Saturday, May 5, 2018

Seiko Prospex Watch Landmaster 25th Anniversary Limited Titanium Model SBEJ003 (similar to SBEJ001) - Design flaw & QC issues, A Review (plus Video)

For 2018, Seiko announced a release of a new model under the Landmaster icon, part of the Prospex series of watches. It was announced to the market just prior to Baselworld 2018. The release consists of two models, the SBEJ001 and SBEJ003. The former is the standard production model and the latter is a limited edition piece of just 500 examples. Both watches were designed to celebrate the silver jubilee or 25th anniversary of the first Landmaster.

The original Landmaster issued in 1993. It was first conceived by the legendary Seiko designer; Mr. Ikuo Tokunaga. That watch, the SBBW005 uses the AGS system (Caliber 5M23), a precursor of the Kinetic system (this system essentially converts kinetic movement into electrical energy). It had 3 days of power reserve with Day and Date as well as a power reserve indicator that doubles up as the seconds hand. Its uniqueness is having a set of emergency signal codes printed on the inner chapter ring. Apart from the compass bezel, the crown is located at the typical 3 o'clock position and a pusher at 2 o'clock to control the power reserve indicator. However, this iteration only lasted for a year before a new Landmaster, the SBCW001 was issued in 1994 that also included an additional GMT hand but minus the day function.




 
SBBW005(1993)
SBCW001(1994)


Although the Landmaster series survives today, the look has radically changed from when it was first conceived.

Seiko announced the release date to be 20 April, 2018. I was happy to note that SeiyaJapan was allocated a few examples of the limited edition SBEJ003. This Made In Japan timepiece has an MSRP of YEN200,000 (excluding tax; YEN218,000 with tax). SeiyaJapan priced it USD1,598 or RM6,367.22 which I duly paid. As the courier was via EMS, it was stopped by Malaysian customs. I needed to pay an additional RM401.10 for the local GST duty.

The SBEJ003 is a limited edition piece of just 500 examples under the Prospex line and part of the Landmaster series of watches. Made out of titanium with super-hard coating material or Comfortex – also known as DiaShield - (the product name of the special protective covering over the titanium surface that is proprietary to Seiko), the watch is deceptively light, just 170 grams despite its dimensions.

Size wise, the SBEJ003 is a substantial tool watch. It is 46.8 mm in diameter and its lug-to-lug length is 51.9 mm. True to its roots as a professional sports watch, it is also thick with a depth of 15.9 mm. The lug width is 24.0 mm.

Main complications provided with the watch are the sub-dial date indicator, the GMT hand, power reserve indicator, the compass bezel, crown located at 12 o’clock and a divers’ extension system that is incorporated in the clasp.

Unlike most of its predecessors, this Landmaster is powered by an automatic movement. In fact, the Caliber 6R64 is the latest 6R caliber to go into production.

The Watch

What luck! I was given watch number 456 out of 500. Although I am not into numerology, the number combination is nice.

The Dial

At first glance the watch dial looks busy. With 6 different sized hands, sub-dials and scales, there are a lot of information available to the user.



The dial has a black background that makes referencing clear and easy. It has a sloping chapter ring that has the first set of scales; the GMT hour scale in a combination of Arabic numbering and markers.

On the surface of the dial the main hour markers in the form of cut pieces. These have the effect of creating the feeling of depth to the dial. For the 12 o'clock position, the marker is shaped like a pyramid with the top levelled. The shape is framed by a thick border with a triangle kink at the bottom. Within the frame, a generous amount of LumiBrite luminous paint is added. This has the effect of generating a 'pointer' when the paint is activated. For the 9 o'clock and 6 o'clock positions, a similar shaped marker albeit thinner is used. For the 3 o'clock position, the marker has been slightly truncated for the date sub-dial. Meanwhile, the other positions are allocated rectangle markers instead. All the markers have LumiBrite paint.

