Editor’s Note: If you came here from our 24th INaUgurAL episode of the KC and Jon Jon Show.. well done. And thank you for tuning in!
For many years, there has only been one option for anyone looking for a cheap, fun and reliable sports car: the Miata Is Always The Answer (we hope you caught that). That same cliché also exists for a cheap, fun and reliable mechanical watch: a Seiko 5 is always the answer. Simply search the internet for “best entry level watch” and you will find page after page of articles recommending Seiko 5s in all its various guises and variants. There truly is a Seiko 5 for everyone out there.
One of the latest releases in the Seiko 5 family is perhaps its best to date; the SRPE series, affectionately dubbed the DressKX. Taking design inspiration from its progenitor, the now-discontinued SKX series, and repackaging it into a svelte 40mm package and available in various colourways and strap options, the DressKX is one of the best entry level watches in the market today.
But what if I told you that you could get a fully Swiss made watch with a mechanical movement that’s made with cutting edge technology, all for the same entry-level price? An intriguing prospect, I’m sure you’ll agree. As unlikely as it sounds, it does exist: the Swatch Sistem51. First announced in 2013, it packs a mechanical movement whose assembly is entirely automated; the first of its kind.
Initially released in classic Swatch fashion with cheap and cheerful plastic cases, Swatch would follow it up with more sombre steel cases in the Irony line in 2016. And Swatch has continued to iterate on the Sistem51 series, producing more and more variants and strap options, culminating in the Petite Seconde line released last year. And they retail for just under the price of the DressKX.
If it all sounds too good to be true, that’s probably because (spoiler alert) it is. But owning both a DressKX and a Sistem51 has offered me a little insight into both these watches, and despite the similar price there’s more than meets the eye here. So join me as I put my personal Seiko 5 Sports SRPE57 and Swatch Sistem51 Irony Knight YIM401 (let’s just call it the Knight for this article) in a head to head matchup.
The DressKX, as mentioned, comes with classic SKX design cues; its unique handset (needle seconds hand with lumed counterbalance included), mix of round and oblong markers for the hours, plus a triangle at 12, and the day-date window at 3. This is then packaged into a 40mm stainless steel case and bracelet sans dive bezel.
But where the DressKX turns it up a notch is with the markers; they are now applied markers rather than printed ones. In this particular iteration (the SRPE57) the hands and applied markers are also finished in gilt. This combination gives it a significantly more premium feel, and adds a lot of depth and interest to the dial.
In the other corner, the Knight comes with a brushed gunmetal case and textured silicone strap. Inside is an interesting two-finish gunmetal grey dial: a sunburst center, ringed by a circular brushed surround. On the periphery there are printed dash minute markers with small lumed dots at the hours, paired with simple lume-filled black baton hands. There is also a circular date window at 3 that blends in nicely with the rounded hour markers.
The Knight also comes with an excellent display caseback, with a peripherally weighted acrylic rotor that allows for a full view of the movement below it. Other nifty details include a skeletonised mainspring barrel and a tiny peephole through which the movement of the escape wheel and pallet fork are just about visible.
This one’s a tough decision to make, as these are diametrically opposed designs. Where the DressKX has gilt and applied markers, the Knight has a minimalist, almost Bauhaus-style design. In the end, I’m going to have to chalk this one up as a draw as they each have their own distinct appeal.
This category, on the other hand, is easily decided. The Knight is not the most ergonomically designed watch in the world, measuring a beefy 42mm in diameter, 50.6mm lug to lug, and 13.8mm thick. The DressKX is smaller in all dimensions at 40mm in diameter, 44mm lug to lug, and is a relatively slim 11.5mm.
Although the hooded, integrated lugs and comfortable silicone strap of the Knight does help it to remain quite comfortable on the wrist, the Seiko has some tricks of its own. With its classic scalloped case design and smaller overall dimensions, this is an easy win for the DressKX.
Robustness and Longevity
I hope fans of the Knight are prepared to be disappointed, because the Knight gets steamrolled here once again. Where the DressKX comes with a mineral crystal (Seiko’s proprietary Hardlex) front and back, 100m of water resistance, and the promise of legendary 4R36 reliability, the Knight packs acrylic crystals front and back, a mere 30m of water resistance, and seriously questionable serviceability for the hermetically sealed movement.
Another point for the DressKX.
With the Knight reeling after two straight losses, perhaps there’s a point to be clawed back here. As the name of this category would suggest, there is a certain je ne sais quoi to the Sistem51; an avant-garde mechanical watch made entirely by robots, helped by the notion of being a fully Swiss-made watch. The Knight is also just an excellent looking timepiece, with an intriguing see-through caseback and transparent rotor. The movement also boasts 90 hours of power reserve and a claimed +/- 10s/day accuracy. Combined, it makes for a real conversation starter, even amongst seasoned watch collectors.
The DressKX, on the other hand, is perhaps a little more pedestrian to the casual observer. Although enthusiasts such as ourselves may fawn over the applique dial and gilt details, the general public may perceive it to be an ordinary, run-of-the-mill Seiko.
Where your preferences lie is entirely up to you. Do you prefer the relative uniqueness of the Sistem51 and the story behind it, or the subtle and inconspicuous nature of the DressKX? There are no wrong answers here. But in terms of pure novelty, we can chalk this one up for the Knight.
By the numbers, the DressKX takes home an easy win. Objectively, it is the superior watch, being more versatile, more rugged, and having a decent chance of outliving its owner. The Knight is chunkier, more delicate, and has serious questions about long term reliability.
But does that mean that Sistem51 does not deserve a place in your collection? To answer that pointed question, I think there are two ways of looking at this. If you’re just starting out in this hobby and looking for your first watch, the Seiko is absolutely the way to go. It will sit comfortably on your wrist for an entire day, regardless of what you have on your agenda. And it will run reliably day after day, whatever you decide to do with it. The DressKX is quite simply one of the cheapest, most well-rounded watches out there, and could well be the only watch you would ever need.
On the other hand, the Swatch Sistem51 range offers something quite special to the collector who has already amassed a versatile collection. If this hobby and its ever-increasing prices have you feeling jaded, consider picking one of these up. It serves as a good reminder that novelty and joy are not limited to the realm of haute horlogerie, and that you can still have fun without the exorbitant price tags.
For Team Matick,