In 1959, Seiko released its very first tool watch, the Laurel Alpinist, specifically designed for Japanese mountaineers. This model was made to be robust and elegant, so that Japanese men working in offices Monday through Friday could literarily jump into their hiking clothes at the end of the work week and hit the summits, all of this while wearing the same watch. The Alpinist line went through various revisions, for example the famous Red Alpinist line of 1995 which codified the unique dial layout: Arabic numerals on the even markers, shark-tooth markers on the odds, and an inner-rotating compass bezel; and more recently, the SARB017 released in 2006 that became somewhat of an icon.
This model was updated in 2021 and in the same year, Seiko produced what has been nicknamed the Baby Alpinist line: a watch with a smaller case profile and no inner rotating bezel, which is truer to the original model in that it is more versatile than say a SARB017. The Baby Alpinist comes with a green dial (SPB155/SBDC115), black dial (SPB159/SBDC119), blue dial (SPB157/SBDC117), and a two-tone dial in the reference SPB211. Seiko being the brand that has the largest catalogue of any brand, it was meant to, at some point in its long history, release a collection that could rival the Rolex Explorer in terms of sturdiness and style.
On The Wrist
The first and main reason why anyone would opt for the Baby Alpinist over the regular Alpinist is how it wears on the wrist. Coming in at 38mm in diameter, 46mm lug-to-lug, and 12.9mm in thickness, the SPB159/SBDC119 wears great on most wrists. I’m endowed with a wrist that has a 6.25” (16.5cm) circumference and the Baby Alpinist wears like a dream. If you had the chance of wearing a SARB033, well, the two models wear almost exactly the same. The Baby Alpinist is the type of watch that doesn’t wear too small or too large, giving it just enough wrist presence so that you know it’s there, without weighing too much to the point that your wrist feels sore by the end of the day.
Getting the proportions of a watch right is no small feat. Having been able to get my hands on many watches in the past few years, I can tell you that it comes down to the ratio of the dial/bezel combo to the case diameter and length. The Baby Alpinist shines for having a perfect ratio, in which the dial opening is proportionate to the width of the bezel and the overall dimensions of the watch head. If Seiko had made the case 40mm, the watch would have been too big. If they had made it 36mm, it would have been too small. (In both cases the length would have either increased or decreased, giving the watch too much or too little real estate.)
Getting the proper on-the-wrist experience is important for many watch enthusiasts, and it is something not easy to show in photos or to explain in writing. Perhaps I could venture here to say that wearing the right-sized watch is akin wearing a fitted shirt: you don’t want it too baggy so that it makes you look blocky, nor do you want it too tight so that it makes you look and feel uncomfortable. A watch is the same. The Baby Alpinist would fit perfectly on wrist with a circumference of 15.5 to 18cm, making it a truly versatile timepiece. What’s more is that the watch doesn’t weigh too much, even though both the case and bracelet are made of stainless steel.
What makes the Baby Alpinist a great watch is the dial layout. It’s a perfect blend of elegance and functionality, starting with the Arabic numerals located on the even markers, and the shark-tooth markers on the odd markers. I’ve never been particularly attracted to this arrangement of Arabic numerals (I’m more of a 3-6-9 type of guy) but I immediately found it easy to read. It divides the time we have each day into two-hour segments in a way. Furthermore, it’s nice that all the markers have the same length, creating a perfect symmetry on the dial. The markers are painted yellow which creates a great contrast with the dark grey—almost black—sandy texture of the dial. (Seiko gets a bonus point for framing the date window.)
The cathedral handset gives the watch a nice vintage vibe. They are clear and legible, and the tip of the seconds hand is painted red, giving the handset a pop of color in addition to being visually dynamic. This particular handset works so well with the markers, as was the case already with the Red Alpinist and the SARB017. What I particularly like about the hour hand is that it reaches the hour markers almost all the way, and that the minute and seconds hands completely reach the minute track. It’s an added bonus making time-keeping something of a precise experience.
As with any modern Seiko, the lume is generous. The LumiBrite that glows bright blue can be seen in generous quantities on the hands and in small dots at each hour marker on the minute track. They may seem humble in size, but trust me, they need little exposure to the sun to glow brightly and for a long time. One may wish that the hour markers and minute rail track were painted in white to look more modern,but making them yellow actually creates a better contrast with the dial and gives the watch a subtle and charming vintage vibe.
Case, Bracelet, and Movement
The case finish is quite good. It alternates fine brushing on the top surfaces and the sides of the case with polished chamfers on the case and bezel. This alternation of types of finishing creates dynamic light reflections depending on how you hold the watch. The crown, unsigned (which seems to bother many people but not me), has a polished top and a deep knurling that makes it easy to grab and operate. This is especially important given the fact that the crown is of the screw-down variety, so getting a grip on it is a must. (The watch has 200 meters of water resistance.)
The watch originally comes on a black leather strap (the green dial is the only one that is sold with a bracelet) with a deployant buckle. The sample we have here is fitted with an OEM Seiko bracelet made of solid links and end links. The bracelet has a gentle taper and is completed by a fold-over clasp with double-pusher that, regrettably, only has two holes for micro-adjusts. Sizing the bracelet cannot be precise, therefore, and one may have to have the bracelet a bit too tight or a tad too loose. (I opted for the latter.)
Lastly, the Baby Alpinist is equipped with the battle-tested 6R35 movement, a movement that beats at 21,600 BPH (3Hz), has 24 jewels, and a generous power reserve of 70 hours. This movement may not be the top of the line at Seiko, but it is the perfect choice for this type of watch: a do-it-all everyday timepiece that needs a movement that is both reliable and easy to service. While the official daily deviation ranges -15/+25 seconds, the model we have clocks in at roughly +8 sec/day. It is truly not performance to write home about; however, it’s decent for the price paid given the overall build quality of the watch.
The Baby Alpinist in all of its dial variations is a welcome addition to the Alpinist line. For those of us looking for a great everyday watch, this SPB159 offers a great value proposition making it the perfect candidate for this job. As it is mainly a watch’s dimensions that dictates its versatility, be assured that the Baby Alpinist would fit on wrists of most sizes. And it’s a very capable watch at that: 200 meters of water resistance, great lume, solid movement, screw-down caseback and crown, and a legible dial. What else to ask?
Check out more Seiko reviews at The Watch Clicker
Check out the Seiko website
Seiko Baby Alpinist Specs
$750 on strap ($200 additional for the bracelet)