Why I Bought It (Despite The Strap And Buckle): Grand Seiko Blue Snowflake Reference SBGA407
by Chris Malburg with photos by GaryG
The Grand Seiko Spring Drive is not an electronic quartz watch. It employs Grand Seiko’s Spring Drive movement to achieve an accuracy of +/- 1 second per day – better than most (if not all) mechanical watches on the market priced below $10,000. It’s beautiful, unique, and rare.
Horological arms race for accuracy
In the arms race for accuracy, some may wish to throw the Citizen Caliber 0100 into the mix, which is accurate to within +/- 1 seconds per year. This solar/electronic watch in no way qualifies as mechanical or partially mechanical, though, like the Spring Drive.
Others may want to add Zenith’s ten-piece concept watch, the Defy Lab, which the company touts as accurate to +/- .3 seconds per 24 hours. Its successor is the serially manufactured Defy Inventor, but Zenith has declined to provide an official accuracy rate for the time being.
These rarified accuracy levels – +/- 1 second per day, .3 of a second per day, or 1 second per year – are just bragging rights. It certainly doesn’t make any difference in my life. It comes down to how I interact with the watch.
First impressions last
To see my initial impressions of this fabulous watch, see Grand Seiko Blue Snowflake Reference SBGA407: On The Wrist. There I wrote about the incredible effort and craftsmanship required to achieve the rough “snowflake” texture of the blue dial.
I also wrote of the unique polishing technique – Zaratsu – that creates a perfect, distortion-free, seamless mirror finish. It is a signature element of Grand Seiko’s look. The Snowflake exhibits it in typical manner on the case and lugs. The way of the Samurai is alive within Grand Seiko’s Blue Snowflake!
What pushed me over the edge was the harmony with which Grand Seiko merged the pure frozen beauty of its snowflake dial and the mirror-like polished steel with state-of-the-art technology to produce such a highly accurate timepiece. How very Japanese to impart this minimalist Zen that whispers “less is more” to an everyday object that is at once magnificent and utilitarian.
The Snowflake had me at hello. “Just take a look at the artisanship of that dial,” said Alex Friedman, manager of the Grand Seiko boutique in Beverly Hills, handing me a loupe.
“Grand Seiko’s Spring Drive hatched from the snow-covered mountains of its Shinshu Watch Studio in Japan’s Iwate prefecture. The pale blue snowflake dial represents the mountain snow just outside the manufacture and the beauty of Shinshu,” he explained.
Alex was right. The dial has a rough texture like a snow field in the frozen cold. This calming blue hue coupled with the dial’s interesting finish indeed remind me of a serene snow field. One that I’d like to walk through feeling the warmth inside my Canada Goose parka and hearing nothing but the crunch of frozen snow beneath my boots.
Does the watch you are wearing right now evoke such serenity?
In all its Zen-like quietude, the Blue Snowflake does have a lot going on on the dial. But at 40.8 mm, it’s big enough to bear the burden.
Of course I’m speaking of the date window. I like having a calendar window on my watches, even if it distracts from the blue snow field as the blued steel second hand glides smoothly and unhindered over it. So that wasn’t a showstopper for me.
Then there’s the power reserve indicator. I like knowing when my watch will stop, though I wouldn’t have put this indicator on the Snowflake’s dial.
Owing to how rapidly this automatic winds itself when on the wrist, and its 72-hour power reserve, this meter provides only minimally useful information. Even so, there are so many other favorable design and technical features this watch has going for it. So Grand Seiko’s inclusion of the power reserve indicator on the dial face did not dissuade.
Grand Seiko does nothing without a reason. We see that attention to detail and its relationship between form and function once again on the power reserve indicator.
Intuitively, I’d expect such an indicator to display maximum power at the top of the scale, and as power winds down the hand falls. However, that would go against Grand Seiko’s design aesthetic.
You see, the power reserve indicator faces the left side of the dial. If it had fallen from top to bottom, the hand would have to move counterclockwise. Not good if everything else on the dial is turning clockwise. In this case Grand Seiko chose form over function.
Of course, had Grand Seiko simply asked me I’d have suggested putting the reserve indicator on the case back. Problem solved. They probably just misplaced my number.
Fit and finish
The case has a classical design that does not offer any surprises. Its proportions are perfect, almost like Fibonacci’s golden ratio.
