The Iconic Alpinist watch – The Seiko SARB017

The Seiko Alpinist line is home to many high-quality Japanese hiking watches. Amidst the various stunning models, the collection contains the Seiko SARB017 Alpinist. Created in 2006, the Seiko SARB017 is probably the most iconic piece in this renowned series. While the main purpose of this timepiece is to be a reliable timekeeper for mountain climbers, it also carries an exclusive and luxurious design that keeps wearers and on-lookers constantly fascinated, no matter how many times they look at it. Even though the Seiko SARB017 was discontinued a few years ago, it continues to be highly sought-after by all sorts of enthusiasts and collectors from the watch community. 

In this review, we will be inspecting the various specifications of the Seiko SARB017 Alpinist, to see just why there is so much undying hype surrounding this timepiece. Furthermore, we will also be taking a look at some excellent alternative models from the Seiko Prospex and the Citizen Automatic lines, to see how they compare against the Seiko SARB017 in terms of quality, characteristics, and price. Without further ado, let us have a go at the Seiko SARB017 Alpinist.

Specifications

Seiko SARB017 Alpinist Face

Case Dimensions

Most people would agree that the Seiko SARB017 Alpinist perfectly hits the sweet spot with its size. The SARB017 features a proportionate, well-sized case that measures 39mm in diameter, including its crown. It has a thickness of 12mm and has a slim lug width of 20mm. Lug-to-lug, the SARB017 measures around 47mm, which is also quite reasonable. In terms of weight, the watch weighs 79g, so it does not have much heft at all, which makes it light and easy to carry around on your wrist. Altogether, the timepiece can certainly fit comfortably on all kinds of wrists without looking too meagre or too bulky. Additionally, the Seiko SARB017 has a good curvature profile on its lugs, which makes it fit more cleanly on owners with small wrists while still being adequate to wear for those with larger wrist sizes. This model is pretty slim and compact, so you will not have to worry too much about accidentally bumping the wristwatch into things.

Stainless Steel Case and Bi-directional Compass Bezel

Seiko crafted the case of the SARB017 entirely out of stainless steel. Smoothly beveled throughout, the steel casing showcases a sleek exterior with a blend of brushed and polished surfaces that play around with light nicely. Fixed on top of the case is a stainless steel bezel that fits the watch case perfectly.

The bezel of the Seiko SARB017 serves a unique purpose. While its outer portion is stationary and does not offer much beyond the protection of the dial, the inner section of the bezel wields the SARB017’s internal compass. The internal compass contains the directions, indices, and degrees that you can usually find in most compass watches. Printed in clear white and red, the labels are pretty small-scale but are still legible enough for wearers to easily read. The internal compass is neatly designed and does not compromise the dial’s elegant aesthetic. With the bi-directional compass bezel, wearers can use this Seiko timepiece to navigate through all sorts of terrains. For those who plan on bringing the Seiko SARB017 to their expeditions, this is a very welcome feature indeed.

On the right side of the timepiece are two screw-down crowns. One is positioned at 3 o’clock, while the other can be found at the 4 o’clock position. The 3 o’clock knob carries a delicate “S” engraving and allows for manual hacking and winding. Those who possess this watch will know that turning the 3 o’clock crown also produces a distinguishable noise. Surrounding it are adequately-sized crown guards large enough to protect the crown well without hampering the wearer’s grip. The 4 o’clock knob, on the other hand, is used to manipulate the internal compass bezel. At first, wearers may find the compass a bit tricky to use, as the watch does not feature a compass hand, which can make it a little complex to read. In this case, the Seiko SARB017 comes with an instruction manual that informs users on how to operate the bezel. If you do not have the manual, there are also guides and videos online, made by owners of Seiko SARB017 timepieces, that will help you get accustomed to it.

On the back of the SARB017 timepiece is a solid stainless steel caseback, which is screwed down for maximum security. While it would have been rather delightful to be able to view the movement through an exhibition-style caseback, the solid steel rear ensures that nothing can enter the watch from the outside, keeping the inner mechanisms safe from damage. 

While the Seiko SARB017 is technically a mountaineering watch, it bears a water resistance capacity akin to that of a diver’s timepiece. Locked by screw-down crowns and a solid steel caseback, the watch can withstand up to 200m/20atm of water pressure. With that much water resistance, wearers can bring the SARB017 to any water sports and activities, from washing their hands to shallow diving. Honestly, this water resistance rating is more than enough for a wristwatch made for the mountains.

Green Sunburst Dial

The true highlight of the Seiko SARB017 is its dial, which features a green sunburst surface that plays around with light spectacularly. Depending on the light and angle, the face of the watch can promptly change from bright and pleasant emerald green to darker and more sincere jade green. On the outer rim of the watch dial, you can find a date window at 3 o’clock, Arabic numerals, and hour markers, all with gold-colored accents. Towards the center of the green watch face is an exclusive handset showcasing cathedral-themed minute and hour hands. There are not many inscriptions labeled on the dial. The only engravings you can find are Seiko’s signature and a few specifications about the watch’s movement and water resistance.

