Review: the Serica 5303 Dive Watch

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Once upon a time, hearing or reading the phrase “vintage-inspired dive watch” caused a stir of excitement and anticipation in us watch enthusiasts. The most iconic watches are, after all, mid-century dive watches. But now, we get it. It’s been done by nearly every brand you can imagine, and there is a new one coming out seemingly every other day. This is not to say we don’t still like them, but the novelty is gone. Now, what matters are the details. Being under 40mm and having a domed crystal are no longer enough to justify yet another “vintage-inspired dive watch.” We’re looking for nuance, cleverness, a timeless quality that would hold up to their forefathers, and something surprising wouldn’t hurt.

Enter Serica, a French brand that has gained a solid reputation since first releasing their line of Dirty Dozen-esque field watches, the 4512s, back in 2019. Blake Buettner reviewed the follow-up version, with an unexpected California dial, in 2020, which you can read here. It left an impression on him, and those of us who got to try it out in the office as well. The question remained in my head, however, as to how or what they would follow this watch up with. Was Serica a one-watch-pony that would continue to permutate on a single successful platform (something we’ve seen from other brands)? Luckily, the answer was, no. And their follow-up, an aforementioned “vintage-inspired dive watch,” with a similarly old-school ref-number-name (everything can be a throwback), called the 5303, took us a bit by surprise.

Not that it was vintage-inspired, nor a dive watch, but that it was a move upmarket, to some extent, and far more complex than its predecessor. While the 4512s are very successful in their own right, they are straightforward, which is in keeping with a field watch. Rather than trying to make a similarly stripped-down diver, or even turning the 4512 into a diver, Serica dipped their toes into more complicated waters in terms of everything from the finishing to the bracelet (which is a standout). Yet, what really sets it apart and “justifies” its existence, as per the first paragraph, is that it manages to be sporty and classy, as a mid-century diver should, but also quirky and different. It blends the iconic style of a Seamaster 300 with the function-first attitude of a ZRC. In other words, this doesn’t feel like your everyday “vintage-inspired dive watch.”

Powered by the Soprod Newton, a new 2824 competitor, and with a price tag of $1,200 the Serica 5303 is clearly a compelling sophomore release from the young brand, so let’s take a closer look.

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$1200

Review: the Serica 5303 Dive Watch

Case
Stainless Steel
Movement
Soprod Newton
Dial
Black or Silver
Lume
C3
Lens
Domed Sapphire
Strap
Mesh Bracelet
Water Resistance
300m
Dimensions
39 x 46.5mm
Thickness
12.2mm
Lug Width
20mm
Crown
Screw-down
Warranty
Yes
Price
$1200

Case

The case of the 5303 isn’t the type to stop you in your tracks with some wild design elements, but rather wins you over under inspection as smart proportions and clean finishing reveal themselves. Measuring 39 x 46.5 x 12.2mm, the 5303 is well-sized, and should please most wrists. I remember a day when a 39mm diver seemed unimaginable, and now it’s extremely common (hello, Black Bay 58), so it once again comes down to the finer details to make one watch different from another. The 5303, when compared to the 58, is a bit shorter, but a touch thicker, resulting in a watch that feels stout and solid.

From above, the relatively common shape gets an injection of personality from gorgeous wide polished bevels along the lugs. Twisting like a Speedmaster, but in reverse, they add dynamic motion to the case, while also tricking the eye into reading the lugs as a bit thinner than they are. The 8mm screw-down crown adds some bulk as well, and was well proportioned to appear oversized, yet not obtrusive. In a rare touch, Serica gives you the option for crown at 3 or 9. Even though I wear my watch on my left wrist, crowns at 9 are appealing as they eliminate discomfort, not that that’s an issue here.

From the side, the clever proportions are even more apparent. Though the mid-case accounts for the bulk of the case it features a broad concave cutaway, creating the deception of a thin profile. What is left of a slab-side is just under 5mm thick, which is well within an acceptable slab-margin. The bezel above sits just a hair off the midcase, thanks to a slight bevel, creating anothering thinning line. The coin-edge of the bezel then tapers oh-so-gently, softening the geometry a little bit, which has a visible effect on the wrist. Like I said, at a glance, the case appears like many others, but the details are all very well-considered, elevating the design.

