Seiko has gone and done it again! Oldskool Seiko-diver experts may say Seiko has done it many times before, but in all honesty, I'm still in learning mode when it comes to Seiko divers. While I was already familiar with the various nicks (..., Shogun, Sumo, Tuna, Turtle,...) as well the Marinemasters, it was BaselWorld 2017 and Seiko's SLA017 that got the ball rolling for me! One Baselworld later and Seiko pulled another rabbit out of their hat, the SLA025!
click-the-pics for hi-res goodness
300M -> Marinemaster 300M
Despite the SLA017 being my first Seiko diver, I had been interested in the SBDX0nn "Marinemaster 300" for a long time. I was pretty sure it was going to be my first Prospex but just as I was going to make the move, the SLA017 was announced and the MM300 budget was set aside for that. Of course I had a basic notion of why Seiko released the SBDX001 but it took the SLA025 for me to really dig into the Marinemaster's background. As noted in my SLA017 pictorial, the 1965 "62MAS" (6217-8000/1) was Seiko's entry into the diving world and was rated for 150m. The 6215-7000, their first 300M diver, was released a few years later in 1968*. This reference can be seen as the very first MM300, despite it not having the Marinemaster label. What this ancestor had in common with today's MM300 is not only the depth rating, but the iconic monobloc case with crown at the 4 o'clock position. This reference lasted roughly a year and was then succeeded by the SLA025's true inspiration, the 6159-7000/1.
*Note that I didn't say "replaced" because the 150M 62MAS was more likely succeeded by the 6105-8000/8110, aka Seiko "Turtle". Rumor has it that Seiko plans to announce the SLA033J1/SBDX031 at BaselWorld 2019 which might very well be a 6105 reissue!
Some seven years later in 1975, the 6159-7000/1 reference was replaced by the 600M-rated 6159-7010, aka the "Grandfather Tuna", essentially ending the 300M range. With the Prospex label, Seiko was now well-invested into commercial diving and maintained their presence well into the dive-computer era.
To the best of my limited knowledge, Seiko brought back the 300M diver in roughly 2000 with the SBDX001. This reference is also the first 300M with the "Marinemaster" label. Seiko also added the label to their 600M & 1000M references. If we were to consider all Marinemaster-labeled Prospex divers we'd have a pretty long list. What I have compiled for my personal usage (hence, grain of salt) is a list of Seiko's contemporary 300M divers:
SBDX003 - 2000, LE, gold hands
SBDX001 - 2000, first only available in JDM) production model
SBDX012 - 2015, 50th anniversary LE, gold hands, gold bezel markers
SBDX017 - 2015, update of the SBDX001 production now including DiaShield coating and MEMS movement components
SLA015 - 201?, European-only LE, sunburst-like light-blue dial, mixed hands
SLA025 - 2018, historical tribute, gold hands, gold bezel markers (JDM SBEX007)
SLA019 - 2018, LE, Green-dial, gold second-hand, partially-lumed bezel (JDM: SBDX021) - MARINEMASTER label replaced with the Prospex logo, lumed pip replaced with lumed triangle
SLA021 - 2018, production, replacing the SBDX017, gold second-hand (JDM: SBDX023)
SLA023 - 2018/19, LE?, Blue dial, gold second-hand (JDM: SBDX025)
Then there are the "Zimbe" editions for example the SLA013 & SLA027. There are 7 "Zimbe" releases, but not exclusively MM300s.
Back to the main topic, Seiko's 2018 tribute. As noted above, the SLA025 honors the second 300M diver, the 6159-7000/1*, which replaced the first 300M-rated 6215-7000. The 6159-7000/1 added "HI-BEAT" at 12 and "PROFESSIONAL" & the "Suwa**" logo at 6, removing the "DIASHOCK 35 JEWELS" line. The hour markers saw minor cosmetic changes as well. However the real change here was obviously the move to the 6159 36000vph "Hi-Beat" movement. Cosmetically, The SLA025 is pretty faithful to the 6159-7000/1, with two obvious changes; "WATER 300M PROOF" is simplified down to "300M" and the Suwa logo is gone for obvious reasons. The second and more distressing change is the lack of applied SEIKO label. This was the same difference as well with the SLA017. This is quite unfortunate given that applied logos / labels are very much in line with that era and IMO, a tribute should reflect that.
