March 12, 2021
by Ariel Adams
Judging by how much wrist time this Seiko Prospex LX watch has been getting on my wrist, I think it is safe to say that I’m pretty excited about this particular high-end dive timepiece. Seiko produces so many diver’s watches, at so many price points — that doesn’t include Grand Seiko diver’s watches — that it continues to be a collector’s challenge simply to keep track of them. Seiko doesn’t make things easy by supplementing its core collection watches with limited editions that arrive with different price points. Wading through the waters of Seiko divers is something even we at aBlogtoWatch get confused by, but when the right watch dons our wrist and makes us smile, we thank Seiko for all their experimentation and variety. This leads me to start my review of the Seiko Prospex LX SNR031 watch, which is near the top of what a Seiko-branded watch will cost you (but not the top for sure). In the United States, the watch is called the SNR031, but interesting enough in Japan and perhaps other parts of the world, it is known as the Seiko reference SBDB021 (two names for the same watch).
The Seiko Prospex LX (“LX” referring to the higher-end segment in the larger Prospex sport watch family) SNR031 came out at Baselworld 2019 (on aBlogtoWatch here) along with a host of other fancy Prospex models equipped with Seiko’s own Spring Drive movements. With a familiar case and dial shape, for me, this generation of Seiko dive watches is the modern version of the Seiko SBDX001 Marinemaster — that was one of the most important “Seiko cult diver” watches when I started seriously getting to watches in the early 2000s. The “Marinemaster” name is no longer used, and the movements are even more impressive now, but the look and feel of the collection is undeniably an extension of the famed high-end Japanese diver’s watch.
The closest analog to the SBDX001 is the Seiko SNR029, which is in natural titanium and comes with a matching bracelet (the original Marinemaster was steel). The SNR029 (SBDB027) is actually the exact same price as this SNR031, even though the latter doesn’t come on a bracelet. The difference is the extremely durable black coating of this “Stealth Spring Drive” diver’s watch. Unfortunately, Seiko doesn’t offer a matching black-coated titanium bracelet, but its high-end silicone strap is super-comfortable and helps the SNR031 perform much better as an actual sports watch. The best thing you can say about this timepiece from the perspective of it being a discreet luxury product is that no one but the wearer will guess the watch comes with a retail price of $6,000 USD. People who want show-off watches don’t really gravitate toward Seiko, anyway, but with extremely competent and beautiful sports watches like this, seasoned watch lovers are investing well in the experience that higher-end Seiko watches offer.
While the SNR031 isn’t a small timepiece, the shorter lugs and wrapping design of the case allow it to wear extremely comfortably. On top of that, the titanium case construction allows the watch to be so much lighter than people normally expect from a Seiko Prospex diving watch. The case is 44.8mm-wide and 15.7mm-thick, with a 50.9mm long lug-to-lug distance. (Note that there are some published size discrepancies between Seiko’s U.S. and Japan websites, and I’m going off the data on the Japanese website.) As a diver’s watch, it is water-resistant to 300 meters and the case weighs just 110 grams.
The black-color is DLC-coated. Seiko isn’t always great about explaining its “hard coating,” but the idea is that over the base titanium is a coating that increases the surface durability by a large factor, effectively making a soft metal (titanium) much more scratch-resistant. What you get with a high-end Japanese sports watch, in addition to quality and performance, is lasting durability. Japanese watchmakers hate it when watches show age, and thus spend a lot of effort making sure their best watches are wear-resistant. I wish more Swiss companies felt the same way…
Over the dial of the SNR031 is a slightly curved, AR-coated sapphire crystal, which is inset a bit below the bezel in order to protect it. The unidirectional rotating diver’s timing bezel is in matching “hard-coated” titanium, with the bezel insert being in ceramic. At first, I found it a bit odd that the markers on the bezel were black on black, making it harder to read. That said, the overall look of the watch is awesomely stealthy, and the hour markers and hands remain extremely visible.
In addition to the non-limited SNR031, Seiko also released a slightly different limited-edition version of this watch that comes as a set of 200 pieces. Known as the SNR043 (aka SBDB037), the limited edition black titanium diver has higher-contrast markers on the bezel and a gold-toned seconds hand (along with other minor color differences). It has a $500 price premium over this non-limited-edition version. I actually prefer the SNR031 because of its more discreet, distinctive look. I happen to like how the black surfaces work with the visible hands and hour markers, as well as how the various surfaces play with the light. As much as a tool can be beautiful, the Seiko Prospex SNR031 is just that.