Between the main hour markers, there are minutes and sub-minutes line markers. Due to the large and multi shaped hour markers, the minute and sub-minute markers are rather inconsistent in its appearance due to space constraints. Personally, I would be satisfied with just the minute markers.

A date sub-dial is located near the 3 o'clock position. The scale is a combination of Arabic numerals and line markers. Although not complicated to refer to, I would have preferred a small date aperture instead. To me, a date should be presented by a digital counter instead of reading it off a scale. This can help reduce the 'busy' look of the dial tremendously.

The power reserve indicator is by far my favourite complication on a watch. For the SBEJ003 it is located just beyond 6 o'clock. The hand moves in a counter clockwise direction in a 120 degree arc. The scale is simple from 0 hours (empty) to 45 hours (full). To me, this function allows me to visually see the available energy in a mechanical watch without the need to second guess. Many times have I misjudged the energy level of my mechanical watches that when I really need to use them, they already stopped functioning. With the power reserve indicator, I can see and plan when the good time to manually wind the watch.

There are six lines of texts and logo on the dial. The brand and Prosper logo is located on the upper quadrant. The brand is golden in colour unlike the white of the standard SBEJ001. The next set of texts is located on the left of the dial. The words "AUTOMATIC" and "20 BAR" in white while the word "GMT" in gold. The last line of text is in micro size format and located at the peripheral of the dial near the bottom that states the Made in Japan origin of the watch, its movement as well as some manufacturing codes. In my view, Seiko has overdone it on this front. To me, the more important message to put on the dial is the fact that it is a "LIMITED EDITION" and the watch is a "LANDMASTER" (I wonder why these were not considered important enough for the dial. In the last Landmaster iteration - SBDB005 - the term "LANDMASTER" was added). As it is now, the 'many' lines of texts contributes to the 'busy' look of the dial.

Apart from the sub-dial hands (including the power reserve), all the other hands are of different designs. The sub-dial hands are just thin rapier-like and painted with normal white paint. The hours hand is the thickest of all the hands and is semi-skeletonised. The large arrow head is framed and filled with LumiBrite.

The minutes hand is shaped like a long sword. It is also framed and within it is filled with LumiBrite. The seconds hand is the longest hand with a balanced circular disk at its end. The primary section is painted white while the balancing section is painted black. The centre of the circular disk is painted with LumiBrite.

The fourth hand is the GMT hand. It is a skeletonised wedge-like shaped hand painted gold with the first half of the tip painted with LumiBrite.

The choice of hands design appears eclectic with no obvious reasoning behind them. Some may find this strange but to me, it makes the referencing much quicker. The likelihood you mistaken one hand from another is close to impossible.

Protecting the dial is a flat sapphire crystal with super-clear coating on both surfaces. This makes the dial very clear with minimal light distortions. I totally approve the use of sapphire for this watch. It makes it feel more luxurious although I would admit a part of me thinks it goes against the Prospex tool watch DNA. Tradition would state that the watch should be protected by Hardlex crystal since the likelihood of the watch suffering damage is high and Hardlex is durable and also cheap to replace. Try replacing the sapphire crystal often - the replacement costs will serious dent your wallet. However, Seiko realised that many of its fans are desk divers (like yours truly) and any good high-end material used will be appreciated.

The Crown

I fell in love with this watch due to the 'unicorn' crown. I adore watches with crown (and pushers) located North of the dial. The crown on the SBEJ003 looks regal and makes the watch feel symmetrical.



The screw-down crown is big. It has a diameter of 7.0 mm and a length of 5.0 mm. The sides have gear tooth edge with a clean line cut around the middle of the cylinder. The whole crown sits on a plateau lower than the lug ends. This provides a measure of protection against impacts.

Like most 'unicorns', it is rather difficult to manipulate the crown when the watch is still on the wrist. To do any adjustments with the crown, it would be best to take the watch off the wrist.

