I've been in love with Seiko Spring Drive for a while. Ever since Seiko sat me down and indoctrinated on the technical and practical benefits of their innovative Spring Drive movements, I was sold. I've discussed what Spring Drive movements are at length in other articles. You can find a list of articles where I discuss Seiko Spring Drive here. Though to reiterate, producing the Spring Drive movement was a long standing goal for Seiko. It took them over two decades to do so, despite the fact that they have some pretty clever engineers over there in Japan. While I understood Spring Drive movements pretty well, I have now had the opportunity to live with Spring Drive via the Seiko SNR005 watch. So how does it feel?
The Seiko SNR005 watch is one of the first commercially available Spring Drive movement based watches that was released a few years ago. There are still some of them available, and they were quietly released to a few select dealers in the US. It was not until the Seiko Ananta Spring Drive watches that Seiko really started to market their availability. I think that they wanted to test the waters a bit and see how much value consumers would place on having the benefits of a Spring Drive movement, given the price (which was about $3,900 retail).
Seiko (and some other Japanese watch makers) have a tendency to place complex new movements in classic looking watches. To Americans, we often want the opposite. New technology? Give it to us a package that looks high tech. Seiko doesn't really do that all the time, and part of that has to do with their history. You'll notice that in the past they have often placed interesting technology in less "wild looking" watches. Though that hasn't always been the case.
It is very likely that the SNR005 was designed for the Japanese market, but Seiko decided to test it outside of Japan as well. Therefore, the design is beautiful and interesting, with a distinct Japanese twist. Images of the SNR005 don't really do it too much justice. I recall a few years ago seeing images of it and thinking "well, that is interesting, but I am not totally sure about this one." Once you are able to wear the watch a bit you really appreciate it. While the design isn't perfect, it is an extremely capable classy watch, with a super cool movement, and a solid construction. People used to lower-end Seiko watches only, will be pretty impressed by a watch like this. It blows more entry level Japanese watches out of the water.
The SNR005 watch comes in a 42mm wide case that feels proper in size. The case has an unusual construction with an indented side that makes it look a bit like a spool without any string on it. Though the shape is augmented by substantial lugs that come out of the middle section of the case. It is actually made like a steel sandwich. Polished steel on the top and bottom, with a brushed steel middle section. The lower polished piece is screwed on and contains a sapphire crystal caseback for a view into the movement. More on that later. Seiko has done an immaculate job finishing the case. The various styles of polish are very well done, moving beautifully between polished and brushed surfaces. I have witnessed Seiko's workers perform these polishes and have to admit that Seiko's clever techniques make for very nice watch parts. Most finishes of this quality tend to be found on much more expensive watches. Plus, despite the many sharp looking angles on the watch, nothing feels sharp or jabs into your wrist. This watch is very comfortable to wear.
As a precursor to Ananta, you can see were a lot of the SNR005, and its family of watches had a big influence on later high-end Seiko watches such as the Ananta collection. You see this in the lugs, hour markers, and hands. Each smaller here, but later blown up a bit for the Ananta watch collection. After having time with the SNR005 I have come to appreciate its many fine details. Images of the watch can't allow you to appreciate them as well as I would like to convey them. For example, the hour markers on the watch are diamond polished, and very sharp looking - not easy to show in images. Most of them look too thin to have such polishing, but they do. The watch hands feel stubby, but aren't. This is because of their large counterweight. They, like the Ananta watches, look like swords. The seconds hand and power reserve indicator hand are more needle-like.
Against the charcoal black dial, the polished steel hands look very attractive. In some lighting situations they blend together a bit, but not too much. Legibility for the watch tends to be better than one expect expects. This is aided by the very easy to see sloped chapter ring, with hour and minute markers applied to it. Also, the Seiko SNR005 has an AR (anti-reflective) coated on one side sapphire crystal that gives the dial almost no glare. This makes viewing the dial a delight.
Seiko has paired the SNR005 watch a great bracelet. The links are fitted closely together for an almost seamless look, and it fits very tightly with the case. The three link design has the thinner outer links given a polished finish, while the thick inner link has a brushed finish. It makes for a handsome style that feels classy and conservative. I would however had liked the outer polished link to also be polished on the underside of the bracelet - where the bracelet has an all brushed finish. Not sure the reason this is, perhaps there is a good reason that I am not aware of. The most avant garde part of this watch is the case design, so the bracelet like I said, is simple and attractive. The bracelet has a butterfly push-button deployment clasp, that is simple to use. It gives the bracelet a seamless look while on the wrist. I appreciate that Seiko designed the bracelet with "half links." These are links that are smaller than the standard ones so that you can adjust the size of the bracelet a bit more precisely.
