They say that there are in fact only two kinds of watch enthusiasts, those who have discovered the Seiko SKX, and those who are yet to discover the SKX!
The Seiko SKX is one of the worlds most ubiquitous watches. Universally loved by so many around the world, it manages to achieve the seemingly impossible. Let me explain the problem…
As a divers watch it is inherently robust, yet the case of the SKX has curved sides ensuring the watch is extremely comfortable when you flex your wrist. The lug to lug dimensions are modest at 46mm meaning it can be comfortably worn by wrists of all sizes (for comparison the 38mm NOMOS Club campus has a considerably larger lug to lug distance of 48.5mm). The crown is offset to the 4oclock position ensuring it doesn’t dig into the back of your hand. The dial is extremely legible and includes both a day and date, and it has an in-house movement that is so robust, people typically count the time between services in decades! What’s more this isn’t just water resistant to 200m – its an ISO6425 rated dive watch which means every single SKX has been tested to 125% of this depth(250m). The icing on the cake is that this amazing watch does not cost the earth but is available for the quite frankly unbelievable price in the UK of around £200.
The Seiko SKX is by no means perfect though. The action of the bezel leaves a lot to be desired, there are comments from numerous owners complaining that their chapter ring is misaligned, and you would be forgiven for thinking the jubilee bracelet available was a free gift in a box of cereal! Seiko uses their proprietary Hardlex crystal which is not as scratch resistant as sapphire glass, and the movement cannot be hand wound or stopped to synchronise it to a reference time.
However despite these shortcomings, every SKX owner will tell you they love their SKX – probably disproportionately – which is where the problems start…
If you were to look through watch collections you might be able to spot a theme. A series of beautiful, strategic and valuable watches from one or more manufacturers brought together to form the collectors choices and lurking at the back somewhere you will find the obligatory SKX. The most common ‘excuse’ that a collector will publicly admit to, is that they bought it as an everyday ‘beater’. In other words they bought it with the intention that they didn’t mind what happened to this cheap watch and that any damage it sustained while doing the gardening or other activity was damage not received by the rest of the collection. However if you look closely you will discover the SKX rarely has any damage. Why? because after buying this cheap watch he’s discovered how incredibly wearable it is. For some reason it looks great on almost any strap! Leather, NATO, canvas, crocodile, sailcloth, cordura – everything seems to go with an SKX.
Its at this point that things take a further turn for the worse. “If the watch is so wearable, how about fixing one or two of the shortcomings?” Well as you might imagine there is a whole host of companies producing parts specifically for the SKX including crystals, movements, bezels, dials, hands and many other alternative components should you wish to truly customise your watch. A common disposition is to replace the movement upgrading it to the NH35 and replace the Hardlex crystal with a sapphire crystal.
By this point in time some owners have spent as much getting the watch modified with the cost of a watchmakers time and parts as it cost them to buy in the first place and are left wondering why they had to do all this themselves and Seiko didn’t produce a more ‘premium’ Seiko SKX
This year at Baselworld, Seiko launched the SPB079 – while in derivative terms, its not a direct lineage of the SKX, it is in form. It’s powered by the 6R15 movement (Seiko’s in-house name for the NE15 which is an upgraded NH35 with a better main spring and a longer 50 hour power reserve) with hacking and hand winding, a sapphire crystal with AR coating, a quality rotating bezel, applied markers on the dial, a traditional crown at 4o’clock and like the SKX is an ISO6425 rated divers watch. The case design is sympathetic to the SKX’s iconic shape but with every contributory element improved, these all add up to a whole lot more. Once you hold the SPB079 the quality improvements are immediately apparent and the watch feels altogether a much more premium watch. The SPB079 retails at £799 and while that is considerably more that the SKX, it is far cheaper than the build quality suggests!
While it may be a little cheaper (but not much) to buy an SKX and upgrade the dial, hands, crystal, movement, bezel insert, bezel and strap, once you have added the watchmakers time you will be pretty close to the price of the SPB079.
The problem with the SKX is that it is such an amazing watch and so versatile that it connects with people causing them to fall in love with it for so many reasons. So here’s my advice: Buy one and love it. Don’t upgrade it – appreciate it for what it is. If you want a more premium watch buy a different watch. and if you want a beater watch – buy a G-Shock!
I agree on most of your points, however as a relatively new collector I chose to instead get an Orient Mako 2, which is around the same price as an SKX but the movement is hackable and hand winds. The crystal is still hardlex, but I think it’s just as versatile as the SKX if not more. I know I’m in the minority, but I think it has made me forego the SKX need most collectors have. If I were going to buy an entry level Seiko diver it would probably be either the Samurai or the Turtle.
Hi Peter. The turtle and samurai are both great watches and do offer a level of build quality above the SKX. They’re both great choices although the Samurai is more of a “marmite” watch – people either love it or hate it as it it untypically angular for Seiko. However the Turtle is almost universally loved. We loved spending time with both when we wrote the dawn grey article.
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Hi Ben, love the article, but for your own information the 6R15 is actually the NE15 which is a step up from the 4R35 (NH35). It’s got a better mainspring, and a longer power reserve.
Hi Steve. yes you’re absolutely right – thanks – i’ve updated the article.