*Note the naming convention of their references mirrors the movement numbers. This has not really changed in that the SLA025 has the actual reference "8L55-00D0"
*The Suwa company was the original name for today's Seiko-Epson division and was represented by a "swirl-pattern" logo. Conversely, the opposing-triangles or lightning-bolt-like logo represented Daini, current-day Seiko Instruments (SII)
As for dimensions, I haven't researched the 6159-7000/1 but I believe the SLA025's should be close. In any event, the SLA025 is slightly taller and a bit heavier than the contemporary MM300s. Here are some specs:
"He-GAS Diver's 300M" monocoque/ monobloc / unibody / front-loader / top-loader case
Diameter: 44.8mm (same as SBDX0nn)
Thickness: 15.8mm (vs. 15.25mm for the SBDX0nn)
Lug2lug: 51mm (same as SBDX0nn)
Lug (strap) width: 19mm (vs. 20mm for the SBDX0nn)
Weight: 145g (with included silicon waffle strap, vs. 137g for the SBDX0nn + rubber strap)
Movement: 8L55 36000vph / 5Hz / "Hi-Beat" / "10 Beat", 37 jewels, 55hrs PR (a less-decorated, less-regulated version of the Grand Seiko 9S85)
The Studio's Seiko
Besides the impressive price tag, what sets the SLA025 apart is the fact that it's assembled at Seiko's Shizuku-ishi Watch Studio (SII, Morioka Iwate prefecture). While the MM300s may also originate from SII, I believe that the SLA025 is assembled in the Watch Studio proper, namely due to the 8L55 Hi-Beat movement. It's good to know that the SLA025 shares more than just the price tag with Grand Seikos! Regarding Hi-beat movements; I won't pretend to know enough about the true advantages and like most, I accept the assumption that higher beat-rates in theory can provide better accuracy due to improved stability of the balance wheel (if we accept the notion that faster rotation equals smoother rotation). In any event, a movement is only accurate if properly adjusted, regardless of vph.
It just so happens I acquired an inexpensive Timegrapher and using the results obtained from it as well as direct observation and notation of variation over 40 consecutive days, my unit returned a daily variation of +5s. Measuring variation in six positions showed a range from +4 to +8 which lines up more or less with my observations. +5s/d is a very good result, but not amazing, either. The unadjusted 8L35 in my new, NOS SBDX001 is averaging +2s/d... ! Just like the 8L35-based Marinemasters, Seiko movements are not adjusted to the same accuracy as their Grand-Seiko counterparts. The 8L35 is a less-adjusted 9S55 and the 8L55 is a less-adjusted 9S85. So while the revered Hi-Beat may be the better movement, the fact is the accuracy of your SLA025 will be down to luck... . A nice characteristic of the "10 Beat" movement is a second-hand sweep that appears almost stepless!
"He-GAS Diver's 300"
The most notable aspect of the 6215-7000 and it's descendants is the monobloc case. This was Seiko's response to the Helium-saturation problem that other brands (like Rolex) tackled with an escape valve. While Seiko is certainly not the only diving-watch manufacture to use a "unibody" case, I'm under the impression they were one of the first. Omega's Ploprof, for example, was released in 1971. Conversely, Mido's "Ocean Star" was released in the early 60s.
This brings me to the caseback "decor" of the SLA025. While the contemporary Marinemasters are decorated with the iconic Tsunami wave, the historical models were much more demure, basically listing all key info in a horseshoe outline. The 6215-7000 & 6159-7000/1 were very similar in appearance and content and Seiko followed suite with the SLA025. This may be the time to mention that (most of*) the 7000 and all 7001 were identical with the exception of an additional engraved circle that decorated the back of the 7001s. The Tsunami wave was introduced later on with the Grandfather Tuna (6159-7010).
*I say "most of" the 7000s because the first "batch" of 7000s were released with a "count-down" bezel. Back then more of an oversight, now, a very rare and sought-after version!