That all said, the star of the show is the bezel. Featuring a split insert, one side ceramic, the other brushed metal, it’s striking and gives the 5303 a distinct appearance. Yes, there is a hint of Seamaster 300 here, but it’s not a long-lasting scent as the dual purpose layout adds a technical flavor that takes it into new territory. The ceramic portion features the word “minutes” followed by numerals at intervals of ten, alternating with dashes until the last 15-minutes, where they switch to marks/minute in an inverse of the norm (last 15 vs first). I don’t know the logic here, but visually I find it compelling. The interior metal ring features the word “heures” (I don’t speak French, but I figured it out), with numerals per hour. I love a good 12-hour bezel, so this just makes me happy. A single round lumed pip sits at 12/60, as part of both indexes.

Part of what I like about this design is that it doesn’t feel as though it has to be set at home to look “right.” As such, I found myself enjoying it turned to odd angles, which gives me a bit of OCD on other watches. Speaking of turning the bezel, it features a 120-click unidirectional mechanism with a satisfying click and an appropriate amount of resistance.

Overall, the finishing is excellent on the 5303. Lines are clean, especially around the polished bevel, and the brushing has a subtle, but pleasing texture. In particular, the brushing on the steel portion of the bezel insert stands out, as it contrasts the smooth black ceramic ring that surrounds it. While I’m sure there are nay-sayers out there who will balk at the $1,200 price tag, this watch is executed to a level on or above par with its cost.

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Dial

While the dial of the 5303 is simple at a glance, it is likely the most challenging element of the design, one that will certainly turn some off, while entrancing others. Sticking with the militaristic theme of the 4512, the dial features lumed markers, printed lines, and scant else. Wide rectangles rest at the cardinal points with umlaut-esque dots at 12, marking the top of the watch. Between, small circles seem to rocket towards the center of the dial leaving trails behind that connect to an outer minute/second index.

Semi-sterile, there is no logo under 12, leaving an empty area. Oddly though, above six you’ll find “300m – 1000ft” on one line, with “S617” on a second. It was an odd choice to go half-in here, especially considering the number S617 seemingly relates to nothing. A quick search around Serica’s website won’t fill you into this cryptic number’s meaning either. In fact, the only place I saw an answer was in our own article when the watch launched, which indicates that the numbers are an homage to a now-retired French Submarine. While I don’t blame any brand for wanting to keep their SKU numbers down, I do think a truly sterile dial option would have been nice, as well as a version with the text currently there, and a logo for a civilian model appearance. C’est La Vie.

Side note. A few weeks ago while musing on the SKX007, it occurred to me that fewer and fewer watches, at least the ones that have crossed my desk, feature fully pad-printed dials. Lume, markers, logo, etc… all printed right on the surface of the dial. Though I once likely lamented a lack of texture and depth on dials, now seeing something flat and purposeful has renewed appeal, particularly on a tool watch. Dare I say, the starkest example of luxification (made up word, ty) of the Submariner was when the lume decided it was too good for the dial and needed to stand on little white gold pedestals? In other words, there is a refreshing simplicity, or perhaps purity, to the dial of the 5303.

Of course, with simplicity comes the challenge of quality and luckily Serica nailed it, which can be seen in the perfectly crisp, thin lines that surround shapely mounds of lume. Available in black or silver, both feature C3 lume for a tritium-esque color and an intensely bright green glow. The surface of the black model is all gloss black with white markers and print, while the silver features a black out ring and pale center with white and black print, respectively, save the mysterious “S617” which is highlighted in red.

