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Why I believe the Captain Willard SPB153 is the Coolest Seiko of 2020

Style, pedigree, historical relevance, cool factor... Yes, I love the Captain Willard reissue.

calendar | ic_dehaze_black_24px By Brice Goulard | ic_query_builder_black_24px 10 min read |
Seiko Prospex Diver SPB153 Captain Willard - coolest Seiko 2020

Earlier this year, Seiko brought back one of its legendary designs, a watch that not only marked the brand’s history and became an incredible commercial success in the 1970s, but a watch that gained fame after being worn on Captain Willard’s (Martin Sheen) wrist in Apocalypse Now. Available in black and in green, and despite the fact that the green version is not historically relevant, I immediately fell in love with this olive-coloured, military-inspired edition… and I bought it. So, let’s make it clear, this article is not going to be objective. It’s not going to be factual. But it will simply reflect why I think (why I’m sure, actually) the Captain Willard SPB153 is the coolest Seiko of 2020.

Background

Before we move on with this article, it’s important to remember where the Seiko ‘Captain Willard’ Reissue comes from. This isn’t the first time that Seiko brings back a reissue of the so-called Turtle watch. There’s already a widely available modern interpretation in collection, with the accessible SRP series. On the other side of the range, there was the Seiko 1970 Diver’s Re-Creation SLA033, a far more precise and high-end take on the Turtle watch, this time a faithful recreation of the 6105 watch.

An example of Seiko 6105-8110 – image by Fratello Watches

The Turtle concept, with its atypical case, started life with the reference 6105, later replaced in 1976 by the 6309 series. While quite similar to the 6105, the 6309 has an even more asymmetrical case design and also adds a day function and a dial with circular luminous plots instead of rectangular ones. But the topic of the day is the Captain Willard watch, as such a 6105. Produced from 1968 onwards, the Seiko 6105 was a sturdy dive watch with a water-resistance of 150 metres. What caught everybody’s eye was the crown positioned at 4 o’clock (which was, in fact, used for the first time in the 1961 Seiko Silver Wave) and the big, lower crown protector.

The watch is famous for two things. First, it was tested in real life by explorer Naomi Uemura, a very popular Japanese adventurer, well respected for having achieved solo feats. For instance, he undertook a one-man dog-sledge run from Greenland to Alaska, a journey of 12,000 km that took 18 months. He was the first to reach the North Pole alone. He was also the first to descend the Amazon river in a boat. Why it matters is because he was wearing a 6105 during most of his travels. Not as part of a marketing campaign orchestrated by Seiko; it was just a watch that was robust, reliable and durable enough to accompany Uemura on his adventures.

Dennis Hopper, Martin Sheen, and Frederic Forrest survey a temple in a scene from the film Apocalypse Now, 1979. (Photo by United Artists/Getty Images)

Second, the reason for the fame of the reference 6105 has to do with the iconic movie, Apocalypse Now. The watch was worn by one of the movie’s main characters, Captain Willard, portrayed by Martin Sheen. Not just a fancy prop, the watch was actually used in a real wartime situation. It turns out that the 6105 was sold in Asia during the Vietnam conflict and American soldiers had better – and cheaper – access to it than locals because they paid in dollars. The watch earned a solid reputation among the ranks for being a sturdy piece of equipment, to the point of becoming a favourite among the soldiers. When the soldiers returned to civilian life, so did the watch.

American actors Martin Sheen (left) and Frederic Forrest (right) walk together on the set of their film, Apocalypse Now (Photo by Steve Schapiro/Corbis via Getty Images.

The call for a re-edition increased notably with the re-release of the movie in 2001 (known as Apocalypse Now Redux). And Seiko has taken its own sweet time to please its fans, first with the SLA033 and today with the SPB151 and SPB153.

