Monday, November 14, 2016

Seiko Presage SSA303J1 (similar models SSA305J1, SSA306J1, SSA308J1 and SSA309J1) – Reliable, Durable & Sophisticated, A Review (plus Video)

The Presage line by Seiko is one of the few subsets of Seiko that has not gotten the same global adulation like the Grand Seiko, Prospex and Seiko 5 families. This was due to the fact that Presage was reserved for the Japanese domestic market. However, this unfortunate situation has been reversed with the sub-brand now being made available to the global market as well.

The Presage line carries only mechanical powered watches. The design is more towards formal wear with a tinge of sportiness. From a price point of view, it is placed between the Premier and the Prospex lines. Some of the manufacturing technologies, materials as well as high-end mechanical movements that are hallmarks of the Grand Seiko and Credor lines can sometime be found in the Presage line while maintaining the price window. Items such as enamelling and polishing techniques, use of Sapphire crystals as well as derivatives of the best mechanical movements can be found in some models of Presage. This makes the Presage one of the most value-for-money timepieces to get if you want to collect some of the technologies and materials used by Seiko in their higher-end lines. The “J” code on the model reference for this watch is indicative of the manufacturing origin which is in Japan.

This will be my second Presage timepiece. My first was the SARX019 which incorporated the enamel dial. The reason I chose the SSA303J1 as my second piece from this line was due to the 4R57 movement. This movement has a power reserve complication that shares the same central axis as the other three hands on the watch. This is a first I have seen on a recent Seiko watch. I will comment more about this movement later in the write-up.

The SSA303J1 has a contemporary design with a push-in crown at the 3 o’clock position. It is 42 mm wide across while its lug-to-lug length is approximately 50 mm. It is a rather thick watch with a height of 14 mm at the centre while the lug width is 22 mm wide. The watch is made out of brushed and polished stainless steel and comes standard with a bracelet made out of the same material. The clasp is the simpler yet more elegant push button safety version seen on Seiko formal watches. The dial is protected by a flat sapphire crystal while the display case-back is made out of Hardlex.

It is hard to classify the genre that the Seiko Presage SSA303J1 is supposed to represent. The dimensions would make it a strong candidate as a sports watch. However, the dial and the overall design are more formal with some vintage elements incorporated in the shapes of the main hands. To me, the SSA303J1 is a ‘handsome’ watch with ‘gentleman’ feel to it. Similar to the Rolex Explorer, it is tough but at the same time subtle enough to blend itself in a formal setting.

The Seiko Presage SSA303J1 has two complications; the power reserve and the date indicators. For the latter, instead of a date wheel behind an aperture, Seiko decided to use a sub-dial with a small hand located at mid-point on the lower half of the dial. As for the former, instead of a partial sub-dial, Seiko decided to incorporate the power reserve hand on the central axis itself.

With the dial painted in white, the applied and faceted hour markers on the surface are polished and do not have any luminescence paint. They are simple obelisk style in shape where the 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock markers are double obelisks (rest are single obelisk). On the sloping chapter ring, another set of scale, this time representing right down to 1/5th of a minute is provided. Blued hands representing the hours, minutes and seconds track the markers.

The power reserve scale is represented by another unique scale starting from the 11 o’clock position right up and past the 4 o’clock position. It tracks the power in the springs from empty (E) right up to 40 hours. Interestingly, the location for the “E” is not at the start of the power reserve scale. The power reserve hand which is traditional in design and black with a small area in the center painted white seems to point way pass the “E” position when the spring power is completely exhausted. I suspect the main spring, when is totally unwound, behaves rather strangely that caused the hand to have a wide play. Instead of limiting the movement to stop at “E”, it would be better to allow it to move freely. Limiting the travel may affect the spring’s flexibility. On the inner part of the power reserve scale are the words “POWER RESERVE”.

Halfway on the second half of the dial is the date sub-dial. The small hands are blued and points to the numbers 1 to 31 (representing the dates of the month) around a circular track. Personally, I would have preferred the traditional date window approach for this watch. The sub-dial style takes such a huge amount of space on the dial which should have been kept clean.

There are only three lines of text (excluding the label for the power reserve) on the dial. The first two, the brand as well as the word “Automatic” is cursive font are located on the top half of the dial. The third line of text is located at the edge of the dial at the bottom which consists of the manufacturing code as well as the “MADE IN JAPAN” stamp.

