I felt obliged to write this post when I see Seiko charging up the value chain (or more accurately down the value proposition) with the recent 4R releases that are powering more and more models in the same price bracket that were previously and rather comfortably filled by their higher end 6R siblings.
Case in point, the SARB071 that I am featuring here costs JPY 42,000 (without tax) when it was first released sometime in November 2010 (a scant 7 years ago). It came fitted with a black calf leather strap and a high-quality Seiko deployant clasp. This was a Japan Domestic Model at a time when Seiko still felt that the outside world did not deserve to know about the best watch offerings it had to offer (although this view was soon to change).
The case is made of stainless steel, and it is fitted with a sapphire crystal in the front and likely Hardlex crystal at the back to display the 6R15C automatic movement. The 6R15 movement comes with a 50 hour power reserve which basically means that when you stop wearing the watch on Friday evening, you would still have to shake it to get it started on Monday morning when the daily grind starts afresh.
It came standard with a factory adjusted accuracy of +15/-10 sec a day which was a step above the entry level 7S/4R (-35/+45 sec a day)movements equipped basic automatic model. The SARB071 boasts a 100m water resistance, which makes it more than adequate for daily wear especially for a dress watch like itself, which should not be going anywhere near water in the first place. It is 38mm across (excluding the nicely signed “S” crown), and a slightly hefty 11.2mm thick. All proper dress watches should be 10mm thick or skinner, but I digress.
Anyway for some awesome watch porn (i.e. moving pictures with accompanying music) of this gorgeous model, please go to WatchTanaka. I promise you will not regret it.
Now fast forward to 2018, and in the same price range for JPY 43,000, we now have watches like the new cocktail time SARY075 (replacing the classic SARB065 equipped with the 6R15). The new cocktail time has a wonderful sunburst dial, but comes in equipped with the lower end (less tightly adjusted) 4R35 movement. In contrast to the SARB071 which comes with a sapphire crystal, this model comes with a cheaper Hardlex crystal (similar to its predecessor). Also the new cocktail time comes with the same stainless steel case and calf leather strap as the SARB07., Therefore to simplify the comparison, the main driver of the cost difference between the new cocktail time and the SARB071 is likely to be the movement used.
Now a fair comparison would be to find out the cost of readily available retail versions of the 6R15 (NE15) and the 4R35 (NH15). A simple Google search yield the following results from watch movement retailer StarTime
NE15/6R15: USD 115 (correct at time of publishing, the currency is not explicitly mentioned in the website but I’ll assume its USD)
NH15/4R35: USD 37.95 (correct at time of publishing)
From the retail prices found online, the 6R15/NE15 is approximately 3 times the price of the 4R35/NH15. Now we know why almost all micro brands are eqipped with the NH15 rather than the NE15!
Moving on to models that are more in line with the specifications of the SARB071 but are a more recent release, we have the SARX041, which has the classic Laurel dial with the red 12. This time, it came equipped with the 6R15 housed in a stainless steel case and paired with a calf leather strap. It also had the more agreeable sapphire crystal (and boxed as well!) and has a Hardlex for the back display crystal. The price though now goes up to a whopping JPY 75,000 (without tax)!
Amongst my watch collectors cliche, we do observe that high end collectors who previously only collected Swiss/German pieces are now starting to take note of Seiko as well. This is even so when Seiko have started to raise their prices/lower their price-to-value offerings. Therefore, Seiko is probably doing something right with their marketing and designs, but it does tend to leave slightly more hard core Seiko collectors like myself more alienated by their rapid march up the luxury watch price ladders. On hindsight though, perhaps this means that my own used Seiko timepieces have a slight chance of fetching higher prices now on the resale market once people start to recognise the more collectable Seiko pieces of the yesteryears.
Back to the subject of today’s article
I bought the SARB071 because I was looking for a twin to my daily wear vintage KS56 that I wrote about last year.
An evil twin of sorts.
Hence I decided to go with this SARB071 which comes with a glossy black dial, dauphine hands and stainless steel case. It is also powered by the mid range 6R15 , which while no match for the 56 movement powering my KS, is pretty decent value for money (especially in today’s Seiko price context). I was not expecting much when I first purchased it, but it has certainly left me impressed beyond words.
The black dial appears black/dark brown depending on the strap I paired it with. It’s also slightly reflective as you can see in the picture above where the hands are all reflected in it. However, there is no legibility issue with the dial in bright light conditions.
The “Seiko” logo looks applied, and it is balanced off with 2 simple lines of text at the 6 o’clock position, “Automatic” and “23 Jewels”.
The dauphine hands are truly one of the two highlights for me for this model, with the other being the hour markers. The hands are thick at the middle and taper off to sharp points. The minute hands ends exactly where it’s supposed to, at the minute hash markers, while the seconds hands are just a whisker longer. The seconds hands is counter balanced at the opposite end by a simple diamond shape and is not lumed. In contrast, the hour and minute hands have triangular lume cutouts.
The extremely sharp dauphine hands have just the right look of heft to them and truly stands out against the black dial. This is easily one of the most legible watches that I have and truly brings out the reason why most military watches (valued for their legibility) have the same black dial and white/silver hands combination.
There is a cut out for the date, which is once again framed with a silver window. Thankfully, Seiko chose to go with a black background with white numerals date disc.
The railroad track chapter ring finishes off the look of the dial nicely
The second highlight of this model, which I was not aware of before getting this watch, was the astounding attention to detail on the hour markers. Seiko utilised the twin chocolate bar design for the hour markers, except for the twelve o’clock marker which was a triple chocolate bar design. However in my poorly taken shot above, the hour markers are not just simple polished vertical strips, but they have multiple horizontal cut outs as finishing on the hour markers as well! Unless you are looking out for these detail, the casual wearer would be hard pressed to notice it.
Admittedly the lume strips located at the bottom of each hour markers look to be poorly applied (at least in the photo I have taken above).
The hour markers are also fairly thick and add an element of depth to the dial, matching nicely with the strong, sharp dauphine hands.
The sides of the case had an interesting stepped design, with the upper step having a vertical brushed finish, while the bottom step was polished all the way around to the bottom of the case. It is definitely more expensive to have such dual finishing on the stepped design as compared to say having a brushed finish on the of the case and a polished finish on the bottom of the case.
This model also comes with a fairly generous signed crown on the side. Note that the crown does not screw in.
The back of the case allows one to view the rather pedestrian 6R15C movement. The caseback is polished throughout. It is not captured in the photo above but the rotor has Tokyo stripes applied to it, otherwise, the finishing of the 6R15 is better than that of the unfinished 7S/4R movement, but nothing to shout about.
It is likely that the SARB series of watches are the transitional Seiko watches where you can still find quality (aka 6R15) movements paired to still reasonably priced models, before Seiko decided to utilise the cheaper 4R movements to sell in watches of the same price, while moving the 6R movements further up range to power even more expensive models. This was similar to the late 1990s and early 2000s where the fantastic Seiko 4S (not to be confused with the 4R) were powering mid-range Seikos before Seiko developed the 6R15 movements for their mid-range watches thus allowing Seiko to then concentrate on using the 4S movements to power their uber expensive Credor and absolute top end Seiko models.