It is impossible to have any conversation about dive watches without Seiko inevitably coming up. Since the release of its first diver, the 62MAS, in 1965, the Japanese brand has been inexorably linked with the underwater world. It has released hundreds, if not thousands of dive watches in the years since, in every shape, size and price range you could imagine. From the Captain Willard to the SKX007 and everything in between, I daresay there is not a watch enthusiast out there who hasn’t at least tested the Seiko diver waters at least once or twice. And it’s exactly what I’ll be doing today by taking the Seiko Prospex PADI King Samurai SRPG21K1 with me for a new underwater adventure.
It was no surprise back in 2016 when Seiko decided to join forces with PADI (the Professional Association of Diving Instructors), the world’s largest scuba certification organisation, which has issued a McDonalds-like number (28 million and counting) of scuba certifications over the years. That initial partnership resulted in two memorable watches, a kinetic-movement-powered GMT and the more well-known automatic PADI Turtle. The success of those first watches grew into an annual release of PADI Seiko pieces and led to the watch we are looking at today: the King Samurai, or as Seiko lovingly calls it, the SRPG21K1. We are taking it on a dive trip to Blue Grotto, an underwater cavern in Florida, to see how it checks out in some real-world, dark and cold conditions. Before we take to the waters, let’s take a look at the specs.
One of a pair of Seiko/PADI watches released for 2021, the PADI King Samurai SRPG21K1 is a 43mm stainless steel sports watch. Nicknamed the Samurai by the watch community because the original, released in 2004, had a pair of sword hands (clever folks on Seiko forums back in the day), it also features a very angular case design, which if you look hard enough, could be inspired by a samurai helmet, maybe? Regardless, it’s a cool design and very fitting for a workhorse diver, in my opinion. The first thing you will notice about these new PADI releases is the lack of the tell-tale blue and red colour scheme that has been present in all releases until now. Historically they have had either matte black or PADI-blue dials and some combination of blue, red and black on the bezels and hands. This year they have gone with a black dial embossed with the PADI globe logo and touches of light blue on the bezel and hands. It’s much more understated reference and a nice reset of the PADI theme. It’s also a show of Seiko’s company-wide love of a textured dial.
The dial of the SRPG21K1 features large, applied markers every five minutes, filled with Seiko’s proprietary LumiBrite, and a date window at 3 o’clock minute hand is a samurai sword hand (obviously), and the hour hand is a short, fat arrow, both also filled with ample lume. The new King Samurai watches have been upgraded with a sapphire crystal over the previous model’s Hardlex, and this one includes a cyclops over the date window for increased legibility. The caseback is of the screw-in variety, with the classic Seiko wave logo in the middle. The screw-down crown helps keep things water-tight and is placed at the traditional 3 o’clock position, as opposed to Seiko’s penchant for always putting it at 4:30. Under the hood, you will find the Seiko 4R35 movement, a standard yet reliable movement found in many of the lower-cost models in the Prospex line. Offering a 40-hour power reserve, this movement beats at the Seiko standard 21,600vph and offers hacking and hand-winding functionality. The ceramic bezel provides the only other pop of colour, in an otherwise very stoic, black and white affair, with the first fifteen minutes of indices being given the same light blue colour as the minute hand. It’s a nice touch that adds just the right amount of fun.
On the wrist
On the wrist, the SRPG21K1 wears smaller than the nearly 44mm would have you believe, probably thanks to the relatively slim 12.8mm thickness. Coming in at 48.7mm lug-to-lug, the King Samurai continues Seiko’s tradition of making large watches but getting the dimensions just right to make them very wearable, even for a smaller-wristed fellow such as myself. It has a big wrist presence without ever feeling clunky or cumbersome, and that’s a win in my book. The watch comes on a silicone strap that, while not being the most comfortable material in the world, is very functional for a diver. That’s not to say it is UN-comfortable; I would put it firmly in the “just fine” category. It is waterproof, rugged and long enough to fit comfortably over a wetsuit, so what else can we really ask for from an affordable dive watch?
When it comes to Seiko divers, they fall into two categories for me. You have the watches that take inspiration from Seiko’s early days in dive watches and feature more vintage-leaning aesthetics and designs, such as the Turtle and the Captain Willard and the recently released SPB line of 62MAS-inspired beauties. The second category is that of the modern diver, featuring larger sizes and more modern, sometimes harsh designs. The Samurai falls squarely in the latter category. When diving with a Captain Willard, you might daydream about diving in the 1960s, with just a steel tank, a hose, a pair of shorts and a reliable watch as your gear. Diving with the modern King Samurai is quite the opposite, and one could argue, the purer form of the two. The SRPG21K1, like other modern divers, is a tool. Another item on the checklist, nothing more, nothing less. It is there to time your dive, as a backup, of course, and maybe take a mental note of the time the Captain says you have to be back to the boat or face being left behind.Typical captain humour.
As I mentioned before, the silicone strap fits comfortably and securely over the wetsuit, and the subdued colour scheme blends right into the dive kit like a good piece of gear should. Once in the water, setting the bezel is one of the last things I do before submerging, and herein lies my one complaint about the Samurai. The bezel on this watch was quite difficult to turn and not in a good way. Sometimes bezels feel solid but still usable, which gives a feeling of security knowing they wowon’te easy to accidentally turn. This one was simply hard to turn, and in between clicks, felt very mushy, like it was difficult to find the next click, and had to go around a few times to get it in the right place, which was no small feat. It’s not the end of the world, and once set, it stays firmly in place, but it’s worth mentioning. I’m not sure if this is the case on all Samurais, so definitely do your own research, but a quick Google search sees a few similar comments on the forums.
Bezel woes aside, once submerged, the PADI King Samurai SRPG21K1 performs exactly as I want a dive watch to perform. It feels sturdy and present and offers up its information with ease at a quick glance. Even though I wouldn’t call light blue a very high contrast colour, it is easy to pick out from the black dial for a quick timing check. The bezel also is very legible, despite lacking any lume except for the 12 o’clock tip. While we all know that a mechanical watch isn’t striclty necessary underwater in this day and age, it is still very fun to actually use your watch the way it was intended, and in a dangerous endeavour such as scuba diving, you can never really have too many redundant pieces of kit. And that is exactly what this modern diver from Seiko is in the water, a competent, utilitarian piece of kit, and it fits that bill to a T.
Availability & Price
The Seiko and PADI partnership is a match made in heaven, both being giants of the dive world in their own right. These new models are a welcome refresh to the line and hopefully, a sign that this relationship will continue for many years to come. They are a value proposition of the highest order, and from Seiko, we really shouldn’t expect anything less. The SRPG21K1 is available now from Seiko stores and retailers for USD 595 or EUR 640. For more details, please visit seikowatches.com.