Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Seiko’s Grand Seiko SBGA011 Spring Drive “Snowflake” – The epitome of a classic dress watch, A Review (and Videos)

My love affair with Seiko’s top-end line, Grand Seiko continues. This time I was able to grab a classic Grand Seiko, the “Snowflake” with the reference SBGA011. Like a lot of my watch purchases, it was not planned. I happened to drop in one of my favorite shop to ask about something else when my trusted salesperson informed me a consignment of two Snowflakes to his shop. Within 24 hours I decided to get one.

All Grand Seikos are made at the Shinshu Watch Studio and located in the city of Shiojiri, neighboring Suwa and Lake Suwa in a mountainous region of Nagano Prefecture, Japan. This location is almost the center of the country where the weather is slightly different from the typical coastal areas of Japan. Here, the humidity level is lower which causes winter snow fall to be very light and airy. This allows the wind to sculpt the snow into beautiful patterns not seen elsewhere in Japan.

In recognition of the locality that supported the studio’s operations, the designers and artisans of the Shinshu Watch Studio decided to create a dial which resembled this light snow fall pattern. Hence, the SBGA011 Grand Seiko Snowflake was born. It uses a unique 6 step process to replicate the snowfall in the dial. While the most complex dial in the Grand Seiko line takes 12 steps to complete, this Snowflake still counts as one of the most intricate dials in the family. Moreover, using titanium to make it as light as a snowflake, and blue accents to contribute a cold feel reinforces the Snowflake theme.

The SBGA011 Snowflake was born in 2010. Since then, it has become an icon that represent the best of what Grand Seiko is all about; quality, technology, art and design.

The SBGA011 has a traditional setup with a date complication as well as a power reserve indicator. The date aperture is located at the 3 o’clock position while the power reserve indicator is located between the 7 o’clock and 8 o’clock position. The case measures 41 mm in diameter and has a depth of 12.5 mm. It has a screw-down crown located at the 3 o’clock position as well as a screw-down display case-back. Both the dial and the case-back windows are protected by sapphire crystal glass. The sapphire glass protecting the dial is a high definition dual-curved sapphire crystal with anti-reflection coating on the inner surface.

The case and bracelet of the SBGA011 are made from Seiko’s in house developed and patented “High-Intensity” titanium. This titanium is slightly stronger than 316L stainless steel. Due to the lack of nickel (unlike stainless steel), it is safe for people with metal-allergies. Moreover, for someone like me that often wears sizable dive watches, the very lightweight of the alloy is a welcomed surprise. The complete watch weighs in at just 100 grams.

One interesting point to note is that the case of the SBGA011 does not look like titanium, but more like steel in appearance. This is another unique effect of Seiko’s patented “High-Intensity” titanium alloy. Coupled with the buffing done on the surface of the material using the traditional Zaratsu, or blade polishing technique, the effect is stunning.

The bracelet on the Snowflake uses the famous Grand Seiko “5-link” design. The 5-link is so called because each alternating brushed and polished section in the bracelet is actually an individual link, which allows them to be polished more precisely. Made by an in-house developed alloy called "Bright Titanium", it is not only lighter but also brighter, with a more steel like finish as opposed to the dark gray associated with titanium. It's also harder, making it more scratch resistant. Meanwhile, the titanium bracelet is linked together using friction pins. There are full as well as half-links to aid in resizing.

The three-fold clasp with push button release has the ‘GS’ logo stamped prominently on the press surface. The bridge connecting both parts of the bracelet is made out of machined blocks of titanium and polished to perfection.

The lug width is a common size 20 mm while the lug-to-lug length is 48 mm. One would not face any problems of finding interesting straps from the many strap manufacturers in the market. A nice shining crocodile strap in blue would be a good replacement from the bracelet.

The dial on the SBGA011 is where the visual magic kicks in. At a glance, it forgivable for most people to not find it interesting. However, the appreciation starts to build up exponentially if one makes the effort to really “see” the watch as it really is. The mirror polishing on every surface is the first. From the inset curve of the power reserve element to the letters in the “Seiko” and “GS” logos, each polished metal surface reflects like a crystal. The second is the smooth and perpetual-like glide of the blue second hand without any discerning vibration, thanks to the Spring Drive movement (more about this later). The third and final is the unique one-of-a-kind texture of the Snowflake dial. Due to the many manual steps needed to make the dial, no two SBGA011s will have a matching or identical dial texture. As I was born and bred in the tropics with very limited time having the pleasure of experiencing snow firsthand, my take on the dial surface is that of icing sugar. To me, the texture is what you would find if you sieve icing sugar over parchment or baking paper.

