There’s a good reason Seiko has become the household name it is today, even among those who do not collect or even wear watches. The company has been around for a very long time, beginning its life as a humble watch and jewelry shop in Ginza, Tokyo in 1881 and shortly afterwards adopting the name Seikōsha (精工舎), or “House of Exquisite Workmanship”. They’ve achieved a lot of milestones since then, including being the first to market with quartz technology with the Seiko Astron in 1969 which proved so disruptive to the Swiss watch industry.
If a century-and-a-half or so of continuous watchmaking has taught Seiko anything, it is how to make a damned good watch at almost any price point, from robust yet affordable daily beaters to horological holy grails. In this article we’ll examine five of Seiko’s cult favorite watches that routinely turn up for sale on the second hand market and can be enjoyed for far less than the sticker price of anything equivalent that Switzerland could bring to the table.
The Seiko SKX series may be the most popular dive watches in the world, with attractive vintage styling and a true in-house automatic movement at a very wallet-friendly price. While the SKX007 is the most iconic in this collection, I’m partial to the pop of colour in the SKX009 “Pepsi” version.
This is a proper ISO 6425 certified divers’ watch, with 200M of water resistance making it suitable for any form of water sports or recreational diving. While the 42.5mm dial diameter may be on the large side, this watch features very short lugs for a compact lug-to-lug span of 46mm, so this will wear well on even slender wrists. Note however that this price point comes with some compromises, in the form of an anodized aluminium rather than ceramic bezel, a Hardlex crystal rather than sapphire, and the 7S26 calibre not being capable of hacking or hand-winding.
SARB065 “Cocktail Time”
Any search for “affordable dress watches” will turn up results for the Seiko Cocktail Time collection, and for good reason. The dial decoration on these watches is spectacular, with a radial sunburst-like guilloche that catches and plays with light. The delicate blued steel seconds hand with its charmingly vintage needle-eye counterweight contrasts well against the dial, and while the date window is a divisive feature in any dress watch there’s no doubt it adds functionality if you intend on wearing the watch daily.
The modest lug-to-lug span of 47.5mm and 13mm thickness will make this watch easy to wear, if not quite as slender as I’d prefer for a pure dress watch. The step up in price point is also reflected in a better automatic movement than the SKX009 offers, with the 6R15 being capable of both hand-winding and hacking. Water resistance is quite capable for a dress watch at 50 meters, although the crystals used in this collection are still Hardlex rather than sapphire.
The Alpinist is fast becoming one of Seiko’s most popular everyday watches, with new models being introduced yearly. The original SARB017 was discontinued in 2018 but can still be bought easily on the second hand market, avoiding the price premium newer Alpinist models command at retail. This is one of those watches that is instantly and immediately recognizable on the wrist, with its striking green dial and gold accents.
Perhaps more importantly, this watch represents a price point within the Seiko universe where there are no longer any significant compromises being made. The crystal here is scratchproof sapphire, not Hardlex, and water resistance is 20Bar (200 meters) which is incredible for a non-diver. The Alpinist also uses Seiko’s mid-range 6R15 caliber which can be hacked and hand-wound.
The Tuna is a divisive watch, by all means, yet it is also an immediately recognizable and much-loved tool watch that can take whatever beating is thrown at it with aplomb. Although the 47mm dial width sounds (and is) huge for a modern dive watch, the lugless design makes the Tuna wear pretty much true to size at 47mm. The distinctive “shroud” of the Tuna acts like a kind of armour for the case and diving bezel, protecting it against impacts or accidental turning of the bezel mid-dive. The 4 o’clock crown is positioned to minimize its exposure to impacts whilst also improving wrist ergonomics, being less prone to sticking into the back of your hand than the typical 3 o’clock crown.
The hands and indexes are filled with Seiko’s proprietary Lumibrite luminous material which ensures great visibility at depth or in darkness. While this is a quartz watch, the movement within is no cheap throw-away affair either; the 7C46 calibre is a 7-jewelled movement designed with longevity in mind, and utilizes a special high torque stepper motor capable of moving the large, lume-filled hands of the Tuna.
SLA021 MarineMaster 300
If you prefer your Seikos more on the Grand side of the scale, look no further than their SLA021 MarineMaster 300, aka the Grandest of non-Grand Seiko divers. Although north of $2K USD is no small chunk of change, for the money you really do get a no-compromise dive watch with all of the luxury you’d expect in a proper Grand Seiko; Zaratsu mirror-polished case flanks, sapphire crystal, super-hard-treated steel bezel, and the 8L35 calibre which is basically a non-decorated version of the Grand Seiko 9S55 movement.
The SLA021 is on the larger side for Seiko divers with a 44mm dial, 15.4mm thickness and 50mm lug-to-lug span, making this quite a bold choice that will flatter larger wrists whilst still appearing elegant. The retail pricing on this model is $3,100 USD, so you save a fair bit of money buying pre-owned.