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The Seiko Alpinist – A True Pioneer Mountaineering Watch
Watch Review

The Seiko Alpinist – A True Pioneer Mountaineering Watch

Some have also said that Seiko saves their best watches after QC for the JDM market! If the cream isn’t your thing, we also carry a green dial version that looks very similar to the revered SARB017,
May 28, 2024

I have a confession to make. When I first started my watch-collecting journey in late 2018, I knew I wanted to get my hands on the legendary Seiko Alpinist SARB017. Done with my deep dive as a young Padawan in this hobby, the Seiko Alpinist caught my eye (and I guess many other newcomers and seasoned collectors) as it checks many boxes. And yes, I love the eye-catching green that’s so iconic. 

The SBDC089 on wrist

Alas, it got discontinued when the time came to fruition for me, and prices of brand new SARB017s were starting to creep up. As a full-time student then, for me to dish out $700SGD for it was way out of my budget. And with this, the Seiko Alpinist has slowly become a painful itch that I never got to scratch. So fast forward two years to January 2020. Seiko announced the release of 3 brand new models of the Alpinist. I was delighted in two ways; first, I finally started working and had a bit of saving for the watch I would want to have. And secondly, the new Alpinist just hit the spot.

My seemingly long wait for a Seiko Alpinist has finally been fulfilled. I waited for the time to be right and finally got my hands on one in late 2021 – the cream dial SBDC089 Alpinist. And yes, it’s a Japan Domestic Model (JDM). So, I have worn it for quite some time and wanted to share how my wearing experience has been Is the 3-year wait worth it, or has the Seiko Alpinist fallen short of my expectations? Let’s find out in my review today.

Specially for Mountain Climbing

To even start writing about my experience with the SBDC089, I will have to take you back to the year 1961, when the Seiko Alpinist collection was born. Seiko wanted to create a watch that could be robust enough for use by Japanese mountaineers and other sports enthusiasts. It was also the first sports watch ever produced by Seiko, making the Alpinist an essential part of the brand’s history. 

The Yama-Otoko, or mountain men in Japanese, inspired the Alpinist. These men required quality watches that were robust enough to handle rugged terrain while maintaining accuracy. Thus, the Alpinist Laurel (the first Alpinist ever) was born. Fast forward to 1995, and the famous Red Alpinist launched. This very Alpinist bears the most resemblance to the current production Alpinist Prospex models. The Red Alpinist only had a short manufacturing life of 2 years, and prices have skyrocketed. They feature a cyclops date window at 3 o’clock and a four o’clock crown rotating the inner compass bezel. The Alpinist branding was printed in red on the dial, thus giving them the nickname “Red Alpinist”.

A catalogue showing the Red Alpinist models (Photo Credit: TheSpringBar)

Moving forward to 2006, Seiko released the SARB series of Alpinists, with the SARB017 (green dial) becoming the most popular. These modern watches had more or less the same dial layout and design as the Red Alpinists, minus the cyclops magnifier. The SARB series was the longest-running production model of the Alpinist before Seiko discontinued them in 2018. These days, the SARB017 is what many people will think of when they hear the word “Alpinist”, proving that it is deserving of its legendary status in the watch collecting world. 

The SARB series Alpinists – L2R SARB013, SARB015, SARB017 (Photo Credits: TheSpringBar)

In 2020, two years after the discontinuation of the SARB series had caused an uproar amongst Seiko enthusiasts, the brand introduced Alpinists into the Prospex (professional specifications) line. The watch that I will be reviewing today falls into this new range of Alpinist watches. Let’s take a closer look. 

The Perfect Tool Watch? 

Let’s get some numbers out of the way. The Seiko Alpinist JDM SBDC089 has a case size of 39.5mm, a thickness of 13mm, and a lug-to-lug of about 46mm. It wears like a charm on my six ¾ inch wrist. The case is made of 316L stainless steel and is predominantly polished, with only the top of the lugs vertically brushed. The transition from polished to brushed surfaces is seamless and makes the case look good at different angles. The dial is a sunburst light cream color, reminiscent of the SARB013 that has become incredibly rare (and expensive). Seiko’s Prospex logo can also be found on the dial, along with “Automatic” and “20 Bar” right below it. 

