Earlier this year, Seiko introduced the limited edition Prospex SLA033 dive watch. To say this watch has been anticipated by Seiko collectors is an understatement. It’s very likely that all 2,500 examples will sell as soon they become available in July. This is the third such vintage re-edition to come out of the Japanese manufacturer in as many years. The trend started with the Seiko Prospex SLA017 back in 2017. The Seiko Prospex Diver 300m Hi-Beat SLA025 followed a year later. Both limited editions. Both now impossible to find. Even Chrono24, one of the world’s largest marketplaces for luxury watches, doesn’t have a single listing for the SLA017. But does that mean these Seiko watches are a good investment?
A (Very) Brief History Of Seiko Dive Watches
The ref 6217 or 62Mas (autoMAtic Selfdater) made its debut in 1965. It was Seiko’s (and Japan’s) first dive watch. This was a decade after the major Swiss players had introduced their dive watches. Models like the Rolex Submariner and the Omega Seamaster 300 were already on their way to becoming icons. Coming late to the party does have its advantages though. It lets you see what others have already done and make improvements where possible. And that’s exactly what Seiko did.
The 62Mas was designed for reliability and legibility in harsh conditions. The Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition used the watch on their polar expeditions. Presented in a 37mm case – large for the time – it featured integrated lugs to guarantee structural integrity. Its dark grey dial had luminous indexes and hands for low-light legibility. This in turn was framed by a bi-directional bezel with all the required markings. Inside was the automatic, non-hacking 6217 movement with quick set date.
A key selling point was the model’s high-water resistance rating of 150m. This would go on to set the standard for Seiko watches. Indeed, the 62Mas would become the blueprint for all future dive watches from the brand. It was this very model that Seiko recreated with the SLA017 in 2017.
Three short years later the Seiko Automatic Diver 300m Ref 6159-7001 hit the market. This model was the brand’s first attempt at professional dive watch. Already Seiko had found a way to double the water resistance of the 62Mas. The watch featured an innovative monocoque case design that measured 44mm in diameter. Even by today’s standards it’s big. Back then, it was an absolute monster. Inside was the Caliber 6159A. This high beat movement came from the premium Grand Seiko line.
In production for only two years, this model is now sought after by collectors. Often in vain. Seiko created a homage to this model in 2018 in the form of the Prospex Diver 300m Hi-Beat SLA025. This particular model was limited to 1,500 pieces. At the time of writing, there are 3 listed on Chrono24. All are priced either at or below original retail.
Now, Seiko has added a third vintage re-edition to the collection; the SLA033.
The 1970 Diver’s Re-creation Limited Edition: SLA033
The SLA033 is a homage to the Seiko 6105, which the company began producing in 1968. What set this model apart is its distinctive case shape. Seiko’s engineers were focused on delivering a diver’s watch that could stand up to serious adventure. They didn’t much care what it looked like. The focus was on performance, with form following function in every regard. The wide and flat shape of the case was conceived to protect the crown at the 4 o’clock position. The dial layout and design borrowed from that of the SLA017. Likewise, the watch was rated water resistant to 150m.
Famously, Japanese adventurer, Naomi Uemura, wore one on many of his expeditions. This includes his solo dog-sled run from Greenland to Alaska. A journey of 12,000 kilometers it took him eighteen months. Like Uemura, the Ref 6105 he was wearing returned intact. Even more famously, Martin Sheen’s character ‘Captain Willard’ wore one in Apocalypse Now. This was a classic case of art imitating life. The Ref 6105 actually was sold in Asia during the Vietname conflict. And it was actually worn by American soldiers. Quite a lot of them as it turns out. When they returned home from service, so too did the watches.
