I’m in a bit of an odd spot with Grand Seiko at the moment. Given the plethora of monthly if not weekly drops of shiny new dial variations, I find myself getting less and less excited each time I come across one. Sure, it’s a nice new pattern but it’s just another textured dial. The thing is, I only ever think that until I actually get hands-on with the thing in which case I invariably find myself fawning over it. The Grand Seiko Evolution 9 Spring Drive SLGA021 Lake Suwa Before Dawn didn’t break with tradition.
Based on the Evolution 9 template rather than the classic Grand Seiko references, it’s definitely a sportier take, in a pared-back, streamlined way. It fits neatly into the sports-luxe genre for that kind of wearable versatility. And versatile it is. At 40mm it’s the perfect size for any wrist short of a bodybuilder’s and the classy mix of brushed surfaces and Grand Seiko’s signature Zaratsu polishing elevates what would be a relatively flat timepiece into something with a much more nuanced, elegant look.
As Evolution 9 pieces go, it’s very par for the course in shape and overall aesthetics, if only because once again all the action is on the dial. And what a dial it is. There are plenty of water-inspired blue dials out there ranging from Maurice Lacroix’s Lake Geneva fume to Omega’s iconic Seamaster 300m Professional waves. The Lake Suwa Before Dawn puts them all to shame.
Honestly, if you saw this dial in the wild you could take a pretty straightforward guess at what it’s supposed to be: ripples on the surface of a lake. In this particular instance, it’s the lake near Grand Seiko’s studio in the Kiso Mountains of Nagano in Japan. It’s not the first time that the watchmaker has reference their surrounding landscape (it’s kind of their thing) or even the lake itself. The previous take on this pattern was released way back in August 2021, and a new version has been a long time coming.
Where the older SLGA007 had a relatively bright blue dial however, the ‘Before Dawn’ takes its name seriously with a deeper, darker colouring that you’d see in the early hours of the morning. Grand Seiko has also dropped the hints of gold in favour of an all-silver logo and index combination that I find an improvement.
As ever the indexes are polished to a typically obsessive degree, as are the hands, something you can see all the better thanks to the dark backdrop and contrast between razor-sharp edges and the more organic texture of the dial. Watches like this are all about the finer details and Grand Seiko’s are among the finest details of all.
Unfortunately, it feels a bit too close to the previous Lake Suwa for my taste. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a stunner and I appreciate that unlike the SLGA007, the SLGA021 is not limited, meaning you might actually be able to get hold of it. But even by Grand Seiko standards, which much prefer evolution in increments than experimentation (outside the Kodo, of course), it’s not a huge change. Basically, if you missed out on the last version and need to fill the void, this is the next best (and in some ways better) thing.
Inside is the famous Spring Drive calibre 9RA2 which, as a refresher, combines an automatic mechanical movement with the unbeatable regulation of quartz, essentially the best of both worlds. It’s incredibly accurate. For context, Omega’s new Spirate adjustment system allows them to reach an accuracy of 0/+2 seconds a day. That’s phenomenal, and all due congratulations to Omega. The Spring Drive though manages 0.5 seconds per day. Sure, it incorporates quartz so comparing the two is a bit unfair, but accuracy is accuracy and the Spring Drive is more than mechanical enough to count.
On the wrist, the Lake Suwa Before Dawn is typically gorgeous. It’s where it really comes alive, as movement shows off the polishing and mix of finishes to the full. The dial, of course, is just breathtaking when it catches the right light. It manages to look haute without being showy, a difficult tightrope to walk on and one that Grand Seiko all but lives on.
So yes, it’s easy to switch off when yet another Grand Seiko dial comes out, especially if said dial is just a recolour of an older piece. But as the handful of variations of the Birch show, something as small as a change in colour can drastically change the personality of the watch as a whole. I wouldn’t say that’s quite the case here – it’s just a few shades darker – but it’s impossible not to fall slightly in love with.
And hey, if they did a green version (imitating the reflection of spring leaves on the gently rippling waters of the lake; just a suggestion) I’d put my name down here and now.
Price & Specs:
- Model: Grand Seiko Evolution 9 Spring Drive Lake Suwa Before Dawn
- Ref: SLGA021
- Case/dial: 40mm diameter x 11.75mm thickness, stainless steel case, Lake Suwa-inspired textured blue dial
- Movement: Grand Seiko calibre 9RA2, automatic, 38 jewels
- Power reserve: 120h (5 days)
- Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date
- Strap: Stainless steel bracelet
- Price/availability: £8,700