The “white dial dress watch” is something that we tip toe around at TBWS. It’s like the home project that keeps getting put on the back burner when a higher priority project or task comes along.
For me it’s been updating the tile on the kitchen backsplash in my home. Whenever we seem to be ready to pull the trigger, something always comes up and the kitchen update takes a back seat. The white dial dress watch falls into that same role in my watch collection. Every time that I would consider something more elegant, figuring out my diver / driver / flyer combo took priority.
I’m not alone. Many of my fellow enthusiasts have been working towards that same three-watch goal. Now that the end of that journey is here, where does that leave us? We need that new hunt. The “white dial dress watch” (or just simply dress watch) tends to be the next quest. Who knew it would lead many to Seiko*?
Both the Seiko SARB035 (white dial)*and SARB033 (black dial)* have flown under the radar for years. Those were part of the new legacy “Spirit” collection. The reference numbers are misleading because the Seiko SARB065 is a modern watch called the “Cocktail Time” and the SARB017 is the green “Alpinist”. Are you confused? I’m am too. Let’s try to make some sense of the SARB035.
The Seiko SARB035 was the watch with a 38mm case before that size was cool again. There is no real obnoxious wrist presence. It still feels large enough to be modern yet compact enough to stay classy. With a lug to lug of 44.5mm, it fits my 6.75” wrist comfortably. At 11.5mm tall the Seiko SARB035 was made to slide under the tightest shirt cuff.
There are two features of the case that help distinguish it from those found on Seiko dive watches. This first is the 6.3mm push-down crown. It’s signed with an “S” and won’t offer much water resistance. The second is the chamfered edges on the lugs. It’s something that you normally only see at a much higher price. On closer inspection, it is actually a step that runs along the top of the flank all the way to the end of the lugs.
I found it interesting how this feature plays with the light as the watch moves. This is a subtle, but important detail that differentiates this watch from an oyster case clone.
For me the dial is the hook on the SARB035. It’s listed as “off-white”, but in person it’s a faint cream. Seiko nailed it. It’s just enough of a hue to be interesting without going overboard to look artificially aged.
The hour markers have a touch of lume. The interesting thing is that the lume is positioned on the end of each hour marker on the side facing the center, not the outside. It’s such a small amount of lume compared to a dive watch that it’s almost inconsequential. Polished Seiko (and Grand Seiko) dauphine hands seems to catch and reflect the smallest amounts of light. Visibility in low light is not an issue.
The date window seems to be a debatable topic, especially with the SARB035. Some don’t care for it and get even more vocal about it being “boxed”. It is easy to imagine how clean this watch would be without a date window. The date wheel is actually white as opposed to the creamy (off-white) dial.
Both the SARB035 and SARB033 come with Seiko’s 6R15 movement. It’s the same movement that’s in my SPB087 “Marine Master 200”. My past experience with the movement was great. I already knew that it was rugged and reliable.
It hacks, it hand winds, and the power reserve is listed for 50 hours. My experience is that this is a conservative estimate. Seiko offers the 6R15 renamed as the NE15 for outside sales to other brands.
Performance aside, the 6R15 is a better looking movement than the NH35. Very few independents display the NH35 movement for good reason. I was surprised how handsome the 6R16 was through the display case back, especially the milling on the rotor. This is very important in entry-level mechanical watches. The impact of simply seeing the movement can’t be overstated to turn a newbie’s interest into a purchase. 60% of the time, it works every time.
The Seiko bracelet was just OK for me on the SARB035. It’s a handsome three link oyster style brushed steel bracelet. It tapers form 20mm at the lugs to 18mm at the clasp. Nothing abnormal here. If you’re not picky, it will be fine.
Here are my complaints though. Sizing the bracelet will drive you insane. The links are sized with a pin and collar system, not screws. There are only two micro adjustment spots on the claps. To add insult to injury, there are no half links.
With problems, there are solutions. In this case, I have two to offer. Put the SARB035 on a leather strap to dress it up or put it on another steel bracelet. My preference is the steel bracelet. I’d recommend getting a high-quality aftermarket bracelet from Strapcode. A Strapcode Super-O or Angus-J bracelet for the SARB035/SARB33 will set you back $85-110. Uncle Seiko will soon have an option as well. If you decide that this watch is going to be a keeper, just go for the upgrade.
Is it easy to tell time? Yes
Could I #watchfast it? No
The Seiko SARB035 combines modern and classic touches in the same package. I’m not sure that I could wear it every day due to the lack of aquatic security. That’s not a deal breaker. The SARB035/033 is going to be a second (or sixth) watch for most.
I was pleasantly surprised at how well this “white dial dress” watch paired down with jeans and a ruggedly-hip flannel. Any SARB is perfect for a night out. Forget the Datejust or Oyster Perpetual. You’re killing it for under $500 USD.*
Unfortunately, the SARB035 is a remnant from the Seiko of old. Larger and flasher watches from the Presage collection are quickly replacing the “Spirit” collection. Luckily for you, there are still plenty of these in the pipeline. They are JDM, so expect to source them from places like Singapore, Hong Kong, and of course, Japan. For bonus points and extra swagger, seek out the elusive SARB037 with a salmon colored dial.
• Stainless steel case
• 20mm 3-link steel bracelet
• Price: $500 USD (approx)
Greg is a long-time watch lover based in upstate New York. Greg is a supply chain professional by day and private watch consultant by night. Greg brings his own style to the TBWS website as a contributor by blending bits of humor into technical assessments. You can follow his cycling and snowboarding adventures on Instagram as he pursues the perfect 3-watch collection.