THE RE­TURN OF JA­PAN’S FIRST HI-BEAT DIVER

Seiko’s 1968 Diver’s Re-cre­ation with a Hi-beat in-house cal­iber made quite the splash in Basel this year. We got our hands on one of the first pieces to sur­face in the U.S. to find out how it holds up to the pre­vi­ous Prospex ver­sions.

WatchTime - - Table Of Contents - By Roger Rueg­ger

| Seiko’s 1968 Diver’s Re-cre­ation with a Hi-beat in-house cal­iber made quite the splash in Basel this year. We find out how it holds up to the pre­vi­ous Prospex ver­sions.

— In 1968, three years af­ter the brand’s first dive watch was re­leased (the 62MAS or Ref­er­ence 6217-800x with 150-me­ter wa­ter re­sis­tance), Seiko’s engi­neers man­aged to raise the bar with a Hi-beat divers’ watch with 300me­ter wa­ter re­sis­tance (Ref­er­ence 6159-700x). is model was not only the first dive watch to be equipped with a 10-beat high-pre­ci­sion au­to­matic cal­iber (6159A), it also fea­tured – like its pre­de­ces­sor from 1967 (Ref­er­ence 62157000) – a case de­sign with a one-piece struc­ture, a screw-down crown at 4 o’clock and a ro­tat­ing (al­beit bidi­rec­tional) bezel. Fifty years later, Seiko de­cided to fi­nally bring back one of its most sought-af­ter dive-watch de­signs in a lim­ited edi­tion of 1,500 pieces. An­other watch with sim­i­lar roots, how­ever, has al­ready been around dur­ing the last 18 years and has built up quite a fol­low­ing.

The Marine­mas­ter 300

In the year 2000, Seiko in­tro­duced the Marine­mas­ter 300 (SBDX001) into its do­mes­tic Prospex col­lec­tion (re­served for watches with pro­fes­sional spec­i­fi­ca­tions), ba­si­cally a mod­ern in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the brand’s first 300-me­ter diver pow­ered by in-house Cal­iber 8L35 with 28,800 vph and a 50-hour power re­serve. At the same time, the al­most iden­ti­cal SBDX003 was launched as part of the his­tor­i­cal col­lec­tion, lim­ited to only 500 pieces. Instead of a bracelet, the SBDX003 was sold ex­clu­sively with a rub­ber strap and, for the first time, rein­tro­duced the typ­i­cal golden in­dexes and hands of the 1967 model. Need­less to say, the SBDX003 sold out quickly and has be­come al­most as dif­fi­cult to find as the vin­tage model.

The SBDX001, on the other hand, be­came a bit of an in­sider's se­cret among dive-watch en­thu­si­asts world­wide over the fol­low­ing years – maybe be­cause it was al­most im­pos­si­ble to buy out­side of Ja­pan, maybe be­cause of its back­then un­ex­pect­edly high price of JPY250,000 (ap­prox. $2,250) that hinted at qual­ity and fea­tures po­ten­tially not avail­able any­where else. Among these were the afore­men­tioned in-house move­ment, a mas­sive monobloc case (44.3 mm in di­am­e­ter, 14.6 mm in height) with­out a sep­a­rate case­back and the first fully vari­able fold­ing clasp on a dive watch. It took Seiko more than 10 years to come to a sim­i­lar con­clu­sion and, fi­nally, to of­fi­cially start of­fer­ing the Marine­mas­ter out­side of Ja­pan as part of the re­cent global ex­pan­sion of the brand. To­day, the Marine­mas­ter can, in most cases, even be ser­viced lo­cally, since the tools re­quired to work on the case (the move­ment must be ac­cessed from the dial), have be­come much more read­ily avail­able thanks to a global net­work of bou­tiques with spe­cially trained staff. (In the U.S. alone, Seiko cur­rently op­er­ates three flag­ship stores – in New York, Mi­ami and, most re­cently, Los An­ge­les.)

Seiko fi­nally brought back one of its most sought-af­ter di­ve­watch de­signs.

