Seiko Mechanical Automatic (SARB033) Fully Reviewed

Affordable luxury… An oxymoron? Probably so, but we here at Monochrome know very well that such things exist. Seiko has become the champion of this supposedly “made-up” category. Capability-wise, we all know the folks at Seikosha can easily rival their Swiss counterparts, and the Grand Seiko is a testament to that. But to make a timepiece equally good, without the price premium that comes with it… Impossible…? Let’s find out! 

The dream timepiece for us collectors will always be the very best the industry could offer. The problem is…. that changes with every purchase, or sometimes every passing week. The phrase “you know you want it” kept plaguing our minds, a syndrome that we watch nerds cannot escape from. But what if our paradigms were to shift just as mine did? What if instead of looking for the very best, I look for a timepiece that hits the sweet spot and strikes the balance between quality and price? A piece that can be worn on any occasion, and also one that I won’t be ashamed of wearing? It was cherry picking, but I like to think that I finally found one that fits all the aforementioned descriptions… The Seiko Mechanical (SARB033)

Seiko Mechanical Automatic SARB033

At first glance, one can easily tell that the Seiko Mechanical (SARB033) has the DNA of the Grand Seiko written all over it, especially the off-white-dialed version of the watch. It is no coincidence that Seiko made the piece in such a way that it is essentially a Grand Seiko, without carrying the same premium. A Grand Seiko without the “Grand.” But that is not to say that the Seiko SARB033 is yet another mediocre timepiece…. far from it, actually.

The similarities to a GS (Grand Seiko) are uncanny, but the history of the Seiko (SARB033) comes from Seiko’s Spirit line, a lineup of dress watches from Seiko that is without the complexity of the Premier. Although some Spirit watches are riddled with battery-powered movements, this piece is completely mechanical.

Pictures may not do justice to the Seiko (SARB033), but once you’ve managed to see one in the steel, you’ll no doubt agree to most everything I’m going to say from here on out. Let’s cast aside first the stigma of Seiko being a champion of cheap quartz pieces. Citing the “Lexus effect” won’t help either; this is (I cringe when I say this) a reasonably priced timepiece, but with an overall package that is unheard of on this price range. Read on to find out why.

Seiko Mechanical Automatic SARB033

Overall Finishing and Case Design:

Immediately you’ll notice that this is not your average Seiko 5 Sports piece. The case finishing is fantastically well made. It’s not exactly the flashiest of the bunch, nor will it easily catch your eye. This is something that builds up on you as you go along.

The case is brushed with hints of polishing on the side, its lugs slightly curving and protruding downwards. The case itself is supremely constructed. It has that solid feel that sometimes the low-end Seiko brand clearly lacks. Just think of the Prospex series, without the added heft and size.

The case measures a very modest 38 mm in diameter without the crown. Flipping the piece over gives you a view of its see-through case back, showcasing the Seiko’s innards in all their glory. While the dial is secure behind a sapphire crystal, they’ve opted for hardflex on the back; it would have been better to have a Sapphire caseback as well, but it’s not a deal breaker.

Seiko Mechanical Automatic SARB033

The Dial/Hands:

This Seiko offers two models to choose from – black (SARB033) and off-white (SARB035). I opted for the black for the classic and discreet look; the dial is black with a matte finish. Others might go for the off-white dial simply due to that Grand Seiko-esque similarity.

In terms of legibility, this piece here is off the charts. It is by far one of the most legible timepieces at this price range that I ever owned. The hour markers are simply marked by rectangular indices with a luminous inner tip on each; the 12 o’clock marker is slightly bigger. There is a small date window at the 3 o’clock position and written above the 6 o’clock are the words “Automatic” and “23 Jewels” which gives you an idea of the movement inside… More on that later.

I mentioned its top-notch legibility earlier: this is all thanks to the design of the hands. Their sword-like design (dauphine hands) and tapered tips allow you in an instant to read the time to the exact second. The minute and hour hands are slightly polished with a thin strip of lume in the middle. The gliding motion of the seconds hand is extremely smooth; it’s not Spring Drive nor Hi-Beat motion, but it’s smooth enough to tell you that the movement inside is not your average off-the-shelf movement.

Seiko Mechanical Automatic SARB033

In bright sunlight, the dial color slightly changes to dark brown in the same direction of the light, making it possible to still read the time without the effects of glare. Conversely, at nighttime, Seiko’s patented luminous paint, Lumibrite glows brighter and longer than your average fluorescent paint. At merely ten minutes under artificial light (even shorter for direct sunlight), the lume can shine for hours in total darkness.

