Friday, July 21, 2017

The Seiko Prospex Diver SLA017J1 or SBDX019 (homage to the 1965 Seiko 62MAS Ref. 6217-8000/1 Diver) – A Legend and an Excellent Get-And-Go Watch for any Occasions, A Review (plus Video)

I must say the Seiko Prospex Diver SLA017J1 has been one of the most, if not the most exciting release from Seiko in my opinion. As an ardent Seiko fan, the 1965 Seiko 62MAS (autoMAtic Selfdater) Ref. 6217-8000/1 Diver was the definitive Japanese dive watch to which all dive watches from Seiko (or even from other brands) owes their genesis to. To date, the Seiko 62MAS is a collector’s timepiece that has the least likelihood of being traded away once it is in a collection. As such, this vintage is very rare in the wild for collectors to hunt down. Those available are generally not in mint condition and have a lifetime of abuse heaped on them. Despite needing a lot of restoration work (a major headache not many collectors are willing to stomach), the prices of the ‘relics’ are still pretty high.

Do note that quite a number of “Seiko 62MAS” out on sale with ‘reasonable’ prices are not originals but Frankenstein models with newer movements, dials, bezels, crystals, hands, and even crowns.


To own a Seiko 62MAS is to own a legend.

When Seiko announced that it will bring out a reissue/recreation of the Seiko 62MAS, the Seiko collector world got very excited and waited impatiently to see what was being offered. Seiko Prospex Diver SLA017J1 did not disappoint the fans at all. The only complains heard were the limited numbers available and the price. I will cover more about this later in the review.

Just a side note, in Japan, the watch is designated as the SBDX019. The SLA017J1 is the reference used outside Japan.

To give a perspective of the Seiko Prospex Diver SLA017J1, it would be best to give a quick overview of the Seiko 62MAS. The Seiko 62MAS or more formally known as the Reference 6217-8000/1 uses an automatic calibre 6217A movement. It has a 37 mm case and rated with a water resistance of 150 meters. The bezel features a 60-minute insert with all the required markings, but was bidirectional.

After more than 52 years, Seiko re-engineered the SLA017J1 with such subtlety that you would have a hard time to see the difference between the old and new from just a cursory visual scan.

Seiko has kept the same shape and design for the case, bezel, crown, bezel insert, scale, font, markers, dial, hands, inscriptions, date window and case-back. Even the strap looks like the original vintage version with the diamond pattern. Other features such as pass-through holes in the lugs to facilitate strap changes are also incorporated in the new offering. Nevertheless there are some subtle changes to bring it in line with five decades of progress. The whole project was entrusted to Mr. Nobuhiro Kosugi, a recipient of the prestigious Medal with Yellow Ribbon and Contemporary Master Craftsman Award. Below is a table of differences for quick reference.

Table: A quick comparison between the original 62MAS and the reissue SLA017J1


62MAS
SLA017J1 (or SBDX019)
Dimensions
37 mm wide minus crown;
19 mm lugs
39.9 mm wide minus crown;
19 mm lugs;
14.1 mm thick;
47.9 mm lug-to-lug length
Water resistance
150 meters
200 meters
Engine caliber
6217 movement;
18,000 BPH;
32 hours power reserve;
No hand wind;
Non-hacking
8L35 movement;
28,800 BPH;
50 hours power reserve;
Hand winding;
Hacking
Crown
Push-in
Screw-down
Bezel
Bi-directional
Uni-directional
Crystal
Plexiglas
Box-shaped sapphire crystal with AR coating
Others
Rubber strap;
Standard production run from 1965 to 1968
Silicone strap and metal bracelet provided;
Anti-magnetic 4,800A/m resistance;
Metal surface protection is enhanced by a special proprietary super-hard coating (called “DiaShield”);
Special production run in 2017 of just 2,000 units (limited edition)

As highlighted in the previous paragraph, the shape remains the same, very basic with integrated lugs and sharp angles everywhere. Nevertheless, the watch is now larger from the original. The SLA017J1 is now 39.9 mm wide with a height of 14.1 mm. Lug width is 19 mm while its lug-to-lug length is 47.9 mm. The casing is made from 316L stainless steel with special “super-hard” coating to minimize scratching. Called DiaShield, this special coating was created by Seiko to protect the metal surface of their premier watches. The glass is now a sapphire box crystal instead of Plexiglas. Due to modern construction and materials, the watch is now water resistant to 200 meters instead of 150 meter on the 62MAS.



The surface of the watch casing is brushed polished. If seen from the top, you will notice a circular pattern in the brushed polishing. It helps bring focus to the dial.

