This is an exciting time for Seiko fans as we get more and more models that have been Japan only for far too long. While this SBDB009 is a new model, it really does mark the beginning of a new line for collectors outside of Japan, as it's a harbinger of the regular Prospex collection as well. As such, this is the flagship of Prospex--the halo piece, the one that all other Prospexes aspire to be. Consequently, not only does this get trick flourishes like a titanium case, it also receives a 5R65 spring drive movement, which is very nearly straight out of a Grand Seiko SBGA029 that costs about 50% more.
Prospex owes its existence to Seiko's intensely creative period during the 1960s, the same decade that saw the birth of Grand Seiko and Astron. In this case, Seiko released it's first dive watch in 1965, able to resist the then-impressive pressure of 150 meters. Back then the creation of dive watches were a real showcase of watchmaking ability because they tested the quality of your case in terms of water resistance, the movements had to be automatic to allow for a screw down crown (hand wounds were much more common then), and lume had to be bright enough to be visible under water. That humble Seiko 6217 has turned into one of the most popular lines of dive watches in the world and today we're looking at the best of its progeny.
Being the top of the line Prospex available to Americans, and arguably the second highest Seiko dive watch (next to the more expensive Grand Seiko SBGA029), Seiko gave it the best it had. Thus, not only is its beautifully dark DLC case made from titanium, but it has a Grand Seiko-derived 5R65 spring drive inside. As such, it's a legitimate competitor to pretty much any dive watch out there, even up to and including the Grand Seiko.
The face of the SBDB009 is virtually identical to the hot limited edition SBDB008, sans the gold accents of course. I actually prefer the blacked out full production model to the golden tuna--gold just doesn't work as well on a tool watch as it does on something like a Grand Seiko.
All the best trappings of a hardcore dive watch are here. The dial is an extremely non-reflective matte black while the hands and markers are almost completely made up of ultra-powerful white lume, making the dial incredibly legible thanks to its high contrast.
Up close you can see just how much lume is used on the dial and hands--it's a massive dose.
Like most high-end Seikos, there's no shortage of writing on the dial, but it's much less distracting on a tool watch than it is on a Grand Seiko. There is no requirement, or even a good reason, for a hardcore dive watch to show restraint.
The SBDB009 also has a power reserve complication, as is the case with virtually all spring drives. It's presented as a fuel gauge, but like its brethren, it's the reverse of what you're used to in your car, making it slightly counter intuitive. Still, the red paint for empty is a pretty good clue at a glance that the watch needs to be worn or wound soon. Interestingly, the subdial has a matte gray finish as opposed to the matte black, which makes it stand out just a bit.
The unidirectional bezel is absolutely excellent and, at least from memory, absolutely in the same league as the SBGR029 Grand Seiko. High-end rotating Seiko bezels have that amazing smoothness between detents yet they have a very positive click into position with absolutely no play anywhere in between. In my experience, high-end Seiko (as well as Damasko) bezels have among the best feel of anything out there.
The date is placed between the 4:00 and 5:00 markers and I often get asked why watch designers put it in such an awkward place. There's actually a very good reason for it--putting it at the ordinary 3:00 or 6:00 would eliminate (or greatly decrease) the existence of a luminous marker. Thus, this date placement is there to maximize the amount of lume they can fit on one dial. I also tend to think that the simplicity of a dive watch's dial is ever so slightly over-hyped. While tool watches, by design, ought to have laser-like focus on just doing one thing, it's easy to forget that once you're deep underwater, you won't see the date or power reserve much if at all--the darker it gets, the more its luminous features stand out and the more everything else disappears. So in its natural habitat, the SBDB009 will appear to have no date or power reserve at all, leaving you with a 100% uncluttered dial.
There's a lot of it. I mean, a ton. Like, the most I've ever seen on a watch (barring all-lume dials of course, but even they lack the brightness and longevity of the SBDB009). This photo looks like it was taken at night, but it wasn't--this was taken in the middle of the day with 100% ordinary office lighting. The darkness achieved is simply an adjustment of exposure time, meaning that this watch is visibly glowing even in normal artificial lighting. Lacking a dedicated studio, I normally have to do lume shots late at night because any ambient lighting destroys the photo, but this thing is so bright I didn't do any special set up at all. This is one of those watches that when you walk into a restaurant from outside for lunch it will be visibly and obviously glowing like a torch for the next hour.
So it's really bright, but what's up with the lollipop seconds hand? Some suggest that it was originally designed to allow quartz movements to carry a relatively heavy luminous hand. Obviously that's no concern to a spring drive which has all the power of any ordinary mechanical. Whatever the origin, keeping the lume so close to the center of the dial makes it extremely easy to distinguish at a glance from the more important hands, so long, of course, as you don't mind being exactly 30 seconds off (the lollipop is on the counterbalance and therefore points 180 degrees away from the actual seconds). Compare this with the ultra-popular Omega Aqua Terra 8500, whose seconds hand has a luminous tip and is similarly shaped to the minutes hand, which makes it difficult to read at a glance in low light settings.
Suffice it to say that this lume will satisfy pretty much anyone.
