The Grand Seiko SBGY007 isn’t a limited edition watch. Not exactly. Come July 2021, you can buy a Grand Seiko Omiwatari at Grand Seiko boutiques and “select” retail partners. Or not. When all the usual suspects revealed Grand Seiko’s latest time-only Spring Drive watch – no date window or power reserve indicator – GS retailers’ phones lit up like a Christmas tree. Does Grand Seiko have a new “it” watch?
Before the Omiwatari, the Grand Seiko Heritage Collection SBGA211 was the brand’s poster child. And rightly so. Known as “the Snowflake” for its textured white dial, the SBGA211 is perfectly designed and faultlessly executed, sensibly sized (41mm) and reasonably priced ($5500). Equally compelling: the Snowflake is powered by Grand Seiko’s singular quartz-mechanical hybrid Spring Drive movement, complete with a sexy AF sweep second hand.
It’s a gorgeous watch. Actually, no. No it isn’t. The date window and power reserve indicator ruin the Snowflake’s otherwise pure-as-driven-snow dial. Not to put too fine a point on it, the complications look like tits on a bull. A mustache on the Mona Lisa. A kickstand on an Abrams. Hang on. I’ve got it! A screen door on a submarine. They sink what coulda shoulda woulda been the ultimate minimalist three-handed watch design.
Oh wait! Here it is! Only WAY better. Whereas the Snowflake’s “high intensity” titanium case and bracelet give it a thoroughly modern mechanical mien, the Grand Seiko Omiwatari’s stainless steel case, slightly swooping lugs and black crocodile strap (with dark blue stitching and calf leather underside) are classicism personified. Subtle, sophisticated, sexy.
Apologies to the Bard, but the dial’s the thing to capture the coin of a king. It’s both distinctive and demure. To achieve the gently rumpled effect, Grand Seiko’s artisans literally hammer the light blue dial (in their own gentle way). Like all of GS’s “Nature of Time” watches (get it?), the Omiwatari comes with an environmentally friendly bedtime story.
Every winter, something magical happens on the waters of Lake Suwa. When temperatures fall, and the lake freezes over – mysterious large cracks and ridges form across its surface, some as high as over a foot tall.
Legend calls this Omiwatari, or where the Shinto gods walk out over the ice. This legend has inspired the craftsmen and women of Grand Seiko at the nearby Shinshu Watch Studio to create a timepiece that invokes the beauty of this natural phenomenon.
Thank goodness Grand Seiko’s craftspeople aren’t literal-minded; a 38.5mm watch with a ridge or two that large would have made for an extremely funky design. Instead, we get a timepiece revealing the hidden beauty of a smoothed-out sheet of crumpled paper adorned with the sharpest watch hands made by hand of man.
Japan’s premier mass market watchmaker’s asking $8300 for a Grand Seiko Omiwatari. GS and its “select dealers” will get all of that. But the elevated price raises an interesting question: why does the stainless steel SBGY007 Omiwatari cost three grand more than the titanium SBGA211 Snowflake?
While both boast dual mainspring architecture, +/-1 second a day accuracy and 72-hour power reserve, the Grand Seiko Omiwatari is a thin manual-wind Spring Drive movement. The Snowflake’s Spring Drive auto-winds via ye olde (made new) Seiko Magic Lever.
The Grand Seiko Omiwatari will delight buyers who love the Snowflake’s dial and lusted after a Spring Drive dress watch, but couldn’t get past Snowy’s “obtrusive” date window and power reserve indicator. (Did I mention any names?)
With a bit of luck, Grand Seiko will see that this is the brand’s sweet spot: simple, elegant, relatively affordable Spring Drive watches. And maybe turn their Costco-style website into something a bit easier to navigate and more suitably glamorous (e.g., more than two product shots). What are the odds?