Review of My Seiko Alpinists

Ask any watch nerd and they would tell you the Seiko Alpinist is something of a cult classic.

The OG Seiko Laurel Alpinist 1959

It was designed and released for Yamaotoko (山男, mountain men), who required a robust sports watch that can withstand harsh mountaineering conditions. It is also considered the first true sports watch made by Seiko.

Over the years the Seiko Alpinist has gone through many iterations, most famously, gaining an inner-rotating compass bezel that made the watch divided among watch enthusiasts.

The SARB017 Alpinist, released in 2006 (left) and the updated SBDC091 Alpinist, released in 2020 (right)

The green dial versions (SARB017 and SBDC091) are perhaps the most well-known of all the alpinists. The cathedral hands, the emerald green dial, the rotating compass bezel, the twin-crown design, are not something you would typically see together on a watch.

At first sight, this combination looked abhorring to me. It looked outdated and nothing seem to go well with each other. The dial looked too dressy to be paired with a sporty compass bezel, the colour tone looked outdated and old-fashioned, it was just a strange watch to me.

But everything changed when I got my hands on the SARB017 in March 2019. Things I used to call weird became quirks I adore, and strapping the watch on my wrist put a big smile on my face. It has also been fun explaining to non-watch nerds how a compass bezel works on a watch.

Fast-forwarding to 2021, Seiko released three modern reinterpretations of the original Seiko Laurel Alpinist, and here is the one I got:

Seiko SBDC147J1, modern reinterpretation of the original Seiko Laurel Alpinist

It has all the modern specs you would expect in a modern Seiko, a new, robust 6R35 movement with a 70-hour power reserve, 200m of water resistance, a decent date window, excellently applied Seiko-proprietary luminous paint Lumibrite, a piece of beautiful, single-domed sapphire crystal and a charming combination of dial and handset.

The dauphine hands are razor-sharp and very nicely proportioned. On this particular model, they are half-brushed, half-polished and filled with generous Lumibrite. The dial has a pretty sunburst effect that plays with light very well.

The case also has some interesting highlights, the motif of half-brushed, half-polished continues to be shown on the case as both the bezel and the lugs show the same finishing.

Seiko has been notorious for pairing good watches with appalling stainless steel bracelets but I am quite pleased by the quality of this one. It has female end links (so that it wraps around my puny wrists better), solid (end) links, and a machine milled clasp. The links are very well-machined and have intricate finishing, varying from brushed and polished surfaces.

There are inevitably some complaints though: two micro-adjustment holes are definitely not enough to find a good fit. Given how big each link is, it is unacceptable for the clasp to only provide two holes for adjustment. Also, there is not enough tapering on the bracelet. From what I measured, it is 19mm at the lugs, tapered 1mm to 18mm at the clasp. This unfortunately makes the watch feel clunky on my dainty wrist.

I also do not like the fact that the bracelet uses the notorious pin-and-collar system. This had been the first time I dealt with one and I almost lost a collar the second I took out the first link.

Having an exhibition caseback is a decision I cannot understand either. It adds heft to a not insignificantly thick watch (at 12.8mm) and it does feel top-heavy on my wrist. To add insult to injury Seiko also slabbed on a big brand logo and a Prospex logo at the centre of the caseback crystal. What is the point of having an exhibition caseback if you are going to block my view of appreciating the movement? What were you thinking Seiko?

Overall I would give this watch a solid 8 out of 10. It checks a lot of boxes for me but with Seiko trying to go upmarket and arbitrary hiking prices, perhaps we have to reconsider if Seiko is still the king of affordable watches that it used to be.

Programmer | Watch enthusiast