When the movie hit cinemas in 1979, it generated even more demand for the Ref 6105. This became a problem for those who wanted one. Seiko had stopped production two years earlier in 1977. Of course, the case design would go on to inspire one of Seiko’s most iconic and accessible dive watches. Known today by devoted fans around the world as “the turtle”. Still, it wasn’t quite the same thing. In 2001, when Apocalypse Now Redux came out, renewed calls came for a re-edition of the ref 6105. And now, almost 20 years later, here we are. The timing seems serendipitous. Apocalypse Now: Final Cut made its debut two days ago at the Tribeca film festival.
Presented in a stainless steel case with super-hard coating, the SLA033 is almost identical to the original ref 6105. I say almost because the case is larger at 45mm and has polished and satin finishes. It also boasts several notable technical updates. For a start the SLA033 is water resistant to 200m. Not significant by today’s standards but still an improvement on the original. It’s also now fitted with a dual-curved sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating. The upper surface of the bezel rim is Zaratsu polished to a perfect mirror finish. Not something you’d expect to see on a tool watch but a nice touch nonetheless.
Inside is self-winding caliber 8L35 which beats at a standard 28,800 vph. It delivers a power reserve of 50 hours. Interestingly, this movement is somewhat controversial amongst Seiko enthusiasts. Seiko gives it an official tolerance range of -10/+15 seconds a day. On the forums though, many owners report better performance. Many, but not all. Some say that their watches operate at close to the manufacturer rates. I imagine it’s a bit frustrating if you’re one of the people who experiences the lower performance. Either way, the controversy seems to stem from the inconsistency. Because as any true fan will tell you, if there is one thing Seiko is known for, it’s being consistent.
The SLA033 is assembled by hand in the Shizukuishi Watch Studio in northern Japan. True to the original, it is worn on a high strength silicone strap. A limited edition of 2,500 pieces, recommended retail price in Europe is EUR 4,350. (Approx. GBP 3,760.) The watch will be available to purchase from July.
Is It A Good Investment?
Many watch lovers, myself included, don’t like to talk about watches as investments. That’s because they’re generally not. One can’t ignore the pricing mania around luxury steel sports watches of course. Models like the Daytona and Nautilus are changing hands for crazy prices. A steel Patek 5712 recently sold for near double retail at auction. And that’s for a watch that’s still in production!
High-end Seiko watches are a bit more nuanced, though. The brand has global mass appeal, that goes without saying. But that’s because it produces low cost, high quality watches in large volumes. As a result Seiko models that have a price tag of four figures and up have a much smaller audience. That’s not to say the new SLA033 won’t sell. If the first two models are anything to go by, all 2,500 examples will sell. Quickly.
By and large though, the people buying these watches are doing so because they want to own them. Not because they’re looking to turn around and flip them to make a quick buck. A trend that has become all too common with steel Rolex models. That’s one of the main reasons why you see so few examples on the secondary market. There’s also less of an appreciation from the wider market for what these models represent to collectors.
That doesn’t mean the SLA033 won’t increase in value over time. Rather it means it’s more likely to take decades rather than years. Or even months, as was the case with the steel Rolex Pepsi. And of course there are no guarantees.
So, should you buy Seiko Prospex SLA033 dive watch when it becomes available in July? Well, assuming they’re not all pre-sold already. And assuming you have a genuine passion and appreciation for Seiko dive watches. Then yes, absolutely. If you missed out on the chance to buy one of the first two re-editions, this is a great opportunity to make amends.
Just don’t think of it as an “investment”.
Technical Specifications: Seiko 1970 Diver’s Re-Creation Limited Edition SLA033
- Case: 45mm diameter x 13mm height – stainless steel case, brushed and polished, with super-hard coating – screw-down crown at 4 – screw caseback – dual-curved sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating – magnetic resistance 4,800 A/m – water-resistance 200m
- Dial: black –3D embossed hour markers – luminescence on hour markers and hands – date window at 3 o’clock.
- Movement: Caliber 8L35 – automatic – 28,800 vph – 50 hour power reserve – centre hour, minute and seconds hands – date.
- Price: EUR 4,350.