Sunday Morning Showdown: Grand Seiko Snowflake Dials

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Sunday Morning Showdown: Grand Seiko Snowflake Dials Rate it or hate it? Whose side are you on? by Rob NuddsMarch 01, 2020 MIN READSunday Morning Showdown: Grand Seiko Snowflake Dials

In this Sunday morning column, two of our writers go head-to-head in an epic showdown for the ages. Strong opinions and hysterical hyperbole are welcome (so feel free to join in with the fun in the comments section below). And don’t forget to let us know which watches you’d like to see torn to shreds/effusively exalted next week. We’ll try and feature as many of our readers’ choices as we can. This week the famous Grand Seiko Snowflake dials are being debated. Prepare yourself for some ice-cold cruelty and white-hot barbs…

Last week, RJ and Ben squared off. The object of their affections/rejections? The Rolex Daytona reference 116500LN. Understandably, RJ, who positioned himself on the hate-fuelled side of the fence, expected to get a thorough lashing from the Fratelli. However, his opinions found more favor than expected and carried him to a respectable loss. With 66% of the vote, Ben Hodges celebrated by picking up his own white-dialed Daytona. I’m sure you’ll be seeing it on the pages of Fratello sometime soon. But with that interesting showdown in the books, let’s look ahead to today’s contest.

Grand Seiko Snowflake

Rob Nudds

I’m neither a conscious contrarian nor a populist. And yet I often get accused of being one or the other. Sometimes, people just don’t like it when another person has a different opinion. But the longer I spend in this industry, and the more fellow watch fans I’m lucky enough to meet, the more I realize how individual we all are. “Popular” watches can unite many fans that may otherwise have totally different tastes. “Unpopular” watches surely have their fans somewhere. And some of those “unpopular” watches go on to become design classics. The key, really, is division. Division inspires. It breeds passion. It stokes fires. And that, kind of ironically, is what the Snowflake dials by Grand Seiko are all about.

I now believe I was wrong.

So, as usual, I started out on the other side of the pail. When I first saw the Snowflake finish I hated it. I didn’t get it. It looked like someone had slapped some wet toilet paper on a perfectly clean dial and stuck it on the radiator to dry. Yes, have spent hours appreciating the nuance of this dial since it first entered my life, I can hold my hands up and say I was an idiot. Maybe I could get away with it if I blamed it on the folly of youth. But really, there is no need to hide it. I now believe I was wrong. But in the minds of some, including my esteemed American colleague, I had it right from the off.

Grand Seiko Snowflake SBGA211

What swayed me was the way artful dials like the Snowflake can greatly enhance one’s emotional connection to a watch. If you solo travel a lot, a good watch may be one of your only companions on the road. It and it alone sees and shares in everything you encounter. Different cities, different seas, different skies… All of these scenes are reflected in your watch and back at you. Light, so incredibly different around the globe, will hit your watch in different ways.

When the dial is as textured and visually intriguing as the Grand Seiko Snowflake dials are, the dial’s response to that light can be mesmerizing. It is almost as if the watch is talking to you. Shifting like the landscape and revealing a different character to you in different situations. If you like silver-plated dials and thought they looked good in candlelight, just wait until you strap a Grand Seiko Snowflake to your wrist. Oh, baby.

Grand Seiko Snowflake SBGA211

The Snowflake dials are made by a special, multi-step process in Grand Seiko’s dedicated factory. Stamping, plating, drilling, and index application are all performed by extremely talented and steady-handed craftspeople. The result? An icon of watchmaking.

…the best-kept secret in the industry.

Sure, the Snowflake dials are so popular and so often fawned over they are almost uncool. Except they’re not because of the type of people that promote these special dials and very narrow reach of GS as a luxury brand. In many countries, the whole Grand Seiko brand is woefully misunderstood. It’s mostly down to the association with Seiko and firmly hammered home by the brand’s sub-par communication strategy. For this reason, Grand Seiko is kind of like the best-kept secret in the industry. Prices are high, but in comparison to the level of finishing, artisanal interest, and technology you get from other brands, the brand offers a lot of value. So tell me, Stockton, what’s your beef?

