Traditional Japanese Craft Elevates the New Seiko Presage Ref. SJE081

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Seiko’s Presage line, over the last few years, has become a favorite among collectors for the incredibly high quality craftsmanship found in their dials and cases, far exceeding the level of what you’d expect of watches in their price range, and approaching watches far outside of it. Presage has been a showcase for uniquely Japanese craftsmanship, and also a vehicle for promoting Seiko’s long watchmaking history. This new release in the Presage line, reference SJE081, does both, highly effectively.

Seiko Presage SJE081 

  • Case Material: Stainless steel 
  • Dial: Black
  • Dimensions: 39.5mm
  • Crystal: Sapphire     
  • Water Resistance: 30 meters 
  • Crown: Push/pull           
  • Movement: 6L35
  • Strap/bracelet: Crocodile 
  • Price: Approximately $3,800
  • Reference Number: SJE081
  • Expected Release: April


Students of Seiko history will be familiar with the Laurel, the first Japanese wristwatch, produced in 1913. Many of the design elements of the Laurel can be spotted in contemporary Presage designs, most notably the distinctive “12,” captured in a color that sets it apart from the rest of the Arabic numerals. You’ll notice on the SJE081 that the 12:00 marker is offset in gold, a direct tribute to the classic Laurel design.  The general dial layout, leaf hands, and generally formal aesthetic are also calling cards of modern Presage watches borrowed from the Laurel, and can see traces of each here as well. 

Original Laurel wristwatch.

Traditional Japanese craft is another key component of Presage pieces. Dials in porcelain and enamel have been used in this line over the years, but one of the most uniquely Japanese methods of dial finishing is done through the use of Urushi lacquer. Lacquerware craft dates back thousands of years in Japan, and the creation of lacquered productes is meticulous and time consuming. Essentially, lacquer is a material derived from tree sap that’s used to protect an object (often made of wood) by coating it in several layers of lacquer over a period of many weeks, and then polishing and decorating it. The Urushi lacquer process used in the SJE081’s dial refers to a specific type of tree from which sap is collected. The effect is a dial that has a depth and richness of color to it that simply isn’t possible with more common paint applications.

The SJE081 is powered by caliber 6L35, an automatic movement with three hands and a date, here seen at 3:00. The implementation of the date window is the only notable design miss on the SJE081. It’s just too close and too similar in size to the “3” that it sits next to, which has the weird effect of creating the appearance of a two digit hour indicator where you just don’t expect to see one. While I like the ability to check the date on my watches, with a dial like this I think the preference should go to more dial rather than less, through the cutting of an aperture for a date display. Symmetry on a watch dial is perhaps a little overrated, except when a dial of exceptional quality is broken up a date window that’s not particularly well implemented. 

Seiko has a position that few brands in the watch world can really compete with in that they not only have an impressive history of their own to draw on, but they can also claim to draw legitimately from the rich cultural history of Japan, particularly in the area of decorative arts. Releases like this are not only interesting as watches, but as little cultural artifacts and opportunities to learn about Japan’s long history. 

The SJE081 will be available in April at a retail price of $3,800. Seiko

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Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.
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