Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Seiko 5 Sports "Fifty Five Fathoms" SNZH53J1 - The Perfect Beater Watch, A Review (plus Video)

My hunt for iconic watches continues.

People used to say, “Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery”. However, in the business world, it is shunned as it carries some negative implication to branding. The SNZH53J1 is one such product from Seiko that could fall into this trap but did not. This is its story….

Arguably, Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms is the first dedicated diving watch. It was designed to cater for the needs of the French military. First released in 1953, it preceded the famed Rolex Submariner by a few months. The various specifications were not unique on their own but collectively, have never been aggregated into one package. The requirements such as unidirectional rotating bezel to calculate diving time, bold large markers for easy of reading, illumination on the markers for underwater and low light condition usage, water resistant up to fifty fathoms (or 91 meters/100 yards), automatic movement and anti-magnetic frame to protect watch from disturbance with military equipment makes the Fifty Fathoms the first progeny of a new watch genre.

Seiko’s foray into the dive watch genre started in 1965 when the first of many legendary Prospex professional dive watches were born. However, unlike most of its Western contemporaries, Seiko does not offer the genre to just one section of the market (generally, the affluent segment). It also offers affordable dive watches for the rest of the population. Under the Seiko 5 Sports series, over the years, Seiko was able to build a legion of fans that many watch brands envy.

One of the more interesting sub-series under the Seiko 5 Sports line is the SNZH5x family. This sub-series comes in a family of six watches that are identical except for their colour of their dial and metal surfaces. What makes this particular line interesting is that it has some distinct physical characteristics in common with Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms. Those with some skills in modifying watches use the various variants under the SNZH5x line to create a realistic yet unique interpretation of Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms. Due to it being used as the base watch for the modification, the SNZH5x family has been nicknamed as the Seiko “Fifty-Five Fathoms” model. Introduced back in 2010, it has become an icon on its own right. Top (L to R); SNZH51, SNZH53, SNZH55; Bottom (L to R); SNZH57, SNZH59, SNZH60.

Out for the six in the family, I am drawn to the SNZH53. The blue on the dial as well as the bezel is so mesmerizing. I was able to get a new piece that is the Made-in-Japan version, the SNZH53J1 via eBay.com for USD165.00 or RM735.95. The other version is the SNZH53K1 which is made somewhere in Asia. The only difference between the two: SNZH53J1 has "Made in Japan" written on the dial and Arabic as the second language on the day disk; SNZH53K1 has Spanish as the second language for the day disk. Quality should be the same as both models are made from Seiko’s factories having the same quality controls.

The SNZH53J1 is a 41 mm wide (excluding crown) stainless steel body and bracelet. It is polished around the sides of the watch and lightly brushed over the top of the lugs. Seiko took the effort to round out the edges of the casing which makes it feel more luxurious than its actual price point. Its height of 13 mm is actually not excessive considering it has a domed crystal as well as a unidirectional bezel. Coupled with a bracelet that fits into the 22 mm lug width, the whole package looks solid. Size-wise, it is within the sweet spot for the average sized person on the street.

The SNZH53J1’s dial and bezel are the two most distinctive and iconic. The brilliance of the deep sunburst blue on the dial as well as on the bezel makes this watch feels like royalty. The use of a dome Hardlex crystal as well as Hardlex inserts for the bezel makes this watch shine like a jewel. At different angles, the reflection shifts to offer a visual sight that one seldom gets with most typical watches.

The dial of the SNZH53J1 is basic and easy to read. As highlighted earlier, the sunburst dial design is visually attractive. There is only one time scale at the edge with line markers for every minute except for the hour markers. At every quarter hour, except for 3 o’clock where there is a the day and date aperture, there is a large beveled metal insert with a slightly tapered shape and at every five minutes there is a smaller beveled metal insert. At the end of each hour markers is a dot of luminous LumiBrite paint (a proprietary luminous paint by Seiko).

The three hands are simple flared Roman sword design with the insides painted with luminous LumiBrite paint. As for the seconds hand, only the triangular tip is painted with LumiBrite.

The date and day aperture have curved edges in polished steel. It transition onto a white slope before reaching the date and date wheels. The SNZH53J1 has a day wheel with English and Arabic. Both the day and date wheels have white backgrounds.

There are seven lines of logo and texts in various fonts and sizes on the dial. Three are located on the upper quadrant and the other four are located on the lower quadrant. It is important to note that one of the text helps segregate it from other typical Seiko 5s. It is the word “SPORTS”. The “SPORTS” classification identifies it as the top range of the Seiko 5s. In fact, this is the only range in the Seiko 5 universe that Seiko make an effort to create a website on (http://www.seikowatches.com/5sports/).
Since this watch has the “J1” prefix, the small print around the edge of the dial has the “MADE IN JAPAN” on it.

