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The Grand Seiko Spring Drive SBGA011 is better known to Grand Seiko fans simply as the “Snowflake,” and it’s probably the single most iconic model for Grand Seiko Spring Drive, having been first introduced in 2010 (hard to believe). In the seven years since its release it’s become a huge fan favorite, and a much-lauded critics’ darling as well, with praise lavished on its unique dial, and the general fit and finish so characteristic of Grand Seiko as well. Interestingly, Grand Seiko has never offered this dial with any other movement than Spring Drive and in fact, the characteristics of the Spring Drive movement are essential to the overall impact of the watch as a whole – with a conventional automatic movement, or with a conventional quartz movement, this would be a very different experience on the wrist, in perhaps subtle but unmistakable ways.
There are really two parts to the Snowflake story: one is the aesthetics in general, and the other is the Spring Drive movement. The Snowflake is a very calmness-inducing watch – the subtle play of light on the dial, with its resemblance to a field of newly fallen, lightly drifted snow, and the silent, smooth glide of the blued steel seconds hand, combine to give a feeling of time flowing uninterruptedly, but also unhurriedly, and one seems to see time almost from a timeless perspective, as one is supposed to when deeply absorbed in meditation. By contrast, a mechanical watch presents time as a series of oscillations – the frequency of the balance is visible in the stuttering forward motion of the seconds hand, which jumps forward once per swing of the balance as the escape wheel unlocks.
The Snowflake dial has a texture that’s generally compared to that of freshly fallen snow but it’s not really a literal representation of a snow field, of course – it’s not really a literal representation of anything, which is part of the reason that it’s so compelling. It has something of a lot of different things – the texture of water color paper, or a rice paper screen, for instance – and the fact that it doesn’t lend itself to identification with anything in particular, means that it’s going to look and feel different for everyone. This is also very Japanese – so much of the aesthetics in traditional Japanese culture are about what you leave out, as much as what you put in.
A dial is not a washed-ink brush painting, of course, but in this instance some of the same aesthetic criteria are at play. The composition has to be balanced but not static, and negative space has to be offset by just enough contrasting elements to keep things dynamic without becoming cluttered. The single most important element on the dial compositionally in terms of providing a dynamic element is the power reserve, which is located and executed in such a way as to break up both the surface texture of the dial – which otherwise might seem a bit too monotonous – and balance the presence of the date window. Another big part of the appeal of the dial, of course, are the contrasting textures – the diamond-bright reflective surfaces of the hands against the snowflake dial surface, with the blued steel seconds hand gliding silently across the whole thing. One of the most appealing aspects of the watch is that its design elements don’t give the impression of particularly striving to create an effect; it seems natural and effortless.
The creation of the dial is a multi-stage process, involving stamping the initial pattern onto a dial blank, and then adding successive layers of coating to create the subtle translucency of the final dial. The indexes for Grand Seiko watches are cut with a diamond-edged rotary cutting tool, overseen by a technician who manually operates the cutting machine, and who uses a small hand mirror to make sure the index surfaces reflect the light in the desired fashion. Once the lettering is printed, the markers applied, and the date window surround inserted, the dial’s ready to become part of the watch. The creation of a Snowflake dial is very labor intensive, but no less so than many of the other dial making processes at the Shinshu Watch Studio in Shiojiri; the amount of hand-work that goes into dials, hands, and markers is extensive, and the result is the very high quality, in Grand Seikos across the board, for which Grand Seiko is famous.
As we said at the outset, the Spring Drive Snowflake SBGA211 is a very steadying watch to wear. The entire thing seems to have been calculated to create an effect of serenity without boredom; of minimalism without sterility. On the most basic level, wearing it is an exercise in experiencing a watch that absolutely fulfills the most basic social contract of a watch, and a watchmaker, with an owner: it is instantly readable, delivers all information with absolute clarity, is extremely accurate, and is useful and usable under just about any conditions you could reasonably expect it to meet. Not only are there no compromises made with functionality, functionality is actively pursued as a goal meaningful in itself and again, this achievement of an aesthetic effect through the pursuit of functionality, without a desire to create an effect per se, is pervasive in traditional Japanese culture – perhaps nowhere more iconically than in the Japanese sword. The most basic question for the katana is not “how does it look,” but rather “does it work?” but how it looks, of course, is a direct result of how it’s made to work as exceptionally well as it does.
Wearing the Snowflake is also an exercise in achieving irreproachable functionality. The case and bracelet are Seiko’s “High Intensity” titanium, which has the lightness, comfort, and hypoallergenicity of titanium but with much better scratch resistance. Despite the brightly polished case bevels and bezel, you don’t wear this watch with any concern about inflicting noticeable scratches on it, and despite its somewhat large-for-Grand-Seiko diameter (the case is 41mm x 12.5mm) it remains extremely comfortable to wear – adjusted for a slightly snug fit on my seven inch wrist, it became almost unnoticeable, unless I happened to need to check the time or date.
Where the Snowflake really wins hearts and minds, though, and where it’s been winning hearts and minds for nearly a decade, is in its design and aesthetics. The degree of excellence in fit and finish you rightly expect from Grand Seiko is a big part of that, but as with any really successful design object, the whole is a lot more than the sum of its parts and as a design object with a uniquely Japanese heart, the Spring Drive Snowflake is deservedly a perennial Grand Seiko fan favorite. Grand Seiko is known in the watch enthusiast world as an icon of quality, and within the Grand Seiko family, the Snowflake particularly stands out, as a highly successful integration of the many qualities that make Grand Seiko so appealing – an icon’s icon, if you will.
Here is one extremely HOT Timepiece! This gorgeous timepiece is in Brand New condition with warranty dated Feb 26, 2020! All boxes, booklets, this etc and it Showroom new condition with 3 year warranty until Feb 2023!
BRAND: Grand Seiko
MODEL: Snowflake – Ref SBGA211
MOVEMENT: Spring Drive – 72 Hour Power Reserve
CROWN: Non Screw Down
DIAL: Snowflake textured white dial
BEZEL: non rotating
CONDITION: Unworn – As-New! Warranty dated 02/26/2020
BOXES/PAPERS: Complete Box Set And comes with everything as shown in pictures!
WATER RESISTANCE: – 200m
STRAP/BRACELET: – Original Seiko High Intensity Titanium bracelet with all links.
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and include details of your trades through my Trade/Buy tab at the top of my homepage.