Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Seiko Prospex Blue Lagoon Samurai SRPB09K1 Limited Edition – Its simplicity is its strength, A Review (plus Video)

Seiko has re-crafted another of its iconic designs of yesteryear – the Samurai.

The original Samurai was launched back in March 2004. However, the production run was only a few years. Within those few years, only a few dial colours either in stainless steel or titanium were offered. For reasons that still remain murky to this day, the Samurai suddenly reached cult status which caused prices at the pre-owned market to sky-rocket.

My interest in this particular model is just to complete my collection of iconic models under Seiko. When it was announced in late 2016 of a limited run of just 6,000 units will be made available to the public, I had my doubts whether I could get my hands on one. Considering the extensive fan base for Seiko watches in Asia as well as the rest of the world, plus the fact that the watch will be at a price point that is very affordable to the vast majority (MSRP is USD550 in the US or RM2,427.40 in Malaysia), it would fly out of stores as quickly as lightning.



Fortunately, lady luck favours me and one unit was allocated to my watch dealer which immediately reserved it. In Kuala Lumpur, the MSRP is set at RM1,698.

The re-crafted SRPB09K1 Samurai is made out of 316L stainless steel with Hardlex crystal over the dial. It has a contemporary diver layout, an external unidirectional bezel, screw-down crown at 3 o’clock, three hands and a date complication (at 3 o’clock). It has a diameter of 43.8 mm and a thickness of approximately 13 mm. Lug width is 22 mm. The watch is ISO 6425 compliant and has a water resistant rating of 200 meters.

So, what’s the big deal about the Samurai variant that has created such hype? I believe there are a combination of major factors such as design, supply, product placement and cost. Let me explain further.

The design is a key ingredient to its runaway success.

The way the watch casing transition from a cushion shape at the bottom half to a full circular at the top is mesmerising. The flow of the contours, from sharp edges and drastic angles at the base which then mellowed to rounded corners at the bezel is actually pleasing to the eyes. It does not matter if you are a fan of a square watch or a round watch, the Samurai will appeal to both. Also, the location of the crown (as well as date aperture) at 3 o’clock despite its size creates a level of symmetry that’s attractive to a lot of people either consciously or subconsciously (I am one of them!).

Like all Seiko sports watches, especially under the Prospex line, the specification of the Samurai is based on a tool watch that can absorb a lot of punishment. Nevertheless, the hardy specifications are packaged in a form that is not blatantly rugged but demure, sophisticated and elegant at the same time.

A short production run creates a supply situation that is not reflective of the actual demand frenzy.

As highlighted earlier the first Seiko Samurai was launched in March 2004. Apart from a couple of limited editions by various Seiko’s regional design houses (the Thailand unit issued out a limited edition Seiko Samurai SNM017), there were only five regular models under this series. The Stainless steel versions were the SNM011 and SNM009; while the titanium versions were the SBDA001, SBDA003 and SBDA005.

 
SNM011
 
SNM009


SBDA001

SBDA003

SBDA005

Note the reference system used. The difference is not only to designate the materials used but also to indicate where it was manufactured and the target market. The titanium models (with the SBDA reference) were made in Japan using the 7S25 movement and sold in the Japanese market (i.e. having a JDM designation) while the stainless steel models (with the SNM reference) are powered by the Malaysian made 7S35 movement and are cased in China for the international market. Within four year, in January 2008, Seiko ceased the Samurai production.

I don’t believe the short production run was due to a lack of demand. I suspect the slowdown in the world economy and the volatility in the financial market caused by the US sub-prime mortgage crisis in 2008 affected Seiko somewhat which forced it to cut production. The Samurai line was just an unfortunately victim of the vagaries of the global economy. Why the executives at Seiko decided to sacrifice the Samurai we can only speculate. One thing I know for sure, if production continued, sales would also continue. Just look at the secondhand prices for pre-owned Seiko Samurai as proof of market demand.

The lack of product placement is guerilla marketing at its best.