Though listed as “silver, white galvanic tint,” the dial reads more as lightly metallic white, even matte white in some light, than silver. This isn’t an issue, as the white is appealing, but is worth mentioning. Though based on the same layout, the two dials have different overall feels. The black is classic, still striking, but more or less what you might expect from a vintage-inspired dive watch. The silver is more aggressive and teeters on feeling modern, or even retro-futuristic. Taking into account the bezel, you have a ring of black, then brushed steel, then black again, then white/silver. It’s intense and has a lot of pressure, which is compounded by the force of the lumed dots as they appear to get sucked into the center of the dial.

When Serica launched the 4512, they did so with two handset options. When they refreshed the line, they dropped one, keeping the “broad arrow” set, with its almost amusing hour hand. While I can’t speak to their future, Serica appears to have adopted this handset as a signature as they employed them on the 5303 as well. Still an appropriate choice, to be sure, it has vintage charm and you certainly will not mistake the hour for the minutes. The hands are rendered in white on the black model, and black on the silver model for maximum contrast.

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Movement

Powering the 5303 is the Soprod Newton. Soprod is a Swiss movement manufacturer that is part of the Festina Group. Though not seen nearly as often as Sellita or ETA, they do pop up from time to time, including recently as their C125 GMT automatic was featured in Baltic, Lorier, and Zodiac watches. Interestingly, the C125 is built on the M100 platform, which is actually based on a Seiko design. The Newton, however, is entirely new, making its Worn & Wound debut here via the 5303.

Designed and apparently marketed as an alternative to 2824s, SW-200s, and the like, the Newton is meant as a comparably priced, and nearly entirely Swiss option for brands (according to Europastar). However, it should be clear that the Newton is not a 2824 clone. Though information is not abundant at this time, the Newton is a whole new caliber, three years in development, that put durability and reliability at the core of the design, with Soprod employing a “double-cone” Incabloc shock absorber, and a full-balance bridge. Additionally, as per Serica’s product page, the Newton is regulated to -4/+4 seconds a day, which is tighter than COSC specifications (though it is unclear if this is 6 positions). In my relatively short time with the 5303, it was reliable and accurate, though long-term is unknown.

Featuring 22-jewels, the automatic caliber has a frequency of 28,800 bph, hacking seconds, and a power reserve of 44-hours. The movements in the 5303 have no date, or phantom date position. Though hidden behind a solid steel case-back, if you were to see the Newton, you’d be presented with an appealingly symmetrical design, and a nearly completely visible, center-mounted balance. Additionally, the movement is Top-grade and features Cotes de Geneve finishing.

While buying a watch with a new movement might be taking a chance, this one is from a trusted manufacturer. Serica deserves some kudos for rolling the dice on the Newton. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing this movement more frequently in the near future.

Bracelet

The 5303 is a 39mm vintage-inspired dive watch with 20mm lugs. In other words, it’s going to be a strap monster. With that said, Serica went above and beyond with their included bracelet. Tired of Oyster-style bracelets? I know I am (nothing against them, but they’re a dime a dozen). Instead, Serica opted for a unique mesh bracelet that, as they say, ties the whole room together. While meshes, or Milanese if you’re fancy, are nothing new, Serica thought about every detail with theirs, making it the perfect match for the 5303.

First off, they created an end-link system. Typically “drop” style, mesh bracelets tend to look like a third-party accessory as they lack a snug fit, which is likely why they aren’t as common as standard bracelets particularly on sports watches. Consisting of an end-link, a link, and then an attachment link that is secured to the end of the mesh, not only does it add a funky and functional look, it adds some flexibility at the lug. The mesh itself is as high-quality as I’ve ever seen. It tapers from 20mm to 16mm at the clasp, is about 1.8mm thick, and features flattened, brushed surfaces on top and bottom. Though I do not have hairy wrists (very weird to type that out) I found no issue with the mesh pulling, which can be an issue.

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The bracelet features a simple but robust, fold-over clasp that clamps down as the mesh passes through, underneath the opposite side. This effectively hides the tail of the bracelet, giving you a clean, sized-to-your-wrist look when you put it on. That said, it’s not the easiest or most intuitive bracelet to put on. Sliding the tail through the clasp takes some nimble movements, and I actually found it easier to partially loop it through before putting it on my wrist. Once on, feeding the tail through, as it’s behind the other side, requires holding the clasp, and sort of oddly thumbing the bracelet through. It’s not the most elegant procedure, but it works and is worth it.

