Review: Seiko 5 Sports SRPD
The best of anything is often well out of reach of most people. But that doesn’t mean good and even excellent should be too. Seiko is one brand that gets this, utilising volume and technology to cater to an audience looking to appreciate a fine, mechanical watch for a price that’s a bit more down to Earth. Here are three reasons why the new $350 SRPD is one watch you should be looking at.
Seiko is most certainly not the only direction $350 could be spent in pursuit of a watch. Huge leaps in prototyping technology mean that low volume microbrands can have a crack at making it big, and that’s awesome for many reasons. One, because there’s more to choose from and two, because it keeps the big boys on their toes.
But the big boys will likely always be the big boys, and Seiko is one of the biggest. This is one of the best reasons for buying a Seiko over a microbrand, which in itself can be broken down into much more granular reasoning—not least of all, for the enormous heritage Seiko has to offer.
Many people just want a watch to, well, own a watch, something with a bit more flair and interest than a phone or even an Apple Watch, but there are others for whom a mechanical watch offers more than just the superficial. Rolex watches are hugely popular because they say Rolex on them, but the history behind the name that made it so big in the first place is utterly fascinating. The same is true of Seiko.
Seiko is, for a start, older than Rolex, by a quarter-century. Seiko dive watches aren’t just some nod to a hypothetical past. They are direct descendants of those worn by countless soldiers throughout the Vietnam war and beyond, purchased to replace unreliable standard issue pieces—a role acknowledged by the appearance of the 6105 in the cult film Apocalypse Now.
And, like Rolex in the same period, they were built not only to be reliable, but affordable as well. But even though Rolex has long since abandoned the idea of being a watch for the masses, Seiko continues to do so. The 1996 SKX collection, from which this SRPD follows a direct bloodline, demonstrated the brand’s commitment to the budget—but nevertheless high quality—mechanical diver, one of the very few watchmakers that still do.
I say follows a direct bloodline, because this SRPD is the watch that takes the mantle from the now-discontinued SKX—albeit in a slightly different direction. The SKX was a utilitarian dive watch through and through—the SRPD is something different, something more … contemporary.
Ideally, a watch like this could be all things to all people, but with just a $350 budget to play with, there’s always going to be compromise. So, where the SKX was an ISO-rated diver thanks to its screw-down crown and luminous bezel pip, the SRPD is not. Whilst the SKX had two hundred metres of water-resistance, the SRPD only has one hundred. For the diehards who appreciated the SKX’s no-nonsense, practical approach, the SRPD is a disappointment. I don’t think the SRPD is for those people.
What the SRPD loses in its ultimate performance as a dive watch—and don’t forget, you can still wear it in the water—it gains elsewhere. Gone is the calibre 7S26 and in comes the 4R36, basically the same thing but with manual winding and hacking, where the seconds hand pauses whilst setting the time. There’s a sapphire case back through which to admire it now, too. The markers on the dial are framed in polished metal and there’s now a much greater wealth of colour variations to choose from.
This doesn’t mean Seiko has given up on its professional diving collection, not at all—you’ve still got the Prospex range for that—but it shows that the Japanese giant is acknowledging that its audience is changing. Most people who buy a dive watch don’t want it to accompany them to the bottom of the ocean—they just like it, and that’s fine. And if more people are willing to buy in to Seiko’s incredible history because the SRPD looks more appealing than the SKX, then that’s how it’s got to be. It’s still a whole lot closer to the feel of a classic diver than any modern Rolex.
So, really, the big selling point for the SRPD is its looks. That water resistance has been sacrificed for a clear case back is definitive evidence of that. And whilst the 42.5mm wide, 13.4mm thick steel case is identical to the SKX’s, it’s the treatment it gets that really makes the difference. I’m sure there will be many who mourn the loss of the SKX, but really, compared to this, it was a bit of a plain Jane. I get it, a lot of people liked that about it, and this is where personal taste comes in—but I’m willing to bet a lot more people like the SRPD, and I’m also willing to bet a lot of them couldn’t giving a flying fancy about the extra one hundred metres of water resistance. If anything, winding and setting the watch without having to unscrew the crown first would probably be an improvement.
There were a couple of colour variations for the SKX; there are twenty-seven for the SRPD. Not only that, but with the addition of drilled lugs—that’s the hole through to the spring bar—strap-changing just got a whole lot easier, making the watch more flexible and fun. The expansive modding scene is catered for too, parts made for the SKX switchable to the SRPD. Who knows, perhaps it can be modded to put it back in line with the SKX’s performance too.
It’s a sign of the times. The SKX lasted way longer than anybody expected, way longer than any other watchmaker cared to brave, but the time has come for a new era. And rather than be an era where the mechanical watch dies as younger audiences move into gadgetry instead, Seiko is doing its level best to keep what we all profess to stand for alive. Sometimes I wonder if there are those who would rather see the industry collapse than change.
And that’s why the SRPD is such great news not just for those of us who don’t have thousands to spend, but for everyone else as well. It’s an investment in the future of mechanical watchmaking in a package that looks just about perfect, a siren call to the Apple Watch-wearing generation that will one day have the power to pull this thing we hold so dear out from under our feet. All it takes is an image, a thumbnail perhaps, a passing glance—and mechanical watches are another person closer to being safe for many decades to come. Could the SKX do that?
I don’t know when it happened, but these days $350 doesn’t seem to buy a whole lot of anything anymore. What it does still buy you, however, is a ticket to one of the best watchmakers in the world, a historical bloodline to rival the best and an experience that’s sure to put a smile on your face every day. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a pretty good deal to me.