This year we’ve got two new additions to the Seiko family of entry and mid-level diver’s watches. These are the new-to-the-Prospex line, cushion-cased-shaped dive watches, which for the U.S. market, currently consists of two references: SRP775 (with bracelet) and SRP777 (on a silicon rubber strap). Seiko’s entry level dive watches have probably been the first automatic mechanical watch for more future watch enthusiasts than any other type of watch (except possibly the Seiko 5) and with good reason: they represent a combination of honesty, practicality, durability, and history that, along with a price that puts them in reach for anyone with an interest in mechanical watches, makes them a no-brainer. So how well do the new models measure up to the classics? Let’s take a look.
Before getting started on the watches, a bit about Seiko nomenclature. The vintage Seiko divers that the new Prospex models most resemble are the cushion-cased 6306/9, 150-meter-water-resistant watches made from (roughly) the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s. These weren’t extremely pressure resistant, in contrast to professional/commercial diver-oriented watches like the 600m Pro Diver from 1975 (which was also the first commercially available watch with a titanium case) but they were extremely durable and reliable and above all, affordable, offering tremendous performance relative to price. These cushion-cased watches have recently come to be called “Turtles,” which is a nickname that annoys the living daylights out of a certain veteran Seiko collector/connoisseur contingent, as it’s a relatively recent coinage. However, the name seems to have stuck, and for better or worse a lot of folks are calling these new watches – SRP775/7 – “Turtle” reissues. (Nomenclature aside, vintage Seiko dive watches are fun to collect and to this day, relatively affordable, with the caveat that applies to all vintage tool watches: in many cases they were treated as tools, and they look it.)
Despite the closeness in name, these are actually two slightly different watches. SRP775 has gilt bezel markers, and gilt surrounds for the lume plots; SRP777 has polished steel hands and lume plot surrounds. Other than that they are identical. Both watches have 44.3 mm x 14 mm cushion cases, with screw-down crowns and case backs; both use the Seiko self-winding caliber 4R36, and both are water resistant to 200 meters, and are fully ISO 6425 compliant (that’s the international standard, for all ISO member countries, that defines what can and cannot be called a diver’s watch).
There has always been a certain deliberate simplicity about Seiko’s low-to-mid-level dive watches. They’re really tool watches in the most exact sense I can think of. Very few people who buy a hammer take into consideration how beautifully it is polished, or whether the color scheme is a good one or an ugly one, or whether or not other people who see you using that hammer are going to be impressed with how much it cost you to buy it, or use it as an aid in imagining the glamorous, exciting life of being a professional hammer-er. What people want when they buy a hammer is a good hammer. Dive watches are as popular as they are because if you want a tool watch, you want a watch that does the job of telling the time, anywhere, anywhen, with no distractions or cute nonsense about aesthetics, and a well-designed tool watch does just that. (You can fetishize pragmatism as much as anything else of course, but that’s another article.)
For many years, the best hammer in the world in the dive watch universe was probably the Seiko SKX007 and variants. Above, we’ve placed the SKX007 side by side with the new SRP775. Aside from the gilt numbers and indices, and of course, the case shape, there is not a great deal to differentiate them, but at the same time, there’s no doubt that the value offering here is slightly different. Functionally, the biggest difference is that you can actually hand-wind SRP775/7 if you want to, which obviates the necessity of swinging the watch in order to wind up the mainspring when you first pick it up (a signature trait of SKX007 and of Seiko 5 watches as well). It’s a small thing that may make a big difference, depending on who you are – I’ve noticed I’m much more likely to wear a watch I can actually hand-wind, even if it’s an automatic, just because I start off with a better sense of how much gas is in the tank.
While SKX007 offers the anti-aesthetic charm of total functional simplicity, SRP775/7 start you off with a solid shot of pure pragmatism, and then let you discover little touches of refinement you might have missed at first glance.
One thing absolutely no one is ever going to fault Seiko on is its lume; the SKX007, the Black and Orange Monsters, and indeed just about every Seiko that has any lume on its dial anywhere at all, seem unnaturally luminous. Even in daylight they can be distractingly bright. I’ve sometimes walked into an elevator out of a sunny afternoon, and, if I happened to be wearing a lume-bearing Seiko, it was lit up like a torch. These two new divers are no different; the lume is applied thick as the icing on your store-bought grade school birthday cake, and glows like Homer Simpson’s thyroid.
One of the places you see a little extra quality in the SRP775 in particular is in the bracelet, which is noticeably nicer finished than has hitherto been the case in Seiko’s entry level dive watches. The folding clasp is a simple, sturdy affair, but the level of polishing is higher and you get solid end-links, which is a very nice touch in a sub-$500 diver’s watch. The lugs are pierced, making it easier to swap out a strap for a bracelet and vice-versa. Properly sized, even with a bracelet, these are really comfortable watches to wear, thanks to the close fit of the case to the wrist, and despite the 44.4 mm x 14 mm dimensions.
These are easy watches to wear, and they’re easy watches to own. But they’re also easy to love. One of the best things about Seiko’s entry-level dive watches (as well as the Seiko 5s) is that they seem to come from an alternate universe where the Quartz Crisis never happened. Quartz doesn’t seem to have had the traumatic effect on watchmaking from Seiko in particular, and Japan in general, that it did on European watchmaking; the biggest effect that it seems to have had on Seiko, other than making it a global brand, was to encourage them to finally get around to offering Grand Seiko outside the Japan domestic market (and of course, to continue to push high quality quartz over the years, with the 9F series quartz movements).
When I say, “as if quartz never happened,” I’m not just referring to quality; I’m also referring to price and approach as well. This is purely pragmatic watchmaking; the movements are industrial-grade workhorses, not miniature works of art celebrating artisanal skills. They are obviously designed to take a beating, and they are also obviously designed to either last basically indefinitely, or be painless to replace, depending on how hard you are on them. I’ve seen Seiko dive watches on the wrists of urban high end horology enthusiasts whose other watches are Journes and Pateks; world traveling divers/sailors/climbers/spelunkers; students and other people just starting out in fine watchmaking; and people who just want a watch they can beat the crap out of without worry and who find the idea of replacing a battery unattractive.
While we love the artistry of high end watchmaking, these are watches that will really make a difference in a lot of people’s lives. They have an appeal that transcends “affordability” because the price, while an incredible value, isn’t really the root of their appeal: it’s that they look, feel, handle, and perform like watches made in a time when you really needed a watch.
Seiko Prospex models SRP775 and SRP777, water resistant to 200 m, 44.3 mm x 14 mm cushion cases in stainless steel. Movement, Seiko in-house/manufacture caliber 4R36, automatic, hand-winding, stop-seconds running in 24 jewels at 21,600 vph. SRP775 on a bracelet; SRP777 on a silicon rubber strap. Lumibrite hands and markers. Prices: SRP775: $495; SRP777: $475. More info from Seiko USA right here.
Check out our coverage of the Grand Seiko 9F Quartz right here, and also here, if you’d like to see what Seiko does with quartz; for a look at Spring Drive, have a look at our coverage of the Grand Seiko Spring Drive Diver here. And of course we love us an SKX007.
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