The Explorer is one of my favorite designs from Rolex. It’s one of the most perfectly designed sports watches ever. It’s a rugged outdoors watch that you can quickly get away with wearing with a suit and tie. It could be the only watch you ever need, but it costs around $10,000, so that’s not happening.
But about a year ago, Seiko did some re-releases of their Alpinist line that I think to make an extremely appealing alternative to the Explorer for less than 10 percent of the cost. So let me review my new Seiko SBDC 159, also known as the 1959 Alpinist Deep Lake.
My name’s Mark. I live in Japan, and I love to collect affordable watches, and one of the perils of living here is that they have so many exceptional watches and watch brands, and frequently you can get some pretty great deals. This one that we’re looking at today, I was browsing on Amazon, and I saw the price drop to around 550 US dollars.
It was on sale, so I snagged it thinking, at the very least, I could do a review on the watch. But as soon as I opened the box, I knew I would probably wind up keeping this one. It’s taken me a while to warm up to Seiko, especially from a budget standpoint, but this one finally gives me everything I’ve been looking for from Seiko.
As I said, this makes an excellent alternative to the Rolex Explorer. In many ways, this is Seiko’s Explorer. It’s a watch designed for mountaineering, yet it has an elegant and sophisticated design that you can quickly wear in formal situations. Yet this is not in any way an homage to any other Swiss brand, much less to anything that Rolex does.
Seiko SBDC159 comes from Saiko’s Alpinist Line, one of their most renowned watches. The Alpinist was Seiko’s first sports watch, but this particular one is a reissue of the original 1959 Alpinist and is gorgeous.
Seiko SBDC159 Specifications
Let’s jump into the specs and see what Seiko’s given you for your money. I measured the case diameter of the Seiko SBDC159 at about 38.5 millimeters in diameter. The watch has an odd lug size of 19 millimeters, making it more challenging to find compatible straps. Lug to lug is a moderate 46 millimeters.
The watch is a little bit thick at 13 millimeters tall for this size. However, you are getting a very slightly domed sapphire crystal and 200 meters (20 bar) of water resistance, which at least makes the thickness understandable. While 13 millimeters does sound tall for this size watch, it hasn’t bothered me at all on the wrist.
Seiko SBDC159 features Seiko’s Premium 6R35, automatic Mechanical Movement. We’ll get into more detail about that movement in just a minute, but this movement has 70 hours of power reserve, which is its standout feature. The retail price here in Japan is 82,500 Yen, which at today’s exchange rate is around $650. I’ve seen this one in the United States at about $700.
Why I Love Seiko SBDC159?
But first, I want to talk about why I love this watch. First, this is a watch from Seiko where I’m getting everything Seiko can offer. I’ve bought a number of their more affordable models. With those, I always felt like there were glimpses of greatness, just like some fantastic parts and other things that just felt like compromises and cost-saving measures, such as bracelets that don’t match and hollow end links and hardlex crystals instead of sapphire.
While this watch still has a couple of apparent misfires, the crown still needs to be signed. For the most part, this watch gives me everything I’ve been missing from Seiko and the things that it does well. Seiko SBDC159 does better than any other watch that I’ve handled. I love the dial texture, which seems subtle and almost a little simple, yet it plays with the light in a way I’ve never seen any other watch dial do. The more you zoom in on that dial, the more intricate you see that it is.
The handset is just absolutely outstanding. They’re crisply cut with a unique finish where half of it is brushed, and half of it is polished, which not only looks terrific but contributes to some of the best legibility I’ve seen on a dolphin-style hand.
Another thing that I love about this watch is that it has its history and heritage to it. Seiko SBDC159 is one of Seiko’s own original designs. It doesn’t look like a Rolex, Omega, or any other Swiss watch. It’s pure vintage Seiko, yet this design is exciting and beautiful. It’s unique but elegant, refined, and yet very rugged.
Seiko SBDC159 is a watch that can be worn in pretty much any situation, and it’s because of all these reasons this watch makes such a great alternative to the Rolex Explorer. For about one-tenth the cost of the Rolex, you’re getting a look that basically does everything that the Rolex Explorer does.
Not quite in the same way or as high a standard, but it does all of those things at a reasonable and attainable price. That’s why this watch has latched onto me in a way that many of the other Seiko watches I’ve tried haven’t.
Detailed Design of Seiko SBDC159
Let’s start with the dial. From a normal viewing distance, the dial looks like a pinstripe pattern on the dial. Still, if you look closely at it with the naked eye, it starts to look kind of like ropes or metal cables or something like that, and it has a very subtle sort of 3D effect depending on how the light hits it.
It’s mesmerizing while also being dead simple at the same time. The dial is not distracting from the legibility in any way, and that’s a tough trick to pull off. Nine times out of ten, you get a watch dial that could be more exciting and that you’ve seen done everywhere else or is so over the top that you can’t read the time.
When you start jumping down into macro levels and looking at the dial, that’s when things get crazy. It makes me curious how Seiko made these dials because when you look at it, it seems like some incredibly intricate 3D printing. Those little pinstripes not only look like cables or ropes but also start to look like DNA structures with the spiraling ladders stretching across the face of the watch.
