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DEFENDING GRAND SEIKO’S POWER RESERVE INDICATOR

Earlier this month, Grand Seiko released their first new watches of the year. One of them, the SBGA471, is powered by a Spring Drive movement and features a small power reserve indicator between the 7:00 and 8:00 markers that has come to be part of the foundational design language of these things. Watch enthusiasts have always had hot takes on this power reserve execution (and, really, any power reserve execution) but I noticed in the days following the release of the SBGA471 that the claws have really come out. The prevailing thought, it seems, is that now that Grand Seiko has demonstrated an ability to release a Spring Drive equipped watch with the power reserve moved to the back, all such watches should have this upgrade.

Well, I’m here to mount a humble, four-pronged defense of the classic (yes, classic!) Spring Drive power reserve indicator. While the new movements with these gauges flipped to the back might be a sign that the dial-side PR’s days are numbered, I’d like to submit that this additional bit of information actually adds to the aesthetic pleasure of these watches, while also acting as a working signature for a truly special technology exclusive to the Grand Seiko family. To remove the power reserve from the dial is to slice away something that has always made these watches charming and unique.

I’ll point out at the start that I recently became a Spring Drive owner for the first time, and am happily wearing my SBGA469, with a power reserve on the dial, as I compose my thoughts. Do I have an ownership bias? Maybe. But I’d like to think I’m as clear headed on this topic as the sweep of my watch’s second hand is smooth.

We Like a Little Wabi-Sabi

A common complaint when it comes to the dial-side power reserve is that it breaks the symmetry of the dial. Look, I can’t argue with that. But almost every Spring Drive powered Grand Seiko I can think of released before last year also has a date window at 3:00, so symmetry was a lost cause from the jump. It’s completely subjective, of course, whether or not you find symmetry appealing. I happen to enjoy a certain amount of asymmetry (bring on the 4:30 date window) as long as it doesn’t interfere with my ability to read the time at a glance. The way these power reserves are positioned, that’s just not likely to happen.

An asymmetrical dial also seems to fit with what Grand Seiko is all about, thematically. Their watches are frequently inspired by nature, which is inherently imperfect. Snow doesn’t blow across a frozen field symmetrically, so why should the dial adhere to rigid symmetry either? There’s a controlled messiness to the way the power reserve sits slightly askew on a dial that feels of a piece with the way these watches are inspired by the natural world, and the ornamental quality they have as well.

It’s All About Execution 

On Instagram, watch forums, and comment sections on our website and others like it, readers are quick to make apparent snap judgments on new watches based on brand supplied images that don’t really capture what these watches look like in the real world. It sometimes feels like these commenters are reacting to the mere idea that a power reserve would be placed in such a spot, and not taking into consideration that it’s executed with a finesse and skill that’s complementary to the rest of the piece. The tiny power reserve hand is polished to the same level as the far more critical hour and minute hands, and on many references the gauge has similarly miniscule applied markers at its start and end points. The power reserve indicator itself is broken down with radiating lines on some models that are cut to perfection, and play with light in their own unique way, apart from the rest of the dial. On these watches the whole reserve is sunken, adding an additional sense of depth.

This, to me, adds an important additional layer of visual interest to the dial. It’s just fun to look at, and a reminder of how focused Grand Seiko is at getting every little detail exactly right. The attention paid to the power reserve reminds me of the way Grand Seiko handles date windows, which is truly like no other brand at their (average) price point, with detailed finishing that’s meant to highlight, not push it toward the background.

The Purist Perspective

The real reason I think these power reserves are worth celebrating, however, is that they’ve become intertwined with Grand Seiko design itself. There are only a handful of watch brands with a functional visual signature that’s so easily identifiable. The cyclops magnifier on a Rolex, for example, or the crown guard on a Panerai Luminor. It’s a powerful thing to have a design element that is so closely tied to a brand, and if I were running Grand Seiko (folks, I am definitely not running Grand Seiko) I’d embrace it, and happily slap power reserve indicators on the dial side of Spring Drive watches for years to come.

There are many armchair watch industry prognosticators who anticipate that with the release of the SLGA007 and SBGY007 last year, a signal has gone out that the dial-side power reserve’s days are numbered. I’m not so sure of that. I can envision a future years from now when the movement tech in those new Spring Drive flagships has trickled down to a point where those calibers form the basis of an entry point into the movement family and not the top of the pyramid, but that feels like a long way off. Grand Seiko seems to be using those releases with the specific intent of creating an upper tier product – pay a little more, get a thinner watch, better finishing, and no ghastly power reserve distractions. That’s all well and good, and I’m happy to see Grand Seiko carve out a slice of the market at a higher price point, but it doesn’t make the dial-side PR watches an inferior product. There are plenty of reasons to love the classic power reserve dials as well as the minimal, next-gen offerings. It’s not a zero sum game.

I Heard You Like Tool Watches…

Finally, the other obvious benefit to having the power reserve on the dial side is utility. It’s genuinely useful to know at a glance where your power reserve sits, particularly after having the watch off the wrist for a day or two, and there’s an enjoyment only a watch nerd can fully appreciate of watching the power reserve climb throughout the day. I admit there’s something inherently cool about useful information being displayed on the caseback side of a watch (it’s a great place for a leap year indicator on a perpetual calendar), but anything that requires you to flip the watch over to see it is impractical by definition. I can’t believe I’m the one making a tool watch argument here, but in terms of raw functionality, the dial is the only place a power reserve makes sense.

Well, there you have it. And as they say, “RIP to Zach’s DMs.” While I admit I’m likely on the losing end of the long-term battle over Grand Seiko’s dial-side Spring Drive PR indicator, and deeply in the minority at present, I’d like to think there’s still reason to not only accept this somewhat strange design quirk, but wholeheartedly embrace it. Let us know what you think of Grand Seiko’s dial-side power reserve in the comments below. If you need me, I’ll be looking at those high-polished end pieces on my SBGA469’s power reserve under a loupe.

Source: https://wornandwound.com

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