Hands-On: Grand Seiko Ref. SBGE249 “Blizzard” for Timeless Luxury Watches

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I don’t think any brand has had quite the ride that Grand Seiko has been on in the last 10 years. Within that time span, they’ve gone from the equivalent of a horological secret handshake among American enthusiasts, with only the most in-the-know, in-the-know, to something of a mainstream value proposition, fully spun off from their once-parent Seiko into something completely their own. I can’t claim to be among the earliest of adopters, but my first experience handling a Grand Seiko was its own kind of formative experience in my watch enthusiasm. The zaratsu polishing, focus on dial depth (in the literal and figurative sense), and insane detail is a game changer for many once they lay actual eyes on them. And that’s to say nothing of the immense rewards that come with understanding the philosophy behind each of the brand’s key movement categories, and how Grand Seiko is doing something uniquely Japanese that, of course, the Swiss simply can’t.

Spring Drive is Grand Seiko’s great parlor trick, and the start of the conversation for many who come to the brand curious about what it has to offer that other brands don’t. The technology, developed over the course of decades, combines a mechanical mainspring and gear train with something Grand Seiko calls a tri-synchro regulator to control timekeeping. Spring Drive movements generate energy like any other mechanical watch, but take advantage of quartz-like regulation at the end of the gear train for accuracy that is unmatched by any other mechanical timepiece. 

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$5900

Hands-On: Grand Seiko Ref. SBGE249 “Blizzard” for Timeless Luxury Watches

Case
Stainless steel
Movement
9R66 Spring Drive
Dial
Silver
Lume
No
Lens
Sapphire
Strap
Custom strap/Grand Seiko bracelet
Water Resistance
10 bar
Dimensions
41mm
Thickness
14mm
Lug Width
20mm
Crown
Screw down
Warranty
Yes
Price
$5900

The SBGE249 is a limited edition Grand Seiko produced for Timeless Luxury Watches, and features a Spring Drive movement with GMT complication. The watch is made of stainless steel, which is somewhat rare for Spring Drive powered watches, but the folks at Timeless wanted their special edition to be in steel for its superior scratch resistance and satisfying heft.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this 9R66 Spring Drive movement was a typical mechanical caliber.

If you’re used to a traditional mechanical watch, it’s hard to describe how it feels when you first spend a considerable amount of time with a Spring Drive-powered movement. The second hand gliding at a constant speed is almost otherworldly, and knowing that it’s powered by a gear train similar to every other mechanical watch you’ve ever owned takes a minute to wrap your brain around. 

Grand Seiko’s GMTs are rightly popular among watch lovers because they offer a true “traveller” GMT experience, meaning the hour hand is independently adjustable, so globe-trotters can step off their plane and quickly adjust the watch to local time without stopping the balance spring or impacting timekeeping at all. This is a feature most commonly associated with Rolex’s modern GMTs, which are obviously quite a bit more expensive than a typical Grand Seiko offering. What’s more, Grand Seiko uses this type of GMT mechanism in a range of watches that run the gamut from purely formal to more sporty in nature, something Rolex can’t claim.

Zaratsu polishing.

The immensely impressive zaratsu polishing we’re used to from Grand Seiko is definitely present here, but it’s perhaps a bit more reserved than on some Grand Seiko cases that seem to have an almost impossible number of facets. The facets on the case flanks of the SBGE249 are wider, creating a chunkier, and thus sportier, watch. That sportiness can also be attributed to the custom made, leather-lined canvas strap Timeless supplied the watch on, although it’s also available on a bracelet that veers toward the dressier side. That bracelet is a three-link design, but the center link is brushed in the center with thin, highly polished sides, which gives the impression of a design stretching five links across. The tops of the lugs are brushed, and a prominent mirror-polished bevel divides those brushed surfaces from highly polished case flanks. There’s not as much obvious bling here when you look at the watch from its profile view, but if you really take the time to examine it, then you can see how expertly the transitions between polished sides are achieved. Everything is, as always with Grand Seiko, incredibly sharp.

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It’s for the best that the case of the SBGE249 is a little bit restrained compared to other watches in the Grand Seiko catalog, because it allows the focus to be placed squarely on the “blizzard” dial. From a distance, this appears to be a straightforward white, textured dial. Nice enough but not unlike many, many other dials produced by other watch brands. But when you look at it up close (with Grand Seiko it always pays to get as close as you can, with as much magnification as possible) you see that this dial is something else entirely.

The texture is impossibly fine, and it’s not exactly white, but silver. That is to say, it doesn’t have a matte finish, but is highly reflective, and takes on colors and qualities that are dependent on the light in the room. Just as a real blizzard is chaotic and characterized by high winds and snow that blows in shifting directions, the dial here has a quality of motion to it — it’s constantly taking on a new character as it shimmers against ambient light. The mirror polished hour markers only enhance this effect as they perfectly reflect the dial surface off of their gently angled sides.

The hands on a Grand Seiko are always a great lesson in how over-the-top the finishing standards are for the brand. The hour and minute hands are, of course, highly polished and highly reflective, and come to points that seem dangerously sharp. One of my favorite visual tricks of the SBGE249 is looking for ways that the dial can be seen reflected onto the facets of the minute hand, as it passes next to each hour marker, picking up the visual information from that hour marker, which has a facet angled upward toward the minute hand. I can’t think of another dial that has this kind of “hall of mirrors” effect, but it’s incredibly impressive.

Razor-sharp hands here, but do you expect anything less?

When writing about Grand Seiko a lot of ink tends to be spilled on case thickness. Only recently has Grand Seiko started to introduce truly slender hand wound dress watches, and they’re certainly impressive. But I don’t think the heft of a Grand Seiko is a negative thing. The SBGE249 isn’t thin by any means at 14mm from crystal to crystal. The Seiko SRPB25 — that’s the new version of the Prospex “Monster” dive watch released earlier this year — is thinner, at 13.4mm. The construction of the case, however, allows the Blizzard to wear very comfortably. The lugs turn down from the case somewhat sharply, really hugging the wrist tightly. The wearing experience is to feel like the watch is securely planted right where it needs to be.

Lug angle helps the SBGE249 wear comfortably despite its thickness.
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I would also make the case that aesthetically, for a watch like this, thickness helps. That zaratsu polishing that we love so much is far more impressive when you have, in essence, a wider canvas to show it off on. I think there’s an intentionality to the case height that goes beyond the technical need to house a complex Spring Drive caliber with a GMT complication (not only is the GMT movement thicker, but of course you also have an extra hand to stack). Given the vast resources of Grand Seiko, I have no doubt that they could produce a genuinely thin dress watch in the mold of Cartier or Piaget, but that’s simply not what the design ethos of Grand Seiko has ever been about. There’s something ornamental about these watches — they aren’t meant to disappear on the wrist, or even slide under a shirt cuff. They’re meant to be seen, whether that’s from a distance of across a room, or with the aid of a loupe.

Grand Seiko has a knack for creating watches with a strong link to the natural world. This is part of their uniquely Japanese outlook on design, and can be seen in the classic “Snowflake” dial on the SBGA211, the “Mt. Iwate” dial on the SBGJ203 (and others), and in the recent “Seasons” collection released for the US market, with designs inspired by crisp moonlit evenings, cherry blossoms, and lush greenery. The “Blizzard” makes a ton of sense in this context, and as a limited edition of just 250 pieces, it feels even more special. Grand Seiko / Timeless Luxury Watches

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Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.
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