As a perfectionist when it comes to watches, a nagging feeling is the stability of the dial surface to aging. The assumption is that the many step process of making the snowflake dial would imply the dial is made out of many layers of ‘materials’; these material would not bind permanently and as such the possibility of ‘separation’ failure is possible. Nevertheless, I was made to understand that such concern is unwarranted.

The engine powering SBGA011 Snowflake is the 9R65 Spring Drive movement made entirely in-house by Seiko. This automatic engine is made at Shinshu Watch Studio in Seiko Epson's facility in Shiojiri, Japan. The beautifully polished movement can be clearly seen via the display case-back.

This technology uses an electro magnetically controlled regulation of the mainsprings. The conventional escapement is replaced with a device that Seiko calls a Tri-synchro Regulator to regulate the unwinding of the mainspring. The regulator controls the use of the three forms of energy used in the Spring Drive mechanism; the mechanical power of the mainspring, the electrical energy generated from this mechanical power, and the electromagnetic energy that governs the rotation of the glide wheel. The energy produced by the glide wheel is used to power a control circuit and quartz crystal oscillator, which in turn regulates the electro-mechanical braking of the glide wheel.

The glide wheel's speed is sampled 8 times per second (i.e. each time it makes a complete revolution around the regulator) and compared with the reference quartz signal by the circuit which operates at a dizzying speed of 32,768 Hertz. A variable braking force is continuously applied to regulate the glide wheel's frequency. This is the only movement with a time-only feedback (or phase-locked) loop in existence today.

The Tri-synchro Regulator's innovations result in a watch where the hands glide instead of ticking as in a conventional mechanical or quartz watch. This is because the movement never stops as in a traditional escapement; it is slowed to the proper speed by the brake.

This movement utilises 30 jewels and the main springs is capable of storing 72 hours of power reserve. The Spring Drive technology gives it an outstanding accuracy rating of +/- 15 seconds per month.

The SBGA011 Snowflake casing is also designed to provide a magnetic resistance of up to 4800 A/m (or 60 Gauss) for the 9R65 Spring Drive movement. The screw-down case-back and screw-down crown also gives the watch a water resistance rating of 10 bar or 100 meters.

The reveal

Typical of Grand Seiko’s packaging, it comes in a three piece watch box. The first level is a white protective cardboard box outer covering with all the necessary warning notices. The second level is the packaging box. This box has a nice deep ocean dark blue colouring with the Grand Seiko brand and logo printed in gold at the center on the top of the box. Inside this box you will find the primary watch box as well as the various documents such as the manual and the guarantee document.

The main watch box has a nicer surface compared to the outer box. The brand and logo are also printed in a slightly different position. This box hinges from the back and you'll find the watch sitting on its velvet pillow. On the inner top part of the watch box is the famous lion logo of Grand Seiko.

The Wearing Experience

I don’t need to bring up the obvious. Suffice to say the exquisite visual beauty of this watch is surreal and mesmerizing. Instead, I would spend a few moments to express my views on how it carries itself on the wrist.

Once you are comfortable with the bracelet sizing, the watch sits like a charm on the wrist. One could easily forget one is wearing a watch due to its lightness. The width and height of the watch makes for a small target to knock or snag into things.

The Snowflake dial also has an effect of creating the impression of patina. This aging effect creates a warmth feeling to the SBGA011; akin to wearing a cool-looking vintage watch. This factor, coupled with the cold snow-like representation that the designers in Seiko were trying to replicate with this model, provides a completeness or Zen-like aura to the watch. I am surprised that no other reviewer brought this up in their reviews.

After wearing sport watches most of the time, using a dress watch without any luminous paint is quite disconcerting at first. At night, you can’t see anything. I sometimes wear a watch to sleep so that I can appreciate the illumination on the dial. However, the Snowflake is not a watch that you can enjoy when it is dark.

Overall, I am very enamored with the watch and I can see why many watch enthusiasts put this is one of the iconic piece under the Grand Seiko line.

Authorised Dealer Appreciation Gift

My AD gave me a Wolf Blake Watch Roll travelling pouch when I got the Snowflake. The Blake watch roll, in black pebble leather, includes space for approximately 3 watches with purple suede lining and snap closure. It is approximately 20.3 mm long with a diameter of 8.3 mm.

It is priced at USD89.00 on Wolf’s website (https://www.wolf1834.com) or RM399.00 by the AD.

A Rado cleaning cloth was also thrown in for good measure.

Photo Gallery

SBGA011 SnowflakeSBGA011 Snowflake

For more of my Grand Seiko collection, please visit:

Grand Seiko GMT Spring Drive Limited Edition SBGE033

Grand Seiko SBGE001 Spring Drive GMT



  1. The MSRP of the SBGA011 was RM22,048. Purchase price was RM17,600.

  2. The watch of my dreams, however far too expensive for my budget (in fact could afford but wouldn't have the courage to remove the tags!!).


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