No, this post has nothing to do with the 2003 epic Tom Cruise movie that happens to be one of my all-time favorite flicks. Rather, a little bird told me that Seiko has very recently indicated that their popular and lovable titanium “Samurai” divers are well on their way to total extinction.
As much as I liked “The Last Samurai” film, I liked the timepieces from Seiko that happens to share the same nickname even better.
And by that, I mean the SBDA-series, Japan market Seiko dive watches affectionately known as the “Samurai”.
Just two or three months ago, there had been rumors on SCWF and perhaps other watch forums that these 7s25-powered, Prospex Scuba 200m divers were going to be phased out by Seiko. Several people cited that their favorite watch vendors based in Japan had given them the early heads up on this surprising piece of news.
Surprising? Yes. Shocking? Hardly. I’ve always known that the Titanium Samurai models would be discontinued someday but I didn’t think it would be that soon! I immediately checked Seiko Japan’s website and true enough, the SBDA models were no longer in their product page. This is a confirmation that the Ti Samurais have been officially discontinued.
A brief background on the Titanium Samurai divers
The SBDA-series divers first hit the limelight in the first quarter of 2004 from Higuchi’s sales website. Mr Katsuhisa Higuchi, the owner of the store released the first real-life photos of the black SBDA001 diver against a beautiful backdrop of an old, traditional Japanese castle where the feudal lords of ancient Japan would typically live.
Above: Early photos of the SBDA001 artfully pictured against a Samurai "castle" background. Pics courtesy of Higuchi Inc.
The new Prospex diver didn’t have a memorable nickname so Katsu-san sort of christened it as the “Samurai Diver”, owing to his photographs of Seiko’s latest 7s25 diver. The nickname was very apt as the hour and minute hands also somewhat resemble a Samurai’s sword (so I’ve been told).
Seiko diver watch enthusiasts embraced the “Samurai Diver” nickname warmly and it had stuck ever since. Several watch forum members wasted no time in placing their orders for the SBDA001 divers while others (like me) preferred to adopt the “wait-and-see” attitude.
Priced initially at slightly around USD300 each, the Ti Samurais (sometimes also referred to as “Sammies”) were not exactly your everyday, affordable Seiko diver like the Monster or the 7s26-002x models. Many patiently saved up to buy one of these radically designed, yet elegant Samurais.
Seiko brought in three models for the “Samurai Diver” lineup – the black SBDA001, dark blue SBDA003 and an orange dial, SBDA005 on straight vent rubber strap. The SBDA005 came with only a rubber strap and later Higuchi Inc ingeniously offered an optional titanium bracelet at an additional cost.
Above: SBDA001 (left), SBDA003 (middle) and SBDA005 (right)
Where did the SBDA-series Ti Samurais fit in Seiko’s catalogue? Well, my personal theory is that Seiko felt that they left a void in their entry-level automatic diver segment. The company had several divers like their evergreen mid-sized SBCM-series Perpetual Calendar divers, which were cheaper but these were quartz models. There was also the SBCB-series, V145 solar powered divers and the SCBZ005 Kinetic “Grey Ghost” model and none of them are mechanical.
A step above the Ti Samurai divers would have been Seiko’s excellent SCVF001/003s divers based on their equally excellent 4s15 high beat, hacking and hand-winding caliber, but these were also sadly pulled off the market by the early 2000s.
Oddly, Seiko still sells these non-mechanical Scuba 200m divers to this very day. (From left to right): SBCZ005 Kinetic, SBCB007 solar and SBCM023 Perpetual Calendar quartz. Pics from Watch Tanaka Japan.
From the mechanical diver catalogue that left Seiko only with their flagship 8L35 equipped diver’s watch – the fascinating-but-expensive SBDX001 Marine Master Professional 300m. Unfortunately, not everyone could easily afford a high end USD1,600-plus watch like the the SBDX001.
