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For some time now, I’ve been eyeing a return to the world of mechanical watches. Then, a few weeks back, Editor (and apparent mind reader) Dan contacted me with a proposition: “I bought a Seiko SNZG15J1 maybe six months ago… I see the watch every time I open up my closet and thought it might be a good fit for you.”
Ah, the Seiko 5: Darling of watch hipsters and aspiring horologists everywhere. The SNZG15J1 (I’m going to call it the SNZ going forward) is a $120 piece sitting near the top of the Seiko’s iconic value line. I’d previously owned an SNK809, and the idea of testing its premium cousin was instantly appealing. Dan was kind enough to send it over, and I spent several weeks gathering my thoughts. Here are the dimensions, to start with.
- Case Width: 42mm
- Case Thickness: 12mm
- Depth Rating: 10Bar (100m)
- Movement: Seiko 7S36C
- Lug Width: 22mm
By the time the watch reached me, Dan had already swapped the stock canvas bracelet for an aftermarket leather strap. While it looks to be about a millimeter short on each side, I appreciate the added comfort. If you haven’t experienced Seiko’s stock canvas, well, it’s not great. Those planning to buy this watch should seek out a new strap as part of the package.
Equipped with a bit of cowhide, the SNZ wears quite comfortably. The 42-milimeter case sits perfectly on my medium wrist, low and secure against the skin. The lugs curve gently around the bone, creating an effortless ride. I love the way this watch fits, which makes the next few sections all the more difficult.
Get your crosses and gear oil ready, mechanical purists, because I’m about to speak a whole bunch of sacrilege.
First, some specs. The Seiko’s 7S36C is a 23-jewel automatic movement with 41 hours of power reserve. Hacking and hand winding are absent, with an operating temperature range of 14-140 degrees Fahrenheit. I’d like to supply you with an expected accuracy range, but Seiko doesn’t include it in their operating manual.
Here’s where things fall off a cliff for me. The purpose of a watch, above all, is to keep accurate time. In my few weeks with the SNZ, I was unable to establish a consistent pattern. My Orient Mako 2, for instance, reliably runs between nine and ten seconds fast per day. Its hacking movement makes this easy to correct, so it’s not a big deal. But with the Seiko 5, I encountered variances between three and thirty seconds fast and slow. This is unacceptable in a $50 watch, let alone one costing $120. I had strong opinions on this coming off the similarly equipped SNK809, and time has done little to dull the edge. This variation is completely out of bounds, especially on a watch without a hacking second hand.
Allow me to digress for a moment. Are you familiar with the difference between polychronic and monochronic societies? In short, a monochronic civilization operates on a sense of temporal propriety. If a meeting is supposed to start at 9 AM, participants are expected to show up on time. Late arrivals and interruptions are generally considered rude unless an acceptable excuse is supplied.
In a polychronic society, however, start times are considered to be more of a suggestion. Arrivals could show up to said meeting as late as 9:30, with little to no thought given to the lapse. For those of us raised in a monochronic model, this sort of cultural divide can be a source of immense frustration.
Let’s bring this back into focus: How can Japan, a monochronic culture so hell-bent on punctuality that a 25-second early train departure necessitates an official apology, put out a movement that performs this poorly? Long story short, I’m flatly unimpressed with the operation and accuracy of the Seiko 5 series.
Case and Crown
So, it’s pretty clear where I stand on the SNZ’s functional capabilities. But what about its form? This is what I consider to be the great tragedy of the 5’s, because these watches are actually pretty well finished.
Let’s start with the case. The front side is composed of brushed stainless steel, with just the slightest breath of texturing. Things get prettier out back, with polished steel surrounding a transparent plastic window. This is the most alluring part of the watch, allowing you to see the mechanical movement in action.
The crown is small, unsigned, and basic. There’s nothing particularly memorable about it, but its action and setting is easier to access than that of the SNK809. For what it is, the setup is perfectly functional.
This case/crown combo features a water resistance rating of 100-meters. Sorry, guys, but I just don’t buy it. Take a look at this fingernail cutout tucked behind the crown:
Now look at the crown shaft, visible through the case back.
You’re telling me that this setup is supposed to ward off 10-Bar of pressure? I’m no hydrodynamics expert, but this doesn’t seem like a terribly watertight system. I’d be comfortable with handwashing and maybe a shower, but full on immersion in a lake or pool? I’d avoid it with the Seiko 5.
Dial, Bezel, and Crystal
Here we come to another SNZ strong point. The dial is clean, readable, and attractive. Its standard Arabic numerals are complemented by small 24-hour digits, with wide lume strips on the raised outer ring. A black day/date window is positioned at 3 o’clock, with a sharp white border for effect. The hour and minute hands are thick and well lumed, and even the red-tipped second hand features a touch of the glowing goop. My favorite aspect of the dial may actually be the applied “Seiko 5” badge. Its raised silver and white shapes really pop against the matte black dial, creating an appropriately sporty effect.
There’s not much to say about the bezel, beyond complimenting the subtle texture of its brushing. It sits ever-so-slightly below the top of the crystal, with just enough of a gap to accumulate debris from daily wear.
Speaking of the crystal, this is another watch utilizing Seiko’s proprietary Hardlex. It’s a material generally agreed to be on par with mineral – better than plastic or acrylic, but nowhere near the hardness of sapphire. At just over $100, I have no complaints with this choice in crystal.
As mentioned above, the stock Seiko canvas strap isn’t good. It’s coarse, inflexible, and generally plain. Time and wear would break it in, but just about every Seiko 5 photo on social media will include a different strap.
Seiko 5 Sports Review – Final Thoughts
Last time, I opened the Casio Duro review with an ode to second sight. And it’s true – Sometimes, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. But with apologies to Cinderella and their hair-metal classic, “Now I know what I got… It’s just this overpriced, unreliable watch riding on its reputation.” I think that’s how the song went, right?
Look, I understand the mechanical appeal. The idea of a watch that’s essentially living off your body’s movement is pretty compelling. But, for around $30 more, you can get an Orient Mako or Ray II, with superior construction, accuracy, and a movement that hand-winds and hacks. Or, if you’re wedded to the field watch aesthetic, Citizen makes several excellent alternatives in this price range, such as the BM8180. Sure, they’re not filled with cool spinning gears, but their EcoDrive movements could also be said to be “alive,” feeding off the power of the sun.
This is a watch with a huge fan base, many of whom I hold in high regard. I wanted to love it, like the cool kids do. But, if I can’t trust it to keep accurate time, then why am I even wearing it?
Proselytizing aside, only you can determine whether a Seiko 5 belongs on your wrist. I’ll admit, those looking to dip a toe into the mechanical waters could certainly do worse. But, if you dig a little deeper, I think you can definitely do better.
- Featuring a Black / Blue Band, Silver-tone Case, Scratch Resistant Hardlex Crystal
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