Source: Chun Cheong Watch & Pen Store, Sungei Wang Plaza
Price paid: MYR400 (approximately USD115)
Status: In production
Pop quiz folks – what resembles a Rolex Submariner watch, says “SEIKO” on the dial, has a screw-in crown and costs a fraction of the price of the watch that it pays homage to?
No prizes for guessing, it’s none other than the Seiko SKX031K – Seiko’s timeless tribute to the Rolex Submariner. The SKX031K has been around for over a decade (it debuted in 1996 with the introduction of the 7s26 automatic caliber) and sales of this model appears to be still going strong despite its age in the market.
It took me several months to consider one of this timeless classics from Seiko, albeit its design isn’t entirely original (after all, it is a homage to the Rolex Submariner) and I thought the SKX031K would fill the gap between my 200m, ISO-certified Seiko divers and my dressy Seiko 5 timepieces rather nicely.
The SKX031K and its Pepsi-bezeled SKX033K are Seiko’s only tribute models to the Rolex Submariner. There are several watch companies that also produce homage Submariner watches. Invicta, AMF, Sandoz and Orient are some of them that have these look-alike models.
Top: A genuine Rolex Submariner (left) and a homage Orient “Submariner” (right)
In case you didn’t know, a homage watch is not a replica or fake watch. Basically a homage watch borrows some design influences from the original watch without infringing on copyright and trademarks of the patent holder. To the untrained eye, both the Orient and the Rolex appear similar but there are subtle variations in detail between the two.
For the rest of this review I will enclose the term "Submariner" (in quotes) to denote a homage Submariner.
Seiko’s own “Submariner” in detail
Unlike the other homage watches, Seiko’s SKX031K tries to retain as much design originality as possible while giving the “flavor” of the Rolex Submariner. Probably in an effort to avoid copyright infringements, Seiko decided to use the hour and minute hands from their SKX007/SKX009 diver instead of the famous “”Mercedes-style” hour hand.
The watch company also altered the dial design of their “Submariners” in a way, perhaps to protect themselves from legal infringements.
This is to say that Seiko doesn’t have the Mercedes-styled hands in any of their products – in fact they have incorporated such hands in a few Seiko automatic models that don’t resemble the Rolex Submariner.
To my initial confusion, Seiko offers two versions of the Submariner. I found out that there was also the mid-sized version of this watch – the SKX023K which to the uninitiated, could easily be misconstrued as the full-sized SKX031K.
In fact, I almost purchased an SKX023K by mistake at one watch store. I didn’t have the photo of the SKX031K Sub in my PDA for reference and had to rely on my memory alone.
Fortunately, I recalled the SKX031K sharing the same hour and minute hands as the evergreen SKX007 diver and politely told the store owner that it wasn’t the watch I was looking for.
I found out that few authorized Seiko watch dealers in Malaysia sell both models simultaneously. Unless you do a proper side-by-side comparison in the same store, you may not notice the not-so-obvious differences between the two.
Before we continue with the review, let’s first scrutinize the characteristics of the SKX031K and its smaller cousin, the SKX023K.
Above: The SKX031K (left) and the junior sized SKX023K (right). Pics courtesy of Chronograph.com
As you can see from the photos above, both the SKX031K and SKX023K appear to share the same dial layout with the same styling of hour indexes, dial fonts, framed calendar window and bezel markings. The unofficial nickname for the SKX031K is of course, the “Submariner” while its junior cousin is simply referred to as the SKX023K. Going by popular culture, the Seiko “Submariner” is the full sized SKX031K.
From what I’ve noticed in the watch forums, more Seiko enthusiasts prefer the normal-sized SKX031K to the mid-sized SKX023K.
In a nutshell, here are the trivial differences between both watches:
Less than 40mm
Sharply pointed arrow tips
Shorter hands with rounded arrow tips
Chromed finish, unpainted
Located on a separate almost vertical, dial ring
Printed horizontally on the dial
Crown and crown guards
Also as a noteworthy mention is the vast dissimilarity between the SKX031K Submariner and the mid-sized SKX013K, which is actually a boys-sized ISO-certified 200m diver. Yeah, I used to get the model numbers mixed up too.
