The Grand Seiko Heritage Snowflake SBGA211 is one of the most popular models from this Japanese luxury watch manufacturer. The Snowflake gets its name from its distinctive dial, which is sure to draw attention. Like all Grand Seiko timepieces, the Snowflake is flawless in its execution; however, its level of detail is particularly extraordinary.
The dial’s bright white hue and fine, almost crystalline structure are reminiscent of freshly fallen snow. In fact, the winter landscape around the Grand Seiko workshops in Shiojiri, a city in Japan’s Nagano Prefecture, inspired the design. The dial consists of several thin layers stacked on top of one another in an elaborate process to achieve the desired snowy effect.
This unique background perfectly sets the stage for the beveled and hand-polished bar indices and dauphine hands. Their precisely engineered facets reflect even the smallest glint of light, lending the watch a remarkable brilliance. The date window at 3 o’clock sits within a delicate frame. There’s also a snow-white, lightly sunken power reserve display at 8 o’clock. The final look is subtle and lends the dial a bit of depth. Finally, the tempered blue second hand contrasts beautifully against the rest of the snowy white dial.
The perfect craftsmanship continues on the case. Grand Seiko’s designers decided to craft the Snowflake out of a special alloy called high-intensity titanium. It has the same properties as regular titanium (lightweight, high tensile strength) but with significantly higher scratch resistance.
The 41-mm case’s shape takes much of its inspiration from the legendary Seiko 44GS from 1967. However, unlike its historical predecessor, the Snowflake’s lines are more curved and appear less angular. Like all Grand Seikos, the Snowflake boasts a near immaculate finish. Razor-sharp edges separate the alternating polished and brushed surfaces. Grand Seiko’s master watchmakers finished the case using the zaratsu polishing technique. The final result is high-gloss polished surfaces without any distortion, resulting in a watch of outstanding quality.
The Spring Drive Caliber 9R65
At the heart of the Snowflake is the caliber 9R65. This movement belongs to the Spring Drive family – a revolutionary caliber type that combines mechanical and quartz technology. Seiko engineer Yoshikazu Akahane came up with the concept in the late 1970s. However, it would take until 1997 before the first Spring Drive caliber made its international debut.
Each Spring Drive movement generates impulses using a quartz crystal. However, unlike conventional quartz movements, you’ll find neither a stepping motor nor a battery. Like a mechanical watch, the energy instead comes from a mainspring, which has a small permanent magnet that interacts with two miniature electromagnets on either side of the wheel. This causes the wheel to rotate and wind the spring. The resulting energy vibrates the quartz crystal and powers the integrated circuit. The microchip then sends a signal to the electromagnets, which limit the glide wheel to exactly eight revolutions per second. Finally, a conventional gear train sets the hands in motion.
Spring Drive calibers are exceptionally precise and deviate by no more than 15 seconds per month from the reference time. A distinguishing feature of this caliber is the gliding second hand. The way it moves over the dial with no perceptible ticking is nearly hypnotic. When fully wound, the movement’s power reserve lasts for up to 72 hours.
Which variations of the Snowflake exist?
The current Snowflake edition debuted in 2010. Now known as the Grand Seiko Heritage SBGA211, earlier models still bear the Seiko logo and reference number SBGA011. The new logo and reference number came when Grand Seiko evolved into an independent brand in 2017. However, apart from their different logos, the watches are completely identical.
In 2018, Grand Seiko expanded the series with the reference SBGA259. Fans of the brand refer to this watch as the “Golden Snowflake” due to its yellow gold hands and indices. The dial also has a slight golden shimmer to it. Similar to the white Snowflake, the golden version also began life as a Seiko watch. Its previous reference number was SBGA059. In terms of technology, both Golden Snowflakes are identical to the standard models.
Grand Seiko occasionally releases limited-edition Snowflake models in specific markets, especially Japan and the US. One example is the reference SBGA421, which should make its debut in 2020. Grand Seiko has limited its production run to 390 pieces and will only release it in Japan. Defining features include red accents on the second hand, power reserve indicator, the edge of the crystal, and the words “Spring Drive.” Additionally, the display case back is made of red sapphire crystal.
Fans of the reference SBGA387 often call it the “Blue Snowflake” or “Frosty.” While closely related to the Snowflake, it differs significantly in some respects. Most notably, this watch stands out with its light blue dial, which is created using the traditional Japanese kirazuri painting and printing technique. The final result resembles icy blue frost crystals. Another difference is the stainless steel case, which measures 40 mm in diameter and sticks to the classic 44GS style. That means that its edges are much sharper than those of the Snowflake. The watch premiered in 2018, and all 558 copies were exclusive to Grand Seiko boutiques in the US.
Alternatives to the Snowflake
Grand Seiko offers an alternative to the Snowflake in the Elegance Collection. The reference SBGA407, known as the Blue Snowflake, also comes equipped with the Spring Drive caliber 9R65 and has a light blue Snowflake dial. It features a classic round case made of stainless steel. A dark blue crocodile leather strap completes the elegant look.
If you can do without the Spring Drive movement and zaratsu polishing, the Seiko Presage SARX055 is a more affordable option. Fans affectionately call this watch the “Baby GS Snowflake” – and with good reason. The SARX055 looks nearly identical to the Snowflake. Its 41-mm case has a similar layout to the original, and it’s also made of titanium. However, Seiko doesn’t craft its case out of the same high-intensity titanium alloy as the Snowflake. Instead, the manufacturer uses its proprietary DiaShield coating to protect the material against scratches. The dial is also different: You’ll note the Seiko logo, the word “Presage,” and the lack of a power reserve display. The Seiko caliber 6R15 ticks away inside this watch.
Those looking for a particularly flat watch with a Snowflake dial should check out the Presage SJE073. Thanks to the caliber 6L35, its zaratsu-polished stainless steel case is only 9.8 mm thick and, thus, easily glides under any sleeve. Seiko produced this timepiece in a limited run of 1,881 units.
How much does the Grand Seiko Snowflake cost?
You can find the Grand Seiko Heritage Snowflake SBGA211 on Chrono24 for just under $5,900. That’s well over $1,000 under the manufacturer’s suggested price. The previous model, the SBGA011, costs a few hundred dollars less. You can expect to spend around $5,500 on a mint-condition example. Prices for used watches begin around $4,500. The most affordable Grand Seiko with a Snowflake dial is the Golden Snowflake SBGA259. It costs approximately $5,300 and $4,600 pre-owned.
Limited-edition Snowflakes come with significantly higher prices. For example, you can find an unworn red Snowflake SBGA421 for about $9,300. In contrast, the reference SBGA387 with a blue kirazuri dial costs around $9,000. In either case, you can expect to save at least $1,000 when buying a previously worn model.
If you decide on one of the Presage models, you’ll save quite a bit. For example, the extra-flat SJE073 costs just $2,600, and you can find the SARX055 for as low as $1,200.
In general, Grand Seiko watches retain their value well. This also applies to the Snowflake models. However, Snowflakes see nowhere near as much value appreciation as timepieces from Rolex or Patek Philippe, so you probably shouldn’t look at them as investments. The SBGA211 is more of a collector’s item that will bring you joy thanks to its many charms.