Some months back, one of my blog readers from the Netherlands wrote to me asking me about the authenticity of a Seiko Sportura which he had purchased via the Internet. Mark (not his real name), submitted me some photos of the watch and I took a good look at them.
According to Mark, he managed to buy the watch for just 80 Euros (approx USD113) from a local Dutch online marketplace. That’s not a bad price for a watch in a good condition, considering that Sporturas often retail for at least 400 Euros (approx USD569) when they were brand new.
Mark’s watch was a pre-owned Sportura model SNG021P, which was a Kinetic Auto Relay with the 5J32 caliber. The SNG021P was one of the various offerings in the original 2001-2002 Sportura lineup. He already owns the black dialed version of the same watch – the SNG023P but had some doubts whether the white SNG021P was genuine or otherwise.
Here’s a photo of a Sportura SNG021P. Image courtesy of Chronograph.com
A sample of a Sportura?
After looking at the photos that he sent me (see below), everything about the watch appeared to be perfectly in order. Save for one small detail that bothered Mark – the stamped-on text which said “SAMPLE” on the caseback.
What’s a sample Seiko watch, you might ask? To my best knowledge, the Seiko watch company sometimes sends product samples of their products to official Seiko distributors around the world. Although I haven’t seen a sample Seiko watch personally, samples are meant to be non-functional watches of models that serve as a preview of the actual watches.
As far as I know, sample Seiko watches are fitted without a movement (that’s why they are non-functional), most probably to prevent the watch from being sold to the public or being kept or given away by Seiko employees. With the exception of the movement, everything else with a sample watch is similar to the real one, right down to the bracelet. The only indication of a sample watch is the “SAMPLE” text on the caseback (there are no other markings on the dial).
Some sample Seikos may have trickled down to selected watch stores to give the store owners a preview of the models they would be selling.
Top: Photos of the sample SNG021P, as submitted by Mark.
You can see the word “SAMPLE” stamped on the Sportura’s caseback, just below the 6-digit serial number. Incidentally the production date translates to July 2002,
Some sample watches have stickers indicating that they’re samples on the caseback instead of the “SAMPLE” text stamped on. Either way, they are movement-less watches.
A quick check with some of my favorite watch stores revealed nothing about sample watches. None of the store owners, some who had been dealing in Seiko products for the past three decades remembered being showed product samples by their respective sales agents. While this is not a definitive conclusion, it is quite possible that in some other parts of the world, watch dealers may receive samples of Seiko watches for display purposes in their stores.
That said, I don’t think Seiko supplies samples of every watch model they’ve manufactured. It may not be economically feasible for the company to do so due to the simple fact that Seiko makes countless models and variations. Due to the fact that documented cases of sample timepieces are very hard to come by, I may be wrong in my assumption.
How did the sample watch contain a movement?
Sample watches from Seiko are not supposed to have a movement in them. If so, how did Mark end up with a fully functional Sportura?
After pondering on this issue, I came up with two possible scenarios:
- It was originally a sample watch. The Sportura SNG021P started life as a product sample, but somewhere along the line someone found a donor 5J32 movement and fitted it into the watch. Hey presto! You’ve got a fully working sample Sportura Kinetic Auto Relay!
- A case of switched casebacks. The watch Mark purchased was a production SNG021P, but was missing a caseback. Somebody managed to find a correct caseback for this watch but it happened to be one from a sample model.
Since I’ve mentioned that only the caseback differentiates production Seikos from samples, either possibility could be true. If the caseback was exchanged, then the actual production date and the serial numbers of the original watch would be unknown.
Above: The 5J32A movement in Mark’s watch (left) and its Malaysia-sourced caseback (right)
The 5J32A Kinetic Auto Relay movement looks pretty legit to me. The undecorated oscillating rotor appears to be genuine and typical of Seiko Kinetics, although I haven’t actually seen the inside of a 5J32 caliber Seiko. If anyone else has seen how a 5J32 Kinetic Auto Relay movement looks like and can spot anything odd about Mark’s watch movement, kindly let me know! 🙂
Are sample Seikos worth buying?
In my opinion, yes they are worth purchasing for their parts. In fact, it’s even cheaper than buying all the parts individually. That is, if they are still available considering that many sample watches are extremely rare and that they are mostly long discontinued models.
Sample watches can sometimes be sourced on eBay. Although they don’t contain any movement, sample watches can be useful in refurbishing your old battered watch, provided that your watch movement is working properly. The problem is that is that finding a sample watch matching yours would be sheer luck.
Another use is if you have a spare movement lying somewhere and all you need is the an “empty” watch to bring it back to life. 🙂
Here a few examples of sample Seiko watches sold on eBay.
Above: Photos of a few sample Seikos I found on eBay. A gold toned 7009-3169 automatic (top row), a vintage digital A158-5069 (bottom left) and a ladies’ quartz 4N00-0220 (bottom right). Photos belong to their respective copyright owners.
Here’s a little Seiko trivia!
You may be wondering why the Seiko digital watch pictured above appears to be functioning but it’s really not. The time on the LCD display is actually simulated. Seiko always uses the exact time 10:08:42 AM for all its watches displayed in their catalogs and print ads, regardless whether the watch is analog or digital (or analog-digital).
For watches in catalogs with a day/date display, Seiko has been known to use the following calendars over the decades:
- Wednesday 2nd
- Monday 6th
- Sunday 5th
I have no real idea why the these day/date combinations were chosen. Most probably they were picked by Seikos advertising department. The use of Sunday 5th was common in Seiko’s old 1970s catalogs, especially for its 6138/6139 automatic chronographs and its divers’ watches. For some reason, Sunday 5th is still used for its modern divers.
A big round of thanks goes to “Mark” from the Netherlands who was kind enough to give me permission to use his watch photos for this post. 🙂