It seems that of late Seiko has spent considerable resources in designing and marketing fresh new designs in a concerted effort to gain a wider market share – especially amongst the younger consumers.
Since early 2008, I noticed a strange influx of new models especially in their best selling Seiko 5 and Seiko 5 Sports range (development of their Seiko 5 Superior models appeared to be on a hiatus for now). New models, incorporating totally fresh designs and ones that seem to be rehashed from several older designs both flooded the display racks of watch stores particularly in Southeast Asia.
I’m one of those old-school watch Seiko collectors who are quite resistant to the new offerings from the giant Japanese watch company. So many new models had been added to the Seiko 5 Sports lineup, like the SNZF-series “Monster Lites" for example – didn’t particularly appeal to me so I passed on it.
Instead, I decided to save the money to buy one of the last pieces of the discontinued SBDA005 Ti Samurai, which in my humble opinion gives much more bang for the buck despite costing more than the Monster Lite models, which unfortunately none of them are true ISO certified divers.
The debut of the new 4R16 caliber
The year 2008 saw the introduction of Seiko’s latest automatic caliber – the 4R16.
I first saw the first models based on the 4R16 at one of my usual local watch haunts in Kuala Lumpur but wasn’t particularly impressed with the inaugural models, namely the SRP013K and SRP015K. So when Richie the sales guy told me that these Seikos sported a totally new caliber, I naturally asked to have a look at them.
While I thought the 4R16 should be an interesting caliber, I wasn’t inclined to buy one. It’s just that none of the new 4R16 designs tickled my emotional taste buds. Neither the tan dialed SRP013K nor the black dialed SPR015K looked inspiring enough for me to buy one. I thought that Seiko might as well had fitted their cheaper 7s36 movement instead and nobody would really notice the difference. 😉
I thanked Richie and told him that I was sure that Seiko would introduce models based on the 4R caliber sooner or later. I knew Seiko wouldn’t bother to design a totally new caliber just for a few debut models. I was sure it would be a matter of time before Seiko introduces 4R-caliber models that I would eventually purchase, even at least one. 🙂
These were the two 4R16s which I first saw last year – the SRP013K and SRP015K. Pics courtesy of Chronograph.com
The new 4R16 caliber presents an alternative to the ageing 7s36 caliber that has been around since 1996. Without the hand-winding and hacking capabilities of its more upscale 6R15 brother (found in the Sumo divers, the Spirit, Alpinist and Premier sub-ranges), the 4R16 appears to be strategically positioned between the 6R15 and the 7s36.
While the 4R16 is considered a low end automatic caliber, it is by no means an entry level movement. That title truly belongs to the classic, long-lived and robust 7s26 caliber that lives and breathes in the basic Seiko 5 models and the SKX divers such as the SKX007K and the Monsters which are still produced to this very day.
Above: A borrowed photo of an SRP015K showing its see-through caseback and the 4R16’s decorated oscillating rotor.
Now, this question had been intriguing some very inquisitive Seiko watch fans. Why was the 4R16 fitted with 22 jewels – a particularly strange jewel count? Its higher specification 4R15 comes with 23 jewels and so does the cheaper 7s36 caliber. Therefore the 4R16 is one jewel more than the basic 7s26 and one jewel short of the 7s36.
It’s my personal belief that the 22-jewel count is part and parcel of Seiko’s marketing strategy. They wanted it to differentiate from their 7s-calibers, which had either 21 or 23 jewels depending on the movement. Therefore they settled on 22 jewels to make it unique amongst its existing mechanical calibers.
The 4R15 caliber soon followed suit
Sometime in early January 2009, I dropped by my watchmaker’s store to send in my vintage 6138-3009 automatic chronograph to have its crystal replaced. And oh, also to check out what’s new on his Seiko display shelf. 😉
My watchmaker was on his day off so I spoke to Danny, one of the sales assistants whom I had known for years. He asked if I had seen “the new Seiko automatics with the new movement". Thinking that he was referring to the SRP013K/015K that I didn’t like before, I told him that I had seen them before and wasn’t interested.
“No, these aren’t the 4R16 models my friend. New 4R15, without day display", he told me with a grin. I thought that was pretty quick of Seiko to unravel a day-less calendar movement when the earlier 4R16 hardly had made inroads.
To my surprise, Danny pulled out three new watches which I had never seen before, saying that he planned to put them on display later in the evening. So I was probably his first customer to have seen these watches in person!
Top: Preliminary photos of the new 4R15 automatics, taken with my cellphone camera. From left to right: SRP027K, SRP029K and SRP025K.
“Wow!" I blurted out. "Now these I haven’t seen before!" Danny smiled and went on to explain that his store had taken delivery of the new SRP automatics just the day before. He had yet to make room in his overcrowded Seiko glass display shelf for these beauties.