As with many of Seiko’s models, the SARB017 uses the brand’s patented and eco-friendly LumiBrite technology for its luminescence. Seiko has always done a fantastic job when it comes to applying lume to their various watches. Though the lume pips of the SARB017 are pretty minuscule, the dial still manages to glow impressively in the dark. However, there is one downside. While the brightness does not disappoint, there is a bit of a problem with the watch’s overall legibility. Due to how Seiko designed the pips of the SARB017, identifying where the watch hands are pointing to can be a challenge in very dark environments. For a situation like this, you would probably have to take a closer look to really puzzle out the time.

On the whole, the dial is not just lovely but also pretty well-balanced. Bearing only the essentials of a traditional Seiko watch, the dial is clean, uncluttered, and easy to read and admire. Along with the inner compass bezel, the Seiko SARB017’s dial looks unique while still remaining modest and elegant to the eyes.

Sapphire Glass

The Seiko SARB017 uses a sapphire crystal to protect its gorgeous green dial. Knowing how luxurious this material is, it can be relatively uncommon to find sapphire glass in a watch of this category and price range. Of course, with its luxury comes quality. As many of us are aware, sapphire glass is virtually scratch-proof. Rated “9” on the Mohs scale of hardness, the scratch-resistance of sapphire glass can only be outdone by diamonds. Keep in mind, however, that the sapphire crystal of the SARB017 does not come with an anti-reflective coating, so you might find yourself impeded by light glares in brightly lit areas. The sapphire crystal is flat and slightly raised above the case, which neatly matches the simple, measured, and elegant aesthetic of this Seiko watch.

Seiko Calibre 6R15

Operating beneath the beautiful emerald green dial of the Seiko SARB017 is a Seiko Calibre 6R15 movement. Like many of the brand’s in-house movements, the automatic Calibre 6R15 uses the Seiko Diashock anti-shock system. This prevents the movement’s mechanisms from accumulating excess wear and tear. Paired with a power reserve that can last the watch up to 50 hours, the Calibre 6R15 can produce a total of 21,600 vibrations per hour. In terms of its precision, the Seiko 6R15 has an accuracy of +25/-15 seconds per day. Though it is an automatic movement, the Seiko 6R15 also has manual winding and hacking capabilities, which allows wearers to adjust the time more accurately.

Patterned Leather Strap

Seiko pairs the SARB017 with a classic brown patterned leather strap. That said, despite its comfortable fit, many owners of the Seiko SARB017 found the leather band to be a not-so-favorite part of this watch. This is largely due to the strap’s slightly plastic feel, which makes it a little stiff to wear. Thankfully, this wristwatch has a universal 20mm lug width, which allows users to easily replace the patterned leather strap with any other kind of after-market strap of their choice. As such, you can decide to either keep the strap or swap it for some other bracelet that perfectly suits your preferences.

Price

Before Seiko discontinued the SARB017 in 2018, the timepiece would retail at around $450 USD to $550 USD in Japanese domestic markets. Furthermore, as a member of the prestigious Seiko Alpinist line, this Seiko wristwatch is not something you can find just anywhere. Thankfully, there are sellers online who are currently in possession of a number of Seiko SARB017 pieces. Due to its demand and rarity, dealers tend to sell this Seiko timepiece for a much higher price than retail. An unworn SARB017 would generally cost you between $890 USD and $1,400 USD. If that seems a little too expensive for your budget, do not fret, for we have also found a Seiko SARB017 in good condition, selling at just $579 USD. 

Alternatives

Can’t find the watch anywhere? Not a fan of certain specifications? Whatever the case may be, we have prepared for you a list of excellent alternatives that nicely match the sleek aesthetics and overall feel of the SARB017 while costing you only a little more or a little less. Note that the prices listed below are approximate values as prices can vary depending on the dealer.

Seiko Prospex SBDC091/SPB121J1 – $700 USD

Just at a single glance, anyone can see that the Seiko Prospex SBDC091/SPB121J1‘s resemblance to the Seiko SARB017 Alpinist is uncanny. Before we proceed, you might be wondering why this Seiko Prospex model has two reference numbers. To make things clear, SBDC091 is the original reference number used locally in Japan, while SPB121J1 is its international reference number. Factually speaking, both reference numbers are correct. Seiko released the SBDC091/SPB121J1 in 2020, under the Prospex line. This timepiece was dubbed the Seiko Prospex Alpinist and features a slew of refined specs and up-to-date technology while still retaining the excellent qualities of the original 2006 model.

So, just what is new with the Seiko Prospex Alpinist SBDC091/SPB121J1? Several things, to be precise. First of all, this 2020 Alpinist edition is a millimeter thicker than the SARB017. Instead of having a leather strap like the previous SARB017, Seiko couples the SBDC091/SPB121J1 with a new leather band made of calfskin. The calfskin band bears a lighter shade of brown and feels much smoother and more comfortable than the 2006 variant. Aside from that, the SBDC091/SPB121J1 also carries a new and improved sapphire crystal, which Seiko has treated with a layer of anti-reflective coating. With the addition of a cyclops lens on the sapphire crystal, wearers can also have a better view of the date window. As you look at the beguiling green dial, you will notice the Seiko Prospex logo and other compact inscriptions. 