Another unique feature of the dial is the minute track. Traditionally, the minute track is placed around the outside of the dial, but in keeping with their original 1959 design, the tick marks for minutes are placed inside the markers. This simple change gives the watch a unique visual look.
It also plays with the light slightly differently than the rest of the dial and breaks up that mesmerizing pinstripe pattern. When you get down into macro, you can see why the little ring is set down a little bit deeper into the dial and has a groove pattern of concentric circles. Finally, the hour markers are beautifully applied and polished.
Alpinist Unique Design
They feature a design that is unique to the Seiko Alpinist. You’re getting triangles at 12-3-6-9 that are meant to represent mountains, given that the original intent of the Sacco Alpinist for mountain climbing.
The triangles at three, six, and nine are divided down the middle, but there’s a special one at 12 o’clock with a fascinating, almost cathedral-like pattern. And I love how that subtle difference helps you to instantly orient the watch and recognize which marker is your 12 o’clock marker.
Now, something that I’m sure will drive many people crazy is the three o’clock date, which completely cuts off one of that markers. Yeah, the aesthetics would’ve been better if they had kept the triangular markers intact on this dial. But you know what? I’m a guy that has to have a date on my daily wear watches.
For me, that is an essential feature of a watch. I agree. It hurts the look. But for me, it’s a trade-off I’m willing to take.
Finally, let’s look at the handset because it was one of my favorite parts of this watch, and it surprised me. The length of the hands is perfect, and I especially love the long, slender minute hand.
It stretches almost to the edge of the case, and because they have the minute track placed in the middle of the dial, it gives the effect of the minute hand being much longer than it is. The hand finishing is spectacular by dividing the finishing between brushing and polishing. It creates this powerful 3D effect for the handset.
It makes them look much more beveled than they are, and the multiple finishes enhance the legibility. Typically, entirely polished handsets will disappear in some lighting and come alive in others. In contrast, handsets that are all brushed will look more toolless and utilitarian but have better overall visibility by using both.
Finishing on the hands showed that Seiko has found a way to have the best of both worlds. You can always see the brushed edge of the hands. Letting the polished edge play with the light and come alive in some lightings and subtly disappear in others. Further increasing legibility on everything is the Luma bright paint applied to the hands and the markers.
It’s off-white with a slightly bluish hue in the daylight, which doesn’t look that out of place against the blue dial, and it gives off a powerful glow in the dark to give you perfect legibility in any lighting situation. But even with all that, Seiko still had one final flare they wanted to add, and that’s by going with a rose gold finish for the second hand.
It is a very subtle touch that you’re not going to notice all the time, but when you do, it just gives you one more thing to appreciate about this watch. There’s more to this watch than just what’s underneath the crystal. The case has a straightforward vintage classic style. It’s also very well finished, and this is easily the best bracelet I’ve seen from any watch I’ve gotten from Seiko; however, the clasp does have some drawbacks.
Seiko hasn’t broken any new ground with the case design on this watch, but that’s to be expected. This is a reissue version, so the round case has a definite circular look, with more extended slender lugs jutting out from the top and bottom of that circle. On the right-hand side, you get an unguarded screw-down crown.
While this watch looks a lot like a dress watch, it’s part of Seiko’s prospects line, which means it’s a tool watch. So you’re getting an imposing 200 meters of water resistance, which means it will perform on par with most divers.
That seems overkill to me, but that’s okay, and while this is a very rugged tool watch that can take a beating, the case finish looks much more like a dress watch. The primary finishing is brushed. However, polished accents run along the top and bottom of the case and on the beveled portions of the lugs, and you’re also getting a fully polished bezel.
This means that just like the dial, the case will play with the light and look great. However, that polished bezel will be prone to picking up scratches, mainly if you use this like a field watch.
Bracelets and straps are an area Seiko often cheap out a bit on their affordable watches. But in this case, they didn’t. Not only is the bracelet extremely high quality, but it also perfectly matches the case and the watch’s character. You get the same high-quality finishing with primarily brushed flat surfaces and polished edges. The bracelet connects to the watch with solid female end lengths.
This combination is a very seamless flow from the case to the bracelet. It’s evident that the bracelet was made for this watch and that they form a complete package together. But when we flipped around to the class, we ran into some issues—first, the good. The inner part of the clasp is high quality, excellent, and finished very well.
The inner part of the mild clasp that rubs up against your wrist has been cut to have a very smooth edge, making it extremely comfortable against your wrist. Likewise, the dual push button clasp’s action is very soft and secure. All this is great, but the clasp still has two significant drawbacks.
The first is that there are only two micro-adjust positions on the. This means you may or may not be able to get a good fit with the bracelet, and even if you do get a good fit, if your wrist size changes with the weather, you might not be able to adjust it to a comfortable place after that without adding or removing links.