Light plays well on the dial, bezel, and Zaratsu-polished titanium case. This is a big deal, showing that Seiko understood where to use polished and matte black surfaces for maximum visual effect in the SNR031 watch. Speaking of light, let’s talk lume. The luminant for the SNR031 — along with other high-end Seiko watches — is amazing. With just a moderate amount of charging, the LumiBrite luminant material glows quite brightly and for a fair amount of time. Part of this is thanks to Seiko’s very liberal application of the luminant material.
Inside this saturation diver’s watch is Seiko’s in-house-made Spring Drive automatic caliber 5R65. Seiko Spring Drive movements are amazing features of engineering and combine the emotional satisfaction of mechanical watches with the performance of modern quartz timepieces. How they fully work is something I’ve discussed in the past on aBlogtoWatch, but suffice it to say that as the mainspring in the movement unwinds, it generates a small amount of electricity that powers a quartz-based regulation system. This offers an accuracy of about one second per day with 72 hours of power reserve. The 5R65 movement includes the time and date, along with a power reserve indicator on the dial. I could easily live with this movement as a daily wear and have zero fuss about it. The best part of wearing a Spring Drive movement continues to be the “gliding” motion of the seconds hand, which is much more smooth than the small ticks that create the sweeping motion of seconds hands on most traditional fully mechanical watches.
Complaints? Not many. I understand why Seiko chose silicone over rubber as the strap material — and it is comfortable. That said, silicone straps are known for being dust and lint magnets, so you’ll need to get this diver’s watch wet every once in a while to clear at least the strap off. Seiko also makes it challenging for most consumers to really understand the full differences between their $600 and $6,000 diver’s watches (and everything in between). I can see a lot of people simply being confused about the value proposition and not moving forward with the purchase of a high-end Seiko Prospex LX diver’s watch because they don’t understand what it is all about. That isn’t really a complain about the watch itself, but more about the process for consumers to become familiar with the watch, in the first place.
I also think that Seiko didn’t need to give this generation of Seiko Prospex LX watches such a large crown. Indeed, the crown is located at 4 o’clock on the dial, which helps prevent it from jabbing into your wrist. If you are wearing gloves, then the extra crown size no doubt helps you operate the watch; but the screw-down crown attracts a lot of visual attention given its big size. Seiko, in general, often likes to produce bigger-than-necessary crowns and pushers — so, in a lot of ways, this is just a matter of brand style and taste.
No one I know has enough money or days in the year to wear all the interesting Seiko sport watches that catch their fancy. That’s sort of the thing with the Japanese brand’s offerings — so many come out and you simply can’t catch ’em all. If you want that, try something over at Nintendo. You can, however, sit back as a watch enthusiast and wait for that one special Seiko sport watch to come out every few years that really catches your attention. As someone with a lot of experience wearing Seiko Prospex watches, I can say that watch isn’t necessarily the most limited, the most expensive, or even the one that grabs your attention immediately. I didn’t think too much about the SNR031 when it first came out, aside from generally feeling it was a strong looking diver’s watch. After wearing it for a while, I’ve become a really big fan and feel that a lot of collectors should consider a Prospex LX as an alternative to Swiss luxury diver’s watches.
Part of that recommendation used to come with the promise that the Seiko watch will cost you less than the Swiss alternative. While Seiko still offers watches like that, over the last 10 years Seiko has increased its prices gradually while the Swiss have lowered theirs. You can (for example) get an Omega Seamaster 300M in steel on a bracelet for less than the retail price of the SNR031. Seiko is no longer trying to be the cost leader but competes at the same level (with similar prices) as the brands in Europe. When it comes to products, Seiko certainly can compete with ease. In terms of branding, Seiko still has a ways to go in creating mystique around the name, but its best ambassadors are the consumers themselves (versus Astronauts and Clooneys).
Wear the Seiko Prospex LX SNR031, and you’ll still have to explain to enough people why it costs what it does. You’ll just not need to explain it to yourself. Price for the Seiko Prospex LX Black Titanium Diver SNR031 (SBDB021) is $6,000 USD. Learn more at the Seiko Luxe website here.
>Model: Prospex LX SNR031 (aka SBDB021)
>Price: $6,000 USD
>Size: 44.8mm-wide, 15.7mm-thick, and 50.9mm lug-to-lug distance.
>When reviewer would personally wear it: As a daily wear beater watch when you want something fancy to remind you that, in addition to getting dirty and sweaty, you also sometimes go to events where you need to impress people.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Those who love discreet expressions of wealth or who simply want an all-black diver’s watch that comes with legendary wear-resistance and high timing performance.
>Best characteristic of watch: Ideal stealthy luxury timepiece. Very comfortable on the wrist and extremely legible. Class-leading movement for price point.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Price will be hard for the uninitiated to stomach. Crown is a bit large. Silicone strap needs frequent rinsing off.