The Zaratsu-polished bezel is just the right thickness to support the blue dial without being overkill. I also appreciate the attention Grand Seiko paid to the lugs. It’s true: the Blue Snowflake’s lugs are just the right length and have the perfect curvature.
The result is that the size appears just right for my wrist. And there are no sharp edges – anywhere.
The sapphire crystal is box-shaped, meaning it rises slightly above the bezel. I like this design. Seeing the crystal rising above the protective steel bezel says this piece is special, treat it with respect. Message received.
Speaking of functionality
My watches are not wrist candy; I must be able read the dial. I’ve reviewed worldtimers whose typeface was so diminutive I couldn’t read the names of the cities. I didn’t consider adding them to my collection.
I noticed right off that Grand Seiko didn’t include any lume on the hands or markers. I wondered how this decision would work for me since I often find myself in low-light conditions.
What I found was that the Blue Snowflake is among the most readable watches I’ve seen. Even more so (in daylight) than the Rolex Sky-Dweller, which does have a substantial amount of luminous Chromalite. How did they do that?
Grand Seiko beveled both sides of the hour and minute hands, which create the reflection necessary for reading the time in very low-light conditions. It’s why this watch really doesn’t need any lume for its intended use. After all, it’s not a dive watch or a sports watch designed for use in pitch-dark conditions.
Unlike so many dress or casual watches, the Snowflake’s hands are sufficiently long to precisely read what the hands are telling us. This is an extraordinarily precise timepiece. The hands allow that precision to be used. Its readability and extreme accuracy says that the Blue Snowflake is not just another pretty face.
Grand Seiko used markers rather than numerals. The markers are very thin; the better to open up the watch face for a fuller appreciation of the “snow-covered” dial. Smart. I think with this piece, Grand Seiko provides a clinic on the Japanese style of less truly being more.
Speedbump ahead: strap and buckle
Let’s cut to the chase. I have a problem with the strap provided by Grand Seiko. Sure. it’s high-quality blue alligator with blue stitching. No problem there.
But the strap is too long as provided. Worse, the end of the strap is blunt rather than coming to a sharp point like the rest of the design vocabulary. It just looks odd.
The twin-fold push button deployant buckle also has a problem. It’s not the finish, which is perfect. Nor is it the mechanics of the buckle. Grand Seiko installed a matte-finished steel loop affixed to the buckle that the strap end passes through.
Yes, this protects the polishing of the buckle in an area whose surface is exposed to wear and tear. However, you cannot rest your wrist on a flat surface without feeling an irritating bump beneath. Further, the inner wrist side of the watch appears lopsided with both the excess strap and the steel loop of the buckle bulging out.
I called Alex and Xavier in the Grand Seiko Beverly Hills boutique, stated my case, and asked for a shorter strap. They were kind enough to special order one just for me. I ended up having to use one part of the original strap and one part of the shorter one to get the length right.
But there’s still the problem of the chunky deployant buckle caused by the steel loop. I have the solution for that too: I’m abandoning the strap altogether. I asked the boys in Beverly Hills to order the steel bracelet Grand Seiko makes for this watch.
It’s going to be bit of a wait they tell me. There are none in the U.S. as of this writing. I can surmise that I’m not the only owner who has given up on the strap and opted for a bracelet on this otherwise spectacular watch.
Seiko’s Spring Drive
Caliber 9R65 Spring Drive is an extraordinarily accurate and durable movement. It employs a quartz oscillator and an integrated circuit to precisely regulate the glide wheel using a magnetic brake. This is what achieves Spring Drive’s +/- 1 second per day accuracy. A tiny electrical current used by the quartz oscillator and integrated circuit is created when the mainspring unwinds throughout the 72 hours of power reserve.
Among the many things I like about this watch is that its automatic movement winds itself with the barest of wrist movement.
There is one quirk about the Spring Drive I was advised to follow to ensure the watch runs as accurately as designed. When winding and setting the watch from a dead stop, it is suggested to manually wind to at least 50 percent of reserve capacity, then let the watch run for 30 seconds before setting it.
I presume this has something to do with allowing the crystal, integrated circuit, and regulating electromagnetic brake time to sync with one another.
Care: it’s not a Submariner
This watch is not indestructible. So, yes, it does require some care. Then again, it wasn’t designed for the environments the Sub was.
Grand Seiko recommends not allowing the sun to beat down on the dial for extended time periods. It also suggests not exposing the watch to temperatures below 5°C or above 35°C (as with the vast majority of watches.)
