Seiko introduced the Solar line in 1977, but it has never been as big of a focus for the brand the way the Eco-Drive (which came to market in 1976) has been for Citizen, Seiko’s domestic rival. One might even argue that historically Seiko has given greater attention to their proprietary Kinetic range (quartz-powered watches with a battery/capacitor charged by a rotor) than their Solar one. In recent years, however, Seiko has been pushing its light-powered tech into more watches, expanding on the brand’s Solar family with offerings far more interesting than those of past years.
For 2016, Seiko has released several exciting new Solar divers under the Prospex (professional use designation) label. Of note are two distinct Japanese domestic market models: the first is a titanium diver available in two sizes, and the second is a circular-cased dive watch with a removable protective shroud not unlike those found on Seiko’s “Tuna” divers (a nickname coined by enthusiasts to emphasize the tuna can-like shape of the cases).
SBDJ/SBDN Solar Titanium Diver
Seiko’s new titanium Solar divers are matching pairs offered in two sizes—the SBDJ range is 44.1mm x 52.6mm x 12.4mm (marketed to men) and the SBDN range is 38.8mm x 46.5mm x 11.2mm (marketed to women). These come in three color variations: black dial and black bezel assembly (SBDJ013, SBDN019), blue dial and blue bezel (SBDJ011, SBDN017), and black dial and metallic bezel (SBDJ009, SBDN015). What makes these aesthetically intriguing is that the complete bezel assembly is uniform in color, which provides subtle differentiation from most other affordable divers on the market. The thick lume, easy-to-read dial, and simple handset add to a look that is very functional and quintessentially Seiko. And as one might expect, the crystal is Seiko’s Hardlex, a proprietary mineral glass that the company continues to spec in most of its dive watches under $2,000.
The solar v157 movement has a stated 10-month power supply upon reaching a full charge. Furthermore, the drilled lug holes, classic proportions, and Dia-Shield coating to guard against scratches contribute to the utilitarian feel of the piece, and at a price of around $500 it’s a winner for active folks who want something rugged, light and accurate.
The piece comes paired with a matching titanium bracelet with hollow end links. That said, given the overall design the watch is ideally paired with a simple nylon one-piece for the ultimate lightweight setup (the watch heads alone are around 98 grams and 72 grams for the men’s and women’s models, respectively).
SBDN Solar “Tuna”
The other model is one already dubbed the “Solar Tuna,” a direct reference to the outer protective shroud that is the hallmark of Seiko’s “Tuna”-nicknamed diver lineup. (Read our Tuna buying guide here.)
This 45.9mm x 12.1mm solar-powered (V147 movement) diver is an appealing option for those who might not want to pony up $900 plus for the traditional quartz SBBN model, which features a high-torque engine made specifically for the watch. That said, the Solar SBDN range doesn’t come across as an inferior alternative, but rather a lower-priced companion to an already popular watch. There are six variants in the collection, each limited to 3000 pieces.
In terms of design, the to-be-expected SKX-like hands and date window at 4 o’clock provide a familiar look that doesn’t stray far from Seiko’s diver heritage. The plastic shroud is certainly the most contentious point of the design, and while it may have been a cost cutting measure on Seiko’s part, one could also argue plastic will better protect the watch head because it has more give than steel.
What Tuna fans love about the design is that in spite of its large-on-paper dimensions, the watch can work on smaller wrists because the lug-to-lug height is roughly the same as the diameter, and the straight end connection tucked under the case allows for a variety of aftermarket bracelets or straps.
Interestingly enough, the SBDN029, though already sold out, is a co-branded effort with NYC clothier Freemans Sporting Club. It’s described on the Freemans website as the “FSC x SEIKO Dive watch. Designed in partnership with LOWERCASE Creative Director Yoshikagei Kajiwara.” It’s interesting to see Seiko step outside of its comfort zone to produce a trendy watch (PVD, “vintage” lume) with a recognized American menswear label, and I applaud them for working with one known for producing high quality goods. It’s something G-Shock has been done quite well in the past with companies like Undefeated, so it will be interesting to see where Seiko’s future collaborations go or if this was just a one-off.
At a price under $500 (given that these are JDM releases, the prices will fluctuate depending on time and seller), Seiko’s recent Solar divers are certainly compelling. Building on last year’s release of the SRP “Turtles” (also under the Prospex label), Seiko has been riding a wave of exciting 200m dive watch releases at highly competitive price points. I, for one, hope to see this trend continue.
Li’s first watch was a $105 Seiko 5 dress watch. That purchase started his obsession, though he has since moved a bit more upmarket. Today, Li is a fanatic for Seiko divers, both vintage and new, with a special appreciation for the Seiko Marinemaster 300m.