According to Rod Stewart, every picture tells a story. By the same token, every timepiece tells a story don’t it? And in a world where’s there’s precious little technological differentiation between modern mechanical watches, the “story” moves the metal. Where would OMEGA’s Speedmaster Professional be if it wasn’t the Moonwatch? So here’s the backstory behind the new Grand Seiko Omiwatari . . .
Most winter[s], the water of Lake Suwa freezes over and, most years, a long ridge appears in the ice from one side of the lake to the other. Tradition has it that this is the ‘Omiwatari’ or where the Gods walk out over the ice.
True or not, the legend has inspired the craftsmen and women at the nearby Shinshu Watch Studio to create a dial of exquisite subtlety for this hand-winding Spring Drive timepiece. It has the color, feel and texture of the snow-covered ice on Lake Suwa.
japan.travel reports that “due to the effects of climate change, sufficiently cold periods for omiwatari have become much rarer. However, there are many other winter activities at Lake Suwa, a favorite being ice fishing for smelt.” I knew something smelt fishy.
How about this? The Grand Seiko Omiwatari sports the same bluish white (whitish blue?) textured dial as the “Blue Snowflake” (SBGA407). Only the texture’s different. Irregular striations move the Omiwatari’s dial design from snow-drift chic to ice ice baby.
Hang on. Where’s the big *ss ridge that defines the omiwatari phenomena? Gone in sixty seconds! Judging the dial on its own merits, its surface looks more like finely crinkled paper than frozen water.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s beautiful crinkled paper. But the connection between the Omiwatari’s dial and Lake Suwa is found more in Grand Seiko’s po-faced marketing materials than the dial.
Setting aside the Grand Seiko Omitawari’s genesis story, you can appreciate the dial’s “folds” as a horological riff on wabi sabi: the Japanese school of art based on imperfection, impermanence and incompletion. Then again, Grand Seiko’s official product shot reveals identical dial patterns as those adorning our review watch – down to the finest detail.
Not so handmade now, eh Mr. Bond? Let’s be charitable and call the 38.5mm Grand Seiko Omiwatari’s dial perfectly imperfect. But really? It’s perfect – as you’d expect from Grand Seiko.
The Omiwatari’s case is flawless in the traditional sense, Zaratsued to an inch of its life. Unlike Grand Seiko’s Snowflakes (the watches), all the Omiwatari’s major metal bits are mirror polished: the bezel, lugs, even the ring holding the caseback’s sapphire glass in place.
As with every Grand Seiko, the Omi’s multifaceted hour and minute hands and indices are the life and soul of the “shiny teeth are happy” timepiece party. Devoid of a distracting contrasting case, the sharp AF handset ensures maximum legibility (except at night, obvs.).
The Grand Seiko Omiwatari’s dark blue heat-treated second hand pops against the light blue dial – as it should. The watchmaker’s electro-mechanical Spring Drive system is one of only two movements offering a genuine sweep second hand (the other’s found in the hideous Accutron Spaceview).
Watching the Omiwatari’s second hand flow around the dial is a large part of the watch’s appeal. But not as important as it would have been, if Seiko hadn’t slotted a Spring Drive movement into their Presage line.
The Grand Seiko Omiwatari’s more modern hand-wound Caliber 9R31 boasts dual-spring barrels (two mainsprings set in parallel within a single barrel). It delivers a 72-hour power reserve whilst maintaining +/-1 second a day accuracy. Just like the Presage’s automatic Caliber 5R65.
The Presage’s undecorated, rotor-powered movement is hardly a babe. But it’s far more visually interesting than the seeming random selection of randomly aligned blued screws and holes drilled through the Omiwatari’s matte polish mainplate (though which you can glimpse a slowly spinning little wheel).
Two holes intercede on the power reserve indicator. What madness is this? I suspect that a naked 9R31 ain’t that pretty at all – aesthetic considerations played second fiddle to modifying the Spring Drive movement for dress watch duty (10.2mm vs. the Presage’s 13.1mm thickness).
Oh well. The Grand Seiko Omiwatari’s less-than-wonderful exhibition caseback is the price you pay to delete the power reserve indicator and date window from a Spring Drive watch. Less is more . . . money!
An enamel dial Spring Drive Presage runs $4500. The Grand Seiko Omiwatari retails for $8300. The GS comes on a semi-gloss black crocodile strap with dark blue stitching, attached to a tri-fold clasp with a push button release (Zaratsu-polished on its outer edges). So there is that.
I’m not a huge fan of the strap sticking its tongue out at me when I check the time. But my eyes quickly redirect to the Omiwatari’s dial, where I find peace, love and understanding. Seriously. The Grand Seiko’s minimalism combines with the second hand’s [almost] peerless fluidity to provide horological balm for my soul. It’s the bomb for stressed-out dress watch aficionados.
Though plenty pricey at $8300, the Grand Seiko Omitawari is one of the best watches the Japanese brand has ever created, at any price. The subtle yet superb dial texture is a feature – but not a creature feature. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.
Model: Grand Seiko Omiwatari SGBY007
Case: Stainless steel
Case size: Diameter 38.5mm × Thickness 10.2mm
Crystal: Dual-curved sapphire crystal, Anti-reflective coating on inner surface
Caseback: Screw-down, exhibition glass, power reserve indicator
Caliber: Spring Drive 9R31, hacking seconds
Power reserve: Approx. 72 hours
Accuracy: ±1 second per day / ±15 seconds per month
Functions: Hour, minutes, seconds
Strap: Black crocodile leather with blue stitching
Clasp: Three-fold clasp with push button release
Water Resistance: 30m
Weight: 2.4 ozs (68g)
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Design * * * * *
Minimalist masterpiece with light blue “crinkled” dial.
Legibility * * * * *
The mirror-polished case and bezel give the Omiwatari a mesmerizing monochromatic mien, further enhancing stellar legibility.
Comfort * * * *
Short lugs, thin case and a luxe leather crocodile strap make it light, tight and right. Star deducted for annoying strap overhang.
Overall * * * * *
The best Grand Seiko dress watch money can buy.
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