To illustrate the SKX013K diver, here are two photos of the watch. The SKX013K, being an ISO rated diver’s watch, retails for much more than the SKX031K “Submariner”. You could say that the SKX013K is a miniature version of the full-sized SKX007K diver.
Top: As you can see, the SKX013K is more like a junior SKX007 diver. This is a true diver’s watch, unlike the SKX031K.
At present there are only two color variations of the Seiko “Submariner” – the black SKX031K and the dark blue dialed SKX033K with the blue/red “Pepsi” bezel. These two models are Seiko’s continual best-sellers, particular in the Asian market, which explains why after a decade they are still produced by Seiko’s overseas factory in China.
Above: The SKX031K black “Sub” and its only other sibling, the SKX033K Pepsi “Sub”. Pics from Chronograph.com
You may be interested to know that Seiko used to have the “Made in Japan” versions of this watch, also known as the SKX031J. The “J” versions (along with the Pepsi SKX033J) appeared in the mid 1990s but for some reason was later discontinued, leaving only the “K” models in production today.
Top: A rarely seen SKX031J. Note the extra dial text “21 Jewels” and “Made in Japan” on the dial.
The Seiko SKX031K and 033K both come in a variety of strap options:
22mm folded linked Oyster-style bracelets
22mm folded linked Jubilee-style bracelet
22mm polyurethane rubber strap
Availability of Seiko “Submariners” on bracelets or rubber straps usually depend on the authorized Seiko dealer’s decision to bring whichever model that they feel is more saleable. From my personal observation, the SKX031K/033Ks on sale in Malaysia usually are fitted with the Oyster-style bracelets. I don’t recall having spotted any that came on the Z-22 rubber strap.
Look and feel
The SKX031K is a rather handsome watch albeit Seiko’s efforts not to make it look too close to the Rolex Submariner. It is exudes both classiness and sportiness and is equally at home at formal functions and for casual outings.
What else can I say? With the SKX031K, you get a taste of the classic Rolex Submariner for a fraction of the price.
The dial is easy to read and I like the framed index markers which matches the framed calendar window. The white painted second hand ensures good visibility even in the dimmest environment. The screw-in crown is sort of an unorthodox feature for a 100m-rated, sports watch.
Did I already mention that the SKX031K is a sports watch? Although some people refer to it as a “diver”, it’s actually a diver-like sports watch.
Top: Pics of my SKX031K “Submariner” with a lume dial shot on the right
The SKX031K’s form factor falls somewhere in-between a large diver such as the SKX007K (if you could call the 007K large, that is) and a diminutive Seiko 5 dress watch. It is definitely small when compared to the mammoth looking Titanium or Stainless Steel “Samurai” divers and the SBDC001 Sumo certainly dwarfs it.
The watch seats well on my wrist and doesn’t flop around. Its modest thickness of only 11mm makes it easy for you to wear it under long sleeved shirt cuffs.
Top: The framed, chromed index markers of the SKX031K makes it extra special (left). Another angle of my Seiko “Submariner” (right), showing the 22mm folded link bracelet.
The Seiko “Sub” dial and hands are coated with medium-grade LumiBrite. It’s about as bright as the SKX007K diver and falls short of the fierce luminosity of the SKX779KMonster. Visibility in the dark is quite acceptable – certainly better than the lume used on basic Seiko 5 models.
What I find a bit odd is that Seiko used "10 Bars" instead of the usual "100m" to denote the watch's water resistance. Japan Domestic Market (JDM) Seikos typically use Bars instead of meters for their non-diver models. The SKX031K is definitely not a JDM model (although this watch can be found in a few specialty watch stores in Japan) but an international market model. Seiko always uses meters in place of Bars for their non-JDM, non-diver models.
I'm out of educated guesses and can offer no explanation. Only Seiko Japan's marketing people may be able to shed some light on this strange practice.
The bezel is the bi-directional, 60-click type which means that you can only measure elapsed time to the nearest minute. The bezel rotates with positive clicks, not too loose or firm but unfortunately the markers aren’t aligned precisely. I believe this is a common complaint with the Seiko “Sub”.
