Following Seiko’s 2017 re-issue of its first professional dive watch with the SLA017, based on the 62Mas, this year the brand celebrates the 50th anniversary of another icon, the first hi-beat diving instrument ever created, the mighty 1968 Ref. 6159-7001. With this new Seiko Prospex Diver 300m Hi-Beat SLA025, the Japanese brand unveils another watch that no one can question in terms of style (it has been almost unanimously praised) at a price of EUR 5,500, which has provoked some doubts about its positioning. It’s time to go hands-on, to see the watch in the metal and to understand why this SLA025 is not your usual Seiko Prospex dive watch.
The background story behind the new SLA025
One of the stars of Baselworld 2017 was the vintage re-edition of Seiko’s first dive watch, the 62Mas or Ref. 6217-8000/1. Eagerly awaited, praised by many, decried by some as too expensive, judged by most as an ultra-faithful and superbly executed piece, the Seiko 62Mas Re-edition SLA017 was a hot topic of debate. Similar reactions occurred this year with the new Seiko Prospex Diver 300m Hi-Beat SLA025. The recipe is identical: take one of the most iconic dive watches of the brand, modernise it (just a bit), take some inspiration (a lot) and here you go… A successful talking piece.
In 1968, three years after the creation of the 62Mas, Seiko delivered another impressive and innovative professional dive watch, the Automatic Diver 300m Ref. 6159-7001. This watch was not just an update of its predecessor. In just three years, Seiko had doubled the water-resistance, improved the functionality and legibility of the watch and gained drastically in precision. The Automatic Diver 300m was the first hi-beat diver’s watch on the market. Its massive size, its signature design, its iconic gilded accents; all of that fostered the legend behind the watch that is a hot item on collector’s lists.
The Seiko Prospex Diver 300m Hi-Beat SLA025
For Baselworld 2018, Seiko reintroduces the Automatic Diver 300m Ref. 6159-7001 in a slightly modernised package with a design faithful to the original 1968 piece, under the name Seiko Prospex Diver 300m Hi-Beat Ref. SLA025. This watch has, again, been a talking piece during the Basel Watch Fair; most of us praised the design and the cool overall package proposed by Seiko, yet some (without having the full story behind this new piece) questioned the positioning Seiko chose for this SLA025 and the strategy the brand tends to apply with these rare, collectible vintage re-issues – because this year’s piece is clearly stepping on Grand Seiko’s toes in terms of finishing, specifications… and price.
Before answering these entirely justified questions, let’s take a closer look at the watch itself. What is the SLA025? In short, it is a faithful recreation of the 6159-7001 – and not only in terms of design but also regarding the specifications of the watch. No negative feelings in saying that because Seiko launches exactly what the most hardcore collectors want – and this watch isn’t really made with the occasional watch enthusiast in mind.
The habillage (the watchmaking term for the external/decorative parts of a watch) of the Seiko Prospex Diver 300m Hi-Beat SLA025 is, on the whole, similar to the original 6159. Its case, with a rather massive 44.8mm diameter and a hefty 15.7mm height, is shaped with large shoulders and angular lugs. The crown is positioned, as often with Seiko, at 4 o’clock and the bezel sits high above the case. Altogether, not the best watch for a black-tie event, yet the design is just spot-on – in fact, the 1968 design was already spot-on.
What wasn’t visible on the official images provided by Seiko was the exceptional work done on the finishings of this case. Of course, at first you can spot two different surfaces – circular brushed on flat surfaces and polished on the flanks – very traditional for Seiko indeed. Our hands-on time with this watch gave us the opportunity to see that the case wasn’t the usual Prospex case. Nothing wrong with most of them – the Turtle or the Samurai have nicely executed cases, at least for sub-500 EUR watches.
The Seiko Prospex Diver 300m Hi-Beat SLA025 is different (thankfully, considering its price) simply because the case is finished in the exact same way as a Grand Seiko watch. This means that the polished surfaces are done by hand using traditional Zaratsu polishing, with sharp angles and perfectly flat surfaces. The Zaratsu technique (or blade polishing), which creates a distortion-free mirror finish, is an ancient method of hand-polishing used on Japanese fighting swords. Time-consuming, and only done by veteran watchmakers, the finishing of the case partially explains the price of this piece.
On top of this case sits a highly raised bezel with a coin-edge profile. As a professional dive watch, the Prospex Diver 300m Hi-Beat SLA025 features a unidirectional bezel, with a 60-minute insert to time events (decompression steps, diving sessions or pasta cooking time…) The black aluminium insert has a golden track and numerals, designed just like the 1968 version. The SLA025 is a monoblock watch, without a proper case back – meaning that the movement is encased from the dial side – ensuring great protection and the 300m water-resistance – again a feature found on the old 6159-7001.
As for the dial, Seiko brings back the flair of Reference 6159-7001 with a matte black “gilt” dial – meaning that inscriptions, tracks, hands and applied indices are gold-coloured or gold-plated. Compared to the old version, the differences lie in the details. Hands and indices, as well as the tracks, are very close in shape to the 1968 model, but their execution is lightyears ahead in terms of quality. If you look closely at the hour hand, you’ll see the typical Grand Seiko large polished bevel on the sides. A similar attention to detail has been given to the date window. Precise, clean, detailed, surprising for a Prospex watch… but desirable.
The link with Grand Seiko doesn’t end here. Inside the case is Calibre 8L55, a hi-beat (5Hz or 36,000 vibrations per hour) movement developed especially for diving purposes. What’s more interesting with this movement is that it is a slightly simplified and less decorated version of the Grand Seiko calibre 9S85. If a bit less attention will be given to the adjustment and to the finishing, what remains is a high-end movement with a 55-hour power reserve, 37 jewels and very decent accuracy.
What conclusions can we draw about this 1,500-piece limited edition SLA025? Well, in short, we’ve been captivated… The watch is impressive on all levels: the finishing of the case, the faithfulness of the design, the beauty of the mechanics, and the surprising overall execution for a Prospex watch. On this front, Seiko doesn’t disappoint making the Seiko Prospex Diver 300m Hi-Beat SLA025 a true collector’s piece.
The Prospex Diver 300m Hi-Beat SLA025 should be seen as the über-Prospex or a wannabe Grand Seiko!
Now to address the issue of its price tag. The Prospex concept (affordable, reliable, professional watches) isn’t entirely at work here, and it is true that at EUR 5,500 the price has raised some eyebrows. Certainly, the execution of the case, the beauty of certain details (the hands for instance), the scarcity of the watch and the prestigious movement help to explain the price. This watch could almost be a Grand Seiko and in that sense, it plays in another league. This watch should be seen as the über-Prospex and thus, it has arguments to fight against established Swiss brands. And remember that the Grand Seiko hi-beat divers SBGH255 – SBGH257 are priced over EUR 12,000. Maybe the Seiko SLA025 isn’t that expensive after all…
More details on www.seikowatches.com.