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Gnomon Special Highlight This Week: Seiko 5 Sport Lineup
Before we jump into the new Seiko 5 Sports lineup, we are happy to inform you Seiko fans that this entire new collection is available as JDM (Japanese Domestic model)! This JDM collection is denoted by "MADE IN JAPAN" at number 6 on the dial. And the good news is that we at Gnomon provide this JDM Seiko 5 Sports for all of you. While you may know that SRPD is the global and US version of Seiko 5 Sports, here we have a twin brother, SBSA, who was born in Japan.
Putting an SBSA on your wrist is like meeting an old friend after a few years of not seeing each other. Some things have changed and some things have remained the same, but in essence, the personalities have largely remained the same. That was my experience with the new SBSA line. I'm a longtime owner (and a big fan of) SKX173, and after hearing that the legendary SKX line had been discontinued, I rushed to see what was released instead. While most of the serious dive watches in the Seiko lineup are now in the PROSPEX lineup, the overall SKX design is now part of the "Seiko 5 Sports" range.
Decreased water resistance and the lack of a screw-in knob immediately emerged as a small inconvenience for me who used to be a rock-hard ISO certified diver. However, the Seiko 5 course is no slouch. This watch has a history dating back to the early 1960's and is made to be a durable and versatile watch that has 5 main features. They require automatic movement, a day / date display at 3 o'clock, some water resistance level, a hidden crown at 4 o'clock, and a case and band made for durability. The new SBSA earned 5 badges on their dial by fulfilling each of the key elements of this design.
Here's a brief description of the models we're looking at today:
SBSA015 “Suit Style” - This model features a matte metallic blue dial with a cream tinted index. The effect is subtle, and the cream looks much clearer in Seiko's rendering than it does in person. In the seconds indicator, you'll find some bright red paint on the tip which makes it easier to see at first glance. The dial looks good in bright light and I really enjoy the matte effect over the metallic dial. It's subtle, yet attractive without being blingy or distracting. The case is made of standard stainless steel and ships with a sharp-looking steel mesh band. Around the dial are a bezel insert in bright blue color with a silver print.
SBSA021 “Sports Style” - Of the other models, this one is the most straightforward. The slightly grainy black dial looks great with silver applied indexes and a striking white lume. It is used on several different models, but looks different depending on the case and strap. The SBSA021 is housed in a brushed, finished metal cannon case and has a black bezel insert. It comes with a Seiko branded olive green nylon strap that gives it a military tactical look. I found myself attracted to this one.
SBSA027 “Specialist Style” - is one of the most iconic SKX redesign language timepieces among the others. If the Submariner is the iconic luxury diver of the modern era then the SBSA0027 is an affordable classic. Stick to a "starter" watch for any beginner mechanical watch collector. And that is what makes it so desirable even for experienced watch collectors. Renowned for its sturdy and classic design.
SBSA025 “Street Style” - Keep the undeniable "starter" watch for any beginner mechanical watch collector. And that is what makes it so desirable even for experienced watch collectors. Renowned for its sturdy and classic design. Some people fall in love with taking new and modern watches and customizing them with their twist, meaning colored (often dark) upholstery, different dial configurations, or intricate engraving. And this phenomenon has become a trend that is on the rise in the watch industry.
Take a quick look at the dimensions and shape of the case, and you'll quickly recognize this design. The SBSA line rocks the same size and case design from the last generation SKX. The 42.5mm diameter sounds big, but it's more than made up for by the incredibly reasonable 46mm lug-to-lug distance. From top to bottom, you will see the crown and guard sitting in the typical 4 o'clock position. The 0-60 time frame goes around the dial. The action is stiff and a little "flabby" with an inaudible click when turning. There is little (if any) playback once you tune the bezel where you want it. The taste is very similar to the bezel on my Turtle. Throughout the lineup, there are tons of different colored bezel inserts, dial colors, and textures, and even several different case colors. I have samples of gun metal, bead blasting gun metal, and standard stainless steel. There's also a unique brown option with a matching dial that stands out from the pack. Each model features Seiko's proprietary Hardlex mineral crystal lens which offers better shatter resistance than sapphire but is more prone to scratches.
