Watch Review : Seiko SPB081J1 – Great Blue Hole

Last year when I was a youngling and did not know how exhausting life could get I used a bonus I got after a few weeks of particularly intensive work to buy myself a nice new watch. At the time, it was the most expensive watch I’d ever bought but I liked the dial, heard good things about the piece and a dealer, and now friend of mine, gave me a good deal. So I went and bought a Seiko SPB083J1, the Seiko Great Blue Hole.

After having this watch for a little over a year and using it as my daily driver, I think now is the time to give an honest opinion on the piece and how it wears. But first let’s get some of the technical waffle on the watches specifications out of the way.

The technical part:

The Seiko SPB083J1 is an air divers watch, which takes its design clues from the 1968 Seiko High-Beat Diver.

The watch is larger compared to many of its competitors as it comes in with a 44 mm diameter and a height of 13.1 mm. It has a lug to lug of 49 mm and a lug size of 20 mm. The Blue Hole is powered by the in-house Seiko 6R15 movement, which has hacking seconds and hand winding and beats at 21600 beats per hours while having a power reserve of 50 hours.

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The head of the watch has gently sloped sides which have a mirror polished finish. In contrast to the sides, the tops of the lugs are radially brushed.

A 120 click coin edge bezel with an insert made of stainless steel which is polished as well as coated completes the watch face. At least it being stainless steel is the information I could find, and sadly it is not first hand from Seiko marketing materials. The crown is unsigned but has a nice grippy feel and you can get a good purchase on it.

The bracelet is a three link affair and the clasp is a milled folding clasp with double security pushers and a flip lock with “SEIKO” stamped on it. It also contains a divers extension. There are no half links included with the bracelet but there are 4 microadjusts. Sadly, the watch does not include a quick adjust or something like an easy link. The bracelet is attached to the lugs using Seiko’s fat bars, which might be something you want to consider, and can be removed via the drilled lug holes.

 

Visually, the strap has straight brushing all over the top and polished sides. Its center links also have a highly polished chamfered edge on both sides. While the center links are flat, the outer links have a curved top which gives the bracelet overall a nice visual interest. The clasp looks like it has the same exterior shell many other Seiko models use, even those significantly cheaper, but its insides are a well-made and milled. The only outlier is the dive extension which is made of stamped sheet metal and feels disconnected from the rest of the watch in terms of quality.

On the underside, the case back is screw-on with the Hokusai Big Wave deeply stamped on it.

This line of watches also comes with a Diashield coating which increases resistance to scuffs and scratches.

Saving the best for last, the main event on this watch is the dial. It has applied indices, deeply filled with Seiko’s LumiBright, while the rest of the dial markings are printed. A date window is featured at 3 o’clock surrounded with a printed border.

The handset consists of an arrowhead hour hand, a narrow and sharply tipped minute hand and a straight seconds hand with a lollypop counterbalance. All three hands have a silver border, and are well lumed, which, in case of the seconds hand is applied to the counterbalance. Furthermore, all of the hands have a black center, where they are mounted on the stem.

The dial has a dark blue center strip running from 12 to 6, which fades to black in both directions to the 3 and 9 o’clock position. It is reminiscent of the Great Blue Hole, visualizing the deep vertical drop down into darkness, according to the marketing material.

The watch also comes with a very well made rubber strap in dark blue, sporting brushed stainless steel hardware.

It is a certified diver with 200 m water resistance according to ISO 6425 which it proudly announces on the last line of the dial. Legibility is great, with an easy to read dial and anti-reflective coating on the underside of the sapphire crystal. The crystal itself is recessed in regards to the bezel which adds a little additional protection against shattering.

And in everyday use?

Well, after this big information dump, what does all of it mean when you have to live with the watch on a daily basis? Is it a good watch and is it a good watch to have in one’s collection?

The construction of the watch itself feels solid and well made, the watch has a nice weight to it and the bracelet with its solid end links inspires confidence. Balance on the wrist is good, and the watch doesn’t feel exceedingly top-heavy.

The overall use of polished and brushed surfaces and the design of the sides with their sharp edges and angular lugs, reminiscent of the iconic MM300, makes for a very attractive watch indeed.

A design element which I find unfortunate is a slight slant on the inside of the lugs towards the bracelet, finished in a mirror polish. The contrast to the brushed top of the lugs and straight brushing of the bracelet makes it seem like the fit of the end links is poorly done, when in reality this is not the case.