The watch is protected by a flat piece of sapphire crystal. There is an AR protective film on the inside surface of the glass. The sapphire crystal juts out very slightly above the fixed bezel. Meanwhile, the crown has a deeply cut “S” on the top surface.

The lugs on the watch are rather short and curved downwards. This design makes the watch wearable even to people that do not find watches above 40 mm comfortable to wear. It actually helps the watch sit snugly on the wrist without the usual flaring or overhang situation one would find with large watches. On another note, there are no pass-through holes on the lugs to facilitate quick bracelet or strap replacement.

The bracelet is 22 mm at the lugs and tapers down to 20 mm at the clasp. It has a typical three link construction with the reference code ‘MOVJ.B.C 213’. The links are connected using the standard pin-and-collar system. No half-links provided to facilitate better sizing apart from two micro-adjustment points provided on the clasp. The brand is prominently stamped on the surface of the clasp. My only comment on this was the use of stamp sheet metal for the bridge for the two halves of the bracelet. I would have preferred a more solid construction of the bridge to maintain the overall sophisticated styling of the SSA303J1.

The Seiko Presage SSA303J1’s movement can be seen via the display screw-down case-back. The caliber 4R57 is the newest member of the 4Rxx series. It comprises of 29 jewels and operates at 21,600BPH or 3 hertz. The main spring is capable of retaining 41 hours of power reserve. This new caliber is Seiko’s first ever with a center power reserve indicator and was launched in early 2016. The rotor is gold plated which makes it visually appealing to a lot of people. Some basic information about the watch is stamped around the Hardlex glass. The water rating of the watch is also indicated which is 10 ATM or 100 meters. The movement also has some magnetic resistance capability to a limit of 4,800 A/m or 60 Gauss.

The Reveal

I bought the watch at a branch of Style Watch, one of the many ADs for Seiko in Malaysia. The MSRP was RM2,363.80 (with 6% GST) but I was able to have it for RM1,800.00.

The watch box comes in two parts. The outer piece is a square white packaging box with only the brand printed on the top in silver. Taking of the top will reveal the main watch box which is much smaller and requires a small piece of Styrofoam backing to keep it from moving about. On the top of the inner box is also the brand printed in silver.

The main watch box is hinged at the back and opens up to reveal the watch resting on a large black pillow. Below the pillow is where the manual and guarantee documents are kept. Below is the manual for reference.

The Wearing Experience

I have to call the SSA303J1 a formal watch. For some of you that argue that it’s too thick to be formal, we just need to refer to the Seiko Ananta series to see how design overrides dimensions. For example, the Seiko Ananta Retrograde is thick but looks really elegant with formal attire.

The 42 mm watch feels solid over my 7 inch diameter wrist. Despite the thickness of the case at 14 mm, the short and curved lugs wrap itself on the wrist thereby making the watch feel seated. Once on the wrist, the dimensions appear irrelevant as the SSA303J1 feels like second nature to your skin.

My only grouses are just three things. The first is the use of the sub-dial for the date complication. I believe this style of representing the date takes too much real estate on the dial. This diminishes the simplicity of the dial in my opinion. The second is the lack of half-links and a bare minimal number of micro-adjustment points (just 2) on the clasp. A good formal watch that uses a bracelet must be flexible enough to be able to resize perfectly (or as close to perfect). The third is the use of stamp sheet metal for the bridge for the two halves of the bracelet. This choice seems to cheapen the watch somewhat.

I love the inclusion of a power reserve indicator for this SSA303J1. Generally, for Seiko, power reserve indicators are reserved only for their high-end movements unlike its sister brand Orient. Having the power reserve hand attached to the central axis column is another unique feature that gives it a good symmetry. As this complication has been incorporated into a 4Rxx movement series, I believe we would likely see more models with power reserve indicator as standard in the near future.

There are four other models under this series which you can choose apart from the SSA303J1. The others are tabulated below.

SSA309J1 (Limited Edition)

Below is a short video of the watch on my wrist.

Overall, I am pleased with this acquisition. The price point makes it a real value-for-money. The precision of reliability of the Seiko brand is clearly reflected in the Seiko Presage SSA303J1 watch. In the promotional press release by Seiko, it was quoted; “Long-lasting beauty and long-lasting performance express the deep desires of Japanese culture and are therefore at the heart of Japanese craftsmanship. Both in design and manufacturing values, Presage belongs firmly in this tradition and offers the very highest levels of reliability and durability over time. Each Presage watch is built to last for generations.” I truly agree with this statement.

Photo Gallery

SSA303J1 SSA303J1 SSA303J1

1 comment:

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