No other watch brand in the world has quite the grasp of winter weather as does Grand Seiko. Its legendary Snowflake, the SBGA011 (the original) and the current SBGA211, have become truly iconic, mentioned alongside many of the greatest watches ever made, and are something of a symbol for the Japanese company. Thus, when we got our first opportunity to create our own Grand Seiko limited edition, we immediately knew that it should have a similar connection to ice and snow.
And thus we set out to design the SBGE249, inspired partially by the SBGA125 and its remarkable “blizzard” dial. Forum members have since dubbed the SBGE249 the Silver Blizzard, an entirely fitting title, and so we’ve begun to call it that ourselves. Although the SBGE249 was undeniably inspired by the SBGA211 and the SBGA125, we also wanted it to fill a niche that neither of those watches did. While the SBGA125 was a limited edition that’s long ago sold out, the Snowflake is still around. Thus, we decided to create this comparison, exploring how these two watches differ and why a Grand Seiko fan might prefer one or the other.
On our left we have the Snowflake and on our right we have the Silver Blizzard, an order that won’t change throughout this comparison. Although I’ve recently reviewed both of these watches separately, I decided that an entirely new photo shoot should be done to make sure that the watches were photographed under the same conditions to give the most accurate representation possible.
Naturally, we’ll start with the dial, perhaps the most important part of watches like these. The Snowflake you’re already familiar with, beautifully depicting gentle snowdrifts with a surprising degree of accuracy. It does an impressive job of making it look as if there is actual snow on the dial. The Silver Blizzard, conversely, differs first by color. Although it comes off as white, it’s actually silver. The texture was designed to resemble that of a blizzard, with countless snowflakes falling, although this design is somewhat more abstract than that of the realistic Snowflake.
The difference in texture is perhaps most pronounced at the power reserve. The SBGA211’s beautiful power reserve is recessed into the dial, appearing to sweep across the snow. The SBGE249, conversely, is designed to resemble a blizzard, and it didn’t make sense from a design perspective to depict that the blizzard was somehow swept aside by the power reserve hand. Thus, we opted to place the power reserve subdial over the texture. Despite this, I find the SBGE249’s power reserve hand to be a bit more legible, if only because of the blued hand’s contrast with the silver backdrop.
That brings us to our next subtle design change. Our love of blued hands is fairly well-known at this point, so it should come as no surprise that the SBGE249 employs three blued hands compared to the SBGA211’s one. From a practical perspective, this allows the wearer to easily separate the most important hands, the hour and minute hands, from the hands of secondary importance. Those blue accents are carried to the power reserve markings as well.
One of those blued hands is a GMT hand, probably the most important difference between the SBGE249 and SBGA211. The GMT hand allows this watch to track two different time zones simultaneously, and like all Grand Seiko GMTs, adds the convenience of an independent hour hand. This makes the SBGE249 somewhat sportier than the SBGA211, and also makes it a good fit for frequent travelers. We decided to use a chapter ring for the GMT numerals, which allows the dial to remain clear and simple.
The next biggest change is the material the case and bracelet are made from. Here I’ve created a composite with the titanium Snowflake on the left and the steel SBGE249 on the right. I had always known that titanium, even Grand Seiko’s unique alloy, was darker than steel, but it wasn’t until I put this together that I realized just how pronounced the difference was. The aesthetic differences are larger than merely the color of the metal. The polished surfaces on the steel were substantially more reflective and mirror-like than that of the titanium.
Steel is also much heavier than titanium, and the Silver Blizzard is therefore roughly 50% heavier than the Snowflake. Which is better will depend on personal preference. Some people don’t even want to feel the watch on their wrist while others get a reassuring feeling of quality from a watch with a little mass to it. It’s also worth mentioning that steel is somewhat more scratch resistant, a plus if you’re as overprotective of your watches as I am.
In terms of size, these two watches are basically identical. Each has a 41mm case and a lug to lug length of slightly more than 48mm. Those looking for a slightly smaller, and somewhat dressier, winter-themed Grand Seiko should check out the SBGA407, AKA the Blue Snowflake, which I reviewed here.
There is, however, one area in which these cases differ in terms of size, namely the thickness. The SBGA211 is about 12.5mm thick while the SBGE249 is roughly 13.9mm thick, no doubt due to the GMT complication. In this photo you can see the thicker bezel, likely making room for the additional GMT hand. For whatever reason, this angle really brings out the dark gray hue of the titanium as well.
Turning the watches over, we see our final distinction between the two models, the movement. Both use spring drives, one of Grand Seiko’s signature movement designs. Spring drives offer many advantages over competing kinds of movements, most important of which is superior accuracy (accurate to just 15 seconds a month) and a perfectly smooth seconds hand. There’s also the convenience of the 72 hour power reserve, far longer than most movements. On the left we find the Snowflake’s 9R65 movement, the heart of Grand Seiko’s spring drive line, and on the right we see the 9R66 movement. These movements are extremely similar, but the 9R66 adds the functionality of the GMT hand and independent hour hand, as well as a different date mechanism that can be set backwards or forwards via the aforementioned hour hand. You also get a unique blue Limited Edition GS insignia, inspired by the medallions on the back of vintage Grand Seikos, which has an interesting dynamic blue color to it, quite similar to that of the heat blued hands.
Each watch has its own strengths. The Snowflake, in addition to its legacy, is lighter, thinner, dressier and ever so slightly more affordable (by $100). The SBGE249, conversely, adds a GMT complication, along with an independent hour hand, two more heat blued hands, and a somewhat sportier appearance, in addition to some added heft for those who like a bit of weight to their watch.
We never intended the SBGE249 to compete with the Snowflake, one of our all-time favorite watches, but rather, to be an alternative to it for those who preferred steel, wanted a GMT complication or just desired something a little sportier, comments we’ve heard from many over the years. One additional factor to consider is that the SBGE249 is a limited edition of 250 models, so like the SBGA125 that came before it, it’s not going to be a permanent member of the Grand Seiko family. The addition of watches like the SBGA407, SBGZ001, SBGY002 and SBGA259 suggests that GS may finally be capitalizing on the success of the Snowflake, and alongside the SBGE249, this is probably the best time in GS history for those who like these beautiful cold-weather themed watches.