Reading the time on this piece is a joy. Although the clutter-free dial design and the sharp hands capacitate extremely quick time-reading, I still take some time letting my gaze linger upon the dial a little longer. It can be due to the smooth gliding motion of the seconds hand or the minor intricate details that Seiko put into the dial design; its aesthetic appeal is simply that easy to enjoy.

Bracelet:

The bracelet in itself is as solid as the case. The oyster-like links have this perfect, brushed finish and polished sides. It may not be exactly as breathtaking as the Tudor Pellagos bracelet, but sufficed to say, this Seiko bracelet exudes quality.

Seiko Mechanical Automatic SARB033

The clasp, on the other hand, does not have the same double-lock feature that modern Prospex pieces have; instead, a single-lock mechanism allows for easier removal. It bears noting, though, that I never have experienced the clasp to come undone accidentally. It does require a bit of pressure to lock the clasp in with a click that sounds very reassuring for obsessive-compulsive folks like me.

The Movement:

I’ve been saying throughout this review that the movement of this piece is what really sets it apart, and Seiko knew very well that this sort of thing shouldn’t go unnoticed: hence, the see-through case back. Flipping the piece over, you get a good glimpse of one of Seiko’s premium movements. The striping on the rotor is a clear giveaway that this is neither your average 7S26 caliber nor the newer 4R36 caliber. In fact, the piece is powered by the same premium workhorse that is the 6R15 caliber.

Fans of our site know that we covered this movement a lot. In case you’ve missed it, you can read more about them here and here. And yes: It is the same caliber that powers most of the mechanical Prospex line (click here to read more about Seiko PROSPEX), and some other mid-end Seiko watches. It is a 23-jeweled automatic movement that beats at a casual 21,600 bph. It has a 50-hour power reserve that runs at +25/-15 sec/day, but we know that it’s actually even better than what’s written… The movement offers hacking mechanism. To Swiss collectors, this is nothing new, but for Seiko fanatics, the hacking function is not something we see on a standard Seiko 5 line.

Seiko Mechanical Automatic SARB033

To say that the 6R15 is Seiko’s answer to the Swiss workhorse that is the ETA 2824 would be an understatement. Bottom line is that the 6R15 caliber is that GOOD a movement and with the sheer number of ETA-powered watches out there, it is sometimes nice to have something different to stir up the masses.

Wrap-up and Pricing:

And now for the million-dollar question… How much is the watch? It’s just a tad below $500, and no I didn’t miss a zero there. At that price point, this piece is simply unbeatable in every respect. From the case to the dial, the hands, the bracelet, the claps, the finishing, the movement and even down to the lubricating oil, this thing emanates quality. Moreover, the classic design and size are spot-on for anyone who is not into oversized pieces. Perhaps the only complaint I can find is the lack of a screw-down crown. Everything else works like a dream.

The Seiko (SARB033) in actuality is proof that there is such a thing as affordable luxury. Yes we covered the cheapest high-end watch before, but there’s always that mantra that a Seiko 5 simply could not cut it. It is that feeling of wearing something special on one’s wrist that creates attachment. Be it the price or the complication or the rarity of the complication or even something as simple as knowing that it is of the utmost genuine quality and craftsmanship, that my friend is what sets this piece apart, a cut above the rest!

Seiko Mechanical Automatic SARB033

Post-script:

Seiko also released a slightly more refined version of the SARB033 with a price slightly above $500. The difference is very minuscule, but if you’re really  gong-ho about getting THAT PERFECT piece, you may want to consider the SARB021. It is impossible to spot the difference between the two from afar, but for purists, it’s a different story altogether.

 

29 responses

  1. I had considered this model a couple of years ago. I already have other Swiss watches of similar styling, but there’s something about this Seiko model that keeps luring me. I may just break down one day and get one. Nice review. I just finished writing one of my own and brother, did it take me some time!

  2. I’ve been considering one of these for a while now, but I’m torn between it and the Tissot Visodate. The styling of the two is comparable (as is the price).

    The obvious questions – do you favor Seiko over Tissot, and do you favor the Seiko 6R15 or the ETA 2836-2?

    Personally – I’m indifferent between the brands, but I don’t have the wherewithal to compare the movements. Would appreciate any opinions on this…

  3. Matt,

    The Visodate is in fact a fine choice, and as you mentioned, comparable to the Seiko. The question of favoring the 6R15 over the ETA or vice versa becomes subjective in this point. But if you read through our article about cheapest high end watch, there’s a slight advantage to Seiko for having an in-house caliber, not to mention that the 6R15 is a premium workhorse that even some of the popular Prospex pieces are using. In the end, it’s not a watch to impress others, but a watch you would value. Both choices are good, just depends really on what perspective you’re looking at. But if I really need to choose, I believe you already know the answer to that.