The Seiko ‘Captain Willard’ SPB153

Earlier this year, Seiko announced a new series of watches inspired by the 6105, a relatively faithful re-edition of the original concept with vintage flair but modernised too on several levels. While the SRP series is clearly inspired by the 6309 watches, this SPB153 takes most design cues of the Ref. 6105 and brings them into a contemporary package, part of the brand’s mid-range collections. Both elements, its lower price and this addition of contemporary elements, are what truly differentiates the SPB153 from the expensive and limited SLA033. And while I’d love to own the latter, I think the far more accessible price tag of the olive-green SPB makes for an even more desirable piece, which can be bought easily by most watch enthusiasts. In addition to that, the original late-1960s watches were far from being luxurious items.

Seiko Prospex Diver SPB153 Captain Willard - coolest Seiko 2020

The Captain Willard reissue reintroduces the original design of the 6105 with its atypical case, an almost identical dial design and the same spirit of reliability, robustness and (relative) affordability. The 2020 Captain Willard is built around a cushion-shaped central container with the crown positioned at 4 o’clock and protected by an asymmetrical guard. Just like the original watch, the case is circular brushed on the upper surface and polished on sides, with drilled lugs and an unmarked screw-down crown. The quality is typical Prospex: simple but clean, and very well adjusted. It feels (and is) solid.

An important thing with the Captain Willard SPB153 is the size of the case. This watch demonstrates once again Seiko’s intention to downsize some of its watches. We’ve seen this with the 62MAS modern interpretations, and so does this 6105-inspired model. The case measures 42.8mm in diameter, but mostly, it is 46.6mm lug-to-lug. Also, the lug width is only 20mm, making the case/strap balance a bit odd, and thus charming. The watch is equipped with a 120-click unidirectional bezel, with a notched profile that recalls that of the 6105. The insert, here in olive green, is made of matte anodized aluminium with a grained surface. Finally, a bevelled sapphire crystal protects the dial.

Seiko Prospex Diver SPB153 Captain Willard - coolest Seiko 2020

Seiko Prospex Diver SPB153 Captain Willard - coolest Seiko 2020

While the black model certainly feels more relevant, Seiko added a green version to this small sub-collection… Why? No idea exactly. Apart from the cool factor, the fact that green is trendy and it might recall the military past of the watch? Other than this colour, Seiko once again relies on the 6105 as a base for the design. The rectangular hour markers, the shovel-like seconds hand, the straight hours and minutes hands, the date-only display, the double marker at 12 o’clock… Everything is there but has been slightly updated. The base of the dial is sunray brushed, adding a nice sense of depth and some lively reflections.

Seiko Prospex Diver SPB153 Captain Willard - coolest Seiko 2020

Under the screwed caseback, Seiko relies on its calibre 6R35 – Seiko’s mid-range automatic movement, found in both Presage and Prospex models. It beats at 3Hz and offers a robust power reserve of 70 hours when fully wound. I haven’t measured the accuracy of the watch, but it appears to be within -10/-5 seconds a day, which feels pretty solid for a watch of this range.

Why Do I love the ‘Captain Willard’ reissue?

Quick background on my preferences. Most of my personal watches fall into two categories: pilot’s chronographs and dive watches. Not that I’m a pilot or a diver myself, but I like the concept, the design, the function of both styles. Also, I don’t own many vintage watches myself, since they require special care that I usually don’t have when wearing watches. However, I have a soft spot for vintage designs. And, to be even more precise, I’ve always enjoyed these accessible, rugged and utilitarian Seiko diver’s watches from the 1960s-70s. These are cool, robust, with a no-nonsense instrumental spirit. The true essence of Seiko, in my opinion.

Seiko Prospex Diver SPB153 Captain Willard - coolest Seiko 2020

As you can imagine, when Seiko introduced the SPB151 and SPB153, it immediately caught my attention. Having already some SRP Turtle and Samurai watches, I know how great these very accessible watches can be. For less than 500 euros, they’ll bring you immense pleasure. But these are large and heavy watches, with a quality that is certainly above suspicion considering the price, but not on par with so-called Swiss luxury watches – please bear with me, the SRP watches are some of the best watches in this price range, but simply can’t compete with an IWC or an Omega.