The dial is a dark charcoal-grey, with sunburst effect. Like the original, you will find back the same polished and raised rectangular hour markers, with large dimensions and a lot of luminous paint (Seiko’s famous LumiBrite paint) for night illumination.

The date aperture, located at 3 o’clock is boxed in the same manner as the hour markers. The use of a white background for the date wheel does compensate somewhat the loss of the 3 o’clock illuminated hour marker. Also, the sloping of the boxed date aperture is not as gradual as the original which helps to create some form of consistency with the other hour markers.

At the peripheral of the dial are the minute markers similar to the original.

The texts on the dial have been changed slightly from the original. The brand logo is now printed instead of an applied one. Yet, overall, the dial remains close to the original with five lines of texts (two on the upper quadrant and the other three on the lower quadrant). Luckily, Seiko decided against adding the Prospex logo “X” on the dial (For watches under the Perspex line, Seiko marks them with the sub-logo “X” to denote the series).

The hands are also similar to the original. With simple baton hands with LumiBrite paint in the middle plus the rectangular lollipop-shaped seconds hand (also with LumiBrite paint), it doesn’t overwhelmed the dial as would modern dive watches that tend to use thick and brightly coloured hands.

Surrounding the dial is the bezel. I must say that Seiko designers back in the 1960s when they created the original 62MAS had the right idea of keeping the bezel width in the correct perspective to the overall dial diameter. Typical modern divers generally have a visible dial to total dial (including bezel) ratio of 70%. For the original 62MAS (and thankfully the SLA017J1), the same ratio is at 81%. This have the effect of making the watch looks much bigger and equivalent with modern dive watches that are more than 40+ mm in width.

Meanwhile, not much changes to the inserts as well as overall look of the bezel. There is a 60-minute scale in Arabic numbering (for each 10th minute) and dot markers for every minute (except for minutes just before and after the Arabic numbering due to space constraints). The only new addition is a luminous dot placed at 12 o’clock to conform to the expectation of a modern dive watch as well as the ISO6425 standards requirement. A major design change is that the bezel is now unidirectional, another mandatory requirement of the standards. The gear tooth surrounding the bezel for grip is also a close rendition of the original.

I am pleased with the paint job on the bezel. The black looks truly black. Just wished Seiko would have added either a ceramic or sapphire insert instead to make it even more breathtaking without taking much away from the original look.



The use of a box sapphire crystal increases the visibility of the dial. However, from a practical point of view, the potential of impact damage is higher if the watch is going to be used for diving or active use as the crystal is taller than the sides of the watch casing and bezel. Nevertheless, I doubt most, if not all owners of the SLA017J1 would want to put it into such a situation considering its rarity and value. I definitely would not!

With anti-reflective coating, the clarity of the dial is really sublime especially when viewed in sunlight.



The SLA017J1 comes with a large crown at the 3 o’clock position without any crown guards as per the original. This time around, the crown is a screw-down unlike the original push-down version. On top of the crown, instead of the more recent “X” symbol or the letter “S”, the word “SEIKO” is etched in full in keeping with the original 62MAS.



Meanwhile, at the back of the case, the original dolphin motif has been laser engraved in the middle of the screw-down case-back. There is also the serial number and the words, “Made in Japan” and “Air Diver’s 200m” etched on it as well. Underneath this is the Seiko in-house Caliber 8L35 which was specially designed for diver’s use and is made by Seiko’s Shizuku-ishi Watch Studio in Morioka in the North of Japan. This movement is hand-assembled and hand-adjusted with error rated to -10 to +15 seconds per day. It uses 26 jewels and has a 50 hour power reserve, running at the rate of 28,800 BPH or 4 Hertz. It has both hacking and hand-winding functions which sets it apart from the original 62MAS.



This movement is also used in other iconic Seiko divers like the Marinemaster 300 and the Emperor Tuna models. It is often compared to the 9S55 Grand Seiko movement only that it is undecorated. Although the 8L35 is a proven robust hi-end movement, I would have wished that the 8L55 Hi-Beat movement be used instead. As highlighted earlier, despite the SLA017J1 being designed as a dive watch, owners will treat it more like a dress watch due to its rarity and simplicity. Putting in a really top-notch mechanical movement from Seiko would be a nice icing on the cake considering the substantial price point the SLA017J1 is put at.



The SLA017J1 comes in a silicon rubber-style waffle strap as well as a stainless steel bracelet. Straight from the factory, the watch casing comes standard with the silicon strap while the stainless steel bracelet is kept in a dedicate slot in the watch-box. I find the silicon strap very appealing and much softer than the Seiko rubber straps. The waffle-style or diamond-patterned texture looks very 1960s to give that vintage look. The inner part of the strap has a non-slip type texture and the brand is printed at the end on the main strap. The buckle is rather simple with no markings on the outside. However, Seiko did stamped the brand on the inner part of the buckle. Interestingly, the strap guide is not silicone but metal in black (not sure if it is PVD or DLC). The brand is prominently stamped on this metal part but due to the black surface, it is understated. The total package weighs in at 110 grams.



