If Seiko is widely known for its high-performance dive watches, the Japanese manufacture actually has far more to offer. Indeed, under the Prospex line, there are 3 collections; Sea, Land and Air – respectively diver’s, explorer’s and pilot’s watches. In fact, way before it created its first diver’s watch, Seiko was offering an exploration-ready instrument, a highly coveted model named the “Alpinist” and launched in 1959. This year, as part of its new collection, Seiko introduced a new series of exploration watches, which includes these cool, accessible and very attractive Prospex 1959 Alpinist Modern Re-Interpretation models, references SPB241J1, SPB243J1 and SPB245J1.
The Seiko Alpinist
Seiko’s dive watches are so popular that they tend to make other models from the brand seem less important… which they are not. It’s just that the brand has been so active in this field, with countless milestone models, patents or innovations, that the rest feels less… groundbreaking. But dive watches only appeared in 1965 at Seiko and before that, the brand already had various purpose-built, so-called instrument models dedicated to professionals. One of them is the Alpinist. Created in 1959, the Seiko Laurel Alpinist can be considered Seiko’s first sports or professional watch. Just to say, this is indeed an important watch. Before we take a look at this specific model, and if you want to know more about the whole collection, you can have a look here, at thespringbar.com.
The Alpinist is a watch designed specifically by Seiko for “Yama-Otoko,” a Japanese word for mountain men. It was also Seiko’s first attempt to create a sports watch and as such, it should be regarded as important. Launched in 1959, this watch will lead the way to multiple generations of Alpinist watches. A hand-wound watch (with a 17-jewel Seikosha movement) with a relatively simple but sturdy 3-part case, the 1959 Laurel Alpinist was delivered on a so-called Bund strap, reinforcing its intentions for robustness. The stainless steel case measures 35mm and is topped by a high-domed plexiglass crystal.
The most distinctive element of the Alpinist is its striking and very bold dial with large triangular markers at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock, as well as baton applied markers and an inner white minute track. There was an impressive amount of luminous material on the dial, as well as on the hands, again with a sharp Daupine design. The watch was available in black or white-cream.
There will later be more watches under the name Alpinist, such as the mid-1960s Champion models, and then the name somehow fell into oblivion. Yet, it came back in the mid-1990s under the Prospex line with three watches – the black SCVF005, the cream SCVF007, and the star of the show, the green SCVF009. Launched in 1995, this collection didn’t pay tribute visually to its ancestor, but it was once again designed for explorers and came with multiple purpose-built features, the main one being the combination of an additional crown at 4 o’clock and an inner bezel with a compass scale. It is also noticeable because of its cathedral hands and combination of triangular markers and Arabic numerals. This watch, even though only manufactured two years, later gained cult status.
For this reason, Seiko brought back the concept in the mid-2000s, with for instance the highly popular green SARB017, as well as in 2020, another collection – once again with most of the classic features – including a green model, the SPB121J1.
But for 2021, Seiko has decided to pay tribute to early Laurel Alpinist models, first by launching a faithful reproduction of the original watch and, as often with the brand, by adding a more accessible and more modern iteration, which we’ll discover now.
The Seiko Prospex 1959 Alpinist Modern Re-Interpretation Watches
The new SPB241J1, SPB243J1 and SPB245J1 watches, all three models that compose the “1959 Alpinist Modern Re-Interpretation” sub-collection, are modern watches based on the concept of the 1959 Laurel Alpinist. It’s all about the flair, the style, the vintage feel here, but not about faithfulness. If that’s what you’re looking for, the SJE085J1 that the brand introduced coincidentally is what you’re looking for. But since the budget isn’t the same, and since proportions are on the smaller side, Seiko has decided to bring another, fairly-priced watch that takes design cues from the Laurel, and as such being entirely different from the classic green Alpinist SPB121J1 we’ve seen above.
No cathedral hands, no rotating bezel or compass scale, these new 1959-inspired Alpinist watches are more focussed, streamlined and, altogether they have a slight field attire… Seiko’s interpretation of the Explorer…? In a way, yes, as we’re talking about a 3-hander with a smooth lines, distinctive indexes and a robust case despite restrained proportions.
These Prospex 1959 Alpinist Modern Re-Interpretation watches come with a nicely executed case that measures “only” 38mm in diameter. I must say that I’m personally pleased to see Seiko bringing more and more compact watches in its collection and to me, a 38mm case is somehow the perfect diameter for a sporty-field watch with no additional function or rotating bezel. It has this balance between presence and elegance, without having a dial that feels empty. Thank you Seiko for this… The watch remains nevertheless a sturdy piece of equipment, as featuring a screwed caseback and crown, and offering 200m of water-resistance.
On the wrist, the 12.9mm height of the case is not neglectable, but the 46.2mm lug-to-lug measurement makes for a very comfortable watch. The case is pleasantly finished, with a combination of brushed surfaces and polished accents (sides of the lugs and bezel) and the clean yet sharp lines are ultimately making this watch distinct from the rest of Seiko’s production.
The most obvious reference to the original 1959 Seiko Laurel Alpinist watch is visible on the dial. Indeed, if Seiko doesn’t market this watch as a vintage re-creation, it still has a clear Alpinist vibe. The stylized triangle at 12, 6 and 9 o’clock, with their signature “openworked” layout, and the sharp Dauphine hands are direct tributes to the ’59 model. It should be noticed that there are quite some impressive details in this dial. For instance, the hands are faceted with two different finishings, one side being polished, the other being brushed. Same goes for the level of details found on the applied markers. On all three versions, the central seconds hand is gold-coloured.
With these Seiko Prospex 1959 Alpinist Modern Re-Interpretation, vintage feel is mixed with modernity. The most evident proof is the addition of a date window at 3 o’clock, but also the applied Seiko logo, the X of Prospex, the Automatic mention as well as the depth rating. There’s nothing specifically wrong here, it’s just that an “Alpinist” mention on the dial would have been quite relevant.
The Seiko Prospex 1959 Alpinist comes in three different editions, all with classic colours. The SPB241J1 features a very attractive cream-coloured dial and is worn on a steel bracelet. The SPB243J1 comes with a classic dark grey dial and is also worn on a steel bracelet. Finally, the SPB245J1 has the signature green dial of the Alpinist collection and is, surprisingly, worn on a leather strap. I’m sure it would look great on a steel bracelet too.
Visible under a see-through caseback – another compromise to modernity – is the calibre 6R35. This modern automatic in-house engine is the brand’s mid-level calibre, an evolution of the 6R15. The base remains the same, with a 3Hz frequency, a central rotor for the automatic winding, a quick-set date, and a stop-second device, however, the power reserve has been improved to a comfortable 70 hours. Since the decoration is quite industrial, I would have preferred a closed back.
Availability & Price
The Seiko Prospex 1959 Alpinist Modern Re-Interpretation watches will be part of the permanent collection – indeed, these are not limited in production – and will be available from Seiko boutiques and selected retailers worldwide in August 2021. The cream SPB241J1 and the grey SPB243J1, both worn on a bracelet, will be priced at EUR 770 or USD 750. The green SPB245J1 and its leather strap will come at EUR 750 or USD 725.
For more details, please visit seikowatches.com.