of the popular grade 5 titanium, that is utilised for it’s low weight advantage over steel and precious metals most often used in watch cases. The case is Zaratsu polished, which is a technique, handed down through millennia, for polishing Katana swords. The result of this is a sheen never normally seen on titanium cases. In fact, I have caught many people out by handing them my Snowflake. They expect the weight of steel, because the Zaratsu polishing gives that same high polished reflective property, but instead, are handling something feather light. The other advantage of this is that you hardly know you are wearing the SBGA211, which further enhances the relaxed sensation.
The SBGA407 is presented in surgical grade stainless steel which has been treated with Seiko’s Dia-Shield® to create a more durable surface than standard steel. Like all Grand Seikos it has been hand finished throughout with Zaratsu polishing. The case is, quite simply, perfectly realised. It shares no external dimensions with the SBGA211. The
A box glass is also utilised, which gives a more classical style. As does the slim diamond polished markers throughout and the shallower, more
Spring Drive movement. Calibre 9R65. Represents the profile of the Hotaka mountain range.
Manufactured by hand in the Seiko Epson (previously Suwa Seikosha) situated in Shiojiri in the Nagano Prefecture.
The SBGA211A white Snowflake is a monumental watch for Grand Seiko. There isn’t a single person who I have shown mine to that has not admired it. Granted this is replete with my vociferous running commentary. Grand Seiko were caught between a rock and a hard place in the fact that they had the perfect watch to spring board from, in the shape of the SBGA211, and yet they had the perfect watch to compete with. I am delighted to see that the one signature of the white Snowflake, that magnificent dial, has been carried over. The proprietary and class leading Spring Drive® movement was also a given. That left the arduous task of designing the case. Every element is non-Snowflake (crikey, the watch is so famous it has become a noun).
I am a partisan member of the Grand Seiko fan club. They turned me into a hypocrite when I bought one of their exceptional Quartz models. Therefore, I would understand if any reader of this article may add a handicap score mentality when perusing these, seemingly, biased opinions. However, I would gladly welcome you to Andrew Michaels Jewellers to come and indulge in these watches for yourself. You will not be disappointed. The specifications are of the very highest order for watches at this price point. They each epitomise the famous Japanese attitude towards craftmanship, respect for tradition, diligence, honour and pride. And then I’ll indulge you by letting you sit and become transfixed by that heat treated blue hand glide effortlessly across the unique textured dial.
Right, I’ll put myself on the spot here in the interest of balanced consumer advice. Which one do I prefer? There are myriad wrist watches on the market from a vast number of manufacturers. This usually means that it is unlikely you would purchase two watches from the same family from one brand. However, I would happily invest in both the White Snowflake and the Blue Snowflake. The dial texture is alike, the glorious 9R65 Spring Drive® movement is repeated, but all other aspects are different. For me the SBGA211, with its High Intensity Titanium® case and bracelet, offers utility, whilst the SBGA407, with its, bright blue dial, mirror-like steel case and alligator strap creates a more classical alternative. So, the White Snowflake for week days and the Blue Snowflake for weekends and evenings. Trying to choose between the two is like trying to choose between my children, if I were a parent, which I’m not, or trying to choose between my wives, if I were a bigamist, which I am most certainly not.
However, if you were to put a gun to my head (bit dramatic) I would have to go with the original white dial SBGA211G. I love the lack of weight proffered by the Titanium case, without the usual dull grey aesthetics normally associated with this aerospace grade material. The blue dial is more playful and joyful than the white but it won’t be as flexible sartorially. Finally, and I hate to sound like a pedant, but a snowflake is white. Perhaps, instead of the Blue Snowflake we should adopt the nomenclature Snowmelt. Oh crikey, that’s put the cat amongst the pigeons. Out of the Snowflakes I’ll take the white and out of the Snowmelts I’ll take the blue.
I give you the Snowmelt………
……..and it’s equally beautiful Sister the Snowflake.