Seiko’s market strategy since it was established right up to the last decade has been to keep it minimal and let the product promote itself (in the last 10 years, a more conventional marketing strategy has been adopted by Seiko where sponsorship of sports events all over the world were made and many famous people were appointed brand ambassadors). What better way to get a product endorsement than from people that honestly got good things to say about the product. It becomes more believable.

Fan participation was encouraged. Informal nicknames were allowed to flourish hence the name “Samurai” to this series. On a side note, the genesis of the Samurai nickname has been attributed to the first photos of the series in front of a Japanese castle made by a very famous Japanese internet watch merchant, Mr Katsu-san of www.higuchi-inc.com. See set of photos below. Having these sorts of brand traction in priceless.



Value for money is the great rallying call for watch enthusiasts.

From a relative point of view, the price one pays for a typical Seiko watch is less than an equivalent Swiss example. What makes it even more palatable to consumers is Seiko’s continuous focus to offer models in every price range.

The original Samurais were going for about USD300 for the titanium models and much less for the stainless steel and rubber strap versions. It would be extremely hard to find an equivalent Swiss example at that price level. Consumers flock to Seiko due to the perceived “value-for-money”. In fact the true reflection of the demand pull by the legions of fan can be seen in the prices demanded for pre-owned Samurais which are much higher than the original MSRP.

Enough about the reminiscing about the genesis of the Seiko Samurai, let’s go straight to the in-depth review of the new Seiko Blue Lagoon Samurai SRPB09K1.

The Un-boxing

The SRPB09K1 is an unnumbered limited edition model under the Prospex line. Classified as professional tool watches, the design and manufacturing tolerances are more demanding compared to other generic classes such as the Seiko 5 Sports series. The ability to take punishment and endure extreme conditions under the sea as well as on top of ice-tip mountains has been the hallmark of the Prospex line.



To differentiate it being a Prospex model with a limited edition run, the packaging is slightly different.

The presentation comes in two parts. The outer packaging is a white cardboard rectangular box 16.0 cm by 12.5 cm by 9.5 cm. The brand “SEIKO” is printed on the top in silver. Inside this box is the main watch-box.

The main watch-box is a jet black with rubberized texture. The brand “SEIKO” is printed on the top in white. Also rectangle like the outer packaging box, it is slightly shorter in height by approximately 5 mm. This is to allow a special slot to be added to the white cardboard box to put in the manual and guarantee documents. There is also a thin light blue band that goes around the border of the top half of the black watch-box. I believe this is to provide the first visual cue of the “blue” theme of the SRPB09K1. The watch-box is hinged at the back and flipping the top open, you will see the watch resting on a black cushion in a slot also lined with a thin light blue band. On the upper part of the watch-box is the words “PROSPEX”, “LIMITED EDITION” and the Prospex logo in silver.

The Watch

Let’s be honest, the watch is big. The boldness of the original Samurais continues with this watch. From the familiar retro cushion shaped casing, this latest rendition of the Samurai includes a variety of breathtaking shades of blue across the dial and bezel. The teal blue section on the bezel is worth mentioning as the way it interacts with bright natural light is breathtaking.



For contrast, shades of yellow are added for effect around some of the markers as well as the head and tip of the seconds-hand.

The distinctive arrow shaped hours-hand usually used in the Seiko Monster line has been adopted for this new Samurai. A large proportion of the surface area on both the hours-hand and the minutes-hand are painted with the LumiBrite luminous paint. For the seconds-hand, only the arrow tip is painted with LumiBrite luminous paint.



The watch has a sloping chapter ring with a timing scale right down to a fifth of a minute. A second timing scale is located on the dial surface itself and is painted with LumiBrite. For this second scale, the hour markers on the four corners of the dial are Egyptian obelisk in design with the tip squared off. My only gripe is the truncation of the 3 o’clock marker to fit the date aperture. If would have been better to have the date aperture as a standalone and not disturb the symmetry of the dial. As it stands, the white background date aperture gives some balance to the markers.