I also noticed a design flaw. In the picture below, you can see that the crown hits the side of the first link when the bracelet is flipped upwards (you can see a slight impact mark on the surface). I am very surprised that the designers didn’t anticipate this problem at the design stage. I suspect the crown may not be as per the original design. Just shortening the barrel of the crown by 1.0 mm will be sufficient to clear any possible impact with the link. This is definitely poor quality control.



The Bezel

The bottle cap shaped black PVD coated bi-directional bezel is smooth when you turn in either direction. Instead of using a ratchet system, a friction based arrangement is used instead. On the top surface are the line markers as well as alphanumeric symbols that shows the various direction of the compass. To be able to use this function, please refer to the graphic instruction diagram below.



The Watch Casing

The watch casing has angled polished surfaces. The surface is protected by a special concoction called Comfortex (sometimes called DiaShield). It provided an exceeding high degree of scratch resistance to the titanium surface.

Due to the ‘unicorn’ crown position, the end-links are different. As you can see from the photo, the North end-link has a straight end whereas the South end-link has a curved end.

The 24.0 mm wide lugs are substantial. However, it is highly angled towards the wrist. This makes the watch ‘hug’ the wrist properly thereby ensuring a snug fit.

Replacing the bracelet with an after-market strap may not be a good idea. Since the South end-link is a large piece (to fill in the huge lug well), a gap will be very obvious from the edge of the watch casing to the point where the lug bars connect. Nevertheless, like any good professional tool watch, the lugs are drilled through for ease of disengaging the lug bars.

One small after-effect of having the ‘unicorn’ crown arrangement is that both sides of the watch looks the same.

9 o'clock view
3 o'clock view


The Case-Back

The screw-down case-back is solid and etched with a number of interesting information. Visually, it would appear that the case-back consist of two pieces; a brushed other piece and a polish central piece that is slightly elevated. In actual fact, the whole case-back is one piece and via CNC machining, that effect was created.



On the polished central surface, information about the watch can be found such as the “LIMITED EDITION”, the special serial number; “456/500” as well as other pertinent information such as the water rating, material used etc.

On the brushed outer surface, Seiko decided to incorporate a GMT world timer scale. I would have liked it if Seiko put in some ground based signalling standard or even Morse Code instead (similar to what Seiko did before with the previous Landmasters). This would make the watch stand out amongst its peers.

It is also interesting to note that the edge of the case-back does not only have the square slots for the standard case-back opener to latch on but also long slots as well. I am not familiar with the long slots. Not sure if it is for another style of case-back opener. If anyone knows, please highlight in the comments below.

The Bracelet

The titanium bracelet has brushed surfaces. The links are attached to each other using the trusted pin and friction sleeve system. The standard bracelet can accommodate a 210.0 mm circumference wrist. It tapers from a high of 24.0 mm at the lugs to 18.0 mm at the clasp.



The Clasp

Interestingly, the SBEJ003's clasp which has the typical Seiko double-lock clasp with push button release also has a diver extender similar in design with the one found with the Marinemaster series. This is a ratcheting system imbedded within the clasp and allows minute adjustments to be made. At full draw, the system will add an additional 31.5 mm to the bracelet length.

Unextended
Fully extended
As a watch for adventurers, it is equally likely for such an adventurer to wear the watch on top of his or her protective clothing in a similar way a diver would wear it over his or her diving suit.

Meanwhile, for normal wear, the clasp has 4 micro adjustment points for more precise resizing.

The 6R64 Movement

The engine powering this watch is the 6R64 movement. This is a new caliber under the 6R family and is used for the first time on the SBEJ001/SBEJ003 series. The 6R64 is an automatic movement with manual winding mechanism and seconds hand stop function when adjusting the time. It controls six (6) hands and have the following functions; time display (hours, minutes and seconds hands), date hand, power reserve indicator and GMT (or 24-hour) hand. It operates at 28,800 BPH or 4 Hertz. The manufacturer guarantees the accuracy to within +25 ~ -15 seconds at normal temperature range (between 5°C and 35°C). The main springs is capable of delivering approximately 45 hours of constant energy to the watch. Number of jewels used is 29.

