Whenever we’re talking about Seiko‘s sports watches, those produced under the Prospex range, my mind quickly pictures a dive watch… There’s no denying the influence of the Japanese watchmaker in this field. It has been instrumental. However, we can’t reduce the history of Seiko’s professional watches only to aquatic models. The brand has had an equally strong influence on the chronograph market – remember that in 1969, it was part of a trio that presented the first automatic chronograph movements, with a watch named the Speedtimer. As a tribute to early 1970s models, Seiko brings back this name once more with vintage-inspired references, the SRQ047 and SRQ049.
Following the creation of multiple sports timing devices in the early 1960s, Seiko released its first chronograph watch and movement in 1964, which coincidentally was the first of its kind for a Japanese manufacturer, with the Seiko Crown Chronograph and its calibre 5179. Launched for the Summer Olympics, it once again showed the brand’s devotion to sports timing. Even more important maybe is the launch in 1969, alongside Zenith (El Primero) and Heuer/Breitling/Hamilton (Calibre 11/Chronomatic), of one of the first automatic chronograph movements, the calibre 6139, later replaced by the calibre 6138. This movement would find its way into a series of watches named… Speedtimer.
We’ve seen multiple tributes to historic Seiko chronograph watches recently, starting in 2019 with the 50th-anniversary Prospex SRQ029, and in 2021 Seiko brought back the name Speedtimer with a series of large, rather bulky watches such as the SRQ035 and SRQ037, the SRQ039 or the SRQ045. While still using the name Speedtimer, some major updates have been done this year with two new references that not only address some of the design flaws of the aforementioned models but also bring some cool vintage touches.
The new Speedtimer Mechanical Chronograph SRQ047 and SRQ049 come with a familiar design. While the resemblance with the vintage model above is pretty obvious, there’s also a strong connection with the 50th-anniversary reference SRQ029. Nevertheless, these two new models come with some unprecedented design elements and are set to bring a new design language to the mechanical chronograph collection, rather different from what has been used in previous Speedtimer watches.
First and foremost, while not drastically smaller than other Speedtimer watches, the shape of the case and of several elements of the habillage has been revised to bring “visually” more compact watches. The diameter is 42mm and the thickness, often a concern with automatic chronographs, is now set at 14.6mm – to be compared to 42.5mm x 15.1mm for Speedtimer models such as the SRQ045. Besides the slight reduction of the dimensions, it’s mostly the shape of the case that has been updated, with an almost helmet-like centre case, an ode to 1970s models. The pushers, while still protruding significantly from the case, have been reduced too and the construction of the case itself – understand the distribution of the elements (bezel, mid-case, caseback) – has been revised to make these otherwise hefty models feel a bit more compact.
The design is cool, retro and charming, with obvious vintage references mixed with contemporary execution. The combination of hairline finishes and polished accents, typical of Seiko’s modern production, is particularly well executed here and makes these new references, at least in my eyes, far more appealing than previous Speedtimers. The rest of the case is classic, with a sapphire crystal on top, a large crown and a caseback that, for once, keeps things hidden. It’s solid steel with engravings, without a see-through back. The 100m water-resistance is also pleasant for a chronograph.
Moving down to the dials, Seiko brings two classic but effective options; Panda (SRQ047) or Reversed Panda (SRQ049, a limited edition). First, we can see that the display has evolved from a bi-compax to a tri-compax layout, with the date now positioned in a circular window at 4:30, on a matching disc. The dark version (it is hard to define the actual colour, ranging from black to dark grey-blue) comes with a matte dial while the silver model features a straight brushed finish. Both have applied markers and hands with LumiBrite inserts and orange accents on the tip of the chronograph-related hands. Finally, a contrasting inner tachymeter flange allows the calculation of average speeds.
Importantly, combined with the new shape of the case, these dials full of contrast also tend to make the Speedtimer SRQ047 and SRQ049 feel slightly smaller than previous models. They are also more animated, and more interesting to look at, with a slight vintage note. Once on the wrist, their presence is undeniable but the short lugs and the revamped case keep things pretty decent for a sports chronograph.
Invisible under its steel back (which doesn’t really matter, since the chronograph system is positioned dial-side) is the calibre 8R48, a surprisingly fine movement equipped with a vertical clutch and column wheel, ensuring a smooth actuation of the function and a precise start of the seconds hand. This automatic engine beats at a 4Hz frequency, with an escapement made lighter and stronger thanks to the use of MEMS technology.
In addition to new cases and dials, these Prospex Speedtimer SRQ047 and SRQ049 chronograph watches also inaugurate a new bracelet (with super-hard coating like the case), inspired by those found on 1970s watches. Its multi-link construction is visually quite cool but also pleasant on the wrist, with flexibility. It is closed by a three-fold clasp with push button release. The reference SRQ049 is also delivered with an additional leather strap with its own folding clasp.
Both the SRQ047 and SRQ049 will be available at the Seiko Boutiques and select retail stores worldwide from December 2023. The SRQ047 will be part of the permanent collection while the dark-toned SRQ049 is a limited edition of 1,000 pieces, commemorating the 100th year of the Seiko name. The classic version retails for EUR 2,700 and the limited edition for EUR 2,900 (a bit more accessible than previous Speedtimer models, now priced at around 3,200 euros with a steel bracelet). For more details, please visit seikowatches.com.