Despite the addition of the Prospex logo on the dial (this design feature in new Prospex models have divided Seiko’s fan base considerably. Some find it rather irrelevant and disruptive to the otherwise uncluttered dial while others – yours truly included – have no issues about it. To me, ‘marking’ the watch to its designated family cluster with a symbol is no different than the famous “5” for the Seiko 5 series) there are only five lines of text and logo on the watch compared to six for the previous Samurai models.



The whole dial is protected by Hardlex crystal. Since this is a limited edition piece, Seiko could have considered sapphire crystal as a standard instead. If they did, this will complete the design and put it under the “outstanding” level.

The casing and the bracelet are very well designed. The amount of beveling and polishing incorporated into the many angles of the watch shows the higher number of manufacturing process that it has to go through that belies the price point of the watch. The many flat surfaces coupled with the brushed areas are done flawlessly. Moreover, the short lugs actually make the watch more wearable compared to a similar watch with the same dimensions. Also, the lugs have pass-through pin holes for ease of strap replacement.



The bracelet uses a pin-and-collar system to join the links together. It is easy to resize and with four micro-adjustment points on the clasp, it is easy to fit anyone’s wrist perfectly. The clasp is signed and has a double locking fold-over push-button system with diver’s extension.



I especially like the coin-like edge of the bezel, very retro. The grip is firm and the 120-click unidirectional turning system is smooth and solid, without any play. The illuminated pip is bright and the markers are properly outlined for ease of reference. I must highlight the paint job is perfect. It looks like a typical bezel with inserts when in reality is just an illusion created by the splendid painting.

Seiko made an effort to bevel and polish the crown and crown protection lugs. Then crown is unsigned but the coin-like edge along the barrel of the crown is similar to the Seiko SKZ211J1 Atlas/Shark (Click here to more).



Meanwhile, the case-back is solid and is a screw-down. It has all the necessary information stamped on it around the peripherals. In the middle is the famous tsunami logo. Underneath it is the 4R35B engine that drives the watch. The only complication is the date function. It is an automatic movement with hand wind features. It also has a second hand stop (hacking) function. The movement operates in the 21,600 bph or 6 beats per second (3 Hertz) range and has 23 jewels. Power reserve in the main springs is approximately 41 hours.

Below is a photo of LumiBrite paint in action. Despite the not-total-darkness location, the illumination shines bright.




The Wearing Experience

Despite the size, the watch is not that heavy. The short lugs makes for a snug fit on the wrist. The availability of 4 micro-adjustment links on the clasp makes it rather easy to resize the bracelet to fit the wrist perfectly.

If I was asked whether this is a casual wear watch of a beater watch, I would say the former. To me, it is slightly too big to be beater or daily watch. After wearing it for a couple of days, I realized that the ‘bulkiness’ can be a liability is a number of occasions. Don’t get me wrong, the watch is designed not having snagging-prone surfaces which make it possible to dress it with formal wear. However, first and foremost, it is designed as a profession tool watch for divers. Therefore, the required ruggedness is there which may not fit in well in some circumstance.

If you like symmetry, you will like this watch. The location of the date aperture and the crown makes it more balanced compared to the typical location of 4 o’clock used by other Seiko dive watches. The LumiBrite paint is bright and long lasting. Its simplicity is its strength.

In the series of photos (and video) below are snapshots of the watch on my wrist. You can clearly see Blue Lagoon Samurai’s ability to slip under cuffs effortlessly. The photos also clearly show how big the watch looks on the wrist. Despite having a 43.8 m width, due to shape of the cushion style casing, it looks bigger like a 46 mm on the wrist.





In conclusion, as a tool watch, the SRPB09K1 fulfill the scope that it was set up to achieve. I suspect, although not officially documented, the SRPB09K1 was designed to ride on the goodwill value generated by the Samurais of 2004 – 2008. I bet Seiko gets tons of requests for a reissue of the Samurai since the company started to re-craft iconic Seiko designs a couple of years ago. For the fans out there, this is a long time coming and the SRPB09K1 has been snapped up like hot cakes.


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