The internet is a terrible place. Sure, it’s led to countless advances, enabled markets that never would have existed otherwise, and allows us humans to keep in touch with each other in ways never seen before, but it also pushes me to make stupid decisions with my money on a regular basis. For example: if there were no internet, there’d be no 555Gear. If there were no 555Gear, I wouldn’t have stumbled across this video of the Seiko Alpinist. If I didn’t stumble across that video, I wouldn’t be typing this right now with a Seiko Alpinist on my wrist.
Without the internet – or more specifically, the online watch community – it’s likely that the Alpinist would be relegated to obscurity outside of Japan. That’s not an indictment of the watch, mind. It’s just that the Alpinist doesn’t really have much name recognition to draw on prior to 1995. Versions older than that bear no resemblance to the modern SARB017, which was released in 2006 and has grown to be a hit among watch enthusiasts.
The Alpinist is a small watch by modern standards. At 38mm wide by 12mm tall, it’s an altogether different experience compared to my usual go-to, the Seiko Turtle. If the Turtle is the largest watch I can wear, the Alpinist is probably the smallest. The 38mm case doesn’t look undersized on my 7.25” wrist, but anyone with larger wrists should definitely try it on prior to purchase. Thankfully the case isn’t tall enough to attract the attention of nearby door knobs.
Ticking away inside the Alpinist is Seiko’s 6R15 movement, which is frequently found in middle and upper tier Seiko watches. Introduced in 2006, the 6R15 is a derivative of the venerable 7S26, though it adds hacking, handwinding, and a 50 hour power reserve. The product literature states that it shouldn’t gain more than 25 or lose more than 15 seconds per day, and my dalliance with a time tracking app indicates that the Alpinist is losing an average of 5.3 seconds a day – pretty good rate, all told. Resetting it once or twice a month has kept me on time, and doing so isn’t a hassle thanks to the hacking seconds hand. Additionally, the Alpinist’s movement features Seiko’s Diashock system, which allows the movement to better absorb impacts or falls.
Case and Crown
The case is stunning, if simple. Most of the surfaces have such a high polish that light runs across it like liquid. Yes, it will scratch easily: mine has picked up several already, despite all efforts to the contrary. They’re small enough that some polishing cloth could likely remove them, but for now they don’t detract from the aesthetics. As this is designed to be a mountaineering watch, it’s no surprise that the Alpinist doesn’t feature a display caseback, but instead has an engraved steel plate.
The Alpinist has a signed crown at 3 o’clock and a smaller, unsigned crown at 4 o’clock. The former is the primary crown, and is used to wind the watch and set the time and date, while the latter is used to rotate the internal compass bezel (which will be discussed below). Both crowns are expertly finished and feature large ridges instead of knurling or a similar pattern, although the ‘valleys’ between ridges on the primary crown are machined for a bit of extra grip. It’s a subtle touch, but appreciated.
Dial, Bezel, and Crystal
Of course, the true draw of the Alpinist is the sunburst green dial. It possesses an odd (and difficult to photograph) characteristic: the color and texture of the dial changes depending on the light. In shade, it’s darker, smoother, and softer, almost like mossy undergrowth; direct sunlight, on the other hand, brings out warm undertones and sharpens the slight texture on the dial. The golden hands, numerals, and indices work surprisingly well in both cases. Seiko’s choice of cathedral hands lends an elegance to the design, even if I can’t shake the feeling that they’d look perfectly at home in Middle Earth.
Given the dressy aesthetic of the dial and hands, one would expect some of the technical notes to detract from the cohesiveness of the design. Oddly enough, that isn’t the case. The interior of the hands are painted with Seiko’s Lumibrite, and there are lume pips on the dial just over (or under, depending on your perspective) each numeral and indice. They’re unobtrusive during the day, but sadly they’re also quite small, which means the luminance fades quickly, especially on the pips. The hands retain their glow – albeit faintly – for an hour or two.
As mentioned above, the Alpinist does have an internal rotating compass bezel, which can be used to approximate your bearing. It only works in the Northern Hemisphere, and you need to know the position of the sun to use it, but I suppose it’s a handy backup. I’d never forego a real compass because of this. Luckily, it works fine as a timer. It’s not as easy to use as the dive bezel on my Turtle, but I can still use it to time rest periods at the gym or flush cycles on the job. Regrettably, it wasn’t implemented all that well: when changing the bearing, it will, on occasion, derail from whatever track it’s on and shift a bit. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it is an annoyance.
Strap and Bracelet
If the Alpinist has a true Achilles heel, it’s the included strap. There is not a single positive thing to be said about it. The faux-alligator leather looks and feels plastic; it’s not even suitable for formal wear, which is what such a strap -should- be ideal for. What’s more, it’s not simply ugly: it’s uncomfortable to boot. The padding in the strap prevented the Alpinist from sitting comfortably on my wrist, and it never broke in to a noticeable extent.
Luckily, there are plenty of good aftermarket straps available for the 20mm lug width. I alternate between a Worn and Wound Model 2 and a ToxicNATOS Shiznit in jungle green, and those suit my needs well. The stainless steel OEM bracelet is spoken well of online, though I can’t personally vouch for it.
Seiko SARB017 ‘Alpinist’ Review – Final Thoughts
Ignore my grousing in the introduction. Yes, the purchase may have been ill-advised, but it’s certainly not one I regret. The Alpinist is a beautiful watch that I wear all the time. It’s flaws – the awful strap and the wiggly compass bezel – are easy to fix and ignore, respectively.
There’s not much in the way of competition for the Alpinist, as there aren’t any other watches that fill the same niche. There are other field watches, other dress watches, other casual watches, but none of them have the look or feel of the Alpinist. That’s not to say that other watches aren’t as beautiful, accurate, or well made as the Alpinist – far from it – but that the Alpinist is unique enough that finding competitors is difficult.
Those unique characteristics are also why I can freely recommend this watch to anyone that’s interested in it. It can be dressed up or down depending on your needs, and there’s honestly nothing else quite like it out there.
Next up: the Rike Thor4s.
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