Sunday, January 25, 2015

Seiko 5 Sports 50th Anniversary SSA171J1 "Unicorn" - Unique design and a dependable workhorse, A Review

This is my first purchase for 2015. Although the 50th anniversary of the first Seiko 5 was two years ago, I always wanted to have a memento of the occasion.

Been searching high-and-low for this watch for sometime now and while searching for it on eBay, got a listing from a merchant called Zippy-Watch for USD213.46 (RM735.01). Base out of Singapore, this price is inclusive of the courier charges.

When this watch came out, it caught a number of Seiko aficionados by surprise. Characterized by its crown at the 12 o’clock position, it shares some DNA with the famous limited edition Seiko Spring Drive Spacewalk (minus the spring drive movement, chronograph mechanism, GMT complication and price).

It comes in a number of permutations relating to the colour on the casing, bracelet and dial. The particular model that I chose, the SSA171J1 has a two-tone bracelet with black dial.  Personally, I would have gone for the SSA167J1, with the black dial and clear brushed stainless steel casing and bracelet, but that particular model is all sold out.

The watch was well protected for its journey from the dealer to me. Appreciated the effort made by the seller.

The watch is made out of stainless steel for the casing with a two-tone (grey and silver-tone) stainless steel bracelet. There is a 4 mm thick fixed bezel in black and set a fraction below the scratch resistant Hardlex crystal. I am surprised that Seiko designed a 'protective' bezel which does not actually protect the crystal from glancing blow from the side. Instead of setting it a fraction below the surface of the crystal, it should have been the opposite.

The dial on the watch is black with luminous hands and index hour markers. There are three reference scales provided on the dial. The biggest is the 5 minute markers with in-house lumibrite paint. Next to it are also 5 minute Arabic markers in blue and finally minute markers around the outer rim.

All the hands on the watch (4 of them) have the luminescent paint. The minute hand has blue paint around its borders. For the second hand, the luminescent paint is at the tip. Like the other 50th Anniversary commemorative models, it has a ‘5’ numeral near the end of the second hand.

I am actually very happy to note that Seiko decided to locate the date window between the 3- and 4 o'clock marker. My note sacrificing a marker for the date window, all twelve markers will be lighted up in the dark which provide symmetry.

Unfortunately, Seiko decided to add on a 24 hour sub-dial between the 7- and 8 o’clock positions. Both markers were shortened. Honestly, I don't see why you need this particular complication on this watch.

On the dial, you are able to see some text such as the brand name, the logo, the class of watch, the type of movement, number of jewels use, the water resistant level as well as the all important "MADE IN JAPAN" notation.

This watch has a case diameter of 42.5 mm without the crown. Lug to lug length is 50 mm. The case thickness 12.5 mm. Unlike typical Seiko 5 in the Sports class, the SSA171 has a lug width of 22 mm. A good choice as it help balance the size of the casing. I also believe the choice of a wider lug is to accommodate the unicorn crown.

Although this watch has a water resistant rating of 100 meters (or 330 feet), I don't recommend you wear it for swimming.

The unique location of the crown at 12 o'clock requires a case design that is equally unique. Because of the location of the crown, the lugs at the 12 o’clock side appears to be thicker than those at the 6 o’clock position. The lugs have direct access pin holes to facilitate changing of the bracelet or strap.

The crown on the watch is a push-down version. Seiko took the effort to etch the Seiko 5 logo on the top of the crown to give it some form of exclusivity. Also note that crown side has no end link unlike the other side. The crown side is a straight end type and attaches directly to the lug.

Substituting the bracelet with a Nato or Zulu strap is possible and I suspect would make the watch look very rugged. 

The watch comes with a see-through caseback showing the movement. There is a Seiko 5 50th Anniversary logo printed on the caseback crystal.

This model is powered by the 4R37A movement. It is modified from the 4R36 that has a 24 hour sub-dial and date window. Operating with 24 jewels, this automatic movement has hand winding and hacking capabilities. It beats at 21,600 beats per hour and has a power reserve of 40 hours.

In promotional brochures, it states that the center links on the bracelet is black. However, in reality and after close inspection, I would think it is more of a gun metal grey color instead of black. Although the color was not put on using the DLC method (but Seiko's proprietary ion coating technique), the color should be able to withstand normal wear and tear.

The choice of a 22 mm wide bracelet instead of the typical 20 mm for a Seiko 5 Sports model is a correct choice for this watch. Visually, it helps balance the thicker casing admirably.

Seiko uses the standard fold over deployment clasp.

The thicker top half of the watch does not allow it to sit flat on the wrist. Instead, the face is tilted towards the wearer. From a design point of view, this tilt actually helps wearers to view the dial at a more decent angle without needing to twist their wrist as much. I actually appreciate this subtle advantage.

The watch is comfortable to wear and seats nicely on the wrist. You cannot find fault with the manufacturing quality at this price point. A very dependable workhorse.

My only critical comment is the use of the 24 hours sub-dial. For me, the only purpose of this complication is so that I can adjust the date properly. If I work as an underground miner, I suspect I may need this to know whether it is night or day but what else do you need it for? As a suggestion, replacing it with a power reserve indicator or a GMT would be more useful.

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