#LookCloser – Mid-Long Term Wear Report of the Seiko Alpinist SARB017

Vincent

As the relatively new owner of a Seiko SARB017 ‘Alpinist’, I thought I would take some time to share my thoughts on this nice little piece with our loyal readers of The Matick Blog.

Introduction:

The existence of the Alpinist model first came into my knowledge when I witnessed a video on Youtube, of a man who had a strange hybrid American-British accent, professing his sheer adoration for the humble Seiko model.

After what felt like an ages-long period of consideration and anticipation, a “check out” button was hit and in March 2019, a fine specimen of the Seiko Alpinist was flown in from the land of the rising sun to the land down under.

The Seiko ref. SARB017, more fondly known as the Alpinist, was since then finally made mine.

Why the Alpinist, you ask? Well, I’m the sort of person who likes watches with the ability to start conversations that go a little like this:

“Oh, nice watch!”

“Oh yes thank you! It’s my favourite piece… yadeeyadeeyada” 

The Alpinist was simply the obvious choice, and in my experience, has made for the best conversations over coffee and over sales at work. I have owned the Alpinist for almost six months now, and the sheer adoration I felt when I first laid eyes upon it in the YouTube video I was talking about earlier hasn’t waned at all. Not one bit.

The Alpinist, Explorer from the East

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Many of us watch lovers will consider Seiko watches to be sort of a starting point for our collecting journeys, no doubt thanks to the watchmaker’s heritage and the outstanding value for money their watches represent. I am no exception—I haven’t stopped since my first Seiko 5 and can’t see myself jumping off the Seiko hype train any time soon!

The Alpinist should no doubt be familiar ground for many of our readers. As for those who may not know, the Alpinist was conceived in 1961 to serve the needs of Japanese mountaineers and explorers, more specifically, to navigate through the deepest of Japanese forests—only much later on did they begin to become perceived as collectors’ and enthusiasts’ watches. Equipped with a compendium of rugged specifications which we will delve into shortly, the Alpinist has certainly lived up to its name, and in doing so, become one of the most collectable sports watches out there.

Case, dial and everything at first glance

The Alpinist’s case sits particularly well on the wrist at 38 millimetres across and 46 millimetres from lug to lug, and manages to please most wrist sizes out there including my tiny 14.5 centimetres (<6 inches).

The Alpinist sports two crowns: a threaded, signed crown at 3 o’clock for your usual time and date adjustments, along with a second crown at the 4 o’clock position for calibrating the compass found on the outer chapter ring. The 3 o’clock screw-down crown furnishes the Alpinist with an extra water resistance depth of up to 200 metres/20 atmospheres— figures which should, if anything, make the Alpinist an all-around reliable sports watch. 

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Turning over to the Alpinist’s presentation dial, you will find yellow gold indices around the chapter ring—triangular indices for the odd numbers (except at 3 o’clock) and Arabic numerals for the even numbers. All this is applied against a green canvas with a breathtaking sunburst effect. Tiny applied lume dots which correspond to the hour indices may also be found on the chapter ring.

A generous quantity of photoluminescent material is applied on all three hands. The elongated hour hand, in particular, appears to reflect a hybrid Mercedes-Cathedral style, while the minute hand is the ‘piston’ style. While the quality of the Alpinist’s lume is decent overall, I personally found it challenging to read time in absolute darkness due to the design of the hour lume dots, all of which are identical in size and proportion.

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Spanning the dial’s outermost circumference is the Alpinist’s compass feature, divided into printed cardinal and intercardinal directions. Rather than using it as it was perhaps intended, I found an interesting utility for the compass in the form of a timer for my late-night snacking indulgences (usually, none other than the famous Indomie Mi Goreng noodles).

With sufficient lighting, however, telling the time accurately using the Alpinist is an absolute breeze, thanks to the clearly printed chapter ring divisions.

The featured date window is well presented and comes at the right size. To my pleasant surprise, Seiko made the wise design choice of matching the date wheel’s colour to the dial. Though I personally prefer framed date windows on my watches, but hey, it looks really good this way too, so no complaints from me there.

