Since its establishment, Seiko never runs out of ways to impress the public with its affordable line of quality watches. Unsurprisingly, the brand’s history of unparalleled excellence and affordability makes it one of the most popular watch brands of all time. Seiko also boasts a number of watches that, to this day, find its way to every collector’s ‘Top 10 must-have watches’. Among those iconic watches surprisingly cost only less than $500. Perhaps, you’ve already guessed it by now. Yes, we are talking about the cult favourite Alpinist –the Seiko SARB017.
But what exactly makes this watch exceptional? In spite of being released alongside other timepieces, it certainly gained its own following thus making it such an iconic watch today. A quick trip to watch forums will give you a clear-cut idea of how immensely the community adores this model. The watch’s history holds the key to what really makes it stand out. From the birth of the Alpinist to its unprecedented rise through the ranks of the most iconic timepieces, here’s the Seiko SARB017’s brief history.
Introduction to the Seiko Alpinist
Seiko created the Alpinist series as a reliable reference for Japanese mountain climbers alongside other sports enthusiasts. At its core, the Alpinist boasts the same spirit as the people it’s made for. It carries a certain tenacity as well as a robust and strong character. Seiko, a brand known for their affordable dress watches at the time, takes on the sports watches’ realm with the arrival of the Alpinist. With its foolproof inspiration, the series ultimately scored a huge hit.
Launched in 1961, the Alpinist line of watches takes inspiration from the yamaotoko, which literally means “mountain men”. With Japan’s landscape consisting mostly of mountain ranges as well as daring volcanoes, mountain men traversed the most dangerous lands in labour and leisure. As they face extreme environments, these mountain men were in dire need of specialised and topnotch gears to help them through their adventure. Aside from durability, these gears must also be accurate. With this in mind, Seiko researched and crafted the finest and most cost-effective ways to cater to its people’s necessities.
A Quick Look at the Alpinist Generations
The Alpinist, since its launch, has been serving as one of Seiko’s most sought-after line of timepieces. Tracing back its history from its launch in 1961, it surely is impressive how it remains relevant to this day. Now, let’s take a quick dive into the timeline of the Alpinist of the past generations.
The first of the numerous Alpinists to emerge, the Laurel was launched with an elegant face for a sports watch. Its look proved iconic that Seiko retained this design for the future models that came after it. This look heavily takes from Seiko’s sub-brand, Laurel. After adopting its design and rebranding it as a Seiko watch and an Alpinist timepiece, it finds itself among the most successful iterations from the series.
Despite its dressy exterior, the watch features a truly sporty essence. Made with stainless steel, the watch features a 3-piece 35mm case with a waterproof screw-down caseback. The watch’s indexes at 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock demonstrate what appear to be mountains with their triangular shapes. With its Diashock 17j movement, the watch boasts great accuracy and shock resistance for its time. The movement includes 17 Jewels beating at a casual 18,000 vibrations per hour.
Two years after the launch of the Alpinist Laurel, an Alpinist under the Champion series was launched in 1963. As with the Laurel, the Alpinist Champion features a fancy dial for a sports watch. However, an engraving on the back indicates that it’s “rainproof”. This proves perfect for any sports watch, especially for the mountaineers who need watches that could keep up with their bold adventures.
With the release of various Champion watches year after year, Seiko’s Alpinist series took a rest. However, 30 years later in the early 1990s, the Alpinist made its long-awaited comeback.
Under the Prospex line, the Alpinist line resurges with a brand new, with a modern calibre to accompany it. The watch features a Sapplex crystal with a magnifier over the date window. The 1995 Prospex Alpinist features a distinct crown at 4 o’clock to control the compass for the inner bezel. The watches went on production for two years but remains well-loved to this day.
The nickname Red Alpinist comes from the font colour of the world “Alpinist” on the watch’s dial.
Iconic, well-loved, and popular for all the great reasons, the 8F56 boasts everything great about Seiko’s line of timepieces. Just by its name, it’s safe to say that the Seiko Alpinist GMT Titanium Prospex High Accuracy Quartz exhibits the greatness every sports watch aims to be: 100m water resistance, 10-year lithium battery, a second timezone hand, a bidirectional rotating inner bezel compass, and a perpetual calendar. This timepiece has everything any sports enthusiast needs. Possessing the Calibre 8F56, the watch gains a simpler nickname for a powerful watch.
Limited-Edition SSASS Alpinist
Released in just 500 editions, the SSASS Alpinist truly embodies its inspiration and roots. This timepiece pays tribute to the Japanese-American mountaineer Ken Noguchi and the Seven Summits Actions for Sustainable Society. This organisation, founded by Noguchi, aims to raise awareness on the garbage left behind and other environmental repercussions done by mountaineers in their expeditions. Its design heavily takes from the Alpinist 8F56 but with a recognisable aqua dial.
The SARB Series
In 2006, the SARB Series was launched with instant success. With three watches under the series, each watch bears a difference in the dial colour. The SARB013 features a creme dial, while the SARB015 exhibits a black dial. The most iconic iteration of the watch and this article’s main protagonist is the SARB017, with its green dial. The Seiko SARB017 gains a following for its distinct look — leaning on a more daring sporty look yet comes with impeccable elegance. Its undeniable appeal puts it on a pedestal among enthusiasts from then to this day.
