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In Defense of the Seiko SKX

Is the SKX worth its cult classic status?

*This article was originally posted in December 2018 on The Columbia Watch Society’s website (colawatch.com), who have kindly agreed to allow us to re-post it here.

Foreword

Since I first wrote this article, there have been quite a few changes in the relevant landscape, and I will address some of them in this foreword. Besides a few typographical and syntax revisions, the article is otherwise as originally posted (and, thus, somewhat dated).

First, the referenced Patrick Marlett video (“Don’t Buy the Seiko SKX007: Three Reasons to Avoid This & Every Modern Diver’s Watch”), which was the original inspiration for this article, appears to have been a bait-and-switch. Almost immediately after this article was initially posted, Patrick Marlett posted a follow-up titled, “The Best Diver’s Watch Ever Made? – Three Reasons to Buy the Seiko SKX007 & Every Modern SKX Variant.” If it’s not obvious, that second video emphasized some of the things that make the SKX such an iconic watch (many of which appeared in my article).

4.-SKX-Extra

I should reiterate: Patrick’s first video did not really need any defense, because his criticisms were fair, even if they were purposefully removed from emotion. And in the follow-up, he does an excellent job of discussing the other side of watch collecting (that was really the focus of my article). I’d recommend checking out both videos (assuming they still exist), because together they were a phenomenal and honest critique of this beloved and iconic watch.

Second, since this article was written, what had been merely threatened or rumored for ages finally came true, and Seiko officially discontinued the SKX. Although they can still be purchased new, stock is lower and prices significantly higher (anywhere from $300-$450 at the time of this foreword). In the wake of the SKX’s demise, Seiko has rekindled its Seiko 5 line, with two SKX evolutions.

seiko-5-sports-5kx-1

The first, released in summer 2019, was the 100m, dive-styled Seiko 5 Sports; essentially, Seiko kept (even, perhaps, improved) the looks of the SKX, and greatly increased the colorway options, but ditched the serious dive watch qualities (womp-womp).

Then, in June 2020, Seiko released the SRPE5x models, dubbed (by us) the DressKX, which kept the SKX shape and modified it to a conservatively sized, smooth-bezeled, everyday sport watch. Suspecting that Seiko had done something special, Will and I both purchased (yes, with our own money) some of the first copies of the SRPE55, and co-wrote one of the first full-featured reviews of the DressKX (which can be found here). Although the DressKX was not in any sense a dive watch, we generally agreed (as have many subsequent reviewers) that, while the new Seiko 5 dive-lite seemed a disservice to the OG, the DressKX retained the soul of the SKX but did so in a much more desirable manner.

Seiko-5-Fixed-Bezel-SRPE55-SRPE51-SRPE53-SRPE57-25-1

Third, and finally (for the purposes of this foreword), Orient has continued to iterate on the Mako family, releasing the Kamasu in June 2019. Now, with SKX prices rivaling full-featured microbrand divers, the release of the very affordable and well-specced  Kamasu and the continued availability of the Mako II (about $220 and $130, respectively), Orient has almost certainly and indisputably taken on the mantle for “best cheap diver.” To be clear, that isn’t because the Kamasu or Mako now rivals the SKX in the terms I discuss below, but simply because the SKX is no longer as cheap (or as available).

So, while the below is not relevant buying advice today, we ultimately decided to re-post this article because the ideas below remain true) today, perhaps truer than they did when initially written. Almost daily, I fend off arguments alleging better specs or country of origin from collectors defending their own purchases, or, worse, pooh-poohing someone else’s. The watch acquisition hobby remains an irrational one, which is EXACTLY the way we like it.

 – Everett (01.26.21)

Neither Seiko nor its ubiquitous SKX are lacking in apologists.  The SKX has been in production for over two decades; its predecessor, the aesthetically similar 7002, for another decade before that. There are literally hundreds (perhaps thousands) of positive reviews of the SKX online. Worn and Wound and Fratello have each gushed about the SKX in recent years – Hodinkee has published not just one, but two separate love letters to the SKX line of watches. 

1.-SKX-Lede

And, yet, I felt compelled to write this defense after watching Patrick Marlett’s recent video “Don’t Buy the Seiko SKX007: Three Reasons to Avoid This & Every Modern Diver’s Watch.” Patrick knows watches, and Seikos in particular, and he quickly gets down to these three things: 1) the SKX has a terrible bracelet, 2) the quality control of the SKX is laughable (looking at you, misaligned chapter ring), and 3) the timekeeping abilities of the SKX, with its anachronistic 7S26 movement, are suspect. Here is the thing: Patrick is right.  Objectively, the SKX leaves a lot to be desired, and falls short of its competition in measurable and demonstrable ways.

SKX Alternatives

Patrick ultimately suggests two broad categories of alternatives: 1) vintage quartz Seiko dive watches, of which the options are many and wonderful, and 2) modern automatic alternatives, including the Seiko Turtle, Mini-Turtle, and Samurai watches, each with the notably improved 4R3X movement. Both categories get you watches that will almost certainly tell time more accurately and with a higher degree of craftsmanship, without costing you significantly more money than the SKX.

Seiko-Mini-Turtle-SRPC39-4

Another alternative to the SKX that frequently comes up is the Orient Mako, or its brother the Orient Ray. While Orient is owned by the same parent company as Seiko, the two companies operate independently, and each take up discrete market space.  While to you and me the watches may be very different in look and feel, for the uninitiated there is little, aesthetically, to differentiate them. 