Therefore Seiko had virtually nothing to offer to their Japanese consumers for its entry level diver’s watch segment. Their SBDC-series, 6R15 Sumo divers also had another two years to pass before finally making their debut.
Seiko scores big time with the Ti Samurais!
By early 2005, a year after the SBDA divers came out, I noticed that more and more fence sitters over at SCWF decided to take the plunge and join the elite “Ti Samurai Club”.
The SBDA wasn’t exactly a cheap watch (at least for me then) so I had to choose only one from the three. And so in March 2005 I finally satisfied my personal curiosity and ordered the dark blue SBDA003 from Higuchi. I selected the blue model as I felt the “de facto” black SBDA001 diver looked rather bland, for a USD300-plus diver’s watch.
Several die hard collectors even bought all three colors to satiate their personal cravings for these highly attractive, wedge-shaped timepieces.
Above: No serious Seiko diver’s watch enthusiast’s collection would be complete without having the entire Ti Samurai diver lineup (and in this case, the Sumo diver range too!). Image courtesy of "Sodapop".
The Ti Samurai diver quickly gained a wide acceptance amongst Seiko enthusiasts despite its blocky, New Age design. Unlike the 6R15 Sumo diver, it wasn’t met with bad critiques even by the most cynical, vintage diver purist.
I still remember one SCWF member who actually purchased three blue SBDA003s. He got two for himself and his son liked borrowing his watch a lot that he eventually got his son one.
Above: Three SBDA003s on a wrist (left) and a father-and-son wrist shot (right), Borrowed images.
Seiko’s SBDA models appeared to be popular in the various watch forums and several months later, the company followed up a companion Samurai model in stainless steel form for non-Japan markets. Their stainless steel counterparts were quickly dubbed as the “S/S Samurais” and were priced cheaper than the Ti Samurais.
For some reason Seiko made a few minor changes to the stainless steel models while retaining the basic case shape of the original Ti models. Only two variants were sold initially – the white SNM009K and the black dialed SNM011K with limited edition Samurais (nicknamed the “Ninja Samurais”) following suit in late 2005.
The alterations made to the mainstream S/S Samurais were:
Lack of surrounding crown guards
Bezels oddly marked from 25 minutes to 55 minutes instead of the traditional 20-50 minutes
Chromed, applied indices on the dial
Guilloche patterned dials
Dissimilar hour, minute and second hand styling
Anodized black finish on the crown and bezel plus black date display for the SNM011K.
The use of Seiko’s 23-jewel, 7s35 caliber instead of the 7s25 caliber on the SBDA models.
Above: The SNM011K (left) and SNM009K (right). Note the lack of crown guards. Pics from Wayne’s Watch World.
Unlike their revered Ti Samurais, the SNM-series S/S Samurais were initially met with resistance by those who were already used to the original SBDA Samurais. The response was hardly surprising as many had expected the S/S Samurais to be exactly like their titanium cousins, except for the metal used.
Critics were quick to highlight the strange wimpy, thin hands which defied the conventional wisdom that a diver’s watch should have prominent, thick hands coated with plenty of luminous material. The slim chronograph-like, red-tipped second hand didn’t exactly help either.
Then there were the trivial, nitpicking issues of the absence of crown guards, the odd minute markings on the bezel and the poor contrast on the white dialed SNM009K. However, Seiko mitigated these "shortcomings" by pricing them about 50% less than the Japan market, Ti Samurais.
How were the stainless steel Samurais were able to be priced about USD180 on the average when they first came out? Well, the most glaring fact is that stainless steel is inherently cheaper than titanium. The less-obvious fact is that the SNM-models were assembled in China where production costs are much cheaper than a fully Japan-assembled model.
Because the S/S Samurais were priced a lot cheaper than their Titanium cousins, they soon gained their own cult status. Even those who owned an SBDA model (myself included) also bought the stainless steel versions to complement their Samurai collection. 😉
Top: Side-by-side comparison of the SNM011K and SBDA003 on my wrist.
Why were the Ti Samurais discontinued?
