Seiko SARB033 Review: The Ghost of Seiko Past?

By: Jason Tricoli

The SARB033 is a legendary watch. It is widely praised for its classic styling, 38mm size, and exceptional value for the money. Sadly, it has been recently discontinued by Seiko. While you can still buy one, the watch (and its cream dialed cousin the SARB035) is commanding a higher price than a few years ago. As of this writing, they are available for between $400-$500 on Amazon, whereas they used to hover much closer to $300.

Let’s review what makes the SARB033 so special. At the end we will consider if it is worth the increased price. We will also speculate a bit on Seiko’s new pricing strategies, and try to answer the question: Does the SARB033 represent a side of Seiko that no longer exists?

Seiko SARB033 Case & Crystal

This was my first experience with a 38mm watch, and when it arrived in the mail I was shocked at how small I found it. However, after a few days on the wrist I quickly acclimated to the SARB033’s size and have actually begun to prefer it. The lug to lug length is an inviting 46mm. Sometimes overlooked, lug to lug length is just as important as case diameter for finding a watch that fits the way you like. This watch also benefits from Seiko’s ability to design cases that wear extremely well (in part due to a gentle curve of the lugs).

The case finishing on the Seiko SARB033 is also quite unique. A high polish bezel steps down onto a vertically brushed layer, which steps down again back into a high polish finish. This layering effect is an interesting design choice, and it adds a subtle visual complexity to the case.

Seiko SARB033 Specs

  • Case: 38mm
  • Lug to Lug: 46mm
  • Lug Width: 20mm
  • Thickness: 11.2 mm

A flat sapphire crystal protects the dial. It is surprising to see sapphire as opposed to Hardlex (Seiko’s proprietary mineral crystal) at this price point, and is the first of many reasons why this watch is considered such a value. Hardlex is actually an interesting material. While it is less scratch resistant than sapphire, it is also less likely to shatter.

One could argue Hardlex is actually better than sapphire in a more tool style watch (which is more likely to get knocked around), but for a dress watch like the Seiko SARB033, I think sapphire is the best choice. My only complaint about the crystal on this watch is that it tends to be an absolute smudge-magnet, possibly due to the black dial. Whatever the reason, I am in a constant state of wiping down this Seiko during wear.

The case is also enhanced by its display caseback. While the 6R15 movement is not decorated, I feel part of the magic of a mechanical watch is the ability to see the movement.

Focusing on That Dial & Those Hands

The dial is a deep inky black with a very minor reflective quality. However, it will occasionally reveal a dark brown sunburst when exposed to bright direct sunlight. The dial is framed by a black chapter ring that features white hash marks for each minute as well as four shorter hash marks between minutes. The chapter ring matches the color of the dial very well.

The applied hour indices stand out nicely against the dial, and catch light in interesting ways due to their faceted surfaces. The SARB033’s date window at the three o’clock position is nicely framed, and utilizes a black date wheel to match the dial. As far as branding, there is the Seiko applied logo at the 12 o’clock position with “Automatic” and “23 Jewels” written at the 6 o’clock position. Overall, the SARB033’s dial is clearly dressy, but with the presence of the lume, it is sporty as well.


 
 

Overall, the dial, indices, and handset on this watch are excellent. Everything is laid out in a way that feels perfectly balanced (as all things should be). The styling is classic, but with its own flourish of personality. Twenty years from now, this Seiko is going to look just as good as it does today.

The hands on this Seiko appear different depending on the angle and lighting. From some angles, the hands are clearly a classic dauphine style. However, they occasionally appear much narrower – almost a needle style. This is because there is a long white line down both the hour and minutes hands. In addition there is a triangle of lume in the center of those hands. T

his, in combination with the small lume pips on the hour indices, make this watch extremely legible. Whereas some dress watches are difficult to read from certain angles and in certain lighting conditions, the Seiko SARB033’s legibility is greatly improved by the presence of both the lume and those simple white lines.

The minute and second hand are very long, which is a detail I feel is overlooked on many watches. They reach all the way out to the chapter ring, which makes reading the time that much easier. The counterbalance on the second hand is an attractive diamond shape.

Overall, the dial, indices, and handset on this watch are excellent. Everything is laid out in a way that feels perfectly balanced (as all things should be). The styling is classic, but with its own flourish of personality. Twenty years from now, this Seiko is going to look just as good as it does today.