Michael Stockton

Rob, my beef with the Grand Seiko Snowflake dials has nothing to do with their quality nor the workmanship that goes into their creation. To put it simply, I just don’t like the look of them for my wrist. I actually think that the finish works far better for a woman’s watch.

Look, Grand Seiko has done a lot over the past 4-5 years to try and increase their presence on the global watch scene. They’ve added models, movements, and all sorts of handcrafted dials to their portfolio during that period. I think this has been an attempt to catch the attention of a wider audience and it has worked. You can’t argue with what we hear are impressive sales numbers in markets that they didn’t officially enter until a handful of years ago. And finally, I guess the Snowflake dials were really the first oft-discussed hit for the brand outside of Japan.

Grand Seiko

For me, though, I still think of Grand Seiko in terms of watches like the 2013-issued reference SBGW047 44GS reedition that I own. You can see that one above and go back in time on our site to read about it. That’s the Grand Seiko I know and love. The stark silvery dial is flawless in every respect and the diamond cut indexes boast a quiet sharpness that shames some of the best from the so-called land of neutrality. Now you’ll tell me that watch is a reissue and a brand has to move on with new ideas. I agree, but then I’d turn your attention to the manual wind SBGW235 that our own Gerard owns. What a stunner!

Rob: I wasn’t going to say that. I love reeditions. And both the SBGW047 and the SBGW235 are stunners. Silver-plated dials are ace. I love my NOMOS Orion De Stijl for that reason. But if you wanted a different example of the top-level craftsmanship from GS I would’ve gone with last year’s Urushi lacquered SBGK005.

Mike: Again, my issue with the Snowflake dials isn’t in their execution. I simply want my Grand Seiko’s to be clean, serious, and flawless. If I want all kinds of surface texture, I’m looking elsewhere or not at all.

Rob: Do you think that any non-flat/smooth texture isn’t serious?

Snowflake

Mike: Y’know it depends. But I’ll tell you this: The GS Snowflake patterning isn’t the only thing that bothers me when it comes to the models we have pictured in this article. The overall dial layout (which they all share) is a cluttered mess.

Rob: Power reserve?

Mike: Exactly. Never is a strong word, but I’d never buy a Grand Seiko with a power reserve indicator on the dial. I’m a huge fan of Spring Drive movements, but I’ve never understood Seiko’s need to plaster such an ungainly reminder onto the front of the dial when we’re talking about a watch that essentially functions as an automatic once it’s on the wrist. I don’t love it on the Spring Drive “Golden Tuna” that I own, but it at least works better on a geeky diver. I just find it uncouth on a dressier watch and the Snowflake just adds more glam to something that’s already busy.

Grand Seiko SBGA407 Skyflake

Rob: I will give you that point specifically. My dream is to see an affordable steel automatic Spring Drive Snowflake without a PR indicator. But my motivation is less to do with cleaning up the design and more to do with getting even more Snowflakey goodness for my money. I’m going to talk to GS about this…

Mike: That’ll be an interesting conversation. Maybe you can give them my number if they want some help designing a real dressy dial. You can call me boring, conservative or perhaps you’ll start calling me “right”! The artisans at Grand Seiko do some amazing work and I’m sure this qualifies as difficult, but it’s not for me. I’ll see your toilet paper comment, and raise you papier-mâché. And I’ll be damned if I’m shelling out big bucks for something that reminds me of being covered in slimy paste. No thanks.

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About the author

Rob Nudds

Rob’s first exposure to the watch industry was a part-time retail role for the Signet Group at the age of 17. An obsession with watches soon developed. Following an ill-advised BSc in Archaeological Science, he applied for sponsorship to undertake… read more

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