Seiko SPB147 review, via various other dive watches

Seiko got a lot of attention when it launched it’s “62MAS re-interpretation” range back in 2020. It was exactly what their loyal fan base had been asking for – a watch that wears well on most wrists and accurately invokes the spirit of Japan’s first ever dive watch – the legendary 6217-8000 from 1965. After years of mashups that were either too large, or had the wrong hand designs, this was the holy grail. But, all of the press coverage revolved around the grey-dialled SPB143. The brown-dialled 147, the blue-dialled 149, and the one everyone forgets (the 145) barely got any focus. They were mentioned as sister watches to the 143 when the range launched, and then quickly forgotten.

I’ve nearly bought the halo model SPB143 so many times it’s getting ridiculous, and telling the story will hopefully accomplish two things. Firstly, it will help me work through my questionable choices! Secondly, the story can end with an SPB147 review.

Round One – SPB143 vs Black Bay 58

In early 2021 it was time for a new watch and the shortlist was narrowed down to the SPB143 and the Tudor Black Bay 58. Despite the Tudor costing over twice as much as the Seiko, I wanted the Seiko just as much. When Seiko’s design department gets it right, they give us focused, purposeful watches, that make you wonder why other brands constantly overcook everything. But, during that lengthy isolated lockdown we had in the UK, there was no way to try either of the two pieces. All I could do was watch endless Youtube videos and compare case dimensions. In truth, despite having a small (but thankfully flat) wrist, both watches would work just fine. However, in photographs, the BB58 always looked to sit more flush on the wrist. The SPB case thicknesses of 13.2 mm might not sound particularly thick, but the BB58 plays it’s strongest card here with an impressively thin 11.9mm. My journey in watch collecting has taught me that every mm in thickness counts for much more than diameter and lug to lug. Plus, I had briefly tried the BB58 on during a trip to London the previous year and it was memorable.

It had to be the Tudor, and it was.

Round Two – SPB143 vs SPB153

As is often the case with a closely fought battle, there was unfinished business. The SPB143 desire rumbled on, and a year later I was shopping again for a watch. This time round it wasn’t lockdown, it was even worse – a first encounter with COVID and some serious brain fog. The January sales were offering up some tempting discounts, and as I coughed my way through the deal sites, the SPB143 found itself pitted in battle against a close relative – the beautiful olive green Willard SPB153. I can’t clearly remember the details of the decision to go with the Willard, but yes, once again I managed to avoid buying the watch I thought I really wanted.

Round Three – SPB143 vs SPB147

By this point, you’ll have got very good at predicting the outcome of these bouts…

Jumping forward to more recent times (December 2022), I was’t consciously shopping for another watch but popped in a dealer to have a quick refresher on the 143, and look at the 147 too. The idea was to try the 143 on but to use the 147 as a way to try the 143 on a rubber strap, because that’s how I planned to wear it.

First up was the 143, and it lived up to the years of expectation. Some bracelet niggles aside, it looked stunning. The dial is a brilliantly subtle grey colour, but with a captivating sunburst effect. Combined with the vintage Seiko hands and a classic steel bezel, it felt just as good as everyone says it is.

Then it was time to try the “143 on the rubber strap”. On went the SPB147, and – wait – what is this?! A deep, lustrous brown dial, surrounded by that retro 62MAS case shape, sitting on a quality black silicone strap. It looked warm and rich, and the 143 in the tray at the side of it was suddely cold and sterile. You know when you walk in a high-end bar or nightclub, and it’s full of dark wood, offset by dazzling furniture and subtle lighting? A place that exudes class but in a rich, earthy way rather than a bright, eye-popping way? Well, the SPB147 is that experience sitting on the wrist. A week later a bargain on eBay presented itself, and it was on it’s way.

Finally, the SPB147 review!

Taking the watch out of it’s box was that classic Seiko buzz. A wow factor, followed by a sort-of gratitude for being able to buy something with such visual beauty and craftsmanship, especially for the price. We all know Seiko RRPs have been heading sharply upwards in recent years, and there are valid points with this (such as questionable bracelets and movement accuracy), but in terms of visual appeal, every piece I’ve seen still looks worth more than it’s price to me.

The SPB147 has the 6R35 movement, which the factory must be throwing together in huge quantities because it’s in so many of the current mid-range Prospex watches. In fact it covers all the way from the lower end Turtles, through the Alpinist, the re-interpretation divers, and is controversially powering King Seiko now. The well-known problem with this unregulated movement is the accuracy lottery. They can be good. Or they can be like my SPB317 which gains about 30 seconds a day. Even in-spec, they are -15/+25 seconds per day.

On the wrist, the SPB147 wears very well. Sadly, it’s not quite as good as the seriously underrated new SPB317 (the 6105-8000 re-interpretation). The 147 a bit thicker and doesn’t sit as flush wih the wrist. That said, it’s close. It still wears noticeably better than the SPB153 Willard, which does very well considering it’s diameter and bulk, but appears to float above the wrist, especially when not strapped down tightly. That said, what one person calls thickness and bulk, another person calls wrist presence. If you’ve tried the BB58 and find it lacking a bit of impact, one of the Seiko 62MAS re-interpretations is definitely worth your attention.

At this point it’s surely a happy-ever after story. Two and a half years of desire for the Seiko SPB 143 finally satisfied, and not only that, I’ve got a version that’s more human and approachable than the steely seriousness of the SPB143, right? Well, not quite. I sold it after less than two weeks.

I’ve flipped a Seiko quickly before. On a Save the Ocean special edition Samurai, the blue rubber strap was way too long, and I couldn’t find a replacement. It just looked wrong. But the silicone strap on the 147 fitted well. The timekeeping on this example was really good – much better than my wonky SPB317. The case dimensions work fairly well for my wrist.

So what’s the problem? Well, I live in the UK, and at this time of year, it’s a grey part of the world. It doesn’t matter if you’re inside or out. It’s just gloomy. And that gave me a totally different perspective on the colour scheme. The brown dial is absolutely beautiful, and the shade is well-judged. Any lighter and it really would look wrong. In poor light though, it just looks black. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with black dial – if it weren’t for a full of polished gold indices filled with yellow lume, topped off by gold hands. That’s a lot of reflective gold, and to my eyes, it’s a bit gaudy.

Remember the analogy of the dark, sophisticated nightclub on the wrist? Well that’s exactly the sort of enviroment where the SPB147 doesn’t work. I’d fallen in love under the spotlights of a jewellers shop and it had given me a view that just didn’t repeat itself very often day-to-day. Out in the bright sun, it sings. If you live somewhere that’s always like that, it might be a winner. For me, I’ll keep on wanting the SPB143 and buying something else.

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