Seiko Presage: A 2020 Overview – Reprise

Seiko has always made it a point to deliver bang for your buck. Even at the Japanese brand’s entry level, its watches do not disappoint and often whet the appetite of budding watch enthusiasts, encouraging them to take the next step.

Within the Seiko collection, the Prospex line is for those who favor something sporty, while the Presage represents a more classic heritage style for the Japanese brand.

Seiko Presage References SNR037J1 (left) and SNR039J1

Seiko Reference SRPD37J1: trading up

In recent years Seiko has been realigning its different collections with the aim of offering collectors exciting products in every price category. For the Presage, this means that there are now two tiers to the collection: Prestige and Basic.

Seiko Presage Reference SRPD37J1

I think that Seiko sells itself short with the latter, as the “Basic” line still looks quite elaborate to me. Reference SRPD37J1, priced at €430, is a good starting point for the Presage collection – and it has a striking green dial, which I like.

While the case shape might be a bit (too) straightforward for some in terms of design, it is well polished and provides a stage for the real highlight: its dial. With its deeply ridged design and forest-green hue, is it a true eye-catcher.

Here we also see Seiko’s extensive experience as a watch manufacturer and evidence of its refusal to cut corners. Both the hour markers and hands are designed so that they always reflect light. Even the date wheel has a background color matching the dial, a detail often either overlooked by others or deliberately omitted to cut cost.

Legibility and design are in perfect balance. With its diameter of 40.5 and height of 11.8 mm, its size is also contemporary. While its automatic Caliber 4R35 is not the most exciting movement in the industry, it is a robust and precise manufacture caliber.

Seiko Presage Reference SSA343J1

Seiko Presage Reference SSA343J1

One step up from Reference SRPD37J1 is Seiko Presage Reference SSA343J1. This watch follows the same recipe, but is slightly more complicated as it comes with a power-reserve indicator and a date subdial.

Here it is also the powder-blue dial that provides the watch with the most character – more than usual at this price point. These watches look and feel substantially more expensive on the wrist than they actually are as Seiko currently charges just €540 for Reference SSA343J1.

Part of the Presage collection’s Basic line, this is the place for collectors who are starting out and looking to step up.

Quick Facts Seiko Presage SRPD37J1
Case: 40.5 x 11.8 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Seiko Caliber 4R35, power reserve 41 hours, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Price: €430

Quick Facts Seiko Presage SSA343J1
Case: 40.5 x 14.4 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Seiko Caliber 4R57, power reserve 41 hours, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date; power reserve
Price: €540

Trading down

But what if we turn it around? Can the Presage collection also tempt more seasoned collectors? Those who already own watches from premium brands costing several times that which Seiko charges for its Presage models?

I think that this is possible for two reasons. First, as is customary with Seiko, the level of finishing of the case, dial, and hands is always a level higher than you would expect from its price point.

The second is that these watches are profoundly Japanese. They don’t compete with the Swiss on their terms but play at their own table. This becomes especially clear in the Prestige line of the Presage collection, where Seiko offers treats not found elsewhere.

Seiko Presage: enamel galore

One of the things Seiko utilizes on quite a large scale within the Prestige line is enamel. Seiko does marvelous things with this material, both in extroverted and introverted ways.

Seiko Presage Reference SPB073J1

I still remember being presented with Reference SPB073J1 with its Shippo enamel dial for the very first time. I was first shown the new Grand Seiko models and distinctly remember seeing the Presage model after those, and I didn’t at all feel like it had been a step down.

Even today I am still taken by its stunning, bright blue dial, which shows such a spectacular play of light that it is hard to do it justice in photographs. It gets this, as well as its depth, by the translucent blue enamel applied over a guilloche engraved dial. Shippo is roughly the same technique that the Swiss call flinqué, although the guilloche style on the dial gives the SPB073J1 a unique twist compared to the traditional Swiss variation.

In recent years Seiko has also thankfully become more vocal about the craftspeople behind its watches. This makes them much more personal, in my opinion, as it takes away the anonymous feel of these creations and gives us a more direct link to the ancient crafts mastered by these craftspeople and utilized on these watches.

