When Seiko introduced its retro-themed Recraft series last fall, the enthusiastic response to it, I believe, came as a bit of a surprise. Then again, outside of the Grand Seiko line, contemporary Seikos hadn’t so much embraced the vintage aesthetic of the ‘60s and ‘70s that turned many of us into full-on Seiko collectors/obsessives/fanboys; as such, the Recraft’s old-school vibes proved immediately compelling and infectious. I expressed my enthusiasm for this move when I wrote a news story for aBlogtoWatch about the Seiko Recraft collection, but my excitement wouldn’t be fulfilled until I’d actually worn one on my wrist.
While Ariel has recently waxed rhapsodically about the nostalgia induced by the optimistic futurism of the Seiko Recraft’s quartz-based “Kinetic” models, the ones in the collection I had my eye on were the models known as “Automatic.” In particular, I had my eye on the SNKMN97 reference. From the images I found on the Internet, I fell in love with its luminous emerald green dial and bold styling. I had to experience this one on the wrist, and – thanks to our friends at Arizona Fine Time, who provided us the SNKMN97 for review – I got my wish.
I have to say, wearing the SNKMN97 Seiko Recraft Automatic for a number of months clarified that my anticipation was well founded: I love this watch – it hits so many sweet spots. At the same time, I appreciate that it’s not a mere reissue or re-imagining of a previously existing model, but a totally new creation – albeit one that embodies the true spirit and fun of vintage mechanical Seikos.
I have trouble being objective about this watch; I can’t find much to dislike about it. For one, the pricing is genius: the official MSRP of the Seiko Recraft Automatic SNKMN97 is $235 (!). This is, to my mind, an incredible bargain for a true mechanical watch, not to mention one with a bit of unexpected style and wrist presence. Now, don’t expect this to be, say, a Kari Voutilainen for that kind of money; that said, what you get for your $200 proves well beyond satisfying. Let me count the ways…
Right off the bat, the first thing you notice about the Seiko Recraft Automatic SNKMN97 is its dramatic dial, which is nearly 40mm itself (the case diameter in total tops out around a healthily contemporary 44mm). Wow. Pure ‘60s vibes – from the modernist gold-tone hour markers to the gorgeous psychedelic sunray ripple of the green dial, as well as the striking orange seconds hand (vintage Seikos often had vividly colored seconds hands, naturally) and classic inner seconds track. Wow. So bold. I kind of wish it didn’t have the day-date complication and was just a solid wash of green, but still… wow.
I feel like Seiko is a little underrated in the quality of its dials. I personally own some spectacular examples among my many vintage Seikos, and the Seiko Recraft has totally owned the spirit of them here – the depth and shimmer of it is amazing, and draws you to check the time more often than you’d think necessary! Then again, this is a Seiko, and you are getting the benefits, even at this price point, of the entire historical legacy of the brand and its genius at industrializing the smallest, most satisfying details. As a result, things that might be not considered in another brand at a similar price are presented in their most sublime form. The hands are legible despite skeletonization, the gold tone popping against the green, and they’re the right size, too (something, again, even more expensive brands/watches don’t always get right).
The proportions of the cushion case (another classic vintage Seiko element, recalling the brand’s beloved divers and chronographs of the ‘60s and ‘70s) fit the wrist perfectly; despite the large dimensions and prominent wrist presence, this is an incredibly comfortable wear, and just looks balanced. The quality of the satin brush finishing and contrasting polished surfaces also punches well above its weight. The lightly tapered oyster-style bracelet with signed buckle feels more substantial than one might expect and looks great – it’s an organic part of the whole watch. It’s just so much more of a timepiece than you’d expect for such a low cost; then again, Seiko products are typically great across all price points. A $200 watch like this bests many watches that cost five or six times more in style, execution, finish and engineering.
Balanced, bold design, better finish and materials than one might expect… So where does this particular Seiko Recraft skimp? Well, for one, both the crystal and the exhibition case back are mineral crystal, not sapphire. But at least there is an exhibition case back, and one that reveals the workings of a true automatic mechanical movement. The movement, in fact, is the only truly retro piece of the Seiko Recraft Automatic’s puzzle. It’s the venerable 7S26 movement – a 21 jewel mechanism that was featured in numerous Seiko models for many decades, both entry level and mid-tier. Personally, in the past, it was not my favorite Seiko caliber: I found it a bit rattle-y and ungraceful compared to its genius workhorse predecessor, the 6309, which created an incredibly durable and efficient engine with ingenious engineering. However, experiencing the version of the 7S26 in the Seiko Recraft Automatic is a revelation.
I don’t know if Seiko has specially regulated it in the Seiko Recraft Automatic SNKMN97, but the 7S26 here seems more solid and reliable; it’s kept absolutely rock-solid time over many months, and despite its strictly industrial finish (or lack thereof), I truly enjoy gazing at it through the clear caseback.
The day/date function is remarkably fluid and easy to use: then again, I’ve found I prefer the ingenuity and ease of Seiko’s date functions versus the clunky versions offered by many of its Swiss competitors. Still, I would’ve naturally preferred the movement that replaced the 7S26 – the clearly superior 4R36, a hacking and windable automatic movement that can be found in the latest versions of Seiko models like its classic “Monster” dive watch. However, using the 4R36 would’ve inevitably increased the Seiko Recraft Automatic SNKMN97’s price, and keeping this cheap and cheerful is perhaps what’s so great about the entire Seiko Recraft concept. It’s a truly democratic timepiece – if this is your first automatic watch (and it’s priced to fill exactly that niche) its in-house movement, however dated, is nothing to be sneezed at.
Sometimes I feel a little silly about how much joy this Seiko Recraft Automatic SNKMN97 has brought me as it has lived on my wrist over the past few months. I have more expensive watches. I have more complicated watches. I certainly own more rare, less mass-produced timepieces. I just can’t get over how much heritage went into the execution here. And I love that it’s not precious. I don’t think of the Seiko Recraft as a beater, per se – it’s too individual for that distinction. But I appreciate that I can wear it everywhere and not worry about it, and then look down and see this eccentric, special creation on my wrist and smile. Price is a very reasonable $235, and thanks to Arizona Fine Time (who carries a lot of Seiko watches other US authorized dealers do not) for supplying this review unit. seikowatches.com
>Model: Recraft Series Automatic SNKM97
>Price: $235 USD
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Of course!
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: The Seiko Recraft Automatic SNKM97 is perfect for both the seasoned Seiko collector, as well as a great introduction to automatic watches for the mechanical-watch novice. Really, it’s just a fun, enjoyable watch for anyone.
>Best characteristic of watch: The spectacular dial, along with the authentic (but not slavish) retro-vintage styling. Surprising quality/value for the price – it’s rare to get a mechanical watch this good at this cost.
>Worst characteristic of watch: While I was refreshingly surprised that the 7S26 movement is not the liability I thought it would be, I still would’ve preferred the more updated 4R36 mechanism featuring hacking and both manual and self-wind options.