Grand Seiko just released two new watches inspired by Lake Suwa, which rests at the heart of Nagano, west of Tokyo. These two watches are almost total opposites, so it makes for a very interesting double feature. We’ll start with the one that I’m sure will get the most attention, the new SBGY007.
Despite the SBGY007’s obvious resemblance to one other famous Japanese watch, namely the Snowflake, this textured dial is inspired by ice, not by snow. More specifically, it’s based on the ice of Lake Suwa, the central lake of Nagano Prefecture, which freezes each winter. Interestingly, a long, jagged crack seems to appear across the lake each year, which may not sound all that remarkable, but in the photos I pulled it up it does seem to be an impressive phenomenon. This natural wonder is called Omiwatari, which is where Shinto deities are thought to walk across the ice.
Aesthetically, the watch takes on a very dressy look and is sized correctly at an ideal 38.5mm (and just 10.2mm thick, which is impressive for a spring drive) in steel. The watch has an understated look that is unmistakably GS with beautiful, flat, dauphine hands showing off the brand’s polishing. The hour markers are relatively “sharp” compared to the SBGA211’s, which have a more geometric quality to them. It’s not the first time we’ve seen the basic design, of course; that’d be in the gold SBGY002, which also had a similar dial. The instant sell-out SBGY003 was also quite similar, although the dial was entirely distinct from the Snowflake.
Yet we must not sell the watch short as merely another beautiful dial in a seemingly never-ending series of beautiful GS dials because it did something that neither the SBGY002 or SBGY003 could do: bring the new 9R31 movement to the masses. The 9R31 is a hand-wound spring drive movement, allowing the watch to be quite a bit thinner and giving the owner an unobstructed view of the caliber. But the 9R31 has aesthetic implications too, as it frees the GS dial of the power reserve, a divisive complication that has, up until recently, been a take it or leave it necessity of the spring drive package. The SBGY007, on the other hand, preserves the ability to create ultra-clean dials by moving the power reserve to the back of the watch and eliminating the date entirely.
The SBGY007 is perhaps as remarkable for what it isn’t as for what it is; namely, it doesn’t seem to be a limited edition. The gold SBGY002, at $25,000, was too far out of reach for the vast majority of GS collectors, whereas the SBGY003 was both so popular and so limited that it sold out practically instantaneously. At a relatively reasonable $8,300, and without any known production limit, the SBGY007 Omiwatari is the perfect vessel to finally introduce 9R31s to Grand Seiko’s core fanbase. I now consider it to be among Grand Seiko’s best dress watches.
As the scholars of Monty Python once famously opined, now for something completely different. The SBGX346 is also inspired by Lake Suwa, but in this example, it’s the summer (or, more specifically, August) that the watch owes its visage to. Apparently, this lake is the scene of an astonishing 40,000 fireworks, and the sparkling elements of the watch design, like the diamond hour markers, pay homage to them. More interestingly, the watch has a steel case and an unusual coin-edged gold bezel (unusual on a Grand Seiko, that is). This will also contribute to its brilliance when light hits the bezel.
You have to get up close to the dial to appreciate its interesting texture. I can’t see it quite well enough in these photos to say for sure, but it’s almost reminiscent of a Blizzard dial, which may also contribute to a sort of dazzling, sparking quality. Interestingly, only the most prominent 12:00 hour marker is not composed of diamonds. While the case is largely made from steel, everything on the dial is entirely dedicated to rose gold. It gives the watch a warm tone, perhaps befitting its summer inspiration.
Behind the steel case back (no gold medallion on this one, I’m afraid) you’ll find the superb 9F61 quartz movement, among the most accurate and proven in the world. This also presumably aided GS in keeping the case reasonably thin at 10.7mm.
Unlike the SBGY007, the SBGX346 is a limited edition. Indeed, it’s very limited at just 140 pieces total, each at $9,800. This new watch is expected in July 2021 and you can pre-order yours here.