Grand Seiko’s two new “Snowflake” models incite an interesting discussionZach Blass
- Grand Seiko first debuted its “Snowflake” dial in 2005 and it remains widely held as their most iconic dial configuration.
- The new quartz steel 28.9mm STGF385 is a diamond-set sequel to the STGF359, the first “ladies Snowflake” from 2021.
- The new quartz titanium 37mm SBGX355 externally appears as a scaled-down SBGA211 sans power reserve indicator.
In 2005, Grand Seiko debuted a dial so striking that it is widely credited with bringing the brand into the spotlight beyond the Japanese market. A pristine white dial with a hand-crafted stamped texture that mimics the snow-covered landscapes of the Shinshu region where Grand Seiko’s quartz and Spring Drive watches are produced, the “Snowflake” dial would become the gateway conversation starter that would draw people into the world of Grand Seiko.
The SBGA011 “Snowflake”, with its double stamped ‘Seiko’ and ‘Grand Seiko’ on the dial, was not initially sold outside of Japan. It would take five years before it was presented internationally, presumably after brewing interest from in-the-know watch geeks. But it became clear the double-signature dial confounded the marketplace – with it being unclear if the watch was a Seiko or Grand Seiko. And, to be frank, begging the question: “What is Grand Seiko?”
In 2017, the SBGA011 was replaced with the SBGA211, which is every bit the same as the original “Snowflake” but more clearly and solely branded with the Grand Seiko logo at the 12′ position. With online watch media fully in action by 2017, the re-branded “Snowflake” would capture the attention of the horologically curious worldwide with exponentially growing interest – so much so that in 2018 the Grand Seiko Corporation of America was born; a clear signal Grand Seiko was ready to conquer wrists worldwide.
I’ve taken the time to briefly recap the context and importance of the “Snowflake” dial because this week, two new models – the Grand Seiko SBGX355 and SGTF385 – have been introduced into the brand’s catalogue, with each bearing the “Snowflake” dial that strongly helped build the brand’s profile internationally.
Grand Seiko SBGX355
One point of contention about the “Snowflake” design, or rather most Spring Drive dials, is its power reserve indicator. Some feel it is an unwelcome distraction, while others are perfectly content with the complication visible dial-side. In the past, we have remarked that some later-introduced models were the closest thing to having a cleaner “Snowflake” dial. However, watches like the SBGY013 “White Omiwatari” (2022), the sequel to the original SBGY007 “Omiwatari” (2021), do not technically use the “Snowflake” texture.
The first watch to use a true white “Snowflake” dial beyond the SBGA211 and SBGA259 “Golden Snowflake” with its gold-toned hands and indices was the SBGY002, which celebrated the 20th anniversary of Spring Drive in 2019. As a precious metal model, however, its pricing was largely out of reach for the average watch buyer. It was also an ‘Elegance’ model, rather than a ‘Heritage’ model, in a different and less water-resistant case and with a manually-wound Spring Drive movement rather than an automatic one.
In 2021, the STFG359 was launched, becoming the next true “Snowflake” dial model, but it was also the first-ever “ladies Snowflake”. The SBGE285 Evolution 9 GMT is often considered to have a “Snowflake” dial, but its colour is subtly darker and Grand Seiko does not refer to it as such officially. Also, it still has a dial-side power reserve indicator.
Getting to the point, this is where the new SBGX355 enters the conversation. It is effectively a scaled-down SBGA211, something that has never been presented until now. Its high-intensity titanium case and bracelet, in architecture and finish, are identical to the SBGA211 visually. It differs dimensionally, scaled down to 37mm in diameter, 10mm in thickness, and a more compact 44.6mm lug-to-lug. In its smaller size, it remains 100 metres water-resistant, but it utilises a push crown instead of a screw-down. Looking at the dial, it is a true “Snowflake” dial outfitted with the same indices and hands set as the SBGA211. However, it notably excludes the power reserve indication on the dial and blue ‘Spring Drive’ text at the 6′ position, only the framed 3′ positioned date complication remains. This is due to the fact it is powered by their in-house 9F62 quartz movement, which is accurate within 10 seconds per year with a battery life of three years.