Note the SN has been masked
So with a little history and key stats now covered, time for some real-world impressions. It's a unique and gorgeous timepiece and Seiko has done a great job bringing the 6159-7000/1 back to life! Devil in the details - like the naked crown, for example, or the "traffic-light" seconds hand. The austere lug geometry, another critical detail. The only unfortunate omission is the lack of applied logo (same with the SLA017 and we can assume also with the upcoming SLA033).
Conversely, any ergonomic pitfalls the 6159-7000/1 might have had have been passed on to the SLA025, with the 19mm lug-width, being my main concern. This is a rather tall case at almost 16mm and we're "securing" it with with a meager 19mm strap (same silicon waffle strap as provided with the SLA017). Aside from the aesthetic implications of a 19mm strap matched with a 45x16mm case, there's also the physical impact. You have to really pull that strap tight in order to keep the SLA025 from shifting on the wrist. While I don't like too loose of a fit with any watch, I do like my blood circulation... . I absolutely love the OEM silicon waffle strap matched with the smaller, better-balanced SLA017, but not as much on the SLA025. I tried a (20mm) NATO and while it was marginally more comfortable, it looked out of place with such a tall case, not to mention it adds another mm to the overall height, something the SLA025 does not need! So I am still on the hunt for a strap that will match the SLA025, both in terms of a comfortable fit as well as aesthetics.
The only other issue I have with the general design is the screw-down crown, which is not as refined as I would have expected. To be quite frank, the threading could be better. Every 1/3 attempts to screw the crown down results in the crown-stem locking up, requiring one to "counter-screw" (while pushing downwards) the crown-stem until it's properly seated. Only then can one screw the crown down. At first, I assumed the issue was specifically with my own unit, but after researching the issue on the 'Net, it appears to be a known characteristic with these (if not also with some other Seiko monobloc cases).
All in all, I look at the SLA025 as more of a collector's and/or weekend watch. This is not really a daily beater, at least not for most. The contemporary Marinemaster 300Ms are more user-friendly in comparison, thanks in part to the 20mm lug width and a slightly lower center of gravity. In contrast, the SLA017 manages to be both. Despite this, it's hard to look down at your wrist and not be inspired by the awesome 1960s vintage look, yet with that minty-fresh appeal of a brand-new watch! The Shizuku-ishi Watch Studio has done it once again... !
click-the-pics for hi-res goodness
The SLA025's "deep-dish" bezel and domed sapphire crystal
Another look at the caseback with strap removed...
...with a closer look at a most interesting lug cut-out...
...no association with a stand strap, but maybe to fit a bracelet?
Compared to its successor, the SBDX0nn...
.5mm higher, otherwise identical. Don't let the variation in bevels / facets convince you of otherwise...
Getting out the big guns...
43mm vs 45mm, not much difference, objectively seen
A 44mm Panerai Luminor 1950 case (PAM 233) vs. the 45mm 300M...
2017 SLA017, 2018 SLA025... and maybe coming soon, the 2019 SLA033... !
Sidebar: The Good, the bad & the Ugly...
I mentioned in another thread that this would be in the title of my post. Immediately after, I realized I had to review the "reference SLA025" and not "my SLA025"... . Overall, the SLA025 is an awesome reference. That is "the good" in this little side story.
As with all my "pictorials", the fun starts with photographing my new watch. The results were posted above. More or less... . Let me explain... of all my new watches, none were devoid of a few specs of dust on the hands, or maybe even the odd minor scuff-mark somewhere on the case. In order to represent the "reference" (and not just my specific piece) in its best light, I will do some minor retouching.
When I first proofed my SLA025, I was shocked to see quite a lot of dust and even some scratches on the hands. As if my watch had been taken apart outside of the manufacture (for whatever reason) and re-assembled in a less-than-dust-free environment. Lastly, I noted "lume bleed" on the seconds hand. I was quite disappointed, to say the least. Let's keep in mind the fact that this is assembled in the same Studio as the mechanical Grand-Seikos and that it is priced in a similar range.
This was the first "issue" I had. The next would be not limited to my own unit, rather something that appears to be a known "feature" - that of the poor thread tolerances of the crown-stem / case. Of course, I didn't know of this until later on. The third and final concern I had was the odd feel when manually winding the watch. Once the mainspring's clutch (dis-)engaged, there was a coarseness when winding that was questionable. So, with these three separate topics in mind, I decided to send my watch in for diagnosis and resolution. This was "the bad". The ugly was still yet to come...
