Seiko 5 SNK789K1 Review

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Seiko SNK789K1 blue jeanI 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 . . .

First Seiko 5 Sportmatic 5

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. . . .

Seiko in the grass

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.

Seiko SNK789K1The 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.

That dial texture thing only showed up here

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.

Seiko SNK789K1

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.

Seiko SNK789K1
Find the marred folded link

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)

SPECIFICATIONS:

Case diameter: 37.3mm
Case thickness: 10.4mm
Lug to lug: 43mm
Lug width: 18mm
Case metal: Stainless steel
Crown: Push/pull
Bracelet: Stainless steel folded link
Clasp: Deployant
Weight: 98g (3.46 oz)
Crystal: Hardlex
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.

The Truth About Watches is a fully independent website No commercial consideration provided by the manufacturer. No payment for links.

20 COMMENTS

  1. SNK800 guy here. I was a little too rough with my first SNK800, and it bit the dust after a year. I haven’t made the mistake of testing the water resistance of my second SNK800, and it is still going strong five years later. I “rediscovered” that watch a few months ago when I realized the case has a nice “Rolex Explorerer” look without the “Rolex Explorer” price tag.

    • I really like the stock dial and hands on those. but I see there are (of course) custom dials available for the mod squad. I didn’t coo about the case but it is a sweet size with lugs that both look right and fit well.

      • Yeah, when these are modded, the resemblance to a vintage Rolex is uncanny. SNKs look fantastic on a NATO, and if you ever want to scratch the itch for a flieger/field watch hybrid, the SNK800 can’t be beat. These “entry” level SNK automatics are a great bargain that should get more coverage. Nice review!

        • I could’ve sworn that Seiko was notorious for using odd lug widths for which bands become scarce, so I was pleasantly pleased to find that this used the common 18mm.

  2. What’s the point of mechanical watches at a price point that makes them basically throw-aways? They cost less than what it will be to get them serviced.

    For that price range, just give me a G-Shock.

    • The same could be said for quartz watches below a certain price point. It’s not worth even replacing the battery when it craps out. Just buy another cheap quartz, eh? Same thing.

      So what? In fact, I’d bet the inexpensive automatic will last longer than the quartz (before the battery gives out).

      In the end… the point is to get what you want or like. 🙂

      • This. Automatics and mechanicals don’t need batteries, so they can sit in a drawer for years, and I can still use them, long after the battery on a quartz watch would have died.

        • I’ve heard that the life of the lube is about the same decade that any G-SHOCK or many Timex quartz watches will get from the first battery. Then again, I’ve never had a quartz watch serviced and only one ever irreparably died, after about 25 years. The fact that my Snapple watch, presumably ~25 years old, unworn NIB with the original dead battery, was free of leaked battery acid or corrosion or any issues at all has me a little skeptical on the battery causing trouble beyond running out of power. But yes, the sudden failure of batteries can be a nuisance – “it worked yesterday!”

      • Having read Casio F-91W user reviews on Amazon, I can attest that people do this all the time. A digital watch that would probably last at least 15 years of normal use gets replaced every 3-5 years when the battery dies or the band wears out. I’m morally opposed to scrapping salvageable items, but the logic is there in terms of economic utility.

        • I had wore the same quartz watch every day for nine years. During that time, it was the only watch I owned. I bought it for $30. I replaced the battery two or three times, and the strap two or three times, which means by the time the movement stopped working, I’d spent more on replacement straps and batteries than the watch was actually worth. When the jeweler informed me that a new movement would cost $50, I knew it was time to buy a new watch.

          • You could “solve” the problem by arbitrarily spending more at time of purchase. Note the new NASA GSHOCK, going for the better part of a grand on the gray market, is essentially the same as the squares running $55 at the Casio outlet. But hey – just think how cheap battery changes will seem!

    • Thank you for bringing up a topic that needs attention. First, I’ve seen memes that imply that just about no owners get watches in this price range serviced. Presumably just running on the factory oil for however long until serious problems arise is standard practice when the investment is low and the accuracy isn’t great from day one.

      The point for the manufacturer is obviously to sell more, and almost as importantly to generate a new crop of customers for higher profit items. It’s the pusher giving a sample compared to having the entry point at a much more inaccessible and intimidating level.

      I could paraphase the Car Talk guys who said “if the rule is not to spend more to keep a car running than what it’s worth, I wouldn’t be able to put gas in the tank.”

      • I’d heard that Seiko didn’t manufacture SNK models or until recently, Seiko 5 watches in general, with North American/European/Japanese markets in mind. The market for those watches is in parts of Asia, Africa, or South America where replacing the battery on a quartz watch wouldn’t be easy or convenient, and where the customer needs a watch to be able to run reliably without being serviced for a lengthy period of time.

        • Well that’s a tough row to hoe for the marketing department. “Seiko 5: for the upwardly mobile yet means-constrained emerging market professional, and everybody who wants to look like one.”

        • That makes sense. I’m used to a dead watch battery meaning I drive a mile or two down the road and spend a few bucks. True availability issues beyond “try the next store” are not an issue. If some epic journey were required to get a watch battery, might as well get an automatic.

    • Mechanical or quartz, if longevity is a remotely relevant factor for the movement manufacturer, then the watch innards are likely to outlive the watch’s owner, and at some point that means maintenance costs will outstrip purchase price for any timepiece less expensive than like the Federal Poverty Level.

      Watching those two lines intersect may *feel* different if the maintenance in question is waiting while some guy at a mall kiosk swaps batteries instead of Looking After It For The Next Generation, but it’s a pretty arbitrary rubric for one’s man-jewelry purchase decisions if you think about it.

      • Dare I bring up further automotive analogy with the fact that some of the most maintenance and repair intensive vehicles tend to have the most loyal followings, and the owners almost see it as a badge of honor? That’s prestige for you. What people will accept at different levels is not logical.

  3. I have a similar Seiko 5. Resizing the bracelet is not that bad with a springbar tool and some ingenuity. If you get it out far enough there is a hole one can stick the springbar tool through, and a needlenose pliers is not necessary.

    The folded link Rolexes for which people pay six figures actually require bending open the links to resize, so Seiko is a move in the right direction from that design.

    Casio folded link bracelets are worse, I broke a springbar tool resizing a Casio folded link bracelet.

    • The pin pushing end of the spring bar tool might have been better than the small flat screwdriver that the Youtubers all suggest. Admittedly, I was not perfectly patient or well prepared and methodical.
      Bending metal, like it’s a cheesy expansion band? That can’t be good.

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