Seiko Bracelet Quality

This brings us to the bracelet. The stock bracelet on the SARB033 never felt quite right to me. This is unfortunate, because the bracelet does have a number of great things going for it. First, the design aesthetic is very in tune with the case of the watch. The brushed step that rests on the polished case is a theme that continues down the bracelet of the watch.

The bracelet is primarily brushed in a way that matches the brushed step on the case, while the outer edge and sides are polished to match the rest of the SARB case. This feels very cohesive, especially when viewed from the side (as pictured above). Second, this bracelet has both a milled clasp and solid end links. The milled clasp is another feature that makes this watch such a great value. Most Seiko watches around this price point have pressed metal clasps.

However, despite the bracelet’s impressive features, I find a number of problems with it. The first problem is that the end links are a touch too small. They are slightly shorter both in height and length than the lugs. There also seems to be a slightly bigger than usual gap between the endlink and the first link of the bracelet.

The other problem with this Seiko bracelet has to do with the clasp. First, there are only two micro positions, which can make the watch difficult to size just right. Second, the clasp doesn’t close flush. There is a very large gap at the end of the clasp when it is closed. While it is unlikely anyone would notice this, it is another point against the bracelet overall. When taken altogether, the bracelet felt wrong to me.

Fortunately, I think this watch was made to pair with a strap. It’s monochromatic dial lends itself to a wide variety of straps and colors, and it looks especially elegant paired with leather.

The 6R15 Movement

Yet another reason this watch is considered to be an excellent bang for your buck is the Seiko movement that powers it. This watch features the Seiko 6R15, an upgraded version of the Seiko 7S26. Introduced in the mid 2000s, the 6R15 brings a Spron mainspring, boosting the power reserve to 50 hours from the ~40 hours of the 7S26. It also adds two other features not present in the 7S26: hacking (the ability to stop the second hand when the crown is in the time setting position) and hand winding (the ability to add power to the mainspring of the watch by winding the crown manually).

Seiko SARB033 Movement Specs:

  • Caliber: Seiko 6R15
  • BPH: 21,600
  • Stated Accuracy: +25/-15 sec a day<
  • Power Reserve: 50 hours

>In recent releases, the 4R35 movement has displaced the 6R15 at this price point. At the same time, the 6R15 has been pushed towards more expensive Seiko models. Opinions on the accuracy of the 6R15 differ, but in my personal experience this particular movement is incredibly accurate. I have found it to run within +/- 3 seconds a day.

Overall

I think the highest praise I can give the Seiko SARB033 is that I still own it. I am something of a watch flipper. Very few watches have survived the churn of my collection, but this one has. Not only has it survived, I have never considered selling it.

If you are looking for an affordable everyday watch that is both sporty and dressy, look no farther than the Seiko SARB033 (currently on Amazon for about $475). While I don’t care for the bracelet, the watch looks fine on it. (There are also quite a few aftermarket bracelets available for this watch). And if you want to get adventurous with straps, the SARB033 looks great on all sort of different colors and styles of strap. This watch also has many of the frequently sought after specs such as sapphire crystal, solid end links, and a bracelet with milled clasp.

This brings us to the first of our two questions. Is this Seiko watch worth the increased price that it is now demanding? I think the answer is yes. Even at the increased price, I think you will be hard pressed to find a viable alternative.

The future of Seiko

Now to tackle the question of the brand. Is Seiko slowly pricing out the value conscious consumer? I honestly don’t know. We are seeing price increases in re-releases, such as the third generation monster and the recently announced Sumo. We are also seeing new segmenting strategies, such as the Seiko Prospex LX line. However, I am going to stay optimistic. Seiko announced a new 4R35 powered Seiko monster at Baselworld 2019. And there are rumors of a possible SKX successor just around the corner. I think these and other releases will set the tone for what we can expect from Seiko in the future. However, I am comfortable saying one thing. I don’t think we will get another watch like the Seiko SARB033 for the price – which is just one more thing this watch has going for it!

[1] Interestingly, the 4R35 is a cost saving version of the 6R15. The 4R35 retains hacking and handwinding, but it does not include a spron mainspring. It is also noteworthy, that the Sarb033 was first introduced in 2008 and predates the existence of the 4R35 movement which would not be introduced until 2010.


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