Finishing on the case might seem nothing extraordinary. There are brushed and polished surfaces on stainless samples, and the transition between the two is best. SBSA won't win any awards in the finishing department, but it's more than tolerable for something in its price range. Of the three models, I like the gunmetal case on the SBSA021 with its polished and brushed surface. Bead detonation was something I had never seen from Seiko before and looked and felt great. In profile, the case is slightly curved, featuring soft rounded edges that nestle into your wrist. Comfortable to wear, and the shape of the casing is a contributing factor. The 13.5mm height is evenly divided between the bezel, middle case and case back. Because the case-back puffs up under the watch, it will adhere to most of the wrist, giving the impression of a watch that is thinner than the measurements suggest.
Turn the watch over, and you'll see something a little different. Instead of a sturdy steel back case, there's a viewing window so you can see the 4R35 doing its job inside. The previous "5" watches all had transparent cases on the back, which I find really cool on an entry-level watch. For newcomers to the world of mechanical horology, it is very interesting to see the inner workings that are ticking away. While the movement may not be decorated with elaborate hand finishes, it is still a pleasure to look at.
On the right side of the case at 4 o'clock, you'll see a push-down button with a casing. For me, it was hard to get past it at first, but the more I put on the watch, the more it made sense. While there are some serious diving enthusiasts out there, most of us would not use divers in our desired environment. The SBSA has a water resistance of 100m, which is still enough for swimming, hand washing, water splashes and more. I wore the watch on my first fly fishing trip and the occasional dipping below the surface of the river was totally fine. If you are looking for a more professional dive watch, the PROSPEX line is nothing short of short. Do I prefer a screw crown for extra peace of mind? Yes. But, SBSAs are meant to be fashionable watches to wear everyday, and they definitely fit the bill.
Dial + Hands
The buttons on the SBSA series have to be the most impressive parts of the watch. Throughout the lineup, there are TONS of different colors, finishes and textures to choose from. Obviously, Seiko has taken some inspiration from the modding community with 27 different launch options. There is something for everyone - whether you choose an all-black model (including the lume), or bright orange with gold accents. All models have the same features, but are done in a slightly different way. The base button displays an applied index filled with Seiko's Lumibrite luminous material, a welcome improvement to the printed index on the SKX line, even though it is similar in shape to the printed index on the SKX007. In 12, there is a large triangle with a thin point at the end. Six and Nine consist of elongated ovals, while the remainder of the clock is marked with a circle. At 3 o'clock, you will find the day / date display printed in black on white printing on all models, except for "Street Style" which shows the opposite. I am also happy to report that the alignment of the chapter ring and bezel is correct. In previous Seiko diving models, this was chancy, and caused a lot of frustration in the watch community. It's a small detail that could potentially take the watch face out of its way.
One of my favorite parts about the dial is the new "5" logo inspired by Seiko at 12. Seiko has a very unique design language for their logo, and the new 5 fits right in. The style and plaid styling is super high, and at first glance it doesn't look like the number "5". I get that heavy vintage Seiko Quartz logo vibe from it (in a good way). The new logo is offset by the word "Auto" in a stylized script just above the 6 o'clock marker.
If you are a fan of SKX, you will see the same hand set used at SBSA. There is a box-shaped syringe for hours and a longer minute hand that ends with an arrow-shaped tip. They're very easy to read in all conditions (thanks to the immensely popular lume) and work well with dive-inspired watch designs. For a few seconds, there were long, skinny hands with a circular balancer that were also filled with lume. I prefer the luminous material to be on the tip of the second hand so you can see the tip of the needle in the dark, but this is no big deal.