The only issue I have with the strap is the metal strap guide. Structured to be slightly wider than the strap, it facilitates ease of sliding the strap-end in and out. Moreover, the edges are properly rounded as not to pinch skin or pull arm hairs when sliding it up and down while the watch is on the wrist. Unfortunately, the looseness also caused it to fall with a clank against the buckle when putting it on the wrist. The sound is rather irritating (see video below).



The accompanying matte finish stainless steel bracelet also has that vintage feel to it. It comes with the typical Seiko three-point safety clasp with a divers’ extension section. It is also good to note that the end-links are solid. With the bracelet, the total weigh would be slightly heavier.

 

Like the original, the SLA017J1 has a lug width of 19 mm. It would have been better if Seiko was to round it up to 20 mm so that owners can easily match it with aftermarket straps. Nevertheless, you can put on a 20 mm strap without too much trouble.

The power of the latest LumiBrite paint formula is so much better than before. This latest concoction, used on Seiko's watches for the last couple of years is said to brighter and last 60% longer than the previous version of LumiBrite. Below is a photo of the illumination. Note how bright the illumination despite it being in a partially dark room.



Couple of other tidbits about the watch worth mentioning is the magnetic resistance of the movement and casing rated at 4,800 A/m and the limited number of examples produced by Seiko.

Seiko is only going to produce 2,000 examples of this, fast becoming legend, watch. When it was announced during BaselWorld2017 earlier this year, the Seikonistas (hardcore Seiko fans) expect it to be sold out within the few weeks of its delivery i.e. by July 2017. I was made to understand only a handful has been allocated to Malaysia.

Seiko’s rationale is that the original 62MAS must retain the rarity. Seiko is concerned that the number re-crafted SLA017J1 must not exceed a number that could possible affect the scarcity of the original 62MAS. Therefore, they chose only to produce 2,000 units.

Whether or not it is the right number of units to be produced is difficult to know. What is definite is that a lot of people will be disappointed not to get one even if they can afford the price tag.

Nevertheless, Seiko fans should be happy to note that Seiko was not a total killjoy on this front. To ensure the fans can get their hands on something similar, Seiko has also release a more modern interpretation in two designs; the SBDC051 (below left) and the SBDC053 (below right). These two models are priced is at least a third of the price of the SLA017J1.





The Pricing

The price of the SLA017J1 is YEN350,000 (before GST) in Japan, EUR3,800 (excluding VAT) in Europe, USD3,400 (before taxes) in the US and RM17,470 (after GST) in Malaysia. I doubt many fans expected this level of price point for the watch. This puts it at a price point that is beyond most anything Seiko buyers are used to seeing.

The MSRP (including 6% GST) in Malaysia was RM17,490. In Japan, it is priced at YEN378,000 (including 8% GST) or RM14,345 (as at 13 July 2017). Substantial premium charged in Malaysia. This is not unique to Malaysia. Other countries too are charging premium. For example, a famous Singapore internet merchant is asking for USD3,590 or RM15,773 (as at 13 July 2017) while a famous Japanese internet merchant is asking for USD3,648 or RM16,027 (as at 13 July 2017).

Frankly, if it wasn’t that rare, I would try to order via Japan. As it stands now, I am willing to suffer the premium just to ensure that I get one.

To be brutally honest, the limited production run, the quality of movement, the materials used and a choice of bracelet or strap provided in the package does seem to justify (to some extent) the price tag. We tend to forget and assumed that Seiko offers only cheap watches. As a brand they offer much more. They also have premium watches that can compete with the best global brands. The SLA017J1 is definitely a watch under this premium category. When comparing just the specifications of the watch, the price asked is either equivalent or slightly less than a similar designed watch from Europe. I know that my opinion on this may not sit well with a lot of you as it can be argued that I am biased due to my ownership of the SLA017J1. I guess the best indicator will have to be the market. Only time will tell (pun intended).

Recommendations for Improvement

Having said all that, there are a number of suggestions I would like to give to perhaps make the SLA017J1 even more prestigious.

As mentioned earlier, substituting the Caliber 8L35 movement with Seiko’s Hi-Beat Caliber 8L55 would be start. Seiko had recently incorporated this particular Hi-Beat movement in a Prospex diving watch before (see: my SBEX001). This change will really elevate the SLA017J1 to an even higher level among Seikonistas.