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The Alpinist’s case back is nothing too fancy, as you would expect from a traditional sports watch. A substantial layer of stainless steel helps lock away the watch’s internals from moisture, and presumably adds to its water-resistance as well. As an ode to its mountaineering origins, the Alpinist does have a signed case back consisted of two alpines set at the centre, along with the usual ring of basic specifications. 

The Strap

It has been my experience that one of the ways in which Seiko is able to keep the prices of their watches low is by making compromises with their straps. This is a known testimony among collectors and watch buyers alike, whom are often disappointed by the quality of Seiko’s bracelets and straps. Much my disappointment, the Alpinist’s stock leather strap does Seiko no favours to dispel this unfortunate preconception.

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Being the past owner of several Seiko 5 models, I speak from first-hand experience when I say that I have been largely underwhelmed with all of Seiko’s straps and bracelets. This was, to me, not unreasonable as the Seiko 5s are after all made to a price point, and a budget one at that. Unfortunately, I had the same underwhelming impression of the Alpinist’s strap as I did of those Seiko 5 straps, which was made all the more disappointing, considering the Alpinist is a proper Japanese-made model which also happens to cost substantially more.

The 20 millimetres-wide leather strap quite frankly looked the part, but felt plasticky upon contact. It was also, in my opinion, excessively stiff, which made the strap feel like it would never break in nicely as would most other leather products. All of these annoyances make this supposedly genuine-leather strap score, for lack of a better term, a complete zero in my books. I personally opted for the Strapcode oyster bracelet and have never looked back since.

I’m not alone in thinking that the Alpinist’s stock strap simply isn’t ideal. Have a quick scroll through Instagram for posts about the SARB017 and you’ll see what I mean.

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The replacement bracelet, with its alternating brushed and polished surfaces, allows the Alpinist to look much more playful than it already is. It does so by giving it an abundance of visual appeal through the way it plays with lights.

Movement

Seconds hand
Sweeping seconds hand of the Alpinist.

The beating heart of the Alpinist comes in the form of Seiko’s in-house calibre 6R15. It beats at 21,600 vibrations per hour, and features hacking and manual winding for your daily syncing and winding indulgences.

I personally love hand-winding my watches. Doing so provides me with the opportunity and a reason to take a moment to gaze upon and admire them. And with the Alpinist being one of my favourite watches, these features were very much welcome.

There are no doubt other watches at a similar price point to that of the Alpinist, including those by micro brands such as the Nodus Avalon and the BOLDR Expedition, which feature movements with a higher number of vibrations per hour (such as the Miyota 9000 series or Selitta SW-200-1), presenting a smoother looking sweep on the seconds hand and is, admittedly, very aesthetically pleasing. Speaking from experience, it is a noticeable difference, and if these things matter to you, you would be looking at watches equipped with what are called ‘high-beat movements’.

As almost everyone knew what the Alpinist has and made of, let’s skip to what makes the whole part of the love-hate relationship that you will be reading today.

Everyday wear with the Alpinist

I spent a good 3 months in the honeymoon period with the Alpinist. I wore it to date nights, work, nights out with friends and sometimes even when I was just simply chilling around at home, though I don’t usually wear my watches at home (yes, I was that enamoured with it).

If it wasn’t already obvious enough, I truly enjoyed every moment of my time with the Alpinist around my wrist. And I still do. As I briefly alluded to earlier, part of the reason for my intense love of wearing the Alpinist is due to its hand-winding feature, which, for lack of a better description, compels me to bond with the watch and become acutely conscious of winding it up before I go on with my day. 

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I should probably also mention that the Alpinist wears very comfortably too, especially with the Strapcode bracelet, which hasn’t come off since the day it was put on. Despite the unconventional green dial, the Alpinist matches surprisingly easily with my wardrobe, as most of my clothes comprise neutral colours, i.e. black, white, grey, and the occasional dark blue as well. 

Though at 12-millimetres height, the Alpinist’s case may seem to veer slightly towards the taller end of things, it somehow still manages to sit comfortably and tuck easily under my jackets and long sleeves, particularly in comparison to my other watches like the Turtle (duh). I believe this is thanks to the rounded edge design of the Alpinist’s case.

