New Watch Acquisition: Seiko SARB017 Alpinist – A Gentleman’s Sports Watch Classic
By Meor Amri Meor Ayob
Had the opportunity to visit Tokyo Japan last month. Before making the trip, I was already planning to get at least one Japanese watch, a JDM model, to commemorate my first trip to the “Land of the Rising Sun”.
I originally targeted a Grand Seiko but my eyes kept wondering towards the Alpinist. The green dial was too mesmerizing. Truth be told, this watch has always been in my radar screen for a long time. Fate would have it; I was able to get a very good discount, a 35% off the standard retail price from an Authorised Dealer in downtown Tokyo.
The watch box is a long one and protected by a white cardboard box with no brand or logo printed on it. Inside this is the main watch box.
The main watch box is darkish grey and comes with the brand printed in white at the top of the box. The Manual as well as Guarantee documents are tucked in a slot built into the outer white box.
The box hinges on one side and made out of thick cardboard.
Flipping open the lid on the main watch box you will find the watch finally staring back at you. You will also note a very short instruction on how to use the manual compass function on the watch. Unfortunately for me, it’s in Japanese. Not a major problem as Seiko provides English translated manuals on all their watches on its main website.
The box is a good indicator why this watch was designed the way it was. But before I go into that, a short history about this design is in order.
Seiko Japan released the first of five generations of Alpinist in 1961. The hand-winding Laurel Alpinist came on a leather strap, and was followed in 1963 by the Dauphine-hand Champion 850 Alpinist. Seiko then retired the model for 30 years, but it was revived in 1995 with the popular automatic/hand-winding 4S15 caliber version.
This third generation Alpinist (1995) had a Sapplex crystal with a Cyclops date window magnification lens. Sapplex is a hard coating applied to a standard watch crystal to make it scratch resistant. An instant collectors’ item, it was in production for two years.
Then in 2003, a radically designed titanium-cased, Perpetual Calendar Quartz Alpinist with red GMT hand was introduced with was unconventional and unlike other Alpinist before it.
In 2006 the fifth (and current) generation Alpinist came into being but this time having a sapphire crystal for greater scratch resistance. The Cyclops lens, which many didn’t like, has been eliminated creating a cleaner design. The new release is powered by Seiko’s in-house 6R caliber movement featuring an improved mainspring with a 50-hour power reserve. The Alpinist is water resistant to 200 meters. This 2006 stainless steel automatic/mechanical Alpinist returns to tradition and incorporates elements from all previous versions (except the fourth version).
The watch was supposed to fulfill the needs of the “Yamaotoko”; a term used in Japan used to describe a type of man known in Japan as “mountain man”. The Yamaotoko spends weekends and holidays climbing many mountains in Japan with the sole purpose of conquering as many peaks of the famous Japanese Alps, both the southern and northern ranges. To this end, a dependable climbing gear is crucial and Seiko Alpinist aims to fulfill two key requirements namely, accurate timekeeping and the ability to locate points of the compass manually without the use of a magnetic compass.
The Yamaotoko are gentlemen mountaineers unlike the modern extreme climbers you find nowadays. Since the Alpinist was first produced, this target market remains. Hence the shape of the watch box which tends to position it as a dress watch instead of a sports watch as advertised. Moreover, the shape of the watch is more suited in a boardroom then out in the open.
The dimensions are also very formal-like. Width of the watch case is just 39 mm (excluding the main crown) with a thickness of 12 mm. Some say that it has a Rolex Oyster style case characterized by thin and sharp lugs, solid caseback as well as sapphire crystal and screw-down crown. Nevertheless, unlike the Rolex Oyster style case, the watch comes with a pair of properly designed crown guards. The casing is very well made with its combination of brushed and polished surfaces.
The SARB013 has a cream dial whereas the SABR015 has a black dial. However, the SARB017 is the most stunning in my view. The most striking feature of the SARB017 Alpinist is the sunburst green dial. The shade of green seems to change depending on the angle, and the applied gold numerals are very reflective and easy to read. Above the case sits a flat sapphire crystal. In addition, the second crown for rotating the compass ring can easily be manipulated when holding the watch. A standard date window at the 3 o’clock position is also available.
The choice of gold as markers as well as for the hands contrast uniquely with the green dial. The cathedral/Mercedes hands suit the Alpinist distinctively to give the classical feel to the watch. The level of lume is definitely Seiko quality.
Moving the internal rotating compass bezel is smooth and simple, with no need to unscrew or pull out the lower crown. Although many people see no value to this complication, I personally like it. The thought that you can use the sun’s location and using a simple formula using the hands on the watch to point to magnetic North is just awesome. This is even so when you can consistently point towards magnetic North at any time of the day (daylight only though). Moreover, it was tastefully designed and not that obvious unless you really look. In fact, most of the time I use the bezel to track a second time zone.
The screw-down main crown is also easy to use. Engaging the thread to screw down is smooth. From the photo below you can see the deeply machined “S” marks the main crown, and a pressed-in intrusion marks on the compass crown at the bottom. Unlike many signed crowns, the “S” on this is highly visible.
In all honestly, I love display case back as I like looking at the movement in action. Although the Alpinist has a solid case back, I do quite enjoy it. In this case it is engraved with the Alpinist emblem. The engraving is not very deep but just enough. It is finished with much attention to detail. The case back has the mountain Alpinist logo machined into it nicely, and the stainless steel is brushed beautifully in concentric circles. The case feels very heavy duty, and the sapphire crystal seems thick, and does not even make a clink when you tap on it. The 200m water rating seems to back up its strength.
The movement on this Alpinist is the 6R15 with 23 jewels. With hacking and winding capabilities, the movement has a 50 hour reserve. This watch comes standard with a Seiko leather strap with a normal buckle. It has a width of 20 mm.
The choice of case width of 39 mm is just nice. A big chunk of the population can easily wear this watch without looking awkward. It sits well on the wrist and as the strap is leather, after wearing it for a while, it sort of “remembers” your wrist size perfectly.
To be fair, I do have a couple of grouses regarding this watch. The first is on the date window. I know on all Seikos with date windows, this is the typical position that they place them. However, why does one need to replace one of the index with such a window? I would have preferred the date window to be placed closer to the centre so as not to disturb the indexes.
Another issue I find is the standard buckle provided. For such a quality of watch, I expected a deployent-clasp as part of the kit. Instead, Seiko decided a simple buckle is sufficed. Even this is not to my satisfaction. I actually feel it is important for Seiko to etch the brand on the buckle instead of leaving it empty. The reason it is important is that viewing the watch from that angle does not allow one to identify the make. With such a signage on the buckle, it makes it easy to identify.
These problems pale in comparison to the overwhelming positives that I get from the watch. Overall, I am very pleased with this watch on its capability to be an all rounder. At the price point it is sold at, a real hidden treasure – true value for money.
The Alpinist SARB017 exudes a level of sophistication that is usually found in very high-end watches.