Seiko Prospex Marinemaster Professional 1000m Diver’s SBDX014 and Hi-Beat Limited Edition SBEX001
This post begins with a statement: “Finally!” Finally in Europe we have been given the chance to buy a series of diver's watches that, over the last few years, Seiko had marketed exclusively in Japan or, occasionally, in the US. I'm talking about some iconic models from the Prospex (Professional Specification) line-up, one of those collections that fostered the reputation of Seiko as a manufacturer of excellent timepieces. Two new models, one of them produced in limited numbers, celebrate the 50th anniversary of the launch by Seiko of the first diver's watch, in 1965. What is displayed, via a video, on the second floor of Hall 1 at Baselworld 2015, deserves to be shared with those who have not attended the exhibition, but would have liked to, and who are true watch enthusiasts.
The Marinemaster collection is an iconic range of Seiko products that, thanks to the expansion strategy that the company started a few years ago, is steadily growing and showing its potential European customers that the brand is not just about making high quality affordable watches, but can also produce high-end timepieces (something that is still hard to prove to an Italian customer). We, as a magazine, started last year by reviewing the brand Grand Seiko, and now the opportunity is presenting itself again with a collection dedicated to professional diver's watches.
The Marinemaster collection consists mainly of two models, one featuring a two-piece case, the second a monocoque case, which have been realized in different calibers (quartz, mechanical, Spring Drive movements) since 1968.
They truly are the most appreciated watches by divers (and connoisseurs) the world over; please spend an hour reading enthusiasts' comments on watches forums to get an idea; these timepieces also represent the closest thing to a diver's professional equipment. At Baselworld 2015, Seiko unveiled the Seiko Prospex Marinemaster Professional 1000m Diver’s SBDX014 and the Seiko Prospex Marinemaster Professional 1000m Diver’s Hi-Beat Limited Edition SBEX001. They are both professional diver's watches rated at 1000m of depth. This number could put a smile on the face of those who are used to deal with ratings that are three, four or even five times higher than this, unless they are aware that diver's watches separate into two categories: water resistant timepieces, and those who are compliant to ISO 6425, a strict certification that Seiko adopts when designing a new diver's watch. For example, please look for the helium escape valve on these watches' outer case. You are not going to find one. Helium does not penetrate these watches' case during a saturation dive, therefore there is no need to let it come out. The case's design is so sturdy and finely engineered that it goes well beyond the rated depth.
The case, made of titanium and ceramic (the latter partially covers the bezel, to avoid an accidental operation while diving), features an L-shaped gasket to guarantee a water resistance so excellent that a bunch of Tuna Can timepieces (as they are nicknamed in the US), applied to the outside of an exploration submarine, has proved to work properly up to 3000m of depth (even more in some cases). This test was on display at the Seiko's booth.
The Seiko Prospex Marinemaster Professional 1000m Diver’s SBDX014 is automatic and adopts caliber 8L35, fully made in-house. Indexes are covered with Lumibrite, the Japanese equivalent of Superluminova, a Seiko's patent (this is regarded as an integrated manufacture, where every component, including the spring, is made in-house). The Tuna Can is not just a tool watch, but it is also very comfortable: Japanese manufacturers prefer to use silicon rather than caoutchouc, as it is a lot smoother. The strap is an accordion one, which is in fact another of Seiko's patents.
The Seiko Prospex Marinemaster Professional 1000m Diver’s Hi-Beat Limited Edition SBEX001 is even more refined, especially its mechanical movement. An upgraded version of a 300m Seiko Marinemaster, its architecture resembles that of a classic three-hands timepiece but with the advantage of a monocoque case, a solution that is quite expensive and hard to realize, forcing watchmakers to install the movement on the dial's side (and to also service it from this side after having disassembled the glass, the bezel, that hands and the dial itself). It is equipped with Hi-Beat 36000 caliber 8L55 (only used on a Grand Seiko until now), the equivalent of the Japanese “El Primero”, in terms of operating frequency, fully assembled by hand. The case is made of High Intensity Titanium, a patent that improves the 48,2mm wide and 19,7mm thick case's resistance to scratches, when compared to a traditional titanium alloy.
Aesthetically imposing (such thickness is perhaps due to the need to comply with the ISO standard, while adopting a titanium case instead of a stainless steel one), it is made in just 700 pieces and represents, I believe, a clear challenge to an European manufacture from Geneva and its flagship diver's watch, the Deepsea. I do not like those four screws, they're a small design flaw, but they clearly serve a purpose. The Seiko Prospex Marinemaster Professional 1000m Diver’s Hi-Beat Limited Edition SBEX001 retails for 6400€ and is the flagship of this collection, the best Prospex in terms of materials, mechanical movement and performances Seiko has made so far. It is a collector's piece and the quintessential diver's watch, not an everyday one, despite its lightness. Seiko did not design this watch to make it a watch to be worn everyday at the office, but simply to reaffirm its technical leadership and to prove that it is perfectly capable of creating a luxury diver's watch. I especially appreciated, although I hadn’t in the past, the Seiko Prospex Marinemaster Professional 1000m Diver’s SBDX014. Its design makes it look a bit eccentric, a sort of space watch, but is in fact a lot more versatile than what it looks at first sight. Its gold accents, on top of that, are one of Seiko's hallmarks. Don't be scared by its 52,4mm wide case as it is very comfortable, and sits perfectly on your wrist even under a jacket, provided it’s a sporty one. It retails for 3450€, which is remarkably competitive.
Some final observations: the Seiko Prospex Marinemaster Professional 1000m Diver’s SBDX014 and the Seiko Prospex Marinemaster Professional 1000m Diver’s Hi-Beat Limited Edition SBEX001 are simply outstanding, they set new standards for diver's watches and above all, they make them available to a wider audience. Throughout the years quite a few people told me that I seem to have a fondness for Japanese watches, especially Seiko but, granted that there's absolutely no commercial partnership with the brand, I can admit to simply having a fondness for fine watchmaking, and I do think that these timepieces' technical features speak for themselves. I would say that there are no evident flaws in the watches, but rather in the brand's ability to sometimes effectively promote its products, for example by failing to provide enthusiasts with digital tools (Apps, website); in Tokyo they have started working on this aspect but many competitors remain however a few steps ahead, especially when it comes to stimulating the emotional side of an aficionado.
(Photo credit: courtesy of Seiko Watches; Horbiter®'s proprietary photo-shooting)
Gaetano C.@ Horbiter®