Seiko Presage Reference SPB073J1

It also puts things into more perspective. The transparent blue enamel of the SPB073J1 is applied by hand by Wataru Totani. This artisan works at Ando Cloisonné, an enamel workshop in Nagoy founded back in 1880.

While I feel that the price of €1,650 is very competitive, some might argue the difference comes more from the use of its Caliber 6R27 movement. This might also be one of the few things that could potentially turn collectors who are used to more expensive, higher-end watches off.

While the movement is capable and comes with a power reserve indicator and a small date, it is not finished to Grand Seiko standards. As the watch is fitted with a see-through case back the finishing becomes obvious. While such a case back might be appreciated by a collector on their “way up,” I feel that a solid case back might have been more appropriate. It would make the watch more balanced as there would not be such a contrast between the very refined dial and its industrial-style finished movement.

But let us also be realistic about this: if Seiko used this same dial in a watch with a Grand Seiko movement, its price would be several times more.

Quick Facts Seiko Presage SPB073J1
Case: 40.6 x 14.1 mm, stainless steel
Dial: enamel
Movement: automatic Seiko Caliber 6R57, power reserve 45 hours, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, power reserve
Limitation: 2,500 pieces
Price: €1,650

While the SPB073J1 is rather extroverted, Seiko as a brand is also skilled in delivering understated watches. Reference SPB173J1 is a perfect example of this. Its dial has a sea-green color to it, which makes it quite deceptive as not many people will recognize this as also being an enamel dial.

Seiko Presage Reference SPB173J1

This, I must say, is part of its appeal and also the root of its rarity. Its stainless steel bracelet gives the watch a slightly sportive edge, which is a bit at odds with the dial and its Roman numerals. While the bracelet can easily be changed for a leather strap – and I might suggest a mahogany-colored deer leather for that – it might also be part of the charm as its metal bracelet makes it even more understated, a combination you don’t usually expect with an enamel dial.

Quick Facts Seiko Presage SPB173J1
Case: 40.5 x 12.8 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Seiko Caliber 6R57, power reserve 45 hours, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, power reserve
Price: €1,500

Reference SPB115J1 is perhaps even more curious due to its brown enamel. I still am unsure what to think of it, but very likely because in the two decades that I have been involved in the watch industry, I have become used to seeing mainly black and white enamel.

Seiko Presage Reference SPB115J1

The design of this Seiko is inspired by a clock from 1977 designed by Riki Watanabe. He founded his design studio in 1949, making it the first of its kind in Japan. His functional style of minimalistic elegance has made its mark for decades on everyday objects in the homes and offices of many Japanese, making him a cultural icon.

While also available with a white enamel dial, the brown makes it slightly eccentric. I believe that this is indeed what some collectors are looking for: an unusual watch made with unusual care, which you need to be in the know to appreciate.

Quick Facts Seiko Presage SPB115J1
Case: 39.9 x 12.4 mm, stainless steel
Dial: enamel
Movement: automatic Seiko Caliber 6R35, power reserve 70 hours, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Price: €1,200

Seiko Presage: precious porcelain

Enamel is not the only upscale material to take the stage in the Prestige line. Porcelain is another treat that Seiko offers in the Presage collection.

While most people in the western world are familiar with Meissen and Limoges porcelain, Arita can be seen as the Japanese equivalent. What makes it unique is that it is harder than most other porcelain types and combines this quality with an extraordinary white color.

Seiko Presage Reference SPB115J1

The manufacture has been in existence since 1830, honing its skills ever since. The dial of Reference SPB171J1 features a subdial for the date and a power reserve indicator both slightly recessed below the rest of the dial.

This is far more challenging to make, but it also shows off the properties of this porcelain in such a beautiful way. In the right light, the dial’s curves make it look like the porcelain is flowing like creamy fresh milk. This luscious texture is a pleasure usually reserved for the owner of the piece, which therefore makes it a profoundly private delight that is bound to put a smile on your face every time you see it.