    Best,
    E

  4. what about the bracelet and case – how do they hold up regarding scratches, dents and dings?

  5. @dwight

    It still does scratch, as with most of the steel bracelets in the market, but the finish of the steel is definitely a cut above the normal Seiko5 pieces. You’ll instantly notice it’s heft and overall finishing to be better than average.

  6. Hello, and nice review. I have the SARB033, and I absolutely LOVE it. It is a fantastic watch, absolutely beautiful in a classic, understated way. The Visodate is quite nice also (and I’ve had my eye on it); I tend to like watches with retro styling (and the ’33 is definitely retro Seiko!). I may eventually get the Visodate, but I actually prefer Seiko JDM watches; their movements are “in house,” and, while the ETA (which powers the Viso) is a fine and reliable movement, I prefer the 6R15. It winds smoother, and, according to my direct experience, it’s more accurate out of the box than an (undecorated) 2824 (the 2836 is basically a 2824 with a DAY wheel added). Now if the Viso had the ETA 2892, it would be a tougher choice! Seiko makes incredible watches.

  7. Hi Matt

    Enjoyed the review. I’ve been wearing diver style watches (Rolex Yachtmaster, Seiko MM300, Omega PO XL, etc.) for years. As I’ve aged, I’m now considering a watch with a smaller wrist presence and less chunky. I stumbled across the SARB033 (and 021) recently and it really struck my eye. I have a 7.5″ wrist and my concern is that a watch this size (38mm) will appear as a kid’s watch. In your view, is the SARB033 too small for my wrist?

    I’ve also seen the Citizen Grand Classic NB0040-58E which is a similar style and slightly larger (41.5mm) that may be a better fit, although much more expensive than the SARB033. I’m also fonder of the Seiko brand.

  8. The seiko movements are as good as they get, having owned Rolex
    Omega and many top branded swiss watches, I always return to
    seiko, the pro diver range are some of the toughest watches I have
    ever encounted, wearing them in heavy industry they are near bomb
    proof, will take drop after drop, the movements are getting much
    better, but I always prefer the battery quartz, for time keeping and
    weight, seilo are always bringing out new designs they are a lot
    of watch for the money with a proven track record, when a watch
    runs for three decades without a service you know it’s good.

  9. Thank you for an in-depth article. Could you advise whether this model is available in the United States? It seems people need to purchase directly from online shops in japan.

  10. One of the great things about this watch is that it’s water resistant to 100m. This means that it can be worn when swimming, in the shower, on your bike if you should get caught in the rain, etc. As such it makes a great all-purpose watch. Some of the other watches mentioned above, for instance the Tissot Visodate, are great dress watches but you could not wear them as you could a sports watch or the SARB033.

  11. I’m stuck between this one and the SARB 035, i feel that the 35 has a very similar look to the Rolex Ariking which i absolutely love. Which should i choose? the 033 or 035?

  12. Its a beautiful watch. The only thing currently putting me off is the movement. I have a SARB017 (Alpinist) with the same 6r15 movement and, at less than a year old, it runs at over a minute slow per day. Currently waiting for a reply from the Seiko Service Centre as to whether they will fix/regulate it for free.

  13. Just bought this watch on Amazon. I have owned a few cheaper Seiko Automatics and there is a glaring difference in style and quality. This watch has a heavier (more Rolex like) bracelet and the watch itself is a better quality stainless steel. I love it!

  14. Ed: I’m happy you mentioned your trouble with the 6R15 movement. I too have the same watch as you do with this movement and I am not happy about it. It is completely erratic. I have been able to regulate it myself to run at +2 seconds a day… “amazing,” right? Just to have it start running slow again a few days later; and sometimes running fast or slow… It is just all over the place. I think that the people praising this movement so much, either haven’t lived with it for a long time, or just have a lower standard than they should expect from a watch at this price. The 6R15 can be regulated to excellent accuracy, but it has no precision whatsoever, in my experience.

  15. I, too, love this watch for it’s classic, understated look. My SARB035 ran -20 sec/day out of the box. Since that is slightly out of spec, I asked the dealer (Seiya) to send it back to the factory. He did. The watch came back -4 sec/day. Horray! But wait: after a few weeks, it reverted to -20 sec/day and stayed there. I still love it, though, for its look. BYW, I have a Orient Star automatic that runs +1 sec/day. I mention this because Seiko owns Orient, but I guess the Orient drives are, at least in this case, more accurate.

