The Topper Blog consists mainly of original writing by Rob & Russ Caplan with occasional special contributions and interviews. All photography in the blog is taken at Topper Fine Jewelers , or on location unless otherwise indicated in the photo captions.

The Grand Seiko SBGA011 "Snowflake" and a Visit to Topper Jewelers by Ikukiyo Komatsu



With few exceptions, every piece we've written about on the Topper Blog over the past few years has been about a new release just hitting our store. One of the things that makes carrying a new watch brand so exciting is that each watch in the entire line feels like a new release to us. Accordingly, though it has been out and cherished for several years, and has been the subject of many insightful articles, it's wonderful to finally have the opportunity to write about the Grand Seiko SBGA011, otherwise known as the "Snowflake".

The Snowflake is the Grand Seiko we've seen collectors wear into our store more than any other model. It is easily recognizable because it boasts a beautiful, yet subdued, dial that is unlike any other from any manufacturer. However, the SBGA011 has been in short supply this fall, and the only one we received was a pre-order. Fortunately, the owner of the watch was kind enough to let us take some photos before we shipped it to him. Below are those photos along with some observations and thoughts about the iconic Snowflake.

Before we get to the dial, (and we have to get to the dial), I want to make a few observations about the case and tone of the watch. It's a prototypical "full size" men's watch. At 41mm it is roughly the same case size as Rolex Datejust II, and slightly smaller than the 41.5mm Omega Aqua Terra. The case offers 100m of water resistance and features a screw-down crown making it suitable for both sporty and formal occasions. While all three watches look like they would weigh approximately the same, the Snowflake's titanium case makes it much lighter than the other alternatives. Rolex does not not offer any of its models in titanium, while Omega reserves the metal for sportier options such as the Planet Ocean, Seamaster 300, and X-33 Skywalker.

Internally, the watch is also impressive. Like other Grand Seiko Spring Drive movements, the plus/minus one second per day accuracy is much greater than typical Swiss automatic chronometers. The technology of course is not purely mechanical. The movement forgoes a "balance complete" and instead uses a quartz crystal and electromagnetism to regulate the power distribution from the mainspring to the gear train. This gives the watch a perfectly smooth second hand, extraordinary accuracy, and reduced maintenance needs. However, even though the watch uses a traditional mainspring for power and does not contain a battery, the use of the aforementioned technology does require a broader definition of "mechanical watch" for some to consider it one.

The dial, for which this reference is monikered, is famous for having undergone a 9-step process to produce a finish resembling fresh snow. However, there doesn't seem to be a pure consensus about the exact inspiration for the dial. Some believe the dial was influenced by the perpetually white capped mountains visible through the windows of the Seiko-Epson Shinshu Watch Studio in the town of Shiojiri where Spring Drive movements are manufactured. Others believe it to be inspired by the fresh snowfall that collects outside of the studio itself, and another camp maintains it was the snow drifts sheltered by the trees in the nearby forest.

Fortunately, we have the rare opportunity to have Master Spring Drive Technician, Ikukiyo Komatsu, visiting Topper on Monday, September 28. While I doubt he will reveal much about the secret process used to create the effect on the dial, I look forward to asking him more about the dial's true inspiration.

As to the store visit, if you are in the area, we hope you can take this opportunity to meet this master craftsman! Please feel free to bring your Spring Drive boxes or instruction manuals for him to sign. If you decide to purchase Grand Seiko, Prospex, or Astron between now and the event, you will receive a special autographed copy of "Grand Seiko through three photographers' eyes" as a gift with your purchase. This gift will be made available for all phone sales and in store orders. Please contact info@topperjewelers.com if you have any questions about the event.

Ikukiyo Komatsu will be on hand to showcase the Spring Drive movement and sign autographs on Monday afternoon, September 28th.

Mr. Komatsu will sign "Grand Seiko through three photographers' eyes" as a gift with purchase on any Grand Seiko, Prospex, or Astron watch between now and the event on September 28th.

Another question I have about the Snowflake has to do with the uniqueness of treatment on each Snowflake dial. Are they like fingerprints, or for that matter snowflakes, where each one is slightly different, or is the texture pattern always the same? If you have a Snowflake, can you see any differences between yours and the one photographed here? If you have questions you would like answered about the Snowflake or the Spring Drive movement, please send them to me and we will look to include them and their answers in upcoming posts.

Below are additional photos of the Grand Seiko SBGA011 "Snowflake" which retails for $5,500. Thank you to the Watchuseek member who allowed us to photograph this watch before sending it to him.

The raised applied and trapezoidal indices and dauphine hands of the SBGA011. Each of them showing the benefit of Seiko's unique Zaratsu polishing technique.

Perhaps the prettiest portion of the dial is the pattern as it approaches the framed date aperture.

The power reserve indicator has a subtle guilloche pattern giving way to a beautifully scalloped edge.

The beveled case edge of the SBGA011 showing crisp lines and a contrast of brushed and Zaratsu polished surfaces.

The "GS" emblem adorned crown of the SBGA011.

The display back of the SBGA011 showing the highly decorated 9R65 Spring Drive movement.

A view through the display caseback of the SBGA011 showing the other side of the 9R65.

The Topper Blog consists mainly of original writing by Rob & Russ Caplan with occasional special contributions and interviews. All photography in the blog is taken at Topper Fine Jewelers , or on location unless otherwise indicated in the photo captions.