As an owner of the 41mm SBGA211, I have always found the watch to suit my 6.5-inch wrist well. But, as someone who does appreciate watches closer to 36mm in diameter, I cannot pretend that, had there been a 37mm Spring Drive model with identical proportions, I would not have gone with a smaller size. Unfortunately, Grand Seiko does not produce an automatic Spring Drive movement capable of being housed within such a case size. I hate to sound like a quartz snob, and to be clear plenty of people love Grand Seiko quartz for good reason – it is best in class. But I cannot help but wonder if their manually-wound 9S64 would have been a better move, or if it would have made a bigger splash.
This, however, is a nuanced proposition. The “Snowflake” is a Studio Shinshu creation, a facility that, as I mentioned earlier, is solely responsible for quartz and Spring Drive. Studio Shizukuishi is where all things Grand Seiko mechanical are taken care of, and Studio Shizukuishi has never produced a “Snowflake” dial. It seems silly, it is all one company, right? But look at the difference between the mechanical hi-beat 9SA5-powered White Birch and Spring Drive White Birch. It is very niche and nuanced, but as we once highlighted the dials are not the same.
Going off of this precedent, a fully mechanical watch with an identical “Snowflake” is not likely in the cards. This explains why it has been presented as a quartz model, and, my personal deadbeat-ticking hand bias aside, the SBGX355 appears to be a great and first opportunity to get a smaller, cleaner, true sequel to the SBGA211 that is also less expensive at US$3,800.
Grand Seiko SGTF385
The new SGTF385 is effectively the sequel to the aforementioned STGF359, identical in case and bracelet geometry, material, and (pretty much) dimensions. The only difference with this stainless steel watch, which is 28.9mm in diameter and 35.4mm lug-to-lug, is that it is now .1mm thicker (8.8mm thick) due to the switch from a smooth polished bezel to a diamond-set bezel. There is, of course, a price premium due to the usage of diamonds, stepping up from the US$2,300 price of the STGF359 to US$5,500 – a very sizeable difference. In a traditional sense, this ultimately offers another “hers Snowflake” option to “his Snowflake” should anyone desire a more iced-out take on the so-dubbed “ladies model”. While sub-30mm in diameter, however, it is worth noting it is by no means fragile thanks to its 100-metre depth rating.
To be clear, the SBGX355 in its description is delineated as ‘unisex’ and all gender identities are welcome to enjoy the SBGA211. But for the contingent of wrists that find the SBGA211 to be too large, and lust over the idea of a fully mechanical or Spring Drive-driven true “Snowflake” in a smaller size, their appetite has not been satiated with these releases. This is not to shame the SGTF385 or the SBGX355. They are both strong releases in my book. I am also not suggesting there is no place for tiny gem-set and traditionally held ladies’ designs. It is not an or proposition, rather I am suggesting there be an and. The SBGX355 has stirred up a strong response within me seeing an SBGA211, albeit with a quartz movement, in a vintage-lovers dream 37mm size that also extends an olive branch to those conflicted by a dial-side power reserve indicator.
This is an absolute shot in the dark, but if Grand Seiko were to debut a new smaller automatic Spring Drive calibre that excludes a power reserve indication, and perhaps even a date complication, for the 25th anniversary of the “Snowflake” and inside a 37mm “Snowflake” watch in 2025, it would be a dream come true for some.
Grand Seiko SBGX355 & SGTF385 pricing and availability
The Grand Seiko SBGX355 and SGTF385 are both available now at Grand Seiko Boutiques, Grand Seiko Boutique Online, and select Grand Seiko Authorised Retailers worldwide. Price: US$3,800 (SBGX355), US$5,500 (STGF385).
|SBGX355: 37mm (D) x 10mm (T) x 44.6mm (LTL)
SGTF385: 28.9mm (D) x 8.8mm (T) x 35.4mm (LTL)
|SBGX355: Hi-intensity titanium
SGTF385: Stainless steel w/ 44 diamonds (0.39 carat) on bezel
|“Snowflake” white dial
|SBGX355: High-intensity Titanium w/ three-fold clasp
SGTF385: Stainless Steel w/ three-fold clasp
|SBGX355: In-house 9F62 quartz
SGTF385: In-house 4J52 quartz
|Battery life of 3 years
|Hours, minutes, seconds, date
|US$3,800 (SBGX355), US$5,500 (STGF385)