You see, mesh bracelets are very comfortable. Though metal, they are, by nature, open and airy. They don’t make you sweat as they create less skin contact, and what sweat might form has space to evaporate. As someone who finds bracelets irritating at times, I still find mesh nice to wear. That said, mesh bracelets, especially on dive watches, have a tendency to be thick and ungainly, defeating the great properties of the interwoven metal. Serica didn’t make this mistake, opting for just the right thickness of mesh, which is sturdy, but light on the wrist. I’m a fan, if you haven’t noticed.

Wearability

I’m always amazed by how subtle shifts in proportions and curves can make two watches with nearly identical dimensions wear totally differently. As stated, there is an abundance of 39mm dive watches out there these days, yet some click and others don’t. The 5303 clicks, at least for me. I had two initial reactions to this watch. The first when removing it from the packaging, which was along the lines of “woah, that’s a funky dive watch.” The second, a couple of minutes later (it took a moment to figure out the best way to tighten the bracelet without dropping the watch) was “wow, this watch fits perfectly.” That feeling didn’t fade as I wore it for the duration of my review window.

It’s a small, rugged watch that packs a lot of style. The bezel insert is a touch larger than it appears due to the split insert, which condenses the dial. The dial re-emphasizes this with the push of the markers towards the center, which pulls your eyes, and the edges of the watch in. This result is a dense, muscular look on the wrist, as though it takes up more space than it actually does. This all translates to a very nice presence.

Style-wise, it’s striking. Though not a flashy watch, it’s got a lot going on, including those sexy, curved lugs that add just a smidge of bling. It’s got vintage flair, if that’s what you are looking for, but the design isn’t obvious either, so it doesn’t necessarily read as a throwback. The black feels more classic, of course, while the silver dial is its own, strange thing.

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As expected, the watch looks amazing on leather, as well as mil-straps, but I found the bracelet to be the best choice. It perfectly balances the mix of sporty functionality a diver should have with the almost accidental style that comes from military and vintage watches. And while I’ve donned neither a wetsuit, or a cream-colored “I summer on a private island” suit apropos of Serica’s photos of the 5303, while trying to avoid passing out from the heatwave in NYC in shorts, sandals, and t-shirt, I’ve felt the 5303 looked pretty damn good. In the Fall, with a chore coat and jeans, I think it would sing.

Conclusion

If Serica dipped their toes into the waters of watchmaking with the 4512s, they have fully submerged with the 5303, pun intended. It’s beautifully made, well-finished, and different. Despite being a part of a saturated genre, the 5303 doesn’t look quite like anything else, and has a palpable personality. As said in the intro, it’s a quirky watch. At first glance, it’s a bit jarring. The dial is aggressive and has a strange pressure to it. The bezel, though stylish, is dense with information and has an odd balance to it. Things aren’t how you expect them. But as you wear it, the pieces fall into place. The peculiarities are softened by a fantastically proportioned case, and one of the most comfortable bracelets I’ve worn. When it comes together, you realize what a stylish and cool watch it is.

The Serica 5303 is priced at $1,200, which is neither cheap, nor expensive, but feels like a very appropriate number with the watch in hand. This is a very nice watch by a very small brand that has had every detail considered (and is Swiss-made, if you’re into that). While you can price compare with similar watches, the watch that I’d really put it up against is the Black Bay 58. If you’ve been considering the 58, but want something you won’t see on Instagram everyday, something that isn’t just a crowd-pleaser, something that might speak to you, and not your friends, the 5303 might just be the perfect watch, and will save you a couple of grand while at it. Serica

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Zach is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of Worn & Wound. Before diving headfirst into the world of watches, he spent his days as a product and graphic designer. Zach views watches as the perfect synergy of 2D and 3D design: the place where form, function, fashion and mechanical wonderment come together.
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