Friday, October 3, 2014

Seiko Retro Classic Automatic Watch SNKM97K1 - Reinterpretation of an iconic design. Some shortcomings but made up in terms of cost and style, A Review

Recently, Seiko started to reproduce some of its vintage designs from its 1960s automatic collection for the current market. Powering the watches is the iconic 7S series automatic movements.

One particular model that was chosen for the reproduction (with some modern adjustments) has been given the name the Seiko Retro Classic Automatic Watch SNKM97K1 which has the retro-looking cushion shaped casing and a brilliant green dial. When I laid my eyes on it, I quickly fell in love.

Sourcing from my supplier from Kuching, I was able to get one for just RM540. Retail price for this unit is RM675. After making the necessary payment and paperwork, the package was delivered on my desk well within 24 hours.

As usual, the packaging is not pretty but done to provide the best protection during the delivery process.

When I finally got the packaging off, I found the white box with the Seiko logo in silver staring at me. The instruction manual was also found in between the packaging.

The main watch box is generally a white square box with small angled corners to make it into an eight-sided box. The Seiko brand is printed in silver at the center of the box. The box opens up from the middle and hinged at the back.

What greets you when you open the box is a watch with brilliant emerald green dial resting on a large white pillow. The watch also comes with two tags. One listing the official price in Malaysia and the other provides the reference for the watch, the caliber of the movement and the water rating.

It is inside this box where the guarantee card is kept. Seiko provides a global guarantee on its watches for just one year.

Generally at this point, I will start doing the resizing for the bracelet to fit my wrist. I observed that Seiko uses a pin system for the bracelet.

However, instead of the typical pin-and-collar system that I am used too, this time Seiko uses just a pin system. Instead of a collar for the pin, one end of the pin has been flared. This can be seen in the photo below (note the end of the pin on the right has been split and spread to be slightly wider than the rest of the pin). This has the effect of creating the necessary friction to lock the pin in place once placed inside the pin holes.

A simple idea that reduces manufacturing costs and minimizes the stress of manipulating/misplacing the fine collar in the older system. Not sure whether this was done previously in the original model or just a new design. I totally approve. It makes the resizing a less stressful affair with this simplified method.

The watch, including the bracelet, is made out of stainless steel. It has a cushion shaped casing with a crown located at 3 o'clock. It has a diameter of 45 mm (excluding crown) and a lug width of 20 24 mm. It comes with an emerald green dial with a date and day complication window at the 3 o'clock position. The casing and bracelet have polish finishing. Only the central links on the bracelet being polished to a mirror finish.

The crystal protecting the dial is the proprietary Hardlex crystal by Seiko. The watch has been water rated to 5 ATM or 50 meters.

The dial has a sun-burst emerald green colour to it. It has a low gradient chapter ring which has three scales. The outer most is black in colour with markers at every 1-minute intervals and Arabic numerals at every 5-minute intervals. Next is a second ring of solid green scale with markers at every 1-minute intervals. The main scale is the innermost part of the dial with markers at every 5-minute intervals.

The hours and minutes hands are copper coloured (I believe the material is steel) with a skeletal first part  while the second part has a dark green colour strip. Meanwhile, the seconds hand is coloured completely in orange.

This watch does not have the extensive covering of the proprietary Lumibrite paint on the dial like most Seikos. The only part that has the luminous paint is the borders of the four major markers on the North, South, East and West direction of the dial. The hands are completed devoid of any luminous paint.

Of all the Seikos I have ever owned (even second hand pieces), this model is by far has the weakest low-light capability. Although this model is supposed to be a modern reproduction of a 1960s style watch, Seiko should at least consider incorporating modern luminescence design into the overall package. Since this is not strictly a reproduction project but a re-interpretation of an old classic design, adding 21st century functionality should not be a problem.

Since the date and day window doubles as the marker for 3 o'clock and has the Lumibrite paint around its borders, during low level lighting, it acts as a good reference anchor. Unfortunately, this does not provide any advantage when you cannot even see the hours and minutes hands due to the lack of Lumibrite paint on them.

The links on the bracelet is solid. You can also see the display case-back.

Unfortunately, having solid links is still not enough. The built should also be of a higher engineering tolerance. In this case, the linkages between the links are way too loose. It shakes a lot and makes sounds when it does.

As you can see from the photo, Seiko decided not to use their time-tested 3-point safety clasp for this watch. Instead, a simpler push-button clasp is incorporated. As such, micro-adjustment on this watch is limited to just two positions.

The piece that joins the two halves of the bracelet is made out of stamped steel plate that looks cheap. It does look out of place relative to the choice of solid links.

Seiko decided to put in the 7S26C movement into this watch. This is the old workhorse of Seiko that uses 21 jewels and operate at 21,600 b.p.h. It is an automatic and unregulated movement that does not have winding and seconds hand stop (hacking) functionality. Interestingly, this movement is made here in Malaysia.

I am surprised that Seiko did not use the 4R series movement for this model. I would expect at least a winding option would have been a good choice for this model. The only reason I could think why this strategy was chosen is because of surplus stock which needed to be pushed out.

The photo at the bottom shows the quality of polishing that is found on the centre links. When resizing, you need to be careful not to scratch this.

The watch sits nicely on the wrist. The large cushion case makes it look more natural on the wrist compared to large round shaped watches.

This watch is designed as a dress watch hence it fits well with formal wear. It also has that ruggedness feel to it.

The simpler clasp has the brand logo stamped prominently in the centre. Looks pretty good indeed.

This watch has a universal appeal. For formal wear, it can compete with the best. For leisure wear, it also can hold its own. Although it may not expected to be able to suffer the kind of knocks a sports watch could endure, it has a wrist presence that oozes sophistication and coolness.

As highlighted earlier, the rattling of the bracelet, the questionable choice of movement and the poor illumination for the dial are areas for possible improvement. Some may argue these issues are acceptable to justify the low price point for this watch. However, I disagree. As a brand, even if the product has been targeted for the lower end market, it does not give a justification to relax on quality. With the market size that is the Seiko Group, the company has the resources to do the necessary R&D to experiment on the best process for the least amount of time, effort and cost.

I truly appreciate Seiko for bringing back iconic designs of old. At least it shows Seiko is listening to its loyal fans. My personal request would be a reissue of the automatic chronograph bullhead!

Overall, I am very satisfied with this watch despite some shortcomings.

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