Also, keep the watch away from areas of strong magnetism, static electricity, and dusty environments. Don’t expose it to high humidity. And, finally, no strong vibrations, please.
For most of us, these restrictions don’t affect our daily wear routines. But if so, just leave it behind until you’re in a less hostile environment. Wherever you’re going is unlikely to require a three-handed watch anyway.
Pulling the trigger
The Blue Snowflake imparts to me a Zen-like peace. I love the dial’s rough, snowy texture. The smooth movement of the second hand is calming amid a busy workday.
The fit and finish of the Zaratsu-polished surfaces add to the entire engineered quality of the watch. It’s just perfect in most ways, where it’s not can be easily fixed, and this masterpiece is worthy of consideration for your collection collection and daily wear.
The fact that authorized dealers and company-owned boutiques cannot keep this watch in inventory speaks loudly about its growing demand. I expect the value of this piece to hold, if not appreciate.
For more information, please visit www.grand-seiko.com/us-en/sbga407.
Quick Facts Grand Seiko Blue Snowflake Reference SBGA407
Case: 40.2 x 12.8 mm, stainless steel
Dial: blue stamped “snowflake” pattern
Movement: Seiko Spring Drive Caliber 9R65, automatic winding, power reserve 72 hours, 32,768 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, power reserve
Strap: blue alligator skin strap with steel deployant buckle, steel bracelet available
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Grand Seiko Blue Snowflake Reference SBGA407: On The Wrist
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Grand Seiko’s Urushi Dials Give The Elegance Collection A Competitive Edge (And Eye Candy)
Seiko Celebrates 20th Anniversary Of Grand Seiko 9S Caliber With 4 New Models
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Quick tip: you can transform the deplyant buckle into a regular pin buckle,which is very clever. I haven’t verified myself but was told so many times.
Its winding efficacy is the best among all automatics I have ever experienced, but I still like having a power reserve indicator because I usually rotate watches vigorously.
How is the Zaratsu technique unique when it comes from Switzerland and is just a Japanese transliteration of the name pf the Swiss company supplying the polishing machines (Sallaz)?
Don‘t get me wrong, I love the watch and dial, case and movement are extraordinary, but I would expect you to debunk marketing myths and fairy tales rather than repeat them unfiltered.
Well.. As far as I know ONLY Grand Seiko and the small Japanese manufacture Minase actually still use the Sallaz, the swiss now have alternatives, but my suspicions are that they wouldn`t allow for so much time to be set aside only for case polish.. different values, and to the benefit of Grand Seiko and Minase owners. It really is that good, Markus.
Love this watch and got one last year. Not easy to get, and it took me many visits to various Grand Seiko boutiques and AD’s in Japan to find one.
I can confirm that you can easily deconstruct the deployment buckle into a pin buckle. I have done so and added a light brown alligator strap, which seems to emphasize the gorgeous dial even more. Would be interested to know which bracelet would fit on this?
Been on my wrist for about 7 months now. Was able to easily get one from Timeless Luxury Watches in Texas, who are the largest GS boutique in the USA. I had to request a larger strap as I have a much larger wrist. 🙂
I’ve worn this while working under the hood on a 1992 Cummins diesel, and everywhere I go it goes. I only wish there was an easy and quick way to have the case Zaratsu polished again.
I was going to ask how often you send your dress watch in for an expensive re-polish , but you answered that.
Zaratsu is great until the first scratch, having my GS SD less than 3 weeks, I picked up a very faint scratch. I’m convinced other brands don’t provide this finish because it is so sensitive.
Other than that, love my SD.
Beautiful watch and the power reserve on the front is fine. Looks like an impression you make in the snow and is therefore an essential part of the theme. Also resembles the shape of Japanese paper fan.
One correction..Shinshu is in Nagano prefecture, and the Seiko Epson factory there ( responsible for Spring Drive and Quartz watches, is located in Shiojiri.
Have you received the bracelet? How is it working out? Would you mind sharing roughly how much the bracelet costs? Thanks!
First post here- love your site. Can you please tell me the exact dimensions of the lug width (19mm?) and the GS buckle width. I just ordered the watch but know I want to change out the strap- not crazy about blue croc and I know it will be too long for my liking. I’ll probably order custom but any advice would be appreciated. I’m thinking of a medium brown croc or calf (probably croc).