Automatic Spring Drive technology turns 20 this year! That seems like a fair reason for celebration. Grand Seiko felt the same and introduced this SBGA497 to mark the occasion. We get a high-intensity titanium creation with a familiar case shape and dial texture. Both pay homage to important references in Spring Drive history.

The SBGA497 is a limited edition of 1,500 pieces. If you want to make it yours, you will have to part ways with €6,800 at your nearest Grand Seiko boutique or authorized dealer. Before you make up your mind about that, join me for a closer look at Grand Seiko’s birthday boy.

Grand Seiko SBGA497 pink snowflake

But first, some Spring Drive history

Okay, first things first. The idea for a Spring Drive movement is quite a bit older than 20 years. The idea was first proposed by Suwa Seikosha engineer Yoshikazu Akahane in 1977. A patent was filed in 1982 as the concept seemed to have real potential. The idea was to have a traditional mainspring power a traditional gear train. However, instead of having a traditional escapement, the movement would use a unidirectional glide wheel, rotating eight times per second. This glide wheel would power an electrical circuit that would apply an electromagnetic brake to it based on the reference signal from a quartz crystal. The result would be a perfectly smooth rotation with a maximum deviation of ±15 seconds per month.

Unfortunately, the circuit required too much power to accomplish the targeted 48-hour power reserve. Remember, there is no battery in this circuit. Seiko made several attempts through the decades, creating over 600 prototypes. However, it wasn’t until 1997 that the brand’s engineers successfully implemented the concept. Consequently, Seiko first presented the Spring Drive movement technology at the 1998 Basel fair. The first limited-production watches followed in 1999, with the first non-limited model following in 2002. However, up until this point, they were all hand-wound movements.

And then, in 2004, the first regular-production automatic Spring Drive watch, reference SBGA001 with caliber 9R65, followed. This was also the first Spring Drive model that Seiko offered internationally. In short, what we are celebrating in 2024 is 20 years of automatic Spring Drive watches being available to the world.

Grand Seiko SBGA497 specifications

The SBGA497 that Grand Seiko introduced today features the same case shape as the 2004 original. It is a little bit simpler than the 44GS or Evolution 9 cases, but it is Grand Seiko through and through, including the beloved Zaratsu finishing. The case measures 41mm across, 48.5mm long, and 12.5mm thick. It is water resistant to an ample 100 meters. The movement can be viewed through a sapphire case back with a very faint decoration painted on. However, I am not a huge fan of this; closed case backs are for decorations, and open case backs are for an unobstructed view. Mixing the two always looks a bit convoluted and messy to me.

The case and bracelet are made of high-intensity titanium. This is 30% lighter and more scratch-resistant than stainless steel. The folding deployant clasp is double-push-button operated and does not feature any micro-adjust. You will have to dial in the perfect fit with the removable links and half links.

The automatic 9R65 Spring Drive caliber inside the SBGA497 is rated at the aforementioned ±15 seconds per month. Furthermore, it has a 72-hour power reserve, with a PR indicator on the bottom-left quadrant of the dial. Lastly, I should mention that it also provides a date complication, with a wide, framed aperture at 3 o’clock.

Grand Seiko SBGA497 pink snowflake close-up

A pink snowflake dial on the SBGA497

So, the case hints at a 2004 predecessor. The dial, on the other hand, refers to another brand hero, the 2005 “Snowflake” ref. SBGA011. The hammered pattern and matte texture looked a lot like a fresh layer of snow, hence the name. Today’s SBGA497 features the same texture as an ode to one of Grand Seiko’s most popular watches.

However, on the new model, the crisp white is replaced by soft pink with a very subtle vignette effect. In typical Grand Seiko fashion, the press release describes a natural source of inspiration for this dial — “the sunrise against the snow-covered Hotaka mountain range in Nagano Prefecture where all Grand Seiko Spring Drive watches are made.”

I am just happy that the GS manufacture isn’t located in the industrial area in The Hague where I am currently writing this. As Gerard described, their views are quite a bit nicer.

Grand Seiko SBGA497 on wrist

Impressions of the SBGA497

I have had the pleasure of going hands-on with the SBGA497. Unfortunately, though, my time with it was brief, so I don’t feel equipped to write a full review. However, I can give you my first impressions based on a little more than images and text.

Morgan did a great job capturing the color of the dial. This is very close to how it appears in real life. The pink kind of reminded me of lemonade. Grand Seiko has used many hues and shades of pink over the years, and I think I’d prefer a softer tint like that of the SBGW289. However, I do like the very subtle vignette as I feel most brands overdo this effect, making it gimmicky. Perhaps the red hand on the power reserve indicator brings out the redness of the pink a bit too much for my liking. Whatever it is, this is purely subjective, and if you love it, power to you.

Beyond the dial, this is exactly what you might expect it to be. It is archetypal Grand Seiko in design and execution. It is a feast of beautifully finished surfaces. And that sweeping seconds hand never gets old. Additionally, the SBGA497 sits comfortably on the wrist thanks to its strongly curved case. It isn’t small for the style, though, and you can see how it fills out RJ’s 18cm wrist quite well in these photos. Consequently, I wouldn’t recommend it for wrists much smaller than that.

Grand Seiko SBGA497

Closing thoughts

Grand Seiko is celebrating 20 years of internationally available automatic Spring Drive watches in style. It is cool that the brand riffed on the popular Snowflake theme in this way. I also love it when a brand has a very clear and recognizable aesthetic. This is most certainly the case for Grand Seiko, and the new SBGA497 is a prime example of it. Remove the brand name, and I am confident that all of you, Fratelli, would quickly identify this watch as a Grand Seiko creation.

The Grand Seiko SBGA497 is available from Grand Seiko boutiques and select authorized dealers now. It is priced at €6,800.

What do you think of this celebratory GS? Let us know in the comments below!

Watch specifications

Heritage Collection Caliber 9R 20th Anniversary Limited Edition
Pink vignette snowflake
Case Material
High-intensity titanium
Case Dimensions
41mm (diameter) × 48.5mm (lug-to-lug) × 12.5mm (thickness)
Case Back
Titanium and sapphire with subtle decoration
Grand Seiko 9R65 — automatic Spring Drive caliber, 72-hour power reserve, 30 jewels, accuracy of ±1 second per day (±15 seconds per month)
Water Resistance
10 bar (100m)
High-intensity titanium bracelet with push-button clasp
Time (hours, minutes, central seconds), date, power reserve indicator
Special Note(s)
Limited to 1,500 pieces