When it comes to affordable, value-for-the-money, damn fine effort watches, Seiko is still the name to beat. Yes, this is true even with the brand’s move upmarket and the growth of the prestigious and very impressive higher-end Grand Seiko watches. The Seiko Presage Automatic SRPB collection watches (debut here) have a retail price of $425 (on the strap) and are a lot of watch for the money. For some people, this will be the nicest watch they will ever own — and, in this instance, that is not necessarily a shame. While Seiko’s pricier new offerings capture the attention of the watch collecting community, it can’t be said that the brand still has some of the most compelling affordable offerings out there.
Seiko (along with Orient and Citizen) proved to the world that you don’t need to charge $1,000 or more for a decent, albeit simple, mechanical timepiece. While most rank and file Japanese-made mechanical movements aren’t often as pretty as Swiss ones, they often offer the same or better performance at more competitive prices. Looking through the exhibition caseback window, you can see the in-house time+date Seiko caliber 4R35 automatic movement. This isn’t its fanciest fare, but it looks good and operates at 3Hz with about 41 hours of power reserve. Not the finest movement you can get in a Seiko dress watch at this price range, but a fun one that has real personality.
There is a reason the Presage Automatic SRPB43 (SRPB43J1 in Japan) and kin are nicknamed “Seiko cocktail time” watches. The playful and colorful sunburst dials are classy-looking and also more expressive than many Japanese dress watches out there, especially at these prices. The SRPB43 has a silver dial with a blue sheen in the light. (Opt for the SRPB41 for a darker blue dial.) Seiko offers the same model in a silver dial, dark gray dial, brown dial, and an ivory white with black hands and hour markers, which is sort of cool. The SRPB pieces are easily the most character-rich among the entire Presage collection today.
Also, note that Seiko produces the very similar Presage Automatic SSA collection, including the SSA343, which has the same case and dial style, but a different movement — the Seiko caliber 4R57 automatic, which has a large power reserve indicator and a date indicator dial. As I said above, while the dial design is not for everyone, the quality at this price point is really impressive, and the carefully cut hands and pointy hour markers should impress you when you look at it closely.
At 40.5mm-wide in polished steel, the Presage Automatic is a medium-large dress watch in a size I believe most wearers will gladly accept. It wears nicely with the relatively thin bezel that maximizes the dial size. The case is also water resistant to 50 meters, while the dial is covered with a Seiko Hardlex crystal. (I still always prefer sapphire crystal.) What makes the dial impressive is really the attention to detail and complexity of the parts, ranging from the curved dial to the curved hands. View too many “simple” dial watches and you’ll come to appreciate what this effort looks like — though I will say that, on this particular SRPB43, even though legibility is still pretty good, in some instances the polished hands are a bit hard to spot against the polished dial, but Seiko made the attractive look about as legible as could be.
Speaking of the dial, I also want to say that, in addition to being impressive, the proportions throughout are appropiriate, something I appreciate. While the hands might appear to be a touch short, it is because of the height of the hour markers, which slope down toward the center of the dial. Given that the minute hand bends down, legibility is really good (when you see the hands, that is).
While some Orient dress watches, such as the Bambino have a nice package at a lower price, Seiko offers a more impressive product for the increased price. I will say that, for around $400, this is pretty much one of the most decent type of dress watch you can find in something modern. Seiko offers other newer styles, of course, but I like the Presage SRPB collection because it is a bit bolder in the expression department, though not everyone wants that when buying a watch for their dad.
It wouldn’t be a cool Japanese watch without something quirky going on. What’s with the shiny patent-leather-style black strap with midnight-blue stitching? If you happen to be wearing a tuxedo with matching colors, then the stock strap will suit you well — or if your wardrobe consists of a lot of highly polished black military formal shoes. Otherwise, I think most people interested in this otherwise lovely Presage Automatic with the silvery blue dial will want to start thinking about their ideal strap choice. Black alligator or crocodile wouldn’t be bad. Price for the Seiko Presage Automatic SRPB43 is $425 USD (and similar models on a matching steel bracelet are $495). For more information, visit seikousa.com.
>Model: Presage Automatic SRPB43
>Price: $425 USD
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Someone looking for the most interesting yet conservative dress watch $400 can buy.
>Best characteristic of watch: Excellent quality and materials for the money. Really has that “more expensive watch feel,” but at a remarkably accessible price point. Dials are attractive.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Dials are not to everyone’s taste visually. Movements could be just that much better finished. Strap is amusingly quirky in style, but you’ll likely only use it as a spare.