In 2015, Seiko re­placed the SBX001 with the SBDX017. The new, al­most-vis­ually iden­ti­cal ver­sion of­fered im­proved lume, an up­graded move­ment (still the 8L35, but now with Mems­man­u­fac­tured parts), a Di­ashield-treated case, a laser-etched Prospex logo on the crown and a price in­crease of about 10 per­cent. In the same year, sim­i­lar to the launch in 2000, Seiko also pre­sented an even more ex­pen­sive, 1,000-piece lim­ited edi­tion (SBDX012) with golden ac­cents on the dial and bezel to cel­e­brate the brand’s 50th an­niver­sary as a man­u­fac­turer of dive watches. And an­other year later, Seiko launched a Europe-only, 200-piece lim­ited edi­tion, the SLA015, which in­tro­duced a dif­fer­ent set of hands as well as a light blue dial.

Al­most more importantly, with a still-grow­ing in­ter­na­tional mar­ket pres­ence and brand recognition, the year 2017 saw the de­but of the most faith­ful re­pro­duc­tion of a his­tor­i­cal diver yet: the SLA017J1 based on the 62MAS, with a list price of $3,400, and the launch of the most ex­pen­sive Grand Seiko diver ever, start­ing at $9,600 for the stan­dard black dial with gold ac­cents (Ref­er­ence SBGH255) and $9,800 for the lim­ited edi­tion with blue dial (Ref­er­ence SBGH257). These three watches not only ush­ered in a new pric­ing struc­ture but also in­tro­duced sap­phire crys­tals (instead of Hardlex, the pro­pri­etary type of hard­ened min­eral crys­tal used pre­vi­ously), to bet­ter meet the ex­pec­ta­tions of clients world­wide.

The End of the Marine­mas­ter and the Re­turn of the Hi-beat Diver

In 2018, the green-di­aled Seiko Prospex (Ref­er­ence SLA019 or SBDX021), lim­ited to 1,968

pieces, was the first model to of­fi­cially re­place the SBDX017 from 2015. The same model raised the re­tail price to $3,250 by in­tro­duc­ing a sap­phire crys­tal and a match­ing green ceramic bezel in­lay to the prod­uct fam­ily. Iron­i­cally, the SLA019 also be­came the first of the line to no longer carry the name “Marine­mas­ter” on the dial.

The brand head­liner dur­ing this year’s Basel­world, how­ever, was un­doubt­edly the SLA025J1 Prospex 1968 Diver’s Re-cre­ation, lim­ited to 1,500 pieces. De­spite of­fer­ing a sim­i­lar look and di­men­sions as the pre­vi­ous mod­els, al­most ev­ery sin­gle part has been re­placed and up­graded. The bezel was made taller and the in­lay thin­ner and the texts on the dial, the width of the hands and the size of the in­dexes were slightly re­duced, let­ting the matte black dial ap­pear less busy.

The slightly big­ger case (di­am­e­ter: 44.8 mm, height: 15.65 mm) no longer has the brushed lat­eral mid­dle sec­tion found in pre­vi­ous Marine­mas­ters. Instead, it brings back the sin­gle sharp edge from the orig­i­nal with a fine satin fin­ish on the top of the lugs and on the flat case­back. There’s a chance not ev­ery­one will ap­pre­ci­ate the holes that can still be found in the lugs of the SLA025J1, but they sim­ply are a very con­ve­nient way to change straps (es­pe­cially when equipped with the so-called “fat” spring bars Seiko tra­di­tion­ally uses for its bracelets and straps) and re­main well hid­den when the watch is worn.

The im­mac­u­late mir­ror fin­ish­ing on the case has been achieved through a method known as “Zaratsu” pol­ish­ing and is pro­tected with “Di­ashield” coat­ing – Seiko’s pro­pri­etary sur­face treat­ment that aims to of­fer bet­ter pro­tec­tion against small scratches and cor­ro­sion and prom­ises to be two to three times harder than reg­u­lar stain­less steel. At the same time, the coat­ing slightly changes the look and feel of the ma­te­rial, which might not be ev­ery­one’s masu of sake (and cer­tainly makes the watch more dif­fi­cult to pho­to­graph than usual).