Seiko Prospex Diver SPB153 Captain Willard - coolest Seiko 2020
An example of an SRP Turtle watch… Note the difference in size with the Captain Willard.

What made me fall in love with the Captain Willard reissue, and specifically this olive-green SPB153? Many things, actually. First, as mentioned, I have a soft spot for vintage-inspired Seiko diver’s watches. So, clearly, I’m biased. Second, I’ve been looking at the SLA033 for several months, but I never made the final step, mostly because of its price. Yet, the idea of having a watch inspired by the original 6105 stuck in my mind, and I even thought about buying a vintage model at a certain point. Yet, finding an example in pristine condition isn’t the easiest task. As such, you can imagine my reaction when we received the news of this Captain Willard reissue… I was hooked.

Seiko Prospex Diver SPB153 Captain Willard - coolest Seiko 2020

Then I got to test the watch in our hands-on session of June this year. Having the opportunity to see the watch in the metal only reinforced my feelings towards it. I discovered that the watch was perfectly proportioned, with some presence but it was far more compact than I imagined, even on my small 16.5cm wrist. Despite the 42.8mm dimension (from 3 to 9 o’clock), the watch measures less than 47mm lug-to-lug – a measurement that you’ll usually find on 40mm watches with a classic round case and protruding lugs.

Seiko Prospex Diver SPB153 Captain Willard - coolest Seiko 2020

While the black version would have been a reasonable, historically relevant choice, I decided to go for the green model. First of all, I think the colour is ultra-cool. It’s different, lively, warm and adds this military touch that, without making real sense in the 6105 context, is simply fun and desirable. A good point too was the use of anodized aluminium for the bezel, a material that I prefer in terms of look and feel for vintage-inspired watches. Ceramic certainly is a great option, but I tend to prefer matte surfaces to glossy ceramic.

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Finally, there’s the quality of the watch itself. The case might be rather simple, but the bezel, the dial, the hands are all very detailed and impressively executed for a watch in this price range. Same goes for the bevelled sapphire crystal, which is a very nice addition to the watch and really contributes to the overall perceived quality. The movement, with its extended power reserve of 3 days, it also something that stands out from the crowd of ETA, Sellita and Miyota watches, with about 2 days of power reserve. It might seem like a detail, but on a daily basis, it makes the watch more comfortable to use.

Seiko Prospex Diver SPB153 Captain Willard - coolest Seiko 2020

Finally, I changed the original strap for something more personal… Nothing wrong with the black silicon strap offered by Seiko, but I wanted to give this piece an even more military look, and also more comfort with something light and thin. Hence this 2-piece NATO in green (cheap and not really of high quality, though… I’m now looking for something more suitable). Really, looking at the photos while writing this article (and looking at my wrist too, as I’m wearing the watch while I type on my keyboard), I genuinely think this SPB153 Captain Willard Reissue is the best, most attractive, coolest Seiko of the year.

Of course, this statement is subjective and personal. What is your favourite Seiko of the year, and why? Please share with us in the comment box below.

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22 responses

  1. I love mine. If an SKX works for you, this will work. It’s all about that lug-to-lug length. The watch is quite square, and actually hugs the wrist a bit more than the SKX.

    The 20mm lug width doesn’t feel odd to me. I’ve got it on a thin Eulit Perlon and it looks and wears great.

    I really wish it wasn’t running at +20spd, though. After having owned dozens and dozens of Seikos over the years, I can say that there seems to be an inverse relationship between cost and accuracy. My most accurate Seiko—hovering around around +/- 0spd—is the less-than-$100 SNK809.

    I have probably owned about five Damaskos that are right in at the Willard price point, and every one of them has run +/- 5spd. Yes, they are adjusted before they leave the Damasko factory. But it shouldn’t be such a crapshoot with Seiko once you get into this $1,300 range. I will get the Willard adjusted after it’s settled in a bit more. I just wish I didn’t have to.

  2. The Captain Willard releases are great and I would love to get one, but my favorite new Seiko release is the SPB185J1.