  16. Thanks for the great review.
    I have the 6R15 in an Alpinist. I like the look of the Alpinist more so than the SARB033 especially with green dial, the watch is beautiful!. I’m not one who needs a mechanical watch to run perfect in 6 positions, getting a chance to ‘play’ with the watch and to reset the time is…. well, just simply more fun for me! I’ve owned both Rolex and Omega, I’m fond of Omega (the Daniels co-axial is a stunning watch!) but when I get up in the morning to work around I always grab for the 7S26 workhorse. When I want an accurate watch I grab the Titanium 141 chrono 7T62 movement – very accurate, very light and nice to look at. It’s one of the best designed watches I’ve ever owned at any price.
    The Seiko’s are hard to beat, some of my old Bulova and Benrus watches come close but I’ve yet to find a movement as robust as the 7S26 for year in year out beat it to death, last forever movements! It’s no wonder Seiko keeps building off it.
    Rob

  17. Hi. Thanks for your great review. I bought this watch after reading your article and I’m more than happy with it. The movement is so accurate (only 1-2 sec/day) and I really like the classical design. Thanks for the effort you put in this article! Andreas

  18. Where can i purchase one for a good price but i need still a reliable website not something from japan for example ? Thanks for the answere

  19. I’m about to buy the SARB035 but held back by my 7.8 to 8inch wrist size and i’m worried the bracelet may not go round my wrist. Can any one shed more light on how many links are there in total straight out of the box before resizing or how i can obtain some extra links.

  20. The Seiko 6R15 movement boast 50 hrs power reserve, whereas, the ETA2824 is much less…

  21. My experiences with the 6R15 have been underwhelming. I bought a SARX027 and when I first wore it the 6R15 was around +3 secons per day, which is fine by me. It wasn’t worn for a few months and now runs at -15 seconds per day. My SARB017 was worse until I got it regulated. If you’re going to buy a 6r15, be prepared to have to get it regulated pretty much as soon as you buy it – getting a good one seems to be a real lottery.

  22. I’ve recently purchased one of these and without a doubt it’s one of the better choices i’vw made with my money.
    The quality and finishing of the case is phenomenal, the lume is nice and easy to read without going full sports watch and everything about reaks of quality (especially for the price)

    EXCEPT for the bracelet.
    No solid end links, rattley clasp and all brushed its the only thing I didnt like, so I promptly swapped it out with a Super Oyster bracelet bought from Yobokies.
    Still worth every cent though.

  23. I completely agree with you Duncan. The bracelet was the one thing that kept me from buying one, but good to know that there’s a nice alternative.

  24. My wrist is 19cm. and my SARB033 just goes round. If you buy the watch from Seiya Japan he will sell you an extra link as well as super service.So far 1sec fast per 24 hrs. Use the winder every evening to get the best timekeeping.

  25. Recently purchased a black dial SARB033 – the most I’ve ever spent on ‘bling’ but your review shows its worth the spend. Soon as it arrived I swapped the bracelet for a £20 Hersch light brown leather strap and it’s completely transformed the look. It’s an everyday dress watch with no fussy bezels, buttons or retrogrades, and I love it.

  26. I’ve used my new SARB033 for 2 weeks now and it is losing ~16 secs/day. I purchased it through Amazon through a third party vendor. Any suggestions as to what to do next???
    The watch is certainly a beauty but job 1 is keeping time!

  27. I’ve had mine for 5 months now and I love it. This is the sort of watch you wouldn’t really take notice of at first, but the more you look at it, the more it impresses you. Everything about it is well thought out and subtle.

    I think the dial is a very, very dark purple actually, which normally looks black but tends to look root beer colored in sunlight. It is in bright artificial light that I have noticed the purple. I enjoy the way the color subtly changes in different lighting.

    When I am wearing it, it typically loses 1-2 seconds per day. If I leave it is lying around for a couple of days it might lose 10-20 seconds in that time – the loss increases as it winds down. But if I just leave it for one day, dial down, it usually gains 2-3 seconds.

    While mine has worked as well as can be expected, these are precise machines and if one little thing is off you could have a different experience. For that reason I strongly recommend you buy from someone with a generous return policy. I bought mine at Island Watch for exactly that reason.

  28. I just got it and am a little annoyed as its too tight with a link removed and too loose with it added.
    Also absolutely needs anti glare on crystal and i wish i had the white dial because the black is too dull when viewed face on although not helped by the glare…
    Shows finger prints etc very easily and top polished rim of dial surround easily susceptible to scratches.
    Accurate plus 5secs in day left on side, better if worn.
    Still prefer old flight-master as clearer and doesn’t show finger marks/smudges as easily…
    i just wear that whereas the sarb i polish every time i look at it.
    But then again as a dress watch it would be superb.

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