The other issue is that the backend of the clasp features a large gap between the clasp and the bracelet links. Not only does this look unsightly, but it’s also prone to catching on clothes and other things. It is a weird one, and I haven’t seen other clasps that have this problem before, so I’m not sure why Seiko couldn’t figure out a way to not have that gap there.
And while these two issues aren’t deal breakers, it’s a shame because the rest of the clasp and bracelet are both excellent, and I would prefer to wear them on this clasp and bracelet. They’ve gone with 19-millimeter lug widths; if I wanted to change it to a strap, which I occasionally do, it’s a little bit harder.
I like a couple of watches that also have 19-millimeter lug widths. I have a few strap options, and this watch looks great on a leather strap. And this being a watch, that’s definitely on the high end for me. It’s the kind of watch I would be willing to invest in to buy some unique straps.
Automatic movement, also known as self-winding movement, is a type of watch movement that winds itself without needing manual winding. It uses the natural motion of the wearer’s wrist to wind the mainspring, which powers the watch.
Here’s how it works:
- The watch has a weight called a rotor, which is attached to the movement and rotates freely on a pivot.
- The rotor swings back and forth as the wearer moves their wrist.
- The movement of the rotor is transmitted through a series of gears to the mainspring, which is wound tighter.
- The tighter the mainspring is wound, the more energy is stored and the longer the watch will run before it needs to be rewound.
- The movement of the rotor is regulated by a balance wheel, which oscillates at a consistent frequency and helps to ensure accurate timekeeping.
Automatic watches are convenient because they do not require manual winding, but they may need to be reset or manually wound if they are not worn for an extended period. Seiko’s 6R35 movement powers this Seiko SBDC159, and this premium in-house movement from Seiko was launched in 2019 and is a significant upgrade over the 4R35 or the Seiko NH35.
The most noticeable improvements are to the power reserve, which now boasts a pretty impressive 70 hours, an increased level of accuracy, and some simple but tasteful finishing work done to the movement itself, which you can appreciate through the see-through exhibition case back. The movement also features hacking hand winding Quickset date, and it has a 21,600 BPH beat rate, which is not a high beat movement.
It’s the same six ticks per second that you would find on Seiko NH35. This movement is a competitor to the Swatch group’s Powermatic 80 movements that you can find in some Hamilton and Saso watches, among other brands. The 6R35 and the Powermatic 80 feature extended power reserve and that standard beat rate, and that 70-hour power reserve is excellent.
It’s almost double what you would get from a Seiko NH35 movement, giving you nearly three full days of power reserve, which means you could take it off your wrist Friday night and put it back on Monday afternoon, and it would still be keeping. The accuracy has also been improved. They have an out-of-the-factory stated accuracy of between plus 25 seconds a day and negative 15 seconds a day, which is way better than the Seiko NH35S plus 45 to negative 35 out of the factory.
Seiko often plays it safely with the stated accuracy numbers they give most of their time. Their movements come with much stronger accuracy than the ratings, which was confirmed with my watch. This one comes at around four seconds a day, which is good. All in all, this is an excellent movement from Seiko.
It’s a very nice upgrade from the NH 35, but it has the same reliability level. It’s much nicer to look at and has some notable improvements.
The lume on this thing is fantastic. That may not sound like a surprise, given that this is a watch from Seiko, and Seiko is known for making great lume, but when I ran this through my testing procedure, I was pretty surprised at the result.
I scored this one at a third which not only easily beat out the soon-to-be-released Zelos Comet and the Orient Star sports outdoors, but it achieved about 30% brighter than my Seiko Samurai dive watch. This watch gives you a lume performance that rivals some of the most brilliant dive watches in a dressy field watch.
Seiko makes the proprietary lume that they call Lumie Bright. They have several colors, most commonly blue and green. This blue version looks and performs very similar to what I’ve seen on their recent Seiko 5 sports field watch. Seiko has been improving its lume over the last few years.
The performance on this watch makes it the brightest non-dive watch I’ve ever tested, and out of the 50 or 60 watches I have tested, this would score around fifth overall. I’ve never had a Rolex Explorer in for review to test the lume, but I would be willing to bet the lume on this watch would at least rival it, if not surpass it.
My Verdict on Seiko SBDC159
So overall, takeaways from this watch. This might be the watch I hold onto to pass to my kids or grandkids. There are so many features of this watch that Seiko has implemented that it sets it on just another level over almost anything else in my collection. It’s not a perfect watch, but the areas it gets right are so well done that it makes me overlook the kind of flaws that I see.
If I were designing this watch, I would love to see them go with a hundred meters of water resistance and try and drop that thickness down to something like 12 millimeters instead of 13. I still need to figure out why Seiko refuses to sign the crown even on a $700 watch, and I’d love to see a clasp that has more micro adjusts and doesn’t have that awkward gap between the clasp and the bracelet.
Things like this leave you scratching your head when Seiko gets so much right, yet they have these little things that annoy you. That highlights why Secco can elicit such a passionate response from its fans and detractors. This watch is on the higher end but worth saving up for.
Thank you for reading my review of the Seiko SBDC159. Until next time.