  3. It’s a shame that Seiko has priced this remake out of the budget for many, Seiko and it’s march to become a up market brand has begun to alienate its core fan base.
    This quote $1,100 watch can be found nowhere for this price nor is it worth it. With typical misalignment issues and the random luck of the draw when it comes to accuracy of the movement. For a over $1,000 watch I’m sorry but the chapter rings should be aligned and movement accuracy should be more consistent cheap Chinese homage watches can do and offer better.
    What Seiko should of done is price this at say 600-700 dollars put an Nh34/5 movement and hardlex crystal. Would probably cost them no more to make than a turtle charge double and make a huge profit. And save the SLA version for the rich folks. They want to go up market that’s what the SLA is for, if they want to make money they should have priced it more affordably.
    Seiko would of sold a ton of these and the SLA would of kept the exclusivity and prestige of the original.
    But here we are and those Chinese homage watches are punching well above their weight.
    I’m truly glad that Seiko is reassuring these classic watches but they’ve made them so unobtainable and exclusive it’s almost better to buy the used original and restore it.

  4. It’s seems out of touch to make the entire review without mentioning misalignment issues and the fact that Seiko is shamelessly pushes these QC disasters upmarket, just to milk their fanbase

  5. @Murdoch Niccals, what alignment issues are you talking about?
    The markers are on the dial, not on a rehaut.

  6. I agree that this is the coolest Seiko release of the year, and I have one under the Christmas tree. The new Shoguns would fill the podium, in what has been a fantastic year by Seiko.

  7. @Murdoch Niccals
    Well, the SPB151/153 don’t have chapter rings, so one less thing to go wrong for you, I suppose.

    Got mine (SBDC111 JDM) middle of the year. Liking it lots. First watch I’ve ever purchased online (because pandemic) but the merchant (Gnomon Watches SG) was very accomodating, sending me photos of the piece prior to delivery and assuring me that they’d inspected for the usual QC issues. Watched arrived looking mint.

    Fits my skinny 6″ wrists pretty well thanks to the short lug-to-lug length. The stock strap is also pretty good, but a tad too long for me. Picked up a Marine Nationale style strap (not Erika’s, because 75 Euros for stretchy nylon is daylight robbery) as well as a single-pass elastic Nato, and am currently waiting for my Nick Mankey Hook Strap to arrive.

    Regarding movement, I have a bit of a strange story I’d like to share; At first, the watch seemed to settle into a +10 to +12 sec/day rate. Not the best, but at least it was consistent, provided it was close to a full wind (meaning being worn daily). Then I somehow got it magnetized – I work in a mastering studio with big loudspeakers, but I suspect it’s the magnets in my iPad cover that did it. Used the usual cheapo eBay demagnetizer and after that, it’s now running around +17 to +20 seconds *a week*. I have no idea why that is, but I’m quite pleased. It was either the demagnetizing process or that knock it had on a door handle around that time that “fixed” the movement. So my advice to those with 6R movements running too fast for your liking; demagnetize and then bash it into a door knob (the watch looks better with battle scars), and you should be golden!

  8. I have heard nothing but complaints about the rubbish build quality and the event more rubbish movement. Between this fiasco and the sbdc051/053 with the even more rubbish 6r15, Seiko has made the Steeldive sd1970 the coolest watch of 2020.

  9. I haven’t heard too much about build problems with this Seiko reissue, but I have to agree with Chris about the SD1970. Ceramic bezel, topaz crystal, and the clincher is the ubiquitous yet proven NH35 with hacking and hand winding: a Seiko homage with a movement compliments of Seiko. The initial build quality is on par with the several genuine Seikos I own.
    Mine was $80 from Alibaba and it absolutely scratched my Willard itch.
    Genuine apologies if this opinion is heretical on this site. I”m new.

