Just over a week ago, I acquired my very first Seiko 5, an SNKL43. I’ve heard the watch referred to as everything from the poor man’s Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra to the poor man’s Grand Seiko, and frankly, all of these descriptions are appropriate for the watch. Today, we’re going to take a look at my week with the Seiko 5 SNKL43 and see just what about it led me to this bit of high praise.
Case Diameter: 37mm
Case Material: Stainless Steel
Dial Color: Blue
Movement: Seiko 7S26C Automatic Movement (No Hand-Winding or Hacking)
The Seiko 5 SNKL43 is a member of the broader Seiko 5 lineup, a line established by Seiko in the 1960s as an ultra-affordable line of mechanical watches. The line had endured, almost entirely unchanged with its five (hence the name) basic tenets still present in most of the models. These are:
1. Automatic winding
2. Day/date displayed in a single window
3. Water resistance
4. Recessed crown at the 4 o’clock position
5. Durable case and bracelet
Most Seiko 5 models still retain these features, though occasionally one or more are foregone in exchange for specific design language (such as the canvas strap on the SNK807 or the 3 o’clock crown on the SNZG13). The SNKL43, however, retains every one of these five criteria. As such it isn’t just a solid entry-level mechanical watch, but also as pure a representation of a Seiko 5 as you’re likely to find.
Straight out of the box, one thing becomes abundantly obvious about the SNKL43 – it suffers the same problem as every other Seiko 5 tends to. This problem is notorious, nearly as well known as the otherwise impressive value of the watches. It’s the bracelet, with folded links and an overall cheap construction. For a watch generally priced below $100, you wouldn’t expect the world, but I wasn’t expecting to have each hair on my wrist painfully yanked out every time I attempted to remove the watch. This inevitable pain becomes clear the second you feel the bracelet for the first time.
Beyond the bracelet, though, there’s a very direct kind of magic that is clear once you see the thing in the metal. The watch is finished to an impressive standard for a watch that sells for just over $100 at present. It features a number of superbly beveled edges and sharply finished angles that far surpass most other pieces at this price point. The way it plays with the light is immediately apparent, and admittedly had me enamored with it for upwards of an hour or so.
As uncomfortable as the bracelet can be upon removal, it does have one thing working in its favor – it’s easily the most simple bracelet to size, thanks to the folded construction. Rather than attempt to explain how to size a folded link bracelet here, I’ll link to Seiko’s own bracelet sizing manual (specifically, you’re looking for “Sizing Code E”). Just…make sure not to lose any of the pins.
One Week Later
I wore the SNKL43 for just about a week straight, minus a couple of occasions where it wouldn’t have been totally appropriate (a nice swim, or a dressy dinner out). Otherwise, the thing didn’t leave my wrist. The largest contributing factor to this is undoubtedly the sheer comfort of the watch’s case. It’s incredibly smooth, in a number of different ways, from its finishing to its lug-to-lug dimensions being relatively compact. It’s a watch that wears, roughly, like a 36mm Oyster Case from Rolex on the wrist, which is to say “really, really well.”
On the bracelet, it wears a bit bigger than on a strap (you’ll see this in a second), but that’s to do more with its 18mm lug width than its actual size (20mm would have been a better fit, but would have required the lugs being slimmed down, which I’m not sure would have suited the design overall either).
So what about the movement then? Well, like most modern Seiko 5s, the SNKL43 runs the in-house Seiko 7S26C movement, an automatic movement with no hacking or handwinding, and a day-date function at the 3 o’clock position on the dial. It’s a workhorse movement of the highest order, and while not known for being the most accurate in the world (its stated accuracy is between -20 to +49 seconds per day), but the movements have been known to go for decades without a service, maintaining that accuracy pretty consistently. I always recommend a service at some point anyway, but given the low price point of the Seiko 5 line, I also totally understand the fear that the service will cost more than the watch did.
The SNKL43 is not quite as much a strap monster as it’s silvery white dialed sibling, the SNKL41, but it certainly holds its own, specifically with straps across the brown and tan spectrum. Since the lug width is 18mm, finding aftermarket straps for the SNKL43 should be a breeze. Unfortunately, I’ve only got two straps that fit that particular lug width, so the options here will be pretty limited, but a quick Google search opens up a number of other strap options across the color spectrum.
The first strap is a vintage inspired chocolate brown leather strap with white, contrast stitching that was, I confess, directly inspired by the strap Gary Shteyngart wears on his denim blue dial Rolex Air King (as seen on his episode of Talking Watches). It struck me so directly when I first saw it that, once the Seiko 5 came in, I knew which strap it was going to spend most of its time on. Check the side by side below.
Sources: HODINKEE (left) and Me (right)
The other strap option is a generic, burgundy crocodile embossed strap that came originally on a vintage Caravelle I picked up at a flea market. While the embossing itself is nothing to write home about, the color is absolutely stunning and really compliments the sunburst blue of the SNKL43’s dial.
The croc patterned strap also helps to demonstrate the incredibly versatile nature of the SNKL43. On the right strap, the watch would feel at home in nearly everything except the most formal of situations, where thin, and ideally gold, watches are the norm. Otherwise, the watch really could serve as a contender for your one and only watch on a budget.
Whether you’re trying to save for your next grail and just need to scratch the itch for a new watch, or are just getting started in the hobby and want your first mechanical watch, I can now, with absolute certainty, recommend a Seiko 5 as the perfect option sub-$150. And that, as they say, is how we help to keep it classy, watchfam.
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