December 14, 2021
Polar exploration has been at the heart of Seiko’s dive watch line for nearly as long as the brand has built divers. From famed explorer Naomi Uemura’s solo expeditions through the Arctic to the crew of the Eighth Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition in 1966, Seiko has used the punishing conditions of the polar regions as a crucible to develop durable, reliable tool watches. This practice of outfitting cold-weather scientific expeditions continues to this day, as the 63rd Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition currently conducting scientific testing in Antarctica is fully equipped with Seiko timepieces. To pay tribute to its long relationship with Japanese polar exploration efforts, the brand has developed a new dive watch iteration specifically for the mission, combining classic ‘60s Seiko dive watch cues with some of the finest performance and finishing the Japanese giant currently has to offer. Available to the public in a limited edition production run, the new Seiko Prospex SLA055 is a stunning showcase of the more premium side of the brand’s dive watch repertoire, with a charismatic design and subtle nods to the unforgiving Antarctic landscape.
Measuring in at 42.6mm, the Seiko Prospex SLA055’s case follows the sharply angular profile of the classic 1968 Seiko Diver’s Watch, with a substantial modern overhaul. The case, bezel, and crown are rendered in Seiko’s proprietary Ever-Brilliant Steel alloy, which the brand claims is 70 percent more corrosion resistant as conventional stainless steel alloys. The recessed crown at 4 o’clock also uses a unique independent screwdown tube rather than screwing directly into the main case body, allowing for easier repair and replacement in the event of a damaging impact. Seiko also reprofiles the edge of the unidirectional dive bezel, replacing the traditional coin edge of the 1968 model with a chunkier gear-toothed design that should be more usable while wearing heavy cold-weather gloves. The dramatically angled lugs and broad polished case side chamfers should be familiar to fans of the brand, however, as should the blend of mirror polishing and horizontal brushing. Seiko does take a subtle departure from the familiar with the bezel insert, however, rendering the full dive scale in a pale ice blue that reinforces the Antarctic theme in images without drawing undue attention to itself. Surprisingly, Seiko rates the SLA055 for less water resistance than its forebear, offering 200 meters of resistance as opposed to the 300 meter rating of the 1968 original.
Seiko has built much of its modern reputation on the strength of its dial finishing, and the Prospex SLA055 continues this trend. The main dial surface itself is more muted and restrained than some current entries in the brand’s lineup, but the deep midnight blue sunburst and shallow rippling texture evoke the frigid waters of Antarctica powerfully in initial images. While this surface alone adds character to the design, the brand pays remarkable attention to the smaller elements of the dial as well. For example, the applied diver style indices at 12 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock, and 9 o’clock feature a delicate grooved texture that should interact dramatically with changing light. The broad, sharply pointed lumed handset also features intricate finishing in images, with strongly brushed central sections complemented by brightly polished beveled edges. However, the blunt cutout of the 4:30 date window arguably detracts from this sense of refined finishing, while also disrupting overall symmetry.
Inside the Seiko Prospex SLA055 beats the in-house 8L35 automatic movement. Developed specifically for Seiko’s premium dive watch offerings, the 8L35 is hand-assembled in the brand’s exclusive Shizukuishi Watch Studio factory (normally home to Grand Seiko movement production) and produced with the rigors of heavy underwater use in mind. Although hidden behind a solid caseback, Seiko finishes the 8L35 handsomely with striping across the bridges and rotor, along with brightly polished chamfered edges. In terms of performance, the 8L35 offers a solid 50 hours of power reserve at a 28,800 bph beat rate. As with the water resistance rating, however, this is a lower specification on paper than the 1968 original, which used Seiko’s cutting-edge (for the time) Hi-Beat 36,000 bph beat rate. Seiko couples the Prospex SLA055 with a pair of strap options, paying tribute not just to the brand’s own legacy but to the spirit of Japanese craftsmanship that drives much of its current output. The first of the pair is a modern silicone reinterpretation of the 1968 original’s “chocolate bar” rubber strap in black, abandoning the glossy texture of the original design to highlight its raised blocks in a grainy matte finish. Seiko also includes a navy blue NATO strap braided in the traditional Japanese pattern known as Seichu. The brand claims this braided weave is both incredibly strong and resistant to fading from sun exposure.
With durable construction, intricate finishing, and handsome nods to the brand’s history of polar exploration, the limited edition Seiko Prospex SLA055 is a rugged and attractive tool watch intended for one of the world’s most extreme environments. Only 1,300 examples of the Seiko Prospex SLA055 will be made, and the watch will be available through Seiko boutiques and select authorized dealers starting in January 2022 at an MSRP of €4,600. For more details, please visit the brand’s website.