This sort of wearability, naturally, makes me tend to pick the Alpinist over my other watches. That, along with the generally cold weather in Melbourne, which means that I would often have to put on my jacket and long sleeves when out and about.

Wrist Roll
Easy slide-out in a sunny Melbourne afternoon.

The 200 metres of water resistance that the Alpinist is rated for doesn’t disappoint at all, especially if you’re the kind of person who routinely walks around outdoors in Kuala Lumpur, or if you’re like me, living at a place known for having “4 seasons in a day”, e.g. Melbourne. 

Everlasting love for the Alpinist

I would consider the acquisition of my Alpinist to be my biggest achievement at this point in my life (besides nailing my Master’s degree, of course. Ehehehe). Some years ago, I would never have imagined the day that I would spend this much money on a seemingly simple wristwatch, yet, here I am today with my Alpinist.

Wearing the Alpinist has, since then, brought me nothing but joy. Pure joy. It’s not the same kind of joy I experienced when I unboxed my very first Seiko 5 (which, by the way, I purchased with allowance given to me by my parents, which then resulted in me having to live on nothing but 40 packs of Indomie for some months); it’s not the same kind of joy I experienced when I was gifted my TAG Heuer Formula 1 from my parents, and it’s definitely a different kind of joy than when I was gifted my Seiko Prospex SRP779 “Pepsi Turtle” for graduating from my MBA course.

What it is, is the joy of savouring the fruits of my persistence and hard work. It is the joy of feeling like I’d finally achieved a higher degree of financial freedom. Most importantly, however, it is the joy of having it sit comfortably on my left wrist and having it stare back at me—all those hard times that I’d gone through, reflecting right back at me through the Alpinist. My Alpinist.

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I fall in love all over again every time I pick up my Alpinist, give it a good wind, and slap it onto my wrist. So much so, that the absolute love I have for this piece has almost made me feel like I’ve betrayed my TAG, Turtle and other watches.

At the risk of sounding creepy and weird, this is a watch I would make love to. Not literally, of course. But really, it’s more the love of a well-designed and well-priced product. For me, the idea of a product that is packed with features and screams “value for money” is always welcome. And the Alpinist, is for me the watch that simply screams a whole lot of value, for my money. 

A big part of it, is the looks of others, collectors or otherwise, when they spot the Alpinist. Sure, the Alpinist certainly isn’t some million-dollar watch that would amaze nearly everyone in the world, nor is it a watch that has tons of ‘wow’ factors going for it. Yet, it also isn’t some merely ‘normal’ watch that you would see every day on almost 70% of people’s wrists on the tram, on the sidewalk, in a cafe or at work.

I still remember the time I got dissed by a customer who apparently worked as a representative of Patek Philippe. Well I mean, he is working for PP after all, so whatever. Nothing against PP, by the way. The only point I’m trying to make here is that the Alpinist makes it easy to strike up conversations with the people around me. Some compliment it, some despise it, and some certainly question it. It has this uncanny ability to spark conversations that go on for minutes, if not, hours. And it can certainly be a statement piece that lets people know: ‘ah, I sorta know what this whole game is about.’

For that (and everything else I’ve already said about the Alpinist), I love it.

Hating the Alpinist

Other than its strap, what hate?

Closing this off

Yes, I’m fully aware that this is a biased review. But I have a damned good reason for being biased, so why would you let that turn you off?

For under US$550, the amount of value the Alpinist offers versus its competitors is tremendous. From a reliable calibre to a nicely thought out design, the Alpinist could be one that will stay in your collection for a long time. Add that to the fact that it was discontinued last year, which may make it a sound investment option too.

Of course, I fully acknowledge that the Alpinist will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Some may think that the green makes it hard to pull off with their outfits, while for me, it works perfectly fine.

At this price point, the micro-brand space does have a considerable number of models that may suit a larger group of potential watch buyers, especially with the current trend that appears to be moving towards more vintage-inspired designs.

But for me, what the Alpinist brings to the table is a great design, great specifications and a great history behind the watch and its manufacturer.

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Hence, the verdict? If you’ve been looking at the Alpinist, I’d urge you to snag one while you still can. Light speed at that too, before we run out of available stock.

For Team Matick,

Vincent, Ken

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