I was contemplating buying my first automatic watch. The default internet recommendation: “get a Seiko 5.” The official Seiko website only shows the Seiko 5 Sports line, which screwed the pooch a few years back by becoming overpriced “dive style” watches. Old school Seiko 5 models are still available, and at good prices. So I bought a Seiko 5 SNK789K1 . . .
The Seiko 5 model line was named for a list of attributes, like G-SHOCK’s “triple 10” or Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan. Released in 1963, the “Sportmatic 5” (above) was the Japanese watchmaker’s first automatic day-date timekeeper, born with a promise that all its successors would share the same five features:
・ Automatic movement
・ Day-date display at the three o’clock position
・ Water resistance
・ Recessed crown at the four o’clock position
・ Case and bracelet built for durability
The sixth attribute was unspoken, inherent to the Seiko brand: affordability. Like that other big Japanese brand that ends in an “o” Seiko knows how to make watches that don’t punish the financially challenged. Which brings us back to them being the perennially advised entry point for the beginner.
That SNK800 series in the video above – the last number is for color; olive, blue or ivory are also available – has a sandblasted case and canvas strap. It was pricier than the Seiko 5 SNK789K1 with the same case, polished, with a bracelet. You can’t buff out matte surfaces, and I didn’t feel like picking a color.
Spolier alert! The clickbait video’s full title – How The Seiko SNK809 Gets You Hooked (Despite Its Major Flaw) – bemoans the 5’s 30m water resistance. I learned to take off watches before jumping into pools or showers, thanks to some hard childhood lessons. Other people have different needs, so beware there. Meanwhile, let’s judge the book by the cover. . . .
I may love the looks of the Seiko 5 SNK789K1 as much as the boss loves the Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39. Ignoring that whole date window pro/con feud, the styles are not that different. The Seiko has a polished bezel, the appearance of a three link bracelet, a white face with applied rectangular indices, baton hands, two lines of lower text and little arched text at 6 o’clock.
Of course the links of the Seiko 5 SNK789K1 bracelet are like chintzy cabinet drawers. It looks like three separate pieces but it’s a lie. It’s a single folded link.
I grew to understand why Marc from Long Island Watch dreads adjusting this style. I’ve popped out round pins with no visible damage. The flat clips here need pulling instead of pushing. A toothed plier mars up the edge readily, leaving a jagged interface that looks dirty. If there is a non-marring way to do this, I don’t know it what it is.
There are three positions on the deployant clasp for midday micro-adjustments with a bent paper clip, should the need arise. My experience was more that it felt tight due to clamminess or riding up on the arm. Low testosterone renders me incapable of assessing any depilatory effect on wrist hair, but I dragged it through my scalp without pain.
There’s brushed satin finish everywhere. The bezel and some accent lines on the bracelet give a soft glow that looks richer than a glinty polished steel reflection. The dial is arguably white, but light reveals a subtle silver metallic sheen. Seiko used some grain or texture magic to have a circle just inside the indices with no real change in color. As a bonus, it also lines up with that little gap between the day and date wheels.
The day wheel is bilingual. In the middle of the night, it cycles past the day displaying in some foreign tongue.
For some reason Seiko feels the need for Saturday to be displayed in blue and Sunday to be in red. What is a weekend? The colorization does help detect overshooting during day setting. The day wheel lights up under blacklight, whereas the date does not, which boggles the mind.
The indices are miniature convex versions of those fitting room three-way mirrors, which do a fine job of catching light, day or night. Unlike the Walmart logo, they’re not all identical. The 3 o’clock position is the framed date window. The 6 and 9 are slightly wider and longer, and the 12 is double wide and trapezoidal. They hid little half-moons of lume pip behind these too! Similarly, the hands are mirror polished with a slim line of lume paint.
I hate, hate, hate a crown that digs into the back of my hand. The Seiko 5 SNK789K1’s 4 o’clock recessed crown (closer to 3:45) avoids my ire. Its daintiness is less convenient for setting. The big surprise: how influential a prominent conventionally placed crown is for mindlessly orienting a watch. The bracelet loses the buckle as a locator, so I frequently found myself donning an upside-down watch.
The tiny crown need not be used for winding. In fact, it won’t hand wind. Nor do the seconds hack, freeing the obsessive from caring about accuracy to the second. That’s all for the best, as the 3 Hz 7S26 movement is known for durability and a decent 41 hour reserve, not accuracy. This one stays within a minute a week, but some are off by almost half a minute per day.
There’s an exhibition back to add thickness and give that comfort of glass on the wrist. Printing on the glass reveals a cost cutting secret: the movement is from Malaysia, not Japan. The movement finishing is industrial, but clearly better than even cheaper Chinese units. The rear window is for newbie novelty, not to highlight any internal artistry.
I appreciate the Seiko 5’s reputation as a gateway drug. It offers a taste of mechanical quality at an entry price – that leaves you wanting more. For every single criterion, you can find improvements by moving up the horological food chain. Even so, you never forget your first. In this case, never forget and never regret.
Model: Seiko SNK789K1
Price: $78.98 as tested (Chrono24 shows from $83 to $167)
Case diameter: 37.3mm
Case thickness: 10.4mm
Lug to lug: 43mm
Lug width: 18mm
Case metal: Stainless steel
Bracelet: Stainless steel folded link
Weight: 98g (3.46 oz)
Lume: hour and minute hand, pips behind indices
Movement: Seiko 7S26 21 jewel automatic
Power Reserve: 41 hours
Water Resistance: 30m
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, day, date
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Design * * * * *
Simple but not plain, so let’s say elegant. Not prissy, not rugged, just handsome and unobtrusive.
Legibility * * * *
The important parts shine, standing out on uncluttered dial. Lume is good enough for a not-really sports watch.
Comfort * * * *
Welcome to the world of heavy steel automatic watches and flat glass pressed to your flesh. How good of a bracelet do you expect at this price? Turtlehead recessed crown stays out of the way.
Overall * * * *
A dress/casual steelie of classic proportions offers entry into “good”/mechanical watches at a low price. Star deducted for lack of hand winding and hacking.
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