All these combination creates a three dimensional and polished look that does not justify the asking price for this watch. It is truly very attractive and gives the face a surprising amount of decoration.

There is a sloping chapter ring at the edge of the dial which is polished to a mirror image. At the top is where the domed Hardlex crystal sits (the Hardlex crystal is Seiko’s proprietary crystal that is touted to have a high resistance to impact). The crystal measures 28.9 mm in diameter. Just before reaching the edge of the crystal, it bevels down sharply. This gives another sharp surface for light to interact and explains how Seiko’s designers were able to create a visual masterpiece. Even without this added feature, the dome crystal is always a delightful addition to any watch.

The SNZH53J1 features a 120-click unidirectional bezel. Unlike most dive watch bezel, its bezel has deep blue Hardlex crystal inserts with silvery grey markings. The markings are marked every 10 minutes with Arabic numerals with rectangle markers in between them. At 12 o’clock is the customary triangle marker. Using glass as the surface material for bezel is unusual but it is a very clean design and adds to the exquisiteness of the watch. The tooth-like edge of the bezel has sufficient surface to facilitate grip. Unfortunately, since Seiko decided against putting a luminous marker on the 12 o’clock position of the bezel, the watch does not conform to the ISO 6425 standard for dive watches.

The crown on the SNZH53J1 is located at 3 o’clock. It is a simple push-down crown with two positions for adjusting the time, date and day. Pulling the crown out on the first position adjusts the day and date (clockwise for one and counterclockwise for the other). Pulling the crown out to the second position adjusts the hands. Unfortunately, there is no manual winding capability for this watch as well as the ability to stop the seconds hand when adjusting the time.

The SNZH53J1 comes with a display case-back. Protected by Hardlex crystal, you can see the 7S36 movement, Seiko’s famous watch movement workhorse for their general watches. This movement is non-hacking and non-manual winding. The movement has 23 jewels and vibrates at 21,600 BPH or 6 beats per second (3 Hertz). It also has a 41 hours power reserve. The movement keeps acceptable accuracy, around -25 ~ +35 second per day.

The design of the watch casing, even with a push-down crown has been rated to water rating of 10 ATM or 100 meters. It is quite impressive for a relatively inexpensive watch. Honestly, I won’t dare take it for a swim despite the guarantee by Seiko.

The standard metal bracelet that comes with the watch is acceptable for the price paid. Resizing is easier as the pin for each link now uses simple friction to lock them together instead of the traditional pin-and-collar system. The clasp has the common Seiko safety feature that comes with flap lock on top of the stud lock. Unfortunately, there is no diver extension provided. Nevertheless, there are four micro-adjustment points located on the clasp to create the perfect fit.

Wearing Experience

The watch has a nice sweet spot in terms of its dimensions. In fact, a lot of people will also find this watch extremely comfortable to wear in all occasions.

A number of reviewers have commented about the "poor" quality of the bracelet. However, I believe the comments are unwarranted as the views were based on unfair comparisons. We must acknowledge the price point to which Seiko was designing this watch for. In that price bucket, the existing bracelet is more than adequate.

Since the likelihood of owners swapping the original bracelet with aftermarket options, I would recommend Seiko to redesign the lugs to include pass-through holes to facilitate easier strap changes.

Personally, I truly enjoy wearing the watch. When sunlight hits the watch face and dome crystal, the refracted and reflected light rays, mixed with the brilliant blue creates a grand visual show. I am really glad that I finally got the chance to get one. Below is a video of the watch on my wrist.

Fifty Five Fathoms (FFF) Modifications

This series is the base used for the FFF modification. Some specialists can really do a good job at making it look and feel like a Blancpain's Fifty Fathoms.

For the record, I am against any modification. My collection philosophy is always to keep it stock i.e. the watch must look the same when it first offered by the brand. Even a simple swapping of straps is not something that I would do for my watch.

Confession: I got the sudden urge to get this watch because I wanted to know how easy it was to accessorise. I was all set to get a few leather and canvas straps for a mix-and-match with this watch. However, when I got the watch, my watch collection philosophy discipline kicks in and the urge to experiment disappeared.

Another icon by Seiko. Not a lot of people know about this series but when they do, they may want one.

Photo Gallery


  1. Thanks for sharing your article. I really appreciate your efforts for luxury watches and I will be waiting for your further write ups thanks once again. buy luxury watches in india.

  2. Great blog!!
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  3. What a misleading title! not a "Fifty Five Fathoms" watch anywhere to be seen?


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