Another area that is a definite improvement over SKX is its movements. While the 7S26 is reliable, there is still a lot to be done. The interior of the newer 4R36 is a mechanical automatic movement with a power reserve of 40 hours. It features a day / date display at 3 o'clock and 24 gems placed throughout.
On the 4R36, you get two handy features not found on the 7S26, namely the ability to turn the hands and hack the second hand for precise timing. While an accuracy rating of + 45 / -35 seconds per day wouldn't break the Swiss Observatory's record, it was still within the parameters expected of an entry-level mechanical watch. There are a few toothbrushes on the drive plate and some tilt here and there, but the overall appearance is worthwhile. Again, it's still nice to see the balance wheel pulsate inside and the rotors spin back and forth.
Strap + Wear
Of the three review samples, two were shipped with nato style nylon straps. They strike the perfect balance between flexibility and rigidity. The result is a strap that feels sturdy, yet still comfortable to wear. The dark olive strap on the SBSA021 has hardware that matches the case and features a buckle marked Seiko. The stainless steel mesh straps adorn the SBSA015 "Suit Style". Easy to adjust and the clasps snap with an official snap. I'm not so sure I'll wear this watch with a suit, but it looks and feels good with it.
Even though the SBSA case measures 42.5mm, those with small wrists should definitely give it a try. It works with many wrist sizes, big or small thanks to a pretty reasonable 46mm lug-to-lug measurement. The offset 4 dial also keeps it slim. This has to be the best example of how much lug-to-lug measurement really matters. On the wrist, the SBSA is comfortable and easy to wear all day long, and the curved case design helps too. Bends your wrist and moves unobstructed by the watch, making it an excellent choice for casual or active wear.
On the Wrist
As you can assume, the SBSA Seiko 5 series wears like the SKX007. It's a bit tall, but still flat and flat on my 7-inch wrist. The lug-to-lug distance is great fun, even for somewhat smaller wrists. The thickness and width can be adjusted, with the placement of the crown ensuring the wear does not exceed the recommended size.
The strap option is of particular note as the bracelet and rubber are much better than what comes, as stock, with a watch like SKX. The three-link "oyster" model is tight and well-made, the silicone is soft and pliable, and while the web feels wide at the wrist (not taper) it's well-made and quite comfortable. Ultimately, NATO was better than I expected, with matching hardware and a soft yet hard-wearing finish. Not quite as good as some of the premium options on the market but definitely a good fit for the SBSA 5ers at this price point. As far as the mounts are concerned, the job is well done (and with the lugs drilled it's easy to change your mind).
While they are not a direct replacement for the now discontinued SKX line, the SRPD/SBSAs are close. Many will bemoan the drop in water resistance, the lack of a screw down crown, and the loss of pip lume on the bezel, but the PROSPEX line has plenty of serious tool watches that will get the job done for those who need it. The SBSA's 100m water resistance is nothing to scoff at, and it's still the same or more than many watches from the golden years of recreational diving in the 60s and 70s. For a fun everyday watch, the SBSA series does more than just have its own set of capabilities. The prices are reasonable, look good, and wear really well on the wrist. Between all the different models and options, there is something for everyone. Starting at $ 260 (and already popping up at lower prices at retail), they represent an exciting entry into the world of mechanical watches without breaking the bank from a trusted brand.
The new Seiko 5 really makes the most sense only when you consider it in the post-SKX007 world. If you stick to the perspective, as I did at first, about someone who remembers the immense joy of opening a blue Seiko box to reveal their first Seiko diver, the new Seiko 5 feels lacking in specs and possibly overpriced. But, as a modern offering to the enthusiast's room, what the SBSA line lacks in allure diving gear is likely not a problem for most buyers who want something that can handle a pool or maybe snorkel when it comes to fishing vacation. And for those who care a lot, not only are there plenty of SKX007s in circulation, Seiko also has a large line of official dive watches for no more.