Quick Facts Seiko Presage SPB171J1
Case: 40.6 x 14.1 mm, stainless steel
Dial: Arita porcelain
Movement: automatic Seiko Caliber 6R27, power reserve 45 hours, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, power reserve
Limitation: 2,000 pieces
Price: €2,100

Seiko Presage Urushi enamel: for the fountain pen enthusiast

As a passionate user of fountain pens, the heritage that Japan has in that field is not lost on me. Brands like Sailor and Namiki first introduced me many years ago to the arts of Urushi and Maki-e.

Urushi is a natural kind of lacquer made from the oil harvested from the Asian lacquer tree ortoxicodendron vernicifluum. The challenging part is that this tree’s sap is poisonous and needs to be handled in a very particular way to avoid getting sick or worse.

Seiko Presage Reference SJE081J1

Applying Urushi lacquer evenly is another challenge these artists face. It is rather tricky to deal with and requires a brush made of hair in just the right texture. However, when all these challenges have been overcome, the reward makes it all worthwhile.

As the Urushi lacquer hardens, it takes in moisture from the air. This makes the lacquer both very shiny and very robust. While most other kinds of lacquer are rather fragile, Urushi is just the opposite: it can withstand water, acids, alcohol, and temperature changes. This is why it is even suitable for functional items such as fountain pens and tableware.

Seiko also uses it in the Presage collection for Reference SJE081J1. This is a rather understated model, showing time and date with Arabic numerals to indicate the hours.

These have all the same color, except the twelve: here Seiko utilized another ancient Japanese decorating technique, Maki-e, to set it apart. This technique involves gold dust being applied using a small brush, adding an enticing contrast to the jet-black Urushi lacquer dial.

As these techniques are so profoundly Japanese, they give the SJE081J1 something unique – and hard to copy. Even when a Swiss brand uses the same techniques, they seem to lose some of their legitimacy as they are not part of the cultural heritage.

Priced at €3,900 this Presage does not come cheap, but at the same time it is also almost without rival as no other major brand has used these demanding techniques in this way.

Quick Facts Seiko Presage SJE081J1
Case: 39.5 x 10.9 mm, stainless steel
Dial: Urushi lacquer with Maki-e twelve numeral
Movement: automatic Seiko Caliber 6L35, power reserve 45 hours, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Price: €3,900

Seiko Presage: Spring Drive

The top of the Prestige line is represented by Reference SNR037J1 and Reference SNR039J1. These watches introduced a movement familiar from the Grand Seiko line into the Presage collection: Caliber 5R65 features Seiko’s proprietary Spring Drive technology, which gives the mechanical movement an accuracy of +/- 15 seconds per month.

Seiko Presage Reference SNR037J1

This movement ensures that there is also more balance between the enamel dial and the see-through case back as the level of finishing is much higher. You do pay for that – €4,650 is not exactly bargain basement – but at the same time you also get a lot of watch, still making it good value for money.

Seiko offers these models with either a black (SNR039J1) or white (SNR037J1) enamel dial with bold Arabic numerals and classically shaped hands. The enamel’s appeal becomes especially clear around the date window and power reserve indicator, where it flows a bit inward, much like the Arita porcelain Reference SPB171J1 above.

Seiko Presage Reference SNR039J1

This subtle detail makes you realize what an extraordinary watch you have on your wrist time and time again. In my opinion, this in particular makes it the exotic delicacy appreciated by collectors who have seen (and owned) it all and are looking for more intricate qualities that are not necessarily overtly expressed.

Quick Facts Seiko Presage SNR037J1/SNR039J1
Case: 40 x 13.1 mm, stainless steel
Dial: white or black enamel
Movement: Spring Drive Seiko Caliber 5R65, power reserve 72 hours
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, power reserve indication
Price: €4,650

Whether the Presage collection is tempting enough to seasoned collectors remains, as always, a personal choice, but Seiko is playing its cards just right. With the Presage collection, the brand has closed the gap between its entry-level collection and the Grand Seiko.

The ace in the hole is that Seiko does so by channeling its strengths, and that is profoundly Japanese.

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*This article was first published on November 30, 2020 at Seiko Presage: A 2020 Overview With Some New Watches.

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