The differences don’t just stop there. Underneath the dial is an automatic Seiko 6R35 Caliber that runs numerous mechanisms within the timepiece. Compared to the 6R15 Caliber of its predecessor, the slightly larger 6R35 contains 24 jewels and has a power reserve that can last a whopping 70 hours. With the addition of 20 more hours of power reserve, owners of the SBDC091/SPB121J1 will not even have to wind their watches on the weekends. Apart from those differences, the 6R35 works just as well as the 6R15. It is just as accurate in timekeeping and produces the same number of vibrations per hour. That said, another difference between the two Alpinist models lies in their rear cases. While the SARB017 uses a solid stainless steel caseback to cover its hind end, the SBDC091/SPB121J1 showcases the beauty of the Seiko 6R35 movement through a highly secure see-through rear case.

Lastly, we can compare and contrast the availability of the SARB017 and the SBDC091/SPB121J1. Since Seiko ceased production of the SARB017 back in 2018, stocks are limited, which, in turn, has affected its pricing. As stated previously, most SARB017 timepieces these days can cost you anything between $890 USD and $1,400 USD. On the other hand, if you find that a little exorbitant, you can opt for the SBDC091/SPB121J1 instead. Since the SBDC091/SPB121J1 is still being produced by Seiko and is, therefore, easier to find, it retails at a more budget-friendly price of $700 USD.

Citizen Automatic NJ2198-16X Mechanical Field Watch – $170 USD

If you are on a budget and cannot deal with the Seiko SARB017’s elevated prices, Citizen has a neat and affordable alternative for you. The Citizen Automatic NJ2198-16X is a green dial compass watch that proves to be highly competitive despite its lower retail price of $170 USD. That said, compared to the Seiko SARB017, the price of the Citizen NJ2198-16X does reflect some cuts in terms of quality. So, what are we getting from this watch with the $170 USD price tag, and how exactly does it fare against the SARB017? Let us find out.

The Citizen NJ2198-16X comes in a 46mm stainless steel case. It has a bottle cap rotating compass bezel with very pronounced directions and degrees printed in white. Since this is a timepiece that costs less than $200 USD, it is no surprise that the watch uses a mineral crystal instead of luxury-grade sapphire. Mineral crystals are certainly more limited in terms of resistance, but they can still handle some light scratching. Furthermore, they might actually be more impact-resistant than sapphire glass is. The NJ2198-16X also boasts a screwed-down solid steel case rear which has a smoothly polished surface and some inscriptions on its outer rim. With all its exterior components, this Citizen watch is water-resistant up to depths of 100m. Citizen pairs the NJ2198-16X with a textile black and white leather strap.

Apart from sharing the same green hue, the dial of this Citizen watch is quite different from the Seiko SARB017. Its boasts sizable Arabic numerals and thick hour indices. There is not much on the dial, except for the brand signature and the “automatic” specification of its movement. The true standout of the dial is its eccentric handset. It has a stubby minute hand and a red-outlined hour hand that resembles the standard-issue dark lightsaber of The Empire in Star Wars. The second hand has a white bubble and a red tip on its end. Visually, the dial comes off as a little plainer than both the SARB017 and its 2020 re-edition. Still, it does not look bad at all, with a clean aesthetic and well-spaced elements that are easy to read.

Controlling the different gears and mechanisms of the NJ2198-16X is an automatic Citizen 8210 Caliber. Held together by 21 jewels, this mechanical movement produces 21,600 vibrations per hour and is manually hackable. It also possesses a power reserve of up to 40 hours. Not bad for a $170 USD timepiece. 

While the Citizen NJ2198-16X is not quite up to par compared to the Seiko SARB017, it still proves to be an efficient timekeeper at a much more affordable price. If you are on a tight budget and appreciate its looks and qualities, the Citizen NJ2198-16X remains a good option.

Final Thoughts

Many would consider Seiko an underrated brand, not just because of its popularity, but on account of its reputation. As many of us know, Seiko, and Grand Seiko, are known for making stellar timepieces that step up to the quality of the likes of Rolex and Omega. Unfortunately, Seiko is commonly associated with mall brands, which, does not give it the same prestigious image as other Swiss watchmakers. Those who know the Japanese brand well agree that Seiko does not get the credit it rightfully deserves.

All things considered, no words can rightfully describe how astounding this Seiko watch truly is. For something as relatively affordable as it is, you cannot go wrong with the Seiko SARB017. Boasting numerous hiking capabilities while still appearing sleek and stylish, it is easy to see why everyone wants to get their hands on this brilliant Seiko timepiece. Whether it is for navigating the mountains or upping your dress game at prestigious events, the SARB017 can get the job done right. It is a shame that, with its discontinuation, this iconic watch is not so easy to find nowadays. That said, while the Seiko SARB017 is indeed a rare specimen, its alternatives, the Citizen Automatic NJ2198-16X and the Seiko Prospex SBDC091/SPB121J1, are easier to find and are pretty nifty as well.

Want to learn more about watch movements? Why not check out the most iconic caliber of them all, the Valjoux/ETA 7750.

All photos credited to WatchShopping.com

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