Let's go back to Spring Drive, the main event at this show. You notice some interesting differences when using the watch, even if you knew nothing about the movement. There is of course the "glide motion" seconds hand. Spring Drive has a seconds hand that sweeps smoother than anything you've seen before. This is because it is not based on a series of very small ticks like a normal mechanical movement. Instead, it moves forward in one continuous motion, without stop. It is a bit hard to return to less smooth seconds hands after having Spring Drive. Related to this is silence - the Spring Drive movement is silent. Like a car with an electric engine, you know it is working but you can't hear it. Some people enjoy the rapid "ticking" of a mechanical watch, and others are annoyed by it. Either way, you get pure serenity with this Seiko.
The SNR005 watch contains a Spring Drive caliber 5R65 automatic movement. It has 30 jewels and a power reserve of about 72 hours. This movement has the basic Spring Drive features that other movements have expanded upon. This includes the time, date, and power reserve indicator. You can hand wind the movement as well of course. You'll hear a different type of sound than you normally would with a standard mechanical watch. Because Spring Drive has a mainspring and not a battery, that is what the crown is winding. When the mainspring runs down, instead of feeding power to an escapement, it feeds power to a special quartz regulator that acts like a brake. It slows the power to be highly consistent. The release of this power can be seen by the "glide wheel," which is what replaces an escapement. Seeing this wheel in action (through the back of the watch) allows you to understand why the seconds hand moves so smoothly without ticking. I like that Seiko placed the date on a dark colored disc to match the dial. Back on the matter of winding. Hand-winding the movement feels very efficient, while it seems to take automatic winding a bit more to power the watch to full. After a day of wearing the watch, the power reserve won't necessarily be lower than it originally was, but it won't necessarily be in the full position either. This means that the watch won't run down on you, but if you live a less "wrist active" lifestyle or don't wear the watch as much, I recommend putting it in a watch winder or keeping an eye on the power reserve indicator to hand-wind it if necessary.
People have argued over the placement of the power reserve indicator. For what it is, the design is pleasant. Though I do understand it is still controversial to some. The dial is very easy to read and has a vertically textured engraving compared to the flat, almost metallic tone surface of the rest of the watch. Is the power reserve indicator bigger than it needs to be? Perhaps. It is too big? No. Seiko is likely interested in branding Spring Drive based watches. It doesn't want people to have to check out the small "Spring Drive" label underneath the Seiko logo. As such, a large power reserve indicator such as this might be the way it wants consumers to identify Spring Drive apart from other Seiko watches. Spring Drive does after all, have a very bright future, and there will be more of them released over time.
If you need just one reason to be interested in Spring Drive based movements it is the concept of "the best of both worlds." The technical interest and emotion of a mechanical watch, and the accuracy of a quartz movement. Spring Drive is as accurate as standard quartz movements (approx. +/- 15 seconds a month). Seiko advertises accuracy within one second per a day. Using the watch I found it to be at least this accurate, if not more accurate. The smooth gliding hand, incredibly complex to engineer movement, and a reasonable power reserve make it hard to resist wanting one. Plus, Spring Drive movements are made in Japan and hand assembled by some of Seiko's best. There is little or nothing available from Europe with this level of quality and "human treatment" for these prices.
As a classy watch with interesting but subtle character, and a great level of technological sophistication, the Seiko SNR005 is a great choice. There are other models in this collection available with different colors or various complications. If this collection just isn't for you, then you are probably still interested in Seiko Spring Drive. Honestly, the appeal of the movement is hard to resist. There is a growing collection of Spring Drive movement based watches. From Ananta, to Grand Seiko, and others - this is going to be a special marquee for Seiko for the foreseeable future. Yes, the price for Spring Drive watches is more than you might expect from Seiko, but these are really different watches. In my opinion if you upgrade from more mainstream Seiko or Japanese watches to Spring Drive or another high-end Seiko watch, you will be pretty satisfied with your investment.
Thanks to Seiko for the review unit. Opinions are 100% independent.