There’s a strong case to be made that the Seiko Prospex “Captain Willard” series are the most interesting watches in the Japanese giant’s broad and varied current diver roster. Featuring a bold and instantly recognizable ‘70s-inspired rounded cushion case and an excellent balance between refinement and value, these models form a bridge between Seiko’s affordable mass-market dive offerings and its truly premium high-end dive pieces. In true Seiko fashion, the brand is determined to offer a wide array of variations on this theme, but its latest release in the line may well be the most appealing of all. Much of the mystique of the “Captain Willard” series comes from Japanese explorer Naomi Uemura, whose solo Arctic expeditions in the ‘70s helped to cement the original Seiko 6105 diver as an extremely resilient cold-weather performer. Seiko and sister brand Grand Seiko’s penchant for ice-inspired dial finishing finds a natural home in this modern revival of the arctic exploration design, combined with one of the marque’s most robust diver platforms. The new Seiko Prospex Built for the Ice Divers U.S. Special edition series, including the Seiko Prospex SPB261, Seiko Prospex SPB263, and Seiko Prospex SPB265, brings an added visual flair to an already eye-catching design, creating some of Seiko’s most striking modern mid-range divers in the process.
Like the rest of the models in the current “Captain Willard” series, the Seiko Prospex Built for the Ice Divers U.S. Special Edition variants are markedly more compact on the wrist than the 42.7mm-wide case dimensions might suggest. In practice, this case feels closer to 40mm while still looking bold and pleasingly solid, and much of this comes down to Seiko’s talent for case geometry. The lugs are the first element of this, with a short overall length that leads to a lug-to-lug measurement of only 46.6mm, along with a continuous sloping downturn that wraps the case around the wrist snugly. Seiko’s sloping undercut case sides are also a major factor here. These bowl-like, polished surfaces reduce the wide stance at the top of the main case body to a much narrower profile that actually contacts the wrist, while also masking some of the overall thickness with a reflective curving finish. Seiko’s last size-masking trick is one of its oldest and most effective, reducing the apparent height of the 13.2mm-thick case on the wrist by slimming down the mid-case as much as possible. Most of the case’s bulk is shared between the bubbled caseback and Seiko’s trademark tall dive bezel, allowing these watches to sit flatter on the wrist than a slab-sided case with the same measurements. This is also the rare vintage watch reissue that actually measures in smaller than its forebear, meaning this uniquely organic rounded shape isn’t only using clever geometry to visually slim itself.
The stainless steel cases of all three versions are functionally identical, and like the rest of the “Captain Willard” series, the finishing here is a cut above Seiko’s already excellent mass-market diver options. The radial brushing atop the cushion case is smooth and impressively even, while the coin edge of the unidirectional dive bezels feels sharper and more refined than the familiar entry-level Seiko knurling pattern. The 4 o’clock screw-down crowns are also a major improvement over the original Seiko 6105’s system, which used a notoriously fiddly pin-alignment system to lock the crown in place. It’s the bezel insert where this sense of quality shines through clearest, however. All three models are equipped with matte black ceramic inserts, with a lightly grained texture that adds to the sense of tactile quality. While the full printed dive scales might have benefited from a light engraving, the simple move to ceramic immediately gives these models a more upmarket feel. In keeping with ISO standards, all three models are rated for a solid 200 meters of water resistance.
The three models in the Seiko Prospex Built for the Ice Divers U.S. Special Edition series differentiate themselves with a trio of arctic-inspired dial finishes. The overall layouts are carried over from the standard “Willard” models, with broad pointed baton hands paired to satisfyingly bold applied square indices, but the surfaces themselves showcase Seiko’s superb dial finishing capabilities. The brand has clearly used a complex multi-stage process to achieve these looks, and the manufacturing capability necessary to replicate this process at scale at this price point is impressive in and of itself. In addition to a semi-gloss coat and a smoky dégradé effect that smoothly darkens the hue of each dial as it approaches the edge, there is a horizontal crosshatch effect meant to capture the look of sled tracks on snow. In practice, this effect may not be as showy as some others in Seiko’s stable but catches light in engagingly nuanced ways from a variety of angles. The deep blue-green of the SPB265 is the subtlest and most traditional of the three colorways, but the almost teal hues that shine through still set this apart from more traditionally oceanic blue dials. By contrast, the pale blue SPB263 stands out from across a room as something new, with a glacial colorway that captures a range of shades from cold winter skies to the rich clear hues at the heart of an iceberg. It’s the SPB261, however, that establishes the best balance between visual impact and versatility. The cool pale gray gradient runs the gamut from dirty snow to exposed granite, giving this a more ruggedly serious feel than its stablemates and providing a welcome change of pace from the classic black dial colorway. All three models add a pop of bright yellow through the series’ signature “stoplight” seconds hand, giving the designs some much-needed contrast and reinforcing the functional exploration-gear theme. For all these new dials’ strengths, however, the cutout date windows at 3 o’clock remain as notable visual disruptions. A no-date iteration of these designs would likely come across as a more cohesive package.
Seiko powers the Prospex Built for the Ice Divers U.S. Special Edition series with its in-house 6R35 automatic movement. The 6R35 is a relatively new addition to the brand’s movement lineup and offers a truly modern 70 hours of power reserve. How this movement delivers that power reserve may be a point of contention for some enthusiasts, however, as its slower 21,600 bph beat rate leads to a noticeably rougher seconds hand sweep than the 28,800 bph frequencies of many of its rivals. With that said, in typical Seiko fashion this movement is robustly built and handily outperforms its stated specifications, with our tested accuracy of -7 seconds per day far outstripping the 6R35’s -15/+25 second per day stated accuracy rating.
All three models in the Seiko Prospex Built for the Ice Divers U.S. Special Edition are fitted with three-link oyster-style bracelets in brushed stainless steel. While the fully brushed finish and rounded link do give a more refined impression than the corresponding bracelets on Seiko’s more affordable Prospex offerings, particularly through the clasp, this design simply performs solidly. Given the distinctive, uniquely Seiko design language throughout the rest of the watch, these bracelets have a tendency to fade into the background somewhat. While this traditional design is comfortable and versatile, these designs could likely support a broad variety of strap styles handsomely.
Pairing solid construction, dependable performance, and some of mainline Seiko’s most charismatic dial and case pairings, the new arctic-inspired Seiko Prospex Built for the Ice Divers U.S. Special Edition series offers a capable and distinctive contender in the extremely competitive $1,000-$2,000 dive watch market segment. While not strictly limited in number, all three models in the Seiko Prospex Built for the Ice Divers U.S. Special Edition line will be available exclusively through Seiko Luxe authorized dealers in the United States in November 2021 at an MSRP of $1,400 each. For more details, please visit the brand’s website.
>Model: Prospex SPB261, Prospex SPB263, Prospex SPB265
>Size: 42.7mm-wide, 13.2mm-thick, 46.6mm lug-to-lug
>When reviewer would personally wear it: As a daily wear sports watch, or as an accent to a rugged retro-inspired outfit.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Dive watch fans looking to test out Seiko’s higher-spec offerings, or an outdoor adventurer looking for a cold-weather companion.
>Best characteristic of watch: Superb dial finishing, refined feel on the wrist, truly unique case presence.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Uninspired bracelet, 6R35 movement’s slow beat rate may prove divisive, sizeable price point pushes the design into an extremely competitive market segment.