Despite everything, I was still quite positive. Owning a Grand Seiko, I truly believe that the GS Watch Studios take great pride in their work and seeing as the SLA025 is also assembled there, I was sure they would resolve everything. So off the watch went. Because "service" can be done by a third party (or parent company, etc.), I didn't have any guarantee my watch would end up at the Studio. So I asked the AD and the AD said it would be sent to the local Seiko Distributor. I managed to get a hold of them to find out who would be servicing my watch. I was pleased to hear that it would be sent directly to the "Tokyo Service Center". So ok, it would make it home to Japan, but not necessarily to the Watch Studio, at least not directly. Hardly two weeks had gone by and I received word from the local distributor that Tokyo had sent them their initial response.
Re. the mainspring / winding coarseness, they made the determination that the sound / feel / etc. was normal. I could easily accept their answer because every watch has a different design and the winding of the crown sounds different, feels different.
Re. The low-tolerance screw-down system:
I was less pleased with this - not only was their suggestion condescending but IMO they are aware of the low tolerances of the system and hence, found everything to be in order with my unit. I have two local watchmakers who were less impressed with the tolerances... .
Re. the hands:
Well I was initially shocked when I first noted the poor QA of the hands but their response was simply unbelievable... ! But then it dawned on me... Seiko produces watches ranging in the low $ and it would be silly to think that they could manage to replace hands on say, a $400 unit. So I went back to the local Distributor and asked them to "remind" the Tokyo S.C. that this was a $5K Seiko assembled at the Shizuku-ishi Watch Studio and should be treated under the same principles as a Grand Seiko. As it turns out, the same, so-called "30cm rule" applies to Grand Seikos too... !!!
So much for my theories behind the exemplary Grand-Seiko quality and pride... . Of course I shared this with my fellow WIS and local watchmakers. They were all surprised too. Ditto for my AD. But these reactions were somewhat expected. When I went to an unrelated AD I know well, they said that this "30cm rule" was actually also enforced by other companies in the past (although none were named). That's when I decided to throw in the towel and ask the local distributor to have Tokyo send my watch back. Apparently I didn't need to to so as Tokyo had already sent the watch back, with the resounding conclusion that "no issues were found."
This is the really ugly part of the story. No one looks forward to problems when buying a brand-new watch, from an AD, at retail. However, there is no company in any branch that doesn't have the occasional issue. Thus, I was ready to accept that fact and was fine knowing that it would be resolved. The lack of resolution though, is something I would never have expected from what I consider a respected manufacture.
And just to add insult to injury, the watch came back scuffed. Wonderful. Thanks to the fact that this reference has Seiko's "DiaShield" (PVD) clear-coating, the scuff-marks cannot even be buffed out... .
Of course there's no resolution for this additional damage either as one cannot be certain when the damage occurred during the process-chain (AD->distributor->Tokyo C.S.->distributor->AD). So it will act as a "pleasant" reminder of this experience... .
Does this mean that I'm done with Seiko...? No, most likely not. This comes down to the simple fact that I have not gone through this process with any other brand and for all I know, I may get the very same treatment from the next brand. What it does mean is that I will need to take more time and double-check everything at the ADs before I buy. Caveat emptor... !
30cm vs. 6xloupe vs...
Granted, my macros are up close & personal and the issues my camera identified cannot be seen with the (unassisted) eye. I think that in all fairness, any issue discovered with an AD's 6x loupe should be resolved by the manufacture. This so-called "30cm rule" is simply absurd. Ironically, someone posted a GS watch next to a Seiko-branded loupe... . In the end, the absolute minimum test a watch must pass (imo) is one of real-world stuff... if I don't see the faults in one of my typical Smartphone wristshots, then I'll be GTG...
AD makes good...
I'd like to end this post as I started it - on a positive note. My AD was also unhappy with the results and would have wished for a more positive outcome. As they knew I'd also been eyeballing an NOS SBDX001 they still had in stock, they offered it to me at a substantial discount to try to take the edge off. And it did just that, so my thanks go out to them for it!