My New Daily Beater: The Seiko 5
I’ve been wanting for a while a more practical daily-use watch. One that is clearly readable in light and dark, not oversized, water resistant, and shows the date. I’m surprised it took me this long to find all that in Seiko’s venerable “5” series.
My Parnis pilot watch, while running strong and looking great for a year, at 44mm was starting to feel large on the wrist. My Hamilton at 42mm was not much better — and thanks to its complicated automatic movement was thicker and heavier. I also missed having a watch, like my old busted Garton, that would be readable for a couple of hours in a dark movie theater — which neither of the above could accomplish.
The “5” is a line of workhorse automatics by Japanese horological titan, Seiko, that meet five criteria: unbreakable mainspring, shock resistance, water resistance, automatic movement, and a day/date complication (according to the Seiko Branding Dictionary on WatchUSeek. They also frequently meet one more: extremely long-lasting visible glow-in-the-dark lume. And a seventh criteria: often costing under $100. It’s a wonder I never happened on these when I first sought a mechanical watch.
A Dress Watch in the SNKL29
I made a decent excuse to get my first Seiko 5: I needed a good dress watch for the occasional wedding. It had to sport a white or silver dial, and look good with a black leather strap. The SNKL29 at $64 was a bargain match. I loved the watch so much that I got it a brown leather strap for near-daily use. It really sort of blew me away with how much watch it was for the money. Just for the terrific day and date display, and perfect 38mm size, I’d be happy. But it sports a beautiful dial with lovely and classic printed Roman numerals around a simple track of second markings that also sport shockingly strong dot lume at the hours. The plongeur-style hands are also exceedingly readable through the night. Literally — I could still read the time in the darkness of extremely early morning (the few times I was awake).
One important thing to note is that the SNKL29 sports an 18mm lug width — not the 19mm specified on its Amazon page. This was annoying when I got my 19mm straps, as I had to shave a bit off of them to fit. It’s also got a silver dial — not white. I actually think white would feel dressier, but the silver has a nice sheen, and there’s a kind of pinstripe guilloche-like effect inside the seconds track.
The Perfect Daily Beater in the SNKL07
Recently, I came across this photo of the SNKL09 in this addictive thread, and fell in love. The big hour markers, the black dial mated with an army-green canvas strap, the fire-red second hand… I knew my days with just one Seiko were numbered.
I’d placed both the 09 and its Navy sibling, the SNKL07, into my Amazon wishlist. The 07 dipped below $65 a few weeks ago, and I took the bait.
Other than the obvious dial color difference, the 07 has a white instead of red second-hand, and a white background to the day/date. This actually makes it feel more formal in my mind than the military-like 09. Compared to the dressier silver-faced 29, it’s around the same diameter, but the crown is larger and placed more traditionally at the 3-o-clock. On the 29, the tiny inset crown helps maintain a clean look on a dressy watch, though it can be hard to access; on the 07, it’s more practically sized and positioned for a much more general-use watch.
Despite not feeling as military as its black-dialed red-handed 09 brother, the 07 is still gorgeous. It looks good on my olive-green NATO strap, but like my Hamilton this deep navy watch looks great with light browns. With a 20mm lug width, it can accommodate all of my existing straps, and I found its ultimate pairing with my thick caramel-colored NATO leather strap. It’s a bit weathered of a strap after accommodating the harsh-edged 44mm Parnis for so long, but I’ve come to enjoy the added texture. It’s literally become pretty much my daily watch.
Seiko 5 Features
Both Seikos are perfectly sized at around 38mm in diameter, and relatively narrow and light. They aren’t quite as skinny as my Parnis, which is understandable as an automatic movement is typically thicker than a manual-wind (also, undoubtedly the water resistance adds girth thanks to things like gaskets), but they’re not thick either, and are obviously narrower in diameter and look more proportional on my skinny wrists.
The movement in both is, like nearly all Seiko 5s, the 7S26.
It’s an automatic movement that is the result of decades of polish and streamlining by Seiko to the point where they could churn these out blind. It’s undecorated and purely utilitarian — the print on the back claims 21 jewels, but none are really visible through the transparent casebacks on my 07 or 29. Like all mechanical watches, it’s not going to be as accurate as a quartz. But I realize after years on mechanical watches that I don’t really notice or care about the inaccuracy.
The day/date function on both watches is about as good as it gets. First off, you get the day, while most watches are content with just the date. Who cares that I usually always remember the day of the week? There are less useful complications out in the watch world. There’s also the option of Spanish rather than English days. Also, “SAT” takes on a nice baby blue, while “SUN” is a striking red.
And the lume really deserves reiteration. I’m spoiled for watch lume thanks to these Seikos, to the point that the lume on my other watches make little sense in comparison. I wasn’t kidding that these are readable after hours in the dark. And I don’t explicitly “charge” these watches — this is just with the general office light and sunlight they receive during a rather average (I think) workday.
It’ll be hard to make the 07 my last Seiko. It might swing too closely to the 09 (I’d sooner just have the second hand replaced for a red one than also nab the 9). But at least half a dozen Seiko 5s from the amazing WatchUSeek thread have made it to my wishlist or bookmarks. Like the sporty SNKK27K1, which looks especially great on tan leather. Or the SNZJ63. Or for ultra readability, the SNK381 seems hard to beat.
And when it comes to a reliable and affordable automatic it seems hard to beat the Seiko 5 series in general.