Full disclosure: I am a vintage Seiko fanatic. My watch-collecting journey really started with a fascination for Seiko’s iconic automatic models of ‘60s, ‘70s, and (early) ‘80s. Over the years, it’s proven a great and satisfying romance, cemented by acquiring a number of great Seiko vintage timepieces – a very rare Timesonar (one of the first watches by Seiko to have an exhibition caseback – and therefore, sort of ever), an amazing NOS Seiko “Monaco” with a 7016 movement, and my first grail attained, the 6139 “Pogue” chrono that was renowned for being the first watch in outer space on a Skylab mission. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised upon discovering Seiko, in its quiet fashion, had recently dropped a wonderfully retro-themed new collection known as “Recraft.”
What got me especially excited about the new Seiko Recraft models was also that Seiko retains a bit of authentic vintage heritage in the watches’ choice of timekeeping mechanics (albeit with a slight trade-off; read on for more on that). Indeed, these “new/old” watches seem very, very cool to an old-school Seiko fetishist like myself, making me very excited to check them out and get them on my wrist as soon as possible. (To that end, you can look forward to a joint hands-on review of the most interesting Seiko Recraft models by myself and Ariel in the near future, as soon as we can get our hands on them.)
My deep personal interest in Seiko stemmed largely from the brand’s innovations as an in-house manufacture – say, how the 6139 movement was arguably the first automatic chronograph ever invented upon its late ‘60s conception, or how ingenious and silky the alarm mechanism continues to be on my Bell-Matic (not the first alarm watch, but arguably the first to be successfully mass produced on an industrial scale). I also experienced firsthand why Seiko’s dive-watch perennial 6309 caliber, meanwhile, remains among of the most robust and trustworthy movements in horological history: many of them have rarely required much of a servicing since they made their ‘60s debut, thanks to Seiko’s genius minimalist engineering.
Seiko was as innovative in their visual design as it was in refining the vertical-structured mechanics of a timepiece, however. Along the way, therefore, I also developed a bit of an obsession for the groovy looks of these timepieces – how they were so unrepentantly redolent of the ‘60s and ‘70s modernist aesthetics also ricocheting through architecture, cinema, graphic design, painting and sculpture – even comic books and cartoons. At the same time, there was a decidedly Japanese restraint and symmetry innate to the style and fabrication of the great mid-century Seikos – all of which reflected the harmonious rules of legendary Seiko designer Taro Tanaka’s famed “Grammar of Design” which went on to revolutionize the look of the manufacture’s products (the “Grammar of Design” is described quite well on p. 73 of Rob van Herpt’s essential but quixotic book-length history of Seiko, A Journey in Time, which can be downloaded here.
These high-style watches were released under then futuristic-sounding product lines like Actus, Advan, DX, R-Sus (a quartz subbranding), Skyliner, Speedtimer, Vanac, and Weekdater. (For an entertaining and authoritative dictionary of Seiko lines and subbrands by passionate enthusiasts, go here.) With their distinct combination of balanced design and slightly out-there Japanese design mandate, the Seikos from these eras of yore came to exude an inexplicably timeless appeal – even as they uber-embodied the design cues of their period of manufacture.
Amazingly, the new Seiko Recraft models evoke this spirit of olde Seiko amazingly well (albeit with some minor critical caveats where the choice of movement is concerned). At the same time, they are cleverly and impressively crafted to appeal to contemporary watch tastes as well. You certainly won’t look like a severe watch nerd if you wore these styles out and about, and they seem like an all-around great value, too. From the photos anyway – both official and from Seiko early adopters on forums like Watchuseek – the Seiko Recraft watches seem much more expensive and nicely finished than their list prices, which hover between a most affordable $195 and $375, might suggest. I’m guessing that – other than dipping in the gene pool of another Japanese mechanical-watch powerhouse Orient – you simply can’t find as good of an automatic watch for the money.
The Seiko Recraft collection draws on three specific strands of DNA from its past: the Kinetic and Solar quartz innovations that rocked the ‘80s and ‘90s, along with the stylish automatic, sportier watches that you might have found in the ‘70s, branded as a Seiko 5, or under one of the aforementioned sub-lines. Among the Seiko Solar Recrafts, I really like SSC285 – with its bold “bumblebee” color scheme and insouciant hybrid of modern sportif styling with trad Roman numeral hour markers – along with the blue-dialed SSC281 on the bracelet. Both seem “today,” yet evoke memories of when the Solar was the ne plus ultra of cutting-edge watch technology that the young watch nerd could find at the mall; they really capture the nostalgic essence of those watches, while still working on today’s wrist. Ariel will be doing a separate article on Seiko Refract Kinetic watches with more information on them.
I also appreciate the apt retro-futuristic minimalism of the Kinetics – I could have definitely imagined one of these on my wrist during, say, MTV’s “Golden Era.” Considering my collecting passions, though, it’s no surprise I was most drawn to the Seiko Recraft automatic-movement options (which on the Seiko website are lumped together as such, with wonderful Japanese literalness, as the “Mechanical”).
Particularly groovy among the Seiko Recraft automatics are the likes of the SNKN07 and SNKN03 models. With psychedelic dials that span lurid jewel tones to subtle grays and (what appear to be) prismatic shaped Hardlex crystals, they recall some of the more intensely “mod” of the Actus and Vanac lines, as well as the more late-period Lord Matics.