Based on the graphic provided on the case-back, the watch is a JIS-Level 1 standard for magnetic resistance. Under this standard, the watch should not be closer than 5 cm to magnetic source before it gets affected negatively by the magnetic fields.

Although the watch is not a dive watch, it has a water rating of 20 ATM or 200 meters.

Similar to high-end GMT mechanical movements, the GMT hand is the reference hour hand whereas the hours hand is the one adjusted as one travels through the various time zones. To adjust, one just need to use the crown. The crown has four positions. The first is the lock position (or screw-down position). The second is the unlock position. In this position, one can manually wind the watch by turning the crown clockwise (turning it counter-clockwise does nothing). The third position is lifting the crown up one position. This allows one to adjust the hours hand as well as the date. For every two circles of the hours hand, the date will move by one. The fourth position is lifting the crown further up by one final position. At this stage, the seconds hand will stop moving and one can adjust the rest of the time accordingly. Below is the manual as reference (the English section is just after the Japanese section starting from page 55 (or plate 14 on the screen).



The Illumination

For the SBEJ003, only one colour of the LumiBrite was used. I would have preferred it if Seiko decide to add a few more colours into the mix. Below is a comparison with my SBDB005 (see:
Seiko Prospex Landmaster Spring Drive SBDB005). Unlike the previous Landmaster I owned, the SBEJ003 is more radiant.

SBEJ003 (limited edition)
SBDB005 (standard)

The Package

SeiyaJapan packed the package thoroughly with large plastic packaging balloons to protect the cargo. In it, SeiyaJapan was thoughtful enough to also provide a signed polishing cloth as well as the 2017-2018 Seiko Catalogue.



The Seiko watch box comes in two pieces. The outer box is a square shaped cardboard box in white. The brand is printed in silver at the top surface. It opens by slipping the top cover off. Inside, you will find the main watch box as well as the instruction manual and the guarantee document.



The main watch box is grey black in colour. The brand its printed in silver on the top surface. Unlike the outer box, this box opens by a pivoting hinge at the back. Inside, you will find the watch sitting on an earth brown velvety cushion. The same earth brown colour is also used in the inside surface of the watch box.



Although the watch is made in Japan, the watch box is made in China.

The Series

Currently, this series consists of the SBEJ001 and SBEJ003. The former is the standard production model and the latter is a limited edition piece. This series was designed to celebrate the silver jubilee or 25th anniversary of the first Landmaster.


SBEJ001 (standard)
 
SBEJ003 (limited edition)

As far as I can tell, the only difference between the two is the colour of the brand, key markers and GMT hand; the special "LIMITED EDITION" engraved on the case back; as well as the serial number. Despite these differences, on Seiko's website, both have the same MSRP price of YEN200,000 (before tax).

Personally, I not too hot on the gold colour but since the price is the same, it does make sense to get the SBEJ003 instead of the SBEJ001.

The Wearing Experience

It is a light watch due to the titanium metal used. Although sizable, it is not too big to wear with normal office attire. The angled surfaces help it tuck under cuffs easily. The rather ‘busy’ dial may put off some people but it is bearable.



Below is a video of the watch on my wrist.



Conclusion

I am slightly dissatisfied with this latest Landmaster iteration. The identified design flaw and obvious quality control issue (see the section on The Crown) concerns me. I serious hope Seiko takes note of this feedback.

My other grouses are the missing "LANDMASTER" notation on the dial, the use of a date sub-dial instead of a date aperture and a lack of a mix of illumination colours.

Apart from that, I am quite happy with the general aspects of the watch. Definitely a tool watch that can perform as intended.


Photo Gallery




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