They look remarkably similar (my first time comparing these watches, I had to split-screen images and closely examine each for differentiating features), and they have very similar dimensions and specifications. If you haven’t at some point mentally wrestled with these two watches, you have likely never owned either of them.  I would wager that there is no more popular “watch newb” question than, “SKX or Mako?”

orient-kamasu
Orient Kamasu – A Cousin of the Mako

Orient Ups the Ante

In 2016 Orient did what fans of both watches had been clamoring for, upgrading the movement of the Mako and Ray to include hacking and hand winding.  Want solid end links and Sapphire(?) – Orient also covered you while introducing its Mako USA line.  Essentially, what Orient did is take a watch that already competed very closely with the SKX and made it better in objective ways – ways that real people were asking for – and they did so without significantly raising the price of the watch. Why then has Orient not taken over the space? It’s an objectively better watch, but the SKX still competes very closely in the race for best “first watch.”  

seiko-skx007-2

Watch people talk about catching the watch bug in familiar but ultimately inaccurate ways: “my first watch,” or “my first ‘real’ watch” stand in as jargon to describe the phenomenon of becoming a watch person. Like many of those who entered the hobby via the SKX, it was not actually my first watch. In high school there were the sporty plated-brass Fossil watches, purchased at the Meier & Frank counter with the help of my high-school girlfriend.  In college and during my first career, there were many plastic Timex Ironman watches, meant to get me through physical days and post-work runs. I believed then (and probably now) that the Ironman is a modern pinnacle in frugal, utilitarian timekeeping. I never needed more, because I was not encumbered by an identity as a watch person.

6.-SKX-Out

That all changed when I found the SKX. I actually don’t remember what started it – whether I came upon an article organically, or if I sought out my fate by searching for “best affordable watches.” I frequently, and without good reason, feel compelled to find (and often purchase) the best of something: “Best folding knife under $100,” “best range-finder digital camera,” “best mechanical pencil,” and “best framing hammer” (seriously), have all occupied my Google search history in the last month, and I assume the SKX came about in similar fashion. Within hours (minutes?) I knew that I was either going to purchase the SKX or the Mako.  I polled co-workers and I messaged pictures to my friends from school.  I wanted to make the right decision, but I was struggling.  My mind was telling me Mako, but my body – my BODY – was telling me SKX.

What I found is that the SKX has a je ne sais quoi that hypnotized me; it sang out to me (“go to sleep, little baby”) and rendered me incapable of rational decision-making.  Buying the SKX was not the rational decision then, and it certainly is not now.  There are better watches – better by nearly every measure by which we assess watches – at the same or similar price. So why then does the SKX occupy this place of reverence in our community?  Why would I – faced with the same decision – do the same thing again today?

seiko-skx173

The reason is intangible, and thus, not rational or universal. The intangibility of the appeal also makes it hard to explain, which is not to say that it doesn’t exist.  The SKX, with its timeless proportions and organic Gehry-esque case, just works for those of us that have fallen under its spell; we are able to forgive all of its sins when we drape that jangly but incredibly comfortable Jubilee-style bracelet over our wrist in the morning.

seiko-skx007-4

And, what of that bracelet? It’s not a precise or lovingly crafted bracelet. The looped connections stretch, and the clasp is stamped. But it, like the watch itself, has a magic to it. The naysayers will suggest that SKX fans are being dishonest or delusional in their appreciation of the SKX’s bracelet, but I can say that, even at my most skeptical, the SKX bracelet ranks high in my collection for overall comfort.  The polish on the middle links catches the light pleasingly, and lends itself to making the watch feel special in a way that Orient’s Oyster-style bracelet can’t compete with. Would the SKX be better with a machined bracelet? Perhaps. It would also be better with sapphire, and solid end links, and a 4R movement. But – and this is my point – it does not need those things to be a great watch.  

5.-SKX-Clasp

Final Thoughts

The SKX, with its inferior movement and mineral glass and jangly bracelet, is an icon.  It’s an icon that you can (and maybe should) fall in love with.  Like a TR7 or a Fox body Mustang, the SKX is not a superior product in any sense, and yet the simple use of the thing brings its owner actual joy.  The SKX (or, rather, my ownership of the SKX) has taught me things about myself, and how I approach my tools and the products I interact with. It has taught me about what it means for a product to be good (hint: it’s not hacking or sapphire). It has and will continue to bring me the joy that I seek from this hobby. 

Watch collecting is NOT rational.  For $40, we could each have a Timex Ironman with all the water resistance we will ever need, a stopwatch, the ability to keep time in multiple time zones, Indiglo, extreme lightness and comfort, not to mention superior timekeeping to nearly any mechanical watch in existence.  We all know this, and we all know that that truth misses the point.  This is not a lowest-common-denominator game where we need to be constrained by technical specifications.  Specifications and statistics do not define our collections, nor should they. The SKX is magical, and to deny its magic is to deny the very point of being a watch person. 

Check out more Seiko articles at The Watch Clicker

Images from this article

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  1. My SKX007 is my favorite watch and the one I wear the most often. It’s the Jeep of watches. Tough, good looking, with gobs of roughish charm, and everything you need for the task and nothing you don’t. It’s an absolute strap monster. And the more it gets scratched and dinged up, the better it looks. You can replace any part of the watch if needed (including the case), and upgrade any part you want to mod it as you wish. (I added a lumed sapphire bezel insert and oyster bracelet.) It asks nothing of you except to wear it to keep it wound because it needs you to keep going. So you find yourself bonding with it. This perfect little thing on my wrist.

    It’s one of the top five iconoclastic dive watch designs ever, having been unchanged in well over 20 years. How many watches can you say that about? In that regard, it was Seiko’s “Submariner” in their line up. And they discontinued it in favor of the Seiko 5 Sports version. I’ll never understand why.

  2. Dear Will, what is the Seiko in blue you have made a photo of? I t are either dots, nor striped on the number plate, but extended dots, so nice!

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