Use titanium instead of stainless steel as the base material for the watch. Seiko has created special titanium allows for their high-end watches especially under the Grand Seiko line. Using such a material instead of stainless steel would make the SLA017J1 more durable especially if it is used as intended since seawater have minimal impact on titanium.


Supply a strap replacement tool with the package. Seiko, if you give an option of either a strap or bracelet as part of the standard package, a strap replacement tool should also be provided. This would make it complete in my view.
 
Finally, provide a third strap in the package. The third strap is more for formal wear and should be leather with a signed deployant clasp. Let’s face it; owners of this watch will treat it like a formal timepiece anyway. So why not give any additional option of something very classy?


The Wearing Experience

The following comments are based using the silicone strap. I did not have the change to make a change to the bracelet for the experience this time around.

I have been wearing it for the last few days and I now can appreciate why a lot of seasoned watch collectors value watches in the 40 mm and below range. The size is just nice to be non-intrusive to all manner of things such as clothes as well as situations.



Despite the straight lugs, the relatively small sized watch casing compensates against the possibility of any wrist overhang. The silicone strap is supple and non-sticky. The special designed surface pattern on the underside of the strap is grippy enough to make the watch stay put even if you wear it rather loosely on the wrist.



Earlier I made this statement, “The buckle is rather simple with no markings on the outside”. Although I didn’t expand it further but at the point of writing that, internally, I was torn either for or against such simplicity. I could not make up my mind. However, after wearing the watch for a few days, I realized why Seiko did what they did. Like the rest of the watch, Seiko wanted to keep to the original and in the original 62MAS, the buckle was unsigned. The simple buckle also eliminates the introduction of another focal point on the watch, thereby redirecting fully the focus of viewer back to the watch casing. Ingenious.



The thread on the crown matches nicely with the opposing screw head on the watch casing making the screw-down process rather smooth. I have owned many watches with screw-down crowns and often I find Seiko’s to operate not as smooth as Swiss made watches (i.e. need to try a few times before the threads lined up to make a good connection). This is definitely a major improvement on the SLA017J1. I suspect Seiko has reduced the screw twist, making it wider between the ridges. This makes it much easier for the two sections to come together.

The bezel has a 120-click ratcheting system for a full rotation. The clicking sound is audible and the movement is precise. The gear edge is thin by modern standards but there is no issue of losing one’s grip on it.



The boxed sapphire crystal is the star of the show. This single piece of design change (not on the original 62MAS) is the most radical yet least obvious of all the changes under the revamped SLA017J1. As one look at the dial and change the angle of view, the crystal creates a different visual experience as light gets refracted through the curves of the sapphire. To me, this sort of compensates the high price put on this watch.

The watch is comfortable to wear. For someone that often wears heavy watches, sometimes I can’t tell whether I got it on the wrist or not. Even to those that don’t often wear heavy watches, it is quite comfortable for long periods on the wrist. I have been testing this hypothesis for the last two days by wearing it to bed as well as showers i.e. approximately 48 hours on the wrist. The only time I got it off my wrist (for just a minute or two) is to dry the strap and case-back after stepping out of the shower. Did not feel any discomfort at all throughout the testing period.

As highlighted in the earlier sections, the strap guide does require some re-thinking and re-designing. For such a high value watch, the ‘clinking’ sound the metal strap guide made as it hits the buckle should not happen. Thankfully, the metal strap guide could not travel the other way and hit the watch casing as well. This seems to imply that there is a slight tapering from the lugs to the end of the strap. Based on the measurement of a simple ruler, it would appear the strap tapers from 19 mm at the lugs to approximately 17.5 mm at the buckle end.

Below is a video of the watch on my wrist.




Conclusion

Overall, the simplicity of design and the minimal functionality makes the SLA071J1 an excellent get-and-go watch for any occasions. No major suggestion of any design improvement apart from a few incremental changes to enhance the SLA017J1’s already formidable specifications.



The Reveal

I got the watch from one of Thong Sia’s local dealers in Kuala Lumpur. My dealer was rather apologetic about the pricing issue. He was nice enough to give me a good discount such that I needed to only pay XXXX for it. He was also able to get me a rather nice number, #911 out of 2000.



The watch-box comes in two pieces. The outer piece is a, larger than usual, white rectangular box made out of cardboard. The brand, painted in gold, is located at the top part. In this box, you will find the main watch-box as well as storage wells for the manual and guarantee documents.



The main watch-box has cushioned surface in dark blue. Like the outer piece, the brand is also painted in gold and located at the top part. The box is hinged at the back and opens upwards revealing two slots, one with the watch and the other with the replacement bracelet. I wish they also provide a strap replacement tool for completeness.



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