These models are very, very readable with the contrast of their starkly minimal indices and hands against the kaleidoscopic hues; at the same time, they sport wonderfully quirky Bauhaus-meets-LSD details – like the moiré engraving squiggles on the inner secondary dial. That choice could have been equally inspired by ’60s op-art paintings, or a lava lamp.
My favorite model of the Seiko Recraft “Mechanicals,” however, is housed in a barrel-shaped stainless steel tonneau case that wonderfully recalls an Omega Speedmaster Mark II (another classic from that period), as well as various Seiko models of yore. If anything, these watches’ blend of “less is more” and “more is more” is really in the spirit of those great and beloved vintage Seikos. That’s clear from the SNKM97’s awesomely electric green dial, sporty minute track, and fat multi-tone indices contrasting with the appropriately chunky silver steel of the case and bracelet. The gold and black hands also prove impressively brash and legible all at the same time.
That’s my favorite of the bunch; I also like the all-gold tone model, including bracelet, with the root-beer brown dial of a hue I recall being most trendy on “me decade” Mercedes-Benzes. (Indeed, ’70s-style brown hues are back with a vengeance in the Seiko Recraft line!) Another of the “Mechanicals” – the SNKM99 – has been coated with a very 2014 blacked-out ion finish, contrasted by coppery hour markers and a fun sunburst dial. It’s great, but personally I found myself lusting more after the less obviously “au courant” options.
A modern improvement on the vintage models, however, is the exhibition caseback, which showcases a 7S26 movement – although Seiko has not yet officially released any images of that. One of Seiko’s longest standing automatic calibers still in production, but, alas, not necessarily an improvement. If there’s any criticism I might make of the Seiko Recraft “Mechanical” line, it’s in the choice of the 7S26 caliber. The 7S26 was basically the next evolution of the classic Seiko 6309 “auto diver” mechanism, which has been ubiquitous in many of Seiko’s affordable mechanical divers.
While I also appreciate the “Mechanicals” come with a day/date complication, many of us Seiko fanboys find the 7S26 a little less elegant and maybe a little more industrial/mass-produced/anonymous feeling than its groundbreaking, sturdy, beloved 6309 predecessor. As well, it seemed the introduction of the recent 4R36 movement in models like Seiko’s beloved “Monster” diver would make the 7S26 obsolete. I wish they’d used one of those calibers: the 4R36 is essentially a modern revamp on the 7S26, allowing for hand winding and hacking among its functional improvements. Since the 4R36 has been introduced, it seems somewhat retrograde to retrofit new Seiko models with the outflanked 7S26. I would have gladly ponied up the extra fifty bucks for the upgrade – “real vintage” specificity be damned. Sometimes it’s just better to move on from the past, after all.
That said, these are small niggles. Some are better than others, but truthfully, it’s hard to complain about the basic utility and repairability of almost all Seiko mechanisms. Despite its status as a mid-tier movement of a certain age, the 21 jewel, 21,600 vibrations per hour 7S26 remains a spectacular movement that keeps quite highly accurate time and has proven surprisingly robust in terms of servicing. Those are two major reasons why it’s stayed in production for decades – that, and the fact that Seiko probably has millions of these still lying around the factory, are probably why we find it used here.
Seeing the cup half full, however, it’s impressive and kind of cool too that the Seiko Recraft “Mechanicals” have a movement that’s true to the heritage of Seiko and could actually be found in what are now prized vintage models upon their introduction back in the day. It’s just that sometimes retro models don’t have to be entirely retro to still create that “authentic” vibe. (Speaking of which, I’m not entirely sure what the lume situation is with the Seiko Recrafts – that is, whether or not they have modern lume or zero lume, to be more period-accurate.)
Most of all, I admire how the Seiko Recraft “Mechanicals” don’t try to ape or mimic exactly an exact model from yesteryear and milk its nostalgic legacy appeal. Instead, I applaud Seiko for creating something new that retains much of the spirit and look of vintage, but tailored to today’s tastes: we’re talking 40-hour-plus power reserves, 5atm water resistance – and best of all, a very current 43.5 mm case size that would not have been available on the pieces from that time that actually inspired these new watches. (Ariel audibly sighed in relief upon discovering the Seiko Recraft’s healthy case dimensions…)
That combination of (mostly) the best of Seiko’s past legacy and present improvements is ultimately what makes the launch of the Seiko Recraft a must-check-out. I predict these models will also likely prove a must-purchase for the brand’s many enthusiasts – just for the high quality/price ratio alone. These Seiko Recrafts actually might make an ideal holiday gift for that person who wants a stylish new watch, but with a tried-and-true automatic movement. They’re a great low-barrier-of-entry gateway drug to get a nascent collector addicted to mechanical watches – and I’m guessing even seasoned collectors like, ahem, me would be psyched to receive one, too. So, hey, Santa (okay, wife) – are you listening? Papa wants one – okay, all – of the Seiko Recraft “new classics” in his stocking…
Speaking of which, honey, official list prices for the Recraft Kinetic models range from $295-$375; The Recraft Solar options, meanwhile, span $250-$395. Meanwhile, the best of the bunch also proves the biggest bargain: the Recraft Mechanical subline starts at a mere $195 (!) on a leather strap, going up to $275 for the all-black-coated case/bracelet combo. All this once again demonstrates that, when it comes to quality, affordable mechanical automatics with a bit of personality kick, Seiko proves the colossus to beat. seikowatches.com