The Seiko SARB017
With its undeniable popularity, the Seiko SARB017 was in production for many years, ending in 2018. However, despite its discontinuation, the Seiko SARB017 Alpinist remains available to buyers online. So, let’s take a deeper look into the watch and find out why it’s highly favoured among the watch community.
Quick Specs of the Seiko SARB017
The Seiko SARB017 features a 38mm stainless steel case that makes it ‘just the right’ watch. It sits perfectly in between dainty and hefty; not too small and not too big at the same time. With its size, it’s excellent to carry almost everywhere. From the peaks of the Alps to the depths of the sea, even in your business meetings, the watch proves great for any occasion. At 12mm in thickness, the watch doesn’t feel too heavy or too big not to fit under your shirt cuffs. The watch’s elegant combination of polished and brushed elements also ups the high-end feel to it.
With its screw-down crowns, the watch boasts a water resistance of up to 20 bar. It’s undeniably a sports watch at this point. At 200 meters or 656 feet, it’s as good as any dive watches out there at a fairly affordable price. Moreover, it’s scratch-resistant to almost anything and also includes a sapphire crystal that makes it optimised for great outdoor adventures. In addition, the crowns have guards with a large letter S engraved on it. Just as with its predecessors, the Seiko SARB017 also bears a crown at 4 o’clock to control the inner bezel.
The watch’s caseback, unfortunately, doesn’t give us a look at the watch’s movement. Given its depth rating, it’s quite understandable. Albeit plain, the caseback surely gives the watch a certain level of protection.
The dial is probably one of the most prominent reasons why the Seiko SARB017 gained its popularity. It features an elegant sunburst dial in emerald green. As a sunburst dial, the watch’s overall personality changes depending on the light. It can go from dark green to a bright emerald almost too quickly.
What makes the Seiko SARB017 so elegant also relies on its gold markers and gothic cathedral hands. Surprisingly, they compliment the green dial. In addition, the even hour markers in Arabic numerals and the odd hour triangle markers make for a particular look among any Seiko timepieces.
Moreover, the watch’s gold hands have luminescence that makes them just as legible in the light as it is in the dark. Every five minutes, around the dial, luminous dots also aide in optimum readability.
To keep the balance, the watch doesn’t have a lot of inscriptions on the dial. A gold Seiko logo at 12 o’clock sits just right with the perfect size and weight. At 6 o’clock, the words ‘Automatic’, ‘DIASHOCK 23 JEWELS’, as well as ’20BAR’ provides all the necessary information you need about the watch.
Overall, the dial appears deep at first glance. It does well with the compass inner bezel that adds depth to its simple yet elegant design.
The Seiko Calibre 6R15 features 23 jewels with an integrated Diashock system and a Diaflex mainspring. If these words don’t impress you yet, then let us tell you more about it. The Seiko Calibre 6R15, an automatic mechanical movement, is one of the most affordable in the market — thus Seiko’s reasonably priced timepieces. At a frequency of 21,600 beats per hour, this watch boasts great accuracy, shock-resistance, as well as energy efficiency. On top of that, the 50 hours of power reserve has to be enough confirmation.
Just like the other watches from Seiko at the time, this movement also features a hand-winding function as well as seconds hacking. For a watch launched in 2006, at less than $500, this is far too impressive.
The watch’s strap proves to be the least favourite among enthusiasts about the watch. It’s not surprising knowing that it kind of lowers, if not take away the elegance that the watch head impresses us with. The strap, albeit leather (therefore, could be expensive in itself) includes a particularly infuriating fake crocodile pattern. In a deep brown, it’s not the best option for the watch. However, straps couldn’t even pose as a huge disadvantage about the watch. With a lug width of 20 mm, there are a bunch of options to have the watch straps replaced with something more elegant, like a stainless steel bracelet or a better strap design. If it makes you feel better, a lot of owners changed their straps to better suit the watch head’s exquisite design.
After the watch’s discontinuation in 2018, Seiko relaunches the Alpinist under the Prospex line. The most popular of which is the Seiko Prospex SPB121 or (SBDC091). Now, the SPB121 doesn’t veer away from the SARB017 much at all. In fact, it’s almost practically the same, except with its different dial texture. Yes, it’s still the iconic green but without the sunburst effect. It’s sort of deeper and richer in a sense and comes more matte than its predecessor. It remains true to its roots but with a slight change, unsure whether it’s an improvement or not. Despite that, a lot of people prefer this approach of the dial as it makes it look friendlier no matter the light treatment.
There’s a lot of reasons why many watch enthusiasts adore this timepiece. The Seiko SARB017 truly gives off an iconic twist that still results in pure elegance. The design choices made for the watch’s design appears to be excellent in all aspects. While a lot of people tend to deduct points for the strap, it still remains classy and seminal to an appeal.
It’s not every day that you get a sports timepiece disguised as a dress watch or better yet a dress watch with the prowess of a sports unit. From the graceful details to its compelling mechanisms, this watch truly is the most iconic timepiece of its generation. While we won’t be able to find it on the mainstream market today, it still circulates on the Internet among forums and online sellers. And as this continues, the legacy of Seiko SARB017 goes on and on.