The dial of the re-edi­tion is al­most iden­ti­cal to the orig­i­nal, with ap­plied cir­cu­lar and square hour mark­ers filled with Seiko Lu­mib­rite, which con­trast nicely with the matte black (or at least, dark gray) dial. At 3 o’clock is the gold-out­lined date win­dow, to­ward the top is the Seiko logo with the words “Au­to­matic” and “Hi-beat” just be­low, and to­ward the bot­tom, “Pro­fes­sional” and “300m” can be found. Out­lin­ing the dial is a slightly curved flange with min­utes ring, and sweep­ing over it are the large, gold-col­ored hands and the sec­onds hand with the char­ac­ter­is­tic red-filled (and non-lu­mi­nous) dot at the end.

18 Years in the Mak­ing

In short, the SLA025J1 is by far the most faith­ful re­pro­duc­tion of the 1967-’68 dive-watch de­sign and one of the few au­to­matic watches equipped with a 36,000-vph (5Hz) move­ment. Like the orig­i­nal, the watch fea­tures a one-piece case con­struc­tion and a flat case­back, this time en­graved with the in­di­vid­ual num­ber. Its wrist pres­ence is sub­stan­tial, and with a weight of 147 grams (on a rather soft rub­ber strap), also no­tice­able. Still, if you’re used to larger watches, this one sits com­fort­ably on the wrist, and the new sil­i­cone strap (lim­it­ing af­ter­mar­ket op­tions with a lug width of only 19 mm) prom­ises to be more durable than pre­vi­ous Prospex straps prone to break­ing af­ter a while.

The SLA025J1 is pow­ered by in-house Cal­iber 8L55, as­sem­bled by Seiko’s watch­mak­ers in the Shizuku-ishi Watch Stu­dio in Mo­rioka in the north of Ja­pan (the same stu­dio re­spon­si­ble for the me­chan­i­cal Grand Seikos). This also ex­plains the ori­gin of the move­ment: the 8L55 is a vari­a­tion of the Grand Seiko Cal­iber 9S85 in­tro­duced in 2009, with a dif­fer­ent fin­ish­ing and less strin­gent test­ing than its GS sib­ling. The 8L55 also uses Seiko’s MEMS (Mi­cro Elec­tro Me­chan­i­cal Sys­tems)-man­u­fac­tured es­cape wheel with oil reser­voirs at the end of each gear tooth and a pal­let fork “made with a pre­ci­sion of one ten thou­sandth of a mil­lime­ter,” a spe­cial me­tal called “Spron 610” for the hair­spring and a “Spron 530” main­spring, both of which

are highly re­silient springs with low ef­fects from tem­per­a­ture, mag­netism and shock. Ac­cord­ing to Seiko, “Spron 530 delivers about 6% more power than its pre­de­ces­sor and a power re­serve of five more hours while main­tain­ing the same de­gree of cor­ro­sion re­sis­tance, dura­bil­ity and mag­netic re­sis­tance” and en­sures a high level of torque to sup­ply the power re­quired for the in­creased os­cil­lat­ing rate. Spron 610, on the other hand, is said to of­fer “around twice the im­pact re­sis­tance, and a mag­netic re­sis­tance more than three times higher.”

Like the 9S85, the 8L55 of­fers a 55-hour power re­serve (with a sin­gle bar­rel) when fully wound, which rep­re­sents one of the long­est power re­serves of­fered by a high fre­quency watch. Al­though the ben­e­fits of a high-beat move­ment may be more im­mi­nent in a con­se­quently more pre­cise chrono­graph, a higher fre­quency also of­fers a much smoother sec­onds hand move­ment than its slower beat­ing coun­ter­parts and can, there­fore, not only be seen as a hy­po­thet­i­cally more pre­cise, but also as a more ex­quis­ite choice for col­lec­tors look­ing for more exclusive cal­ibers in their watches.

Seiko reg­u­lates the 8L55 move­ment to +15 and -10 sec­onds per day at nor­mal tem­per­a­ture range (be­tween 5 °C/41°F and 35 °C/95°F), while the Grand Seiko Spe­cial Stan­dard for the 9S move­ments of­fers pre­ci­sion of up to +4/-2 sec­onds per day (COSC re­quires an av­er­age daily rate of +6/-4). In other words, Seiko has a ten­dency to un­der prom­ise and over de­liver, but that does not help to hide the fact that, at least on pa­per, buy­ers will easily find other me­chan­i­cal watches with a bet­ter guar­an­teed ac­cu­racy and are left with the knowl­edge that the 8L55 could have been reg­u­lated to a higher stan­dard.