Good question, but only the insiders in Seiko can answer this perfectly. I do have some theories of my own though. Basically, like any other profit making corporation Seiko will replace their products from time to time as they see fit.
Models that continue to generate high sales perpetually (like their evergreen SKX007K diver for example) will continue to be produced. Those that fare dismally in the market would eventually be pulled off the line. Simple as that.
I believe that Seiko is not obligated to satisfy a small group of consumers who happen to love the Ti Samurai watches. They’re looking at big numbers and volume sales. In other words, if you’ve missed the boat to own one of them, well that’s just too bad for you.
Well anyway, here’s what I think:
The Ti Samurai models have run their 4-year production course and Seiko is not interested in making them any longer.
They are not selling as well as expected compared to their other models.
The SBDA models were competing with their higher ranged, 6R15 divers and Seiko wants to push the latter.
Seiko decided to replace the Ti Samurais with all-new models based on the same caliber.
Seiko intends to discontinue their aging 7s-caliber Prospex diver range altogether, leaving their 6R15 "Sumo diver" models as their entry level ones.
A totally new caliber will be introduced to replace the 7s-caliber, with a new range of divers lined up perhaps for next year.
Where can I still find a Ti Samurai diver?
Although Seiko has officially phased out the SBDA-series diver, it doesn’t mean that you can’t find any new ones. Since the discontinuation is very recent, chances are that there are several Ti Samurais in circulation out there, either in brick-and-mortar stores in Asia or from online vendors.
At the time of writing, SeiyaJapan has confirmed that he is unable to source any of the three models. Meanwhile, Higuchi Inc also reported being depleted of their black SBDA001 and orange SBDA005 models. However, Mr Higuchi informed me that he still has a few blue SBDA003s in his inventory.
Reto Castellazzi, who runs the PMWF Sales Corner currently lists the Ti Samurais as being out of stock but he may be able to re-order from his suppliers. Chronograph.com doesn’t have any listed on its website either. The Seiko5ers sales site advertises both the SBDA001 and SBDA003, probably in very limited quantities. Skywatches also has one SBDA003 listed here. You can also scout on eBay for sellers that may have one of the last of the Ti Samurais.
If all else fails, you may have to settle for a gently used, pre-owned SBDA diver. Look out for "WTS" (Want To Sell) advertisements in the various watch sales forum, like the Seiko & Citizen Trading Post for example.
Be warned though – Ti Samurai divers usually sell quickly on the used market. It’s not uncommon for sellers to quickly find buyers within the hour of posting their classified ad.
Will the Ti Samurais become a classic someday?
The SBDA Ti Samurai has enjoyed a good four years in the market. Unfortunately Seiko’s powers-that-be have decided that these well-liked divers will have to go, much to the disappointment of future buyers.
And now for the million-Yen question: Are these discontinued Samurais destined to become sought after classics twenty or thirty years from now? I think it’s possible. When the Seiko 6105-8000/8110 divers were once abundant and cheap in the early 1970s, they were considered just one of the many mainstream, workhorse Seiko dive watches.
Top: A vintage Seiko 6105-8110 (left) and its predecessor, a 6105-8000 (right). Image by Lee®
Back then, probably nobody envisioned that the 6105 divers would someday earn a spot in the Seiko Diver’s Hall of Fame decades later. These days, a NOS 6105-8110 diver can easily fetch USD700 on eBay. Now, how’s that for a watch that used to cost a fraction of that amount in its era?
If you’re still procrastinating to buy the Ti Samurai, don’t! There’s no telling whether you can still find a brand new one by the end of 2008 and at a reasonable price.
And just like Nike’s famous slogan, I would say this to you if you’re still sitting on the proverbial fence: "Just Do It"!
Above: A few very nice photos of the Ti Samurais that I’ve collected. No, the watches are not mine.
And so with this, let’s all bid adieu to the likable Seiko Ti Samurai divers (2004-2008). It’s been a good four years and we shall never forget these wonderful timepieces!