Applied even number Arabic numerals feature as indices, while applied arrow heads are used for the odd numbers. Cathedral hands are also used here, continuing the tradition since the launch of the Red Alpinists in 1995. An inner rotating compass bezel completes the dial. Covering the dial is a flat sapphire crystal with an inner anti-reflective coating, with a cyclops-magnifier at the date window position. 

The SBDC089 on my wrist – stunning proportions

The 3 o’clock crown screws down to provide 200m of water resistance, an excellent feature to have as you can even take this Alpinist diving! The 4 o’clock crown does not screw down as one merely uses it to operate the rotating compass bezel. 

Flipping the watch over, you will find an exhibition case back showcasing the watch’s heartbeat – the new in-house 6R35 movement. It has 24 jewels, beats at 21,600 BPH, and has a whopping 70 hours of power reserve. That is comparable with top-of-the-line brands like Tudor! If you put the watch down on Friday evening and only pick it up on Monday, the Alpinist will still be diligently ticking away. 

The new Seiko 6R35 movement with 70 hours of PR! (Photo Credits: Grail Watch Reference)

The Seiko Alpinist SBDC089 comes supplied on a 20mm black calf leather strap with cream stitching. The strap tapers to 18mm at the signed Seiko deployant clasp – an upgrade from the SARB series. While the strap is rather stiff out of the box, it will soften over time with wear. 

My Humble Personal Thoughts

I’ve longed for an Alpinist for three years, and now that I finally have one in my collection, was the wait worth it? 

As I mentioned earlier, the Seiko Alpinist SBDC089 wears superbly on my wrist. The proportions of the watch are quite simply perfect. I also love the subtle sunburst effect that the dial has and how it pops in various lighting conditions. However, there are details about the watch that polarises watch enthusiasts. I’ve often heard people complaining about the “ugly” Prospex logo and the “unnecessary” cyclops. I don’t have an issue with either. Firstly, the Prospex logo is so small that you’ll hardly notice it. Also, it’s a personal liking to see the logo on the dial, as it reminds me that this is a tool watch that can take a beating despite its dressy appearance. And the cyclops? After seeing pictures of the SBDC089 with the cyclops removed, I feel that removing the cyclops messes up the proportion of the dial. The magnification makes the date wheel look amazing and completes the whole look. 

The SBDC089 elevated my outfits

 Aside from the aesthetics, the upgrades Seiko introduced to the SBDC089 are also noteworthy. The deployant clasp, increased power reserve, and inner anti-reflective (AR) coating adds value to an already pleasant wearing experience. The clasp adds a level of refinement not found on previous Alpinist iterations, while the 70 hours power reserve is handy to have. However, the watch’s main upgrade that you will notice is the AR coating. I’ve often complained about a lack of AR coating on many Seiko watches and how they make the dial so hard to read in bright light. You will not have such a problem with the SBDC089 – the AR coating is a gamechanger. Thank you for finally listening to your fans, Seiko! 

However, this watch is not all perfect for me either. I guess the main gripe that I have with the Seiko Alpinist SBDC089 is the lack of drilled lugs. I like to change the straps on my watches frequently. Without drilled lugs, changing straps is not as convenient as it seems. However, that is not a dealbreaker, and I’m just nitpicking at this point. 

Worth The Time”

Really a go anywhere; do anything kind of watch – I even wear it to the gym

In conclusion, the 3-year wait before I got my hands on an Alpinist model was worth it. This Alpinist is a go-anywhere; do anything kind of watch, and I enjoy wearing it. The SBDC089 contains many features that I look for in a watch, and I’ve also gotten my fair share of compliments while wearing it. JDM models are unlike your regular international models as Seiko produces them exclusively for the Japanese market. Some have also said that Seiko saves their best watches after QC for the JDM market! If the cream isn’t your thing, we also carry a green dial version that looks very similar to the revered SARB017, as well as an array of dial and case colors, all of which you can check out here

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