  10. @Dave don’t worry Dave I think I’ve committed the the biggest form of heresy ever!! I’ve made my own Willard homage with a steel dive 1970 body , sapphire crystal a perfectly regulated Nh35 movement, a virtually identical replica dial and hand set.
    Aside from the lock logo on the crown that and the official Seiko caseback it’s indistinguishable from original 6105 Willard. And I accomplished all this for less than 200 bucks. I know it’s a homage and only a true aficionado or hardcore Seiko fanatic would be able to tell the difference. And I doubt I’ll ever come across one, I’ll be wearing the same watch to my grave
    Either way it scratched my Willard itch.
    And it was a truly rewarding build.

  11. Would never spend 1100 on that japanese piece of shit. Seiko movements are sloppy they loose time too easily. They are loud when you move that wrist. They vibrate to the point were it’s no longer a smooth movement. Unfortunately the swiss make better timepieces all the way around. They are concerned with a nice smooth fluid sweeping motion not the vibration like you are using an electric razor. And I don’t think power reserve is anywhere near 70 because I had a similar watch with the same movement and I’d have to reset it after 24 hours. People that hype seiko watches have clearly never worn a swiss made automatic. There is no comparison.

  12. Its a real disappointment to see your reviewed watch with a misaligned bezel at 12 o’clock. Not for $1,200 bux. I think, however, we will have better luck with the SBDC143, for the same money.

  13. I considered the “Willard X” for a while and even held it at a local AD, but ultimately decided against it. I’m a bit different in that I came to Seiko late in life, and from the opposite angle. First Seiko was the SLA017, which remains the best watch in my small watch collection. The lower tier Prospex line really doesn’t do much for me in that regard, at least with regards to automatics. I am tempted to pick up one of the new solar Arnies though.

    @Greg
    Funny because the I sold my Submariner (the previous 40mm one) about a month after getting the SLA017. There was no comparison. The SLA was better in terms of case finishing, and it even keeps better time despite the specs saying otherwise.

  14. @ MARK WOLFSON – the bezel is perfectly aligned. But… it’s a rotating bezel and I’ve just not positioned it perfectly at 12. I can assure you that there is no alignment issue, I’m looking at the watch now.

  15. A lot of reaction to this post. It’s a shame about Seiko’s pricing policy. It used to be you could have a good selection because of the reasonable cost so I have 7 to choose from. If we have to pay Swiss prices we may as well get swiss quality well which I have found worth doing. The green looks infinitely better than the alternative. For an alternative strap I would suggest a Barton canvas, I bought one for my SNK805 and I think it looks great, relatively cheap too so if you don’t love it not a lot lost

  16. Very serious quality issues for a watch at this price point. Seiko have let both themselves, and their customers down. These issues are reflected all over, by well respected and trustworthy sources, qualities which Seiko would do well to reflect upon.

  17. nice watch – double the price it should be positioned. Just like the sla033 which I hold for 3s instinctively putting away for its top heavy weight. ridiculous.
    I love my seiko skx009, easy wear, fun, too, and it ticks along.
    it’s the cheapest of my collection.

    I hold grand seikos, too, all pretty nice, classic, sport, diver, spring, titanium, but _none_ was a convincing item, too crowdy dial, too thick case, too quartz.. oh and some of them, too expensive for what they offer, too.

    After all it’s still a seiko. not a patek, not a rolex, not a jlc, cartier, bulgari, … compared to IWC, yep I get why grand seiko is worth considering, but then, they’re totally different in design philosophies anyway.

  18. whoever said there are no alignment issues because there are no chapter rings needs to pay closer attention. I’ve observed (and unfortunately owned) SPB153/151 dials that were misaligned at 12 (eg. the printing and marker application on the dial was off). I even bought a 143 dial that was off. I think this is unacceptable for watches in this price point. How can Seiko managed to screw up DIALS??

  19. In my opinion this is just an overpriced repacked turtle, not even close to being a worthy reissue of the legendary Cpt Willard and for sure not the coolest watch of the year, but merely pure attempt of Seiko to milk the crowd. Seiko is a great company, but articles like this only encourage them to continue following the wrong path.

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