The case is often of secondary concern on dress watches, but on dive watches, their prominent case is as crucial an element of their styling as it is their functionality. I'd also suggest that it's the coolest element of the SBDB009.
The SBDB009 has that trick titanium gunmetal shroud with a vertical brush stroke to it. It's thick, it's bulky, and it looks awesome. It's one of the more menacing looking watches out there. It's probably my single favorite element of the watch.
Naturally, it shares the well-loved and oddly angled crown present in all Tunas. As you'd expect of a watch with a crazy 600 meter water resistance rating, the crown screws down. It's a really cool signed crown because it's so deeply recessed into the shroud--it gives it a very neat look. When the crown is fully unscrewed and pulled out to the final stop, it's almost where a normal crown would be all the time.
To give access to the excellent unidirectional bezel, about 50% of the shroud is removed on each side. It's a practical touch but it just looks awesome. It's that distinctive Tuna look that is like nothing else out there.
The case is theoretically massive at 50mm, yet it wears incredibly small for its size. It's one of the more comfortable watches I've worn and it looks just fine on my average sized wrist. It's just amazing how well a watch of this size wears. I really would treat it like a 45mm. I think it's the lack of protruding lugs that makes it so wearable--it's kind of a similar form factor as the great Damasko DK10/11/14/15. Now don't get me wrong, it's by no means a small watch--it's still quite thick for instance. But in my head, I knew I'd reject this watch as way too big for me (as a personal preference)--in real life, that would not keep away at all.
The caseback is also super cool. Unfortunately, we don't get to see that beautiful 5R65 movement, but at least we're treated to the same blacked out titanium as we get everywhere else.
The DLC coating looks awesome on this watch--it doesn't look like a coating at all, it actually just looks like it's solid black steel.
Obviously this photo is not of the SBDB009, which has no display back, but it's from my recent shoot of the SBGA103. The SBGA103 has a 9R15, which is mechanically identical to the more common 9R65 and, amazingly, to the 5R65 in the spring drive tuna. So while the decoration and rotor would be different if we popped the back off of the new tuna, the movement would have roughly the same look as this one.
It's a shame you can't see it, because although it doesn't have the decoration of a Grand Seiko, it's still very pretty judging from the other 5R65s I've seen. The good news, however, is that you are not getting a mediocre movement here. You're not getting a detuned Grand Seiko movement either. You're pretty much just straight up getting a Grand Seiko movement, sans decoration. As big time Seiko collectors will remember, some Marinemasters come with an 8L35 automatic movement, derived from the last-generation Grand Seiko 9S55. In that case, not only is the movement undecorated, but it's also unadjusted, meaning you will not see the same performance of the 8L35 as you would the Grand Seiko. That's not the case here. The 5R65 is mechanically identical to the 9R65 in a Grand Seiko, is made in the same place by the same masters and is rated for identical performance. That rating, by the way, is 15 seconds a month and 72 hours of power reserve. In the real world, you'll see far greater accuracy than that.
Here's what appears to be either a 5R65 or 5R66 (they look basically identical), although the rotor in our SBDB009 might be different. This diagram is helpful, however, in giving a quick overview of the spring drive's functionality. Basically, the spring drive is a conventional automatic movement with a few key components replaced. Namely, the functional time keeping parts are gone, which are basically the pallet fork, escape wheel, balance wheel and hairspring. Replacing them is a tri-synchro regulator which is a new way of extremely precisely controlling the amount of power coming out of the mainspring. The TSR converts kinetic energy from the mainspring into electrical energy, which powers a quartz crystal and an electromagnetic brake which slows the movement down in accordance with information from the quartz crystal. The result is threefold: it has the beauty of a mechanical movement, the accuracy of a quartz movement, and the smoothest seconds hand in the world.
The SBDB009 comes on a nice solid black rubber strap. It's extremely soft and malleable and helps make the SBDB009 one of the most comfortable big watches I've ever worn.
The secret to the Tuna's comfort, despite its size, is two fold: the lack of lugs and how flexible the strap is. As I mentioned earlier, the watch wears much smaller than its 50mm size would suggest and that's primarily because of those attributes. It's surprisingly light as well, thanks to its titanium. So the strap really brings all these assets together to make it supremely wearable.
Although it comes on buckle only, it's very easy to put on thanks to how flexible the rubber is. Furthermore, the strap is extra long, so it will fit around dive gear easily and is great for larger wrists. It's one of my favorite rubber straps, along with JeanRichard's rubber straps like those on the Aquascope.
The SBDB009 is easily one of the best divers I've ever reviewed, maybe the best when price is considered. I wish I'd had it for the big diver comparison I did some time back--were it there, the result may have been different.
The SBDB009 spring drive Tuna is exactly what it needed to be--a high end Tuna. The original design is heralded as one of the greatest divers out there, so the SBDB009, and its predecessor, the Golden Tuna, wanted to take the quality, materials and movement up a notch while sticking to the basic design that made it famous. It succeeds. If you love one of the other Tuna variants, but want a Grand Seiko-derived movement and a titanium case, this is the one for you. It's a solid value proposition as well, as it's more than $2000 cheaper than the Grand Seiko SBGA029 despite having basically the same movement and being titanium instead of steel. It even has three times the water resistance rating.