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Grand Seiko - How Grand Seiko Perfected The Snowflake

Grand Seiko How Grand Seiko Perfected The Snowflake

A close look at Grand Seiko’s all-time fan-favourite “Snowflake” dial — now available in a new blue shade.

Over 15 years ago, Grand Seiko’s Spring Drive 9R was created in Shinshu Watch Studio, located in Shiojiri, a small city in Japan’s Nagano prefecture. Spring Drive technology had already been unveiled in 1999, but it was only half a decade later that the technology was augmented with an automatic-winding system and long power reserve, boosting its performance enough to merit being paired with a prestigious Grand Seiko model. 

The so-called “Snowflake” dial, as seen on the most popular Grand Seiko Spring Drive models, was designed to evoke the snow-covered landscape surrounding Shiojiri, including the imposing peaks of the Jonen mountains and the Hotaka range. It is based on a Grand Seiko dial dating back to 1971, which the Grand Seiko dial studio found while searching the archives for inspiration.

Comment Grand Seiko a perfectionné le flocon de neige

© Grand Seiko

The unique aesthetic of the Grand Seiko “Snowflake” dial — also said by some to recall the translucence and texture of Japanese rice paper — is defined by its near-luminous reflection of light and the particular pattern of its minute surface irregularities. 

Generally speaking, snowflakes tend to get larger the colder it is, and snow cover gets denser and more compacted the longer it stays cold. The snow that blankets the mountains framed by the windows of Shinshu Watch Studio lasts for six months out of every year, and takes on a wind-swept, almost granular appearance during the coldest month of January. 

This is replicated on the dial by silver-plating a brass dial which has been pre-stamped with the iconic “Snowflake” pattern. Merely painting the dial white would not work, as the fluid paint would fill in the dial irregularities and create a flat surface. The Grand Seiko dial workshop therefore turned to electroplating technology, which offered the possibility to control each variable (temperature, current, solution strength) for an outcome that would be highly consistent, replicable and precise. 

Unlike the results of conventional metal-plating processes, the silver coating imparted to the “Snowflake” dials does not appear reflective or metallic, but pure white. Multiple assays and rounds of experimentation were undertaken before the right formula was found that would produce this effect. 

Comment Grand Seiko a perfectionné le flocon de neige

Grand Seiko Heritage Collection Spring Drive SBGA211, titanium © Grand Seiko

“Snowflake” dials are available only with Grand Seiko Spring Drive timepieces, since the affinities between dial design and the natural world are meant to echo the tribute that Spring Drive technology pays to the natural passage of time. Specifically, the contiguous sweep of the hands over the dial surface is characteristic of Spring Drive technology (as opposed to the discrete, tiny motions that indicate a traditional mechanical balance) mimics our perceptions of the sun’s passage across the sky.

Further reinforcing the ties between the Grand Seiko Spring Drive “Snowflake” models and the physical setting of Shinshu Watch Studio was the 2019 release of the Grand Seiko Elegance Collection Spring Drive “Blue Snowflake” timepiece, which tints the dial an ethereal blue to recall the appearance of snow that is in the shadow of mountains.

Comment Grand Seiko a perfectionné le flocon de neige

Grand Seiko Elegance Spring Drive © Grand Seiko

Under direct light, snow appears white, due to the reflection and scattering of light rays by the microscopic ice crystals that form snow. When snow or ice is in shadow and lit only by indirect light, however, what we perceive is refracted (rather than reflected) light. Since water, in all states of matter, tends to preferentially absorb light in the red and yellow spectral frequencies, blue light is what we primarily see when white light travels any significant distance through snow. 

The Grand Seiko Elegance Collection Spring Drive “Blue Snowflake” comes in a stainless-steel case, which is brighter than the scratch- and corrosion-resistant titanium (called “high-intensity titanium” by Grand Seiko) used in other “Snowflake” dial models. The change in case material is extremely welcome, since the classic case design — which is closer to the early Grand Seiko models than the sportier modern case — would be overpowered by the darker hues of titanium. Rather, the polished surfaces of the stainless-steel case balance out the muted blue tones of the dial and the accompanying leather strap. 

Comment Grand Seiko a perfectionné le flocon de neige

Grand Seiko Elegance Spring Drive © Grand Seiko

 

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