It would have been better if Seiko had chosen a uni-directional, 120-graduation bezel instead with a luminous dot on the 12 o’clock triangle marker (in the SKX031K, the marker is unfortunately not lumed) – after all, most of their Seiko 5 Sports 200m models (which are not ISO-rated divers) are endowed with 120-click, single direction bezels.
Above: The solid link, 48A2-JG bracelet clasp (left) vs the 44G4-BE's clasp fitted to the SKX031K (right)
The factory bracelet is unfortunately the folded link (44G4-BE) type with a simple flip-lock safety catch on the clasp, presumably to cut costs. It's a shame that considering the Orient 2ER00001B comes with solid links. The mitigating factor is that the 44G4-BE bracelet's clasp has a good number of micro adjustment holes which makes tweaking to your wrist circumference a snap.
I think it is possible to retrofit the SKX031K's bracelet with Seiko's better (48A2-JG) 22mm solid link Oyster bracelet that comes standard with the Seiko SNA225P 7T62 quartz chrono. The end pieces from the 48A2-JG will not fit the SKX031K's lugs due to different profiling. You'll have to remove the 48A2-JG's end piece links and use back the SKX031K's original end pieces to circumvent this.
However, the downside of the 48A2-JG's bracelet is that it only has two micro adjustment holes, which makes perfect sizing rather tricky.
Above: The SKX031K’s screw-in crown up close (left) compared to the Orient 2ER00001B's crown (right)
The knurled crown is flanked by a pair of softly beveled crown guards. The guards are not as sharp like the original Rolex Submariner or even the Orient 2ER00001B “Submariner”. For a 100m rated non-diver’s watch, Seiko thoughtfully included a screw-in, locking crown. I'd say that Orient's "Submariner" has a better looking crown and guards - closer to the Rolex Submariner's.
I like the SKX031K's crown – it’s easy to grip and not that fiddly to screw it back in, using the popular “reverse-threading” trick.
The caseback is a rather plain affair, with a highly polished surface with the traditional Seiko “wave” symbol in the center. When I bought the watch, the Seiko protective blue sticker was was glued onto watch and I had a tough time scraping it off. The end result was in lots of minor scratches in the process.
Fortunately since the caseback is a polished, mirror finish, I managed to remove the marks using Autosol, a well-known German-made metal polishing product. It should however be noted that Autosol is a super abrasive compound and should never used on brushed finish surfaces of a watch, e.g. the clasp of a bracelet, which is usually brushed.
Above: The Autosol metal polish works wonders on scratches on smooth, mirror finishes. Do NOT use this on brushed finishes!
It's worth mentioning that of all the stainless steel backed watches in my collection, the SKX031K sometimes gives me a rash if I wear it for too long without taking it off. I remember reading another SCWF member echoing my sentiments - he experienced the same problem too.
Seiko's watches are supposed to be made of 316L Grade stainless steel but I wonder if Seiko used an inferior quality stainless steel with unusually high nickel or chromium content for the 7s26-0040 models. Some people are allergic to nickel or chrome on their skin but I'm not sure which element is responsible for the rash on my wrist.
SKX031K Custom Mods
There are not many owners of this watch who mod the SKX031K, compared to 6309-704x and 7s26-0020 divers. I guess like me, most prefer to leave the watch as it is. However, for your personal enjoyment here are some photos of modded SKX031Ks that I’ve collected from the Internet.
Most of the modifications below are subtle, involving a simple swap of watch hands but a few adventurous owners went for all-out dial replacements. Many off-the-shelf parts from the Seiko 7s-caliber family (such as certain Seiko 5 models) can be used in place of the original components.
(All photos herein belong to their respective copyright owners)
As usual with my watch reviews, here are the measurements of the SKX031K:
Diameter: 40 mm (w/o crown), 43 mm (w/crown)
Bezel diameter: 39.5 mm
Lug-to-lug: 45 mm
Thickness: 11 mm
Lug width: 22 mm
Bracelet width: 22 mm, tapering to 18mm at clasp
Top: Wrist shots of my SKX031K, with the Saturday indicated in a nice bright blue font
Caliber: 7s26A, 21 jewels (7s26B from Oct 2006 onwards)
Caseback type: 7s26-0040
Movement: Automatic, non-hacking
Beat rate: 21,600 bph (6 beats/sec)
Loss/gain: Less than 40 sec/day
Power reserve: About 42 hours
Calendar: Day/date, dual language (Eng/Roman)
Crown: Screw-in type
Construction: Stainless steel
Crystal: Hardlex glass, flat profile
Bezel: Bi-directional, 60-click graduations
W.R. rating: 10 Bars (100m)
Luminous material: LumiBrite™
Movement Singapore or Malaysia, cased in China
Compliments from non-WIS folk
I still find it strange that I get the odd compliment on this humble Rolex Sub-lookalike from my acquaintances, although I'd be happier to wear a "better" watch like my SBDC001 Sumo for example.
