More than a year has passed since the Seiko SPB147J1 was released in the summer of 2020, alongside its brethren the SPB143, the 145, and the 149. In fact, in the interim, it has been joined by the SPB213 and the SPB239–all of which owe their inspiration to that skin diving icon, the 62MAS. And, all of which have been discussed and dissected–lauded and derided, in turn. So why take another look now?
Because I bought one. Finally.
I say, finally, because from the moment I saw the first renderings, to the striking of the keys on my keyboard right now, the Prospex reissue of that first Seiko diver made me salivate on cue like Pavlov’s dog. If you are still reading this, you might want to put on a raincoat…or, perhaps a wetsuit would be more appropriate.
So why didn’t I buy it in the heat of its first release? You have a lot of questions.
I think I was holding out for the SLA017. I wasn’t encouraged by the price tag…$3400USD. Maybe I was hoping to pick one up in the secondary market. I don’t know. The SPB051 (essentially a precursor to the 147) had been on my radar as well, but something about its larger case and the handset just didn’t have the same impact on me. The silhouette was different. I had also just purchased the Halios Fairwind. And I wasn’t exactly sure that I didn’t already own a microbrand version of the 62MAS (albeit the SPB143). A rose by any other name….after all. In short, I was waffling in obscure and human ways.
Still. If I’m honest, I always knew I was going to pull the trigger…all in good time.
So, now that the hype and the furor which surrounded this watch has subsided and the world has moved on, don’t think of this as a review (although, it is). Consider it…a second glance.
On with it, then…
The 62MAS (AutoMAtic Self-dater), or 6217-8001, was the first dive watch released by Seiko in 1965. It was more than a decade late to the dive watch party begun by the likes of Swiss makers Blancpain and Zodiac in 1953. Rolex had already launched its now famous Submariner (1954). And yet, the 62MAS would prove equally influential in the dive world–from its much-copied case to its now ubiquitous hour markers. It would also inaugurate decades of Seiko affordable dive watch supremacy.
Unlike the SLA017, the SPB147, for its part, is not a faithful reproduction of the 62MAS. Though its silhouette cuts a similar swath, it is larger at 40.5mm. It is also longer lug to lug at 47.6mm. And while it is thicker than the original, it is actually thinner than the SLA017, at 13.2mm. In short, it is a modern interpretation, rather than a vintage reissue.
The SPB147 forgoes the brand’s proprietary Hardlex crystal in favour of a beautiful curved sapphire with AR undercoating. Its applied indices and printed chapter ring are similar, but the indicator at twelve has been subtly altered. Its hands are bolder. Rather than strict batons, the hour and minute hands are more akin to a wide pencil-style. And they are faceted, allowing them to catch the light. The dive bezel is broader and thicker and adds an inverted triangular marker at twelve.
The movement has been updated to the 6R35, which offers a 70-hour power reserve, and the screwed caseback and crown bump the water resistance to 200m.
However, specs are just specs. The story of the SPB147 is more than a technical accounting, which–if I am fair–does not place it at the top of its price-category heap.
Time & Tide published a side-by-side comparison with the Tudor BB58 (three times the price), not long after the watch was released. It is a comparison that has been made by a number of reviewers and enthusiasts, alike. It is an analogy easily drawn: two iconic vintage diver reinterpretations using gilt highlights. Of course, the article found the Seiko wanting in all categories…but one. Case ergonomics. Seiko’s wheelhouse.
But I’ve always been of the mind that a watch is more than a sum of its parts. In this respect, comparing the BB58 with the SPB147 is like comparing apples and oranges. The Black Bay 58 is far too pretty to be fairly compared to the Seiko. This is hardly meant to be disparaging of the Tudor. The BB58 is the aesthetic ideal of a watch–right down to the faux rivets of its bracelet (okay, that was actually a dig). But if I were going diving and both watches were lying side by side on my night stand, I would grab the Seiko every time. And trust me…like everyone else, I love the BB58.
I’m not saying that the SPB147 isn’t attractive, but its appeal has less to do with its accoutrements and more to do with the simplicity, balance, and single-mindedness of its design. Like jeans and a white T-shirt, the SPB just works. To begin, the dial colour, described even by Seiko as “brown,” does the watch a great injustice. I would describe it as smelted copper, or cupric oxide…because, well, that sounds way cooler. But also, because it has a tone of blackened red with subdued metallic highlights. It is deep and rich. If you want to call it something more pedestrian, at least go with auburn. When paired with the dark chocolate of the bezel, its sand-coloured printing, and the faded patina of the lume plots, the watch coalesces. The impression is one of harmony. Its only ostentation is the gilt, and yet nothing could be more perfect.
However, none of these elements belies the true purpose of this timepiece as a toolwatch, first and foremost. If the BB58 is the aesthetic ideal, then the SPB147 is the platonic ideal–the archetypical dive watch. Its most basic imagining. Nothing more than what it should be. Nothing less. The design is minimalist and utilitarian with its squared lugs and flat case bands. Its curved profile allows it to sit low on the wrist despite its protruding caseback. The 120-click unidirectional bezel is sturdy and easy to manipulate. The lugs are drilled for effortless strap changes. It feels rugged and robust. It wears and functions like an instrument. And the lume…oh, Seiko…thank you for blue LumiBrite.
This is not a watch that you would be afraid to use–due to price or fragility–in any recreational activities. I have the impression if you were to scratch or dent this watch, it would only add character–although I’m sure I’ll swear the first time it happens.
Enough. I’m fawning like a school girl.
|Case||316L Stainless Steel (Super Hard Coating)|
47.6mm Lug to Lug
120-Click Unidirectional Bezel
Screw back and Crown
200m Water Resistance
|Dial & Crystal||Curved Sapphire /w AR Under-coating|
Date Complication at 3
70-Hour Power Reserve
|Strap||Textured Silicone /w Stainless Steel Hardware|
James Stacey, of The Grey NATO–who has often sung the praises of his own SPB143–wrote for Hodinkee, “…I don’t think this has to be your first Seiko diver, but it may well be your last.” While I am quite sure I will return to Seiko for more in the future, I understand the sentiment. The SPB147 has assuaged that itch. My next Seiko will be different, but it is hard to imagine that it will be better.
Despite my appreciation for the watch, it is not perfect. Some have decried the date window. They find the white an intrusion. I am of a mind to forgive it for the practicality of its added legibility. But certainly, the movement could be better for the price. A 70-hour power reserve is nothing to scoff at, to be sure, but the frequency is only 3Hz, or 21 600vph, and the accuracy is a rather mundane +25/-15 seconds/day. I also think it should have a bracelet option like the others in its line. The textured silicone strap is a cut above the regular Seiko offering. I think it’s great. But Seiko has a habit of offering one reference without a bracelet for a small drop in price. It would be more consumer conscious to offer both as options on all references. Given Seiko’s history with mid-level watch bracelets, I would most likely have swapped it out anyway. But if, as a collector, you want the whole kit, it should be available to you.
Watches eventually find their way into the hands of owners who appreciate them most. I bought this one from Lucas, in France, through Chrono24. I did not ask him why he was willing to part with it. It doesn’t matter, because I am not. If you have found your way to the blog for the first time through this post, I suspect you feel the same. I am probably, in a long-winded manner, simply confirming a choice you have already made. If that’s the case, go ahead. Make yourself happy. The SPB147 is a beautiful tool. It won’t be mistaken for a dress watch. But you know that. And you don’t care. You’re ready to forgive its quibbles, because it’s exactly what you’re looking for.
The SPB147 retails for $1000USD. For more information, visit the brand website.
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