With the new 4R15 models also came the new MRSP price structures. All the three models had list price tags of slightly over RM1,100 (approximately USD305), which put them slightly beyond the “affordable Seiko" price point that many people had been accustomed to.
Of course, I’m not comparing the SRP-series to the much more costly Velatura, Arctura, Sportura and Premier models which are considered upmarket sub-ranges from Seiko. The new SRP-series, 4R15 watches were priced above non-diver Seiko 5 Sports watches, more like the defunct Seiko Criteria 7s36 dress watches back in 2004.
I spent an hour examining the new inaugural 4R15 automatics and taking some less-than-perfect photos with my 4-year old Sony Ericsson K750i cellphone (thank goodness for its auto focus and macro capability!). Please excuse the poor white balance as cellphone cameras don’t really take outstanding pictures like proper digital cameras. The tricky lighting in the store certainly didn’t help either. 🙁
Above: Close up pics of the SPR027K and SPR025K. Note the black resin crown guards.
Personal notes on the 4R15 automatics
Truthfully, I liked these new SPR02xP models. 🙂 Danny and I agreed that they reminded us of certain expensive Swiss and German watches (the famous German brand Sinn crossed our minds) and they simply looked awesome on the wrist.
The only design quirk that bothered me a bit was the use of bolted-on, polycarbonate resin for the watch crown guards. Was this really necessary? Seiko could have molded the stainless steel case to incorporate nicely sloping crown guards as they have done in the past with numerous models.
The black plastic resin somewhat cheapens the look of this otherwise highly attractive Seiko. It reminded me of the orange SKZ227K Seiko 5 Sports that I own, which had resin crown and map roller guards. Was this part of Seiko’s new design philosophy to attract the younger buyers or to simply cut costs? Your guess is as good as mine! 🙂
Wayne’s Watch World was probably the first amongst online SE Asian retailers to offer the 4R15 automatics.
I really liked the clean-look, spartan dial with the Arabic numerals at the 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions. Reading the time is very easy and I can find no faults with the dial layout.
The hands have that aviation, Flieger-like feel with the second hand painted black. Against the equally black dial, the second hand appears to disappear against the background, which I found quite interesting for a change.
The tip of the second hand is color coded to match the minute hand and quarter hour marker accents. In the case of the “blue" SRP025K, its second hand has a blue tipped end.
Alas, for a tool-like sporty watch like this, you’re certainly forgiven if you thought the Arabic numerals and inner hour markers are lumed. They’re just painted white. Only the outer hour markers are lumed. Fortunately, Seiko wisely chose the high grade LumiBrite that they use in their Monsters, Knights and Sumo divers. It doesn’t take powerful ambient lighting to charge the lume – that’s a relief. 🙂
The watch has a nice heft to it and its 22mm stainless steel bracelet is of high quality with a triple-lock buckle with twin push buttons. No complaints in this department.
The crystal is made of standard Seiko Hardlex mineral glass with a very flat profile. It’s mounted on a rather thick bezel and somewhat draws parallelisms with the well known Citizen Nighthawk.
The 4R15A mechanicals have wide display backs to show off its decorated “Tokyo-stripes" rotor and they look exactly like the 4R16A movement as portrayed in the picture earlier. Incidentally, the “6" in 4R16 means “day/date" while “5" denotes date-only.
While I don’t expect the new 4R15 to rival its upscale brother – the 6R15 caliber, the least Seiko could have done was to incorporate a hacking mechanism (sadly it doesn’t). This would give the new caliber an edge over the non-hacking (and non-winding) 7s-series movements.
Looks like the most we could do is to admire the 4R’s decorated oscillating rotor through the display back. 🙂
Are the new 4R15 models worth buying?
In my opinion, yes! 🙂
This is one of the kind of watches that you have to really see in the flesh to appreciate them. Mere photos won’t do the SRP02xP models much justice. In fact, if I hadn’t seen these watches personally, I wouldn’t even think of buying it from just looking at photos.
If you’ve often lusted for one of the current model 6R15 Alpinists, Premiers or Spirits but don’t want to spend a lot for these higher end watches, have a second look at the new SPR02xP models.
Did I buy one? Absolutely. I got an SRP025K recently but only on my third visit to my watchmaker’s store! 😉 After giving careful consideration, I thought I’d try a Seiko 4R15 caliber for a change.
“Ultraman Pat", or Patrick – one of SCWF’s well known forum members and a good friend of mine, was perhaps the first member to own the new 4R15 models. He liked them a lot and ended up buying both the stainless-steel SRP025K and the black PVD-coated SRP029K. Way to go, Patrick! 😉
A proper, in-depth review of my Seiko SPR025K will be done when I have the time. 🙂
Example wrist shots of the 4R15 automatics. Pics courtesy of “Ultraman Pat". Looks great for formal and informal wear! 🙂
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