Sometime in late 2004, I attended an office luncheon with some of my friends. I was wearing the SKX031K at the time. Ironically, the compliment came from a woman, who was a colleague of my friend. I noticed that she was staring at my SKX031K for about 30 seconds until she finally spoke up.
“What’s that watch that you’re wearing? It looks very nice! Could I see it a bit closer?”
It took me several seconds to regain my composure and sheepishly showed her the Seiko “Submariner”. Perhaps she had mistaken it for that world famous Swiss marque that starts with an “R” and ends with an “x”.
“It’s not what you think it is – it’s actually a cheap Seiko automatic watch, really!”, I stammered in embarrassment.
She looked at it for a little while and said, “Well, that IS a very nice looking watch that you’re wearing. I really thought it was a Rolex!”
Bingo! Just what I had anticipated what she was thinking.
I jested, “Are you thinking of buying one like this for your boyfriend or for yourself? I bet it’ll look good on your wrist too!” Now it was her turn to feel embarrassed so she said nothing more.
Another real life experience was very recently, when I happened to be wearing my SKX031K "Submariner". A new acquaintance of mine, who is an entertainment industry lawyer by profession regularly goes to the same local Starbucks joint that I do. We'd be there four times a week at night, bringing our laptops along to do our work sitting at separate tables.
When he had finished his work, he would usually come over to my table and have a chat with me. My friend knows that I'm into watches and he had seen me wear a different watch each time. However, he's not much of a "watch person" and didn't seem to be the least interested in my watches.
It struck me as odd when he saw the Seiko "Submariner" that he appeared to be more interested in what I was wearing. I took it off my wrist and showed it to him - "This is what we call the Seiko Submariner". He expressed surprise, saying that he initially thought it was a Rolex Submariner.
I took the opportunity to show him the hordes of SKX031K photos I had in my laptop and told him that it was a homage watch. He asked me how much it cost and his eyes widened slightly in amazement when I told him how much I paid for it. Obviously it was much less than he had expected.
I find this watch interesting as it serves well as a daily beater or the occasional wristwear. Although I don’t wear the SKX031K as often as I do nowadays but it’s a keeper for me. Would I buy this watch again? Yes, unreservedly.
When I think about it, you don't actually need a real Rolex Submariner to draw attention towards you when a humble USD115 Seiko also does the same job - and it's not even a fake watch!
The fact that the SKX031K is still in production after a decade since its first introduction attests to the popularity and continual demand for this homage Rolex Submariner, especially in Southeast Asian markets. If there's something I noticed about the Seiko company, if they've struck gold with a particular model they'll continue to produce it as long as there is sufficient, on-going demand.
I guess the SKX031K will go down in history as one of the "evergreen" Seiko m odels ever produced and I'm glad I own one.
Above: This is probably the best looking and flattering photo of a SKX031K I've seen so far. (Borrowed picture)
What I liked:
A definitely timeless and classic looking sports watch from Seiko
Nicely designed Submariner homage watch without looking too "Rolex-like"
High-contrast, easy-to-read white painted second hand
Screw-in crown, easier to screw in compared to the SKX007 diver
Smooth action bezel with distinctive clicks
Looks good in various strap options
Suitable to be worn for any occasion, perfect mid-size form factor
What I didn’t care for:
Seiko could have used a solid linked bracelet instead of the folded link type
Bi-directional bezel with only 60 click graduations
Bezel 12 o’clock marker has no lume
Caseback steel sometimes gives me rashes on my wrist
Watch dimensions could have been slightly larger
Crown design and crown guards could have been better designed
Bi-directional bezel with no lumed 12 o'lock marker