The high-beat move­ment is most likely also the main rea­son why the watch is priced at $5,400. To put this into per­spec­tive, that’s the same list price as the IWC Aqua­timer Au­to­matic 300 (Ref­er­ence 329001), or more than twice the amount a col­lec­tor had to pay for the Marine­mas­ter 300 in 2000. It also shows that price com­par­isons don’t re­ally work in this case: the same Aqua­timer is equipped with a base cal­iber (ETA 2892-A2 with 28,800 vph) and a more com­plex case con­struc­tion while the SLA025J1 comes with the 8L55 Hi-beat move­ment and monobloc case and is pro­duced in-house by one of the few fully in­te­grated man­u­fac­tur­ers. More importantly, since the model’s rein­tro­duc­tion in 2000, Seiko now has a much big­ger loyal fan base world­wide and has done quite an ex­cel­lent job of ex­plain­ing the brand and its rich her­itage to a larger au­di­ence, and, there­fore, in­creased its brand ap­pre­ci­a­tion and value sig­nif­i­cantly. Which means that the SLA025J1 will most likely be sold out as quickly as the pre­vi­ous vin­tage re-edi­tions, es­pe­cially since it is the watch ev­ery­one has been se­cretly wait­ing for since 2000.

What re­mains to be seen is where Seiko is taking the model from here: a sig­nif­i­cantly les­s­ex­pen­sive 1967 300-me­ter re-edi­tion with an 8L35 move­ment, or a new “Marine­mas­ter” base model (like the ru­mored black ver­sion with orange text), for ex­am­ple, could have an equally strong im­pact on how the price-value ra­tio of this watch is go­ing to be seen in the com­ing years. For now, the SLA025J1 may not be the most af­ford­able dive watch from Seiko, but it is cer­tainly the one with the brand’s most sought-af­ter de­sign and move­ment. The fin­ish and build qual­ity is ex­cel­lent (but not with­out small flaws in the model pic­tured here); the size of the watch is sub­stan­tial (but still com­fort­able to wear with the right wrist size), of­fer­ing a vin­tage de­sign with a great wrist pres­ence. And, at least un­til now, all of Seiko’s his­tor­i­cal dive-watch lim­ited edi­tions were sold out rather quickly.

In a nut­shell, for those still unfamiliar with the brand, the SLA025J1 might be too ex­pen­sive on first sight, and for oth­ers, too close to the orig­i­nal, but for 1,500 col­lec­tors it’s un­doubt­edly go­ing to be the best way to own Seiko’s best-de­signed diver again. Okaeri­na­sai, 6159! —

The Prospex Marine­mas­ter 300 (SBDX001) from 2000 was the first watch to bring back the de­sign of the 1967/68 model.

The SLA025J1 cel­e­brates both the 50th an­niver­sary of the 6159 and the 50th an­niver­sary of Hi-beat au­to­matic move­ments. (Seiko's first 36,000 vph move­ment, the 61GS, also de­buted in 1968.) The SLA025J1 is pow­ered by the 8L55 in-house cal­iber with 36,000 vph and 55hour power re­serve.

Seiko’s Lu­mib­rite is a re­cent de­vel­op­ment that prom­ises to be brighter, longer last­ing and com­pletely free of ra­dioac­tive sub­stances.

Close-up of the matte black dial with con­trast­ing gold in­dexes

The monobloc case fea­tures a sin­gle sharp lat­eral edge and fine satin fin­ish on the top of the lugs and on the flat case­back.

The SLA025J1 can even be used for sat­u­ra­tion div­ing with­out re­quir­ing a he­lium re­lease valve.

Seiko's SLA019 is a suc­ces­sor of the Marine­mas­ter 300 and fea­tures a deep green dial and match­ing ceramic bezel (lim­ited to 1,968 pieces and priced at $3,250).

The SLA025J1 comes with an ex­tra-long black sil­i­cone strap with pin buckle. The lug width is 19 mm (com­pared to 20 mm on the SBDX001/17/21).

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.