Grand Seiko Omiwatari – Finally!

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Grand Seiko Omiwatari SBGY007

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?

Grand Seiko SBGA211 Snowflake

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.

Grand Seiko Omiwatari wrist shot

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.

Lake Suwa winter

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.

Spring Drive movement Caliber 9R31.

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?

It’s the difference between the Omiwatari’s “connect the dots” 9R31 Spring Drive movement (above) and the Snowflake’s “Geneva stripes uber alles” Caliber 9R65 Spring Drive movement.

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.

Grand Seiko Omiwatari on its side

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?

12 COMMENTS

  1. Everybody knows that contempt for the customer’s wishes is the hallmark of an upmarket brand!

    Sometimes the customers are actually right though, like here. Putting the power reserve meter on the back, along with the blued screws with pink jewels movement back, suddenly makes me like display case backs. I still don’t understand the love of crinkled dials with alleged natural/supernatural associations.

  2. Meh. I wish Grand Seiko made more complicated watches than boring ones like this. I get the dial might be nice, but it’s just so blah.

  3. I really like this watch. It’s damn-near perfect in so many ways. But I am now at a point in my life where I truly can no longer afford it. And 38.5mm is just a tick small on my wrist. 40mm would be perfect. I’ll have to be satsfied with my 9F-powered GMT.

  4. I’m a big GS fan, but I’m also with the majority here. I’m getting weary of the greatest unrecognized or underappreciated natural event being recognized as the next prototype watch or dial for the masses every 3 months. Recently it was Shunbun, the light pink dialed Spring season version spring drive. Then a few months ago Shirakaba, the silvery metallic dialed White Birch carrying the new 9SA5 movement. Now it’s Omiwatari, the ideal spring drive dial. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gone into the pocketbook (can’t sex label me) for a few of these beauties but I gotta take a step back. There are thousands, no millions of species of fish and fowl out there to base a timepiece on, not to mention natural or unnatural events. I think it great for GS to continue to expand its collection and improve on prior models, maybe ever so slowly gathering new customers. But for those of us who already appreciate the manufacture, who don’t bleed the Japanese brand and who don’t need to collect every model of their timepieces, we can, or at least try to be, sanguine on this offering.

  5. I almost wrote lmao but thought better of it lest someone hunt me down for being sexist, xenophobic, racist, bigoted and a hater of R&B and the Recording Academy. Close one.

  6. Till it’s time to get it serviced. Then you’ll find out just how much Seiko really wants you to just F off.

  7. When the SBGY003 came out two years ago (this watch with a different dial) I viewed it as the ideal Spring Drive watch.

    A purist’s watch for Spring Drive fans. Hand wound, no date, no other complications, the power reserve properly on the back. A less decorated version of the movement in the Credor Eichi II for about 1/7th the price.

    I do not like the dial on this SBGY007 as much as the dial on the SBGY003.

    However, more importantly, with the introduction of the SBGE253 / SBGE255 / SBGE257 I now view it as the ideal Spring Drive watch. Spring Drive to me is more of a sports watch technology than a dress watch technology. Seiko is one of the few watch companies that do GMT correctly, so the GMT complication is fitting. And as much as I don’t like power reserve indicators on the dial it has become synonymous with Spring Drive at this point.

    Two years ago the SBGY003 was, to me, the ideal Spring Drive watch, but now it is the SBGE255.

  8. I would have owned a Snowflake by now if not for the power reserve, and even worse, that infernal date window at 3 o’clock. Talk about a complication that has outlived its usefulness, especially in this age of computers and smartphones and car dashboards and televisions and even refrigerators and coffee machines that display the date.

    It’s called a TIME-piece, not a CALENDAR-piece.

    This is why I have a militant policy against date windows. (That said, I have to admit, I admire the way Bell & Ross pulls off date displays on some of their watches. If you gave me a BR V2-92, I wouldn’t complain too loudly.) And this has been a source of great frustration as it relates to Grand Seiko and their truly unique Spring Drive – I’ve long wanted to add this marvelous technology to my collection, but I couldn’t get past the aesthetics.

    So when I first learned of the new SBGY007 on an other, lesser website for watch enthusiasts, I immediately did two things:

    1. I changed my pants.
    2. I called the Grand Seiko boutique in New York (Madison Avenue) to inquire about availability. (Answer: they’re starting to trickle in right now, but you’d better call and make a deposit if you want one this year.)

    This is the Grand Seiko I have been long waiting for, for essentially the same reasons outlined in the article. A non-date Grand Seiko Spring Drive, made of materials that cost less than a BMW, and produced in quantities beyond a limited edition such that mere mortals actually have a chance to obtain one.

    I am hosting a glass of wine to our horological Lord Abraham-Louis Breguet as I type this. Prayers really do get answered now and then.

    First world prayers, to be sure, for a watch that still costs more than some used BMWs. And I still would have preferred the “Snowflake” dial treatment of near white, versus the slight steely-blue twinge of this dial. But it’s a subtle touch, and blue is my favorite color anyway. I’ll take it – after waiting this long, I am not going to let perfect be the enemy of good enough.

    And I hope this is a sign to come for the rest of the Grand Seiko range. Sure – keep punching out those data and power reserve Snowflakes – people who like that sort of thing will find it to be the sort of thing they like. But how about a few non-date Snowflakes for the rest of us?

    Frank

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