The dial is a double edged sword in my eyes. Like many a boy or girl, it looks best in favourably low lighting. With the lights turned down low the colour comes into its own and the lume is a force to be reckoned with. The gradual fade from the blue center to the black edges is a sight to be seen and if the conditions are just right the dial has an almost metallic sheen to it.

In harsh lighting conditions however, the story is somewhat different. The dial is slightly textured and in direct sunlight the blue looks flat while the black develops a weird greyish-white tint which is not very attractive. Additionally, the lume application on the bigger indices is a bit uneven, but this is only visible in very close examination.

On to a topic were the watch shines, the all-important fit. I have a slender wrist, 16,5 cm wrist size which is 6,5 inches for the imperially challenged. In terms of numbers, the watch has a 44 mm diameter and a 49 mm lug to lug distance, therefore it should be a really big thing to wear. I mean those aren’t rookie numbers; we are almost in Panerai territory. But in actuality it wears better than some of the 40 mm watches I have. I think this is mostly due to the case shape with the long slanted surfaces on the underside of the case. Also the decision to move the crown to 4 o’clock helps with how the watch feels on the wrist. It doesn’t dig into the back of the hand and all these factors combined make for an extremely comfortable fit overall.

Another big help for the fit on my lean wrist is, believe it or not, the clasp. Hear me out here, I know Seiko clasps don’t have the reputation of conveying a premium feel to the owner. But what this clasp does perfectly is contour to the wrist. This is largely owed to the dive extension which creates a comfortable arch around the underside of my wrist and allows for flex inward but is stiff towards the outside.

The deeply stamped Hokusai medal on the case back prevents the watch from sliding around, which is sometimes comfortable and at other times drives me mad when it is stuck in an uncomfortable position.

The bracelet feels good on the wrist. With its pin and collar system it is as difficult to resize as any pin and collar systems, but I could figure it out and I am confident so can you. Just don’t drop any of those tiny collars and you should be good.

Another double edged sword I want to talk about is the Diashield hard coating. On the one hand it is great in stopping the watch from displaying scratches which in turn is great because my watch still has that new watch look even after a year of continually wearing it. (Just don’t rub it against something as it will wear through the coating. I think this is what happened to my case back as I tend to put it down as is and the bracelet has scuffed up the high polish there). On the other hand, the coating gives the watch a somewhat “off” feeling when you are handling it, like it is perpetually covered in a thin film of rubber or oil. I can’t say how much of this is a real and how much is just in my imagination, but there is a little uncanny valley thing going on, where it just doesn’t feel like stainless steel should feel. Another side effect, if you do scratch the watch you can’t polish it out as the coating prevents it from being refinished.

The movement in this watch works great, both in performance and the manner in which it delivers its performance. I have a couple of other 6R15 movements, but this is by far the quietest. There is almost no winding noise and, in my experience, a 6R15 can have a lot of rotor wobble when it gets going under full steam.

The crown action is great, the winding and operation of the crown feel smooth and, again, inspire confidence. However, I have heard of problems with the crown action, so even at this higher tier product line, you are not immune to Seiko quality control issues. But since Seiko is a big company, I have also heard these issues were taken care of by the AD.

Speaking of QC, I have a little QC problem myself, as the hour hand has a small blemish right in the middle silver border. It was not enough for me to send the watch back but it somewhat dampened my enthusiasm on receiving the piece.

Other side effects of bad QC, though not experienced by myself, include misaligned bezels and chapter rings, or insufficiently deep stamping of “SEIKO” on the flip lock. If you are experiencing any of those issues, please talk to your watchmaker or authorized dealer.

Overall the number of QC issues I have heard about in this higher class of Seiko Prospex models “feels” lower and I’m also recently getting the feeling they are getting a bit less frequent with the newer SPB releases. But this is just a gut feeling. I don’t have any numbers to back this up, however.

So, where does this leave us?

tl,dr:

Is it a good watch? Yes, it is. It is well constructed and well made, conveys a solid feeling and performs like a workhorse. It is not necessarily exciting but inspires confidence. I find myself reaching for the Blue Hole more than any other piece in the collection. It just feels like a well-made thing in a world where it can sometimes seem like this is getting increasingly rare.

So if you are looking for a good every day piece with an in house movement and engineering from an established brand this line is something you might want to look at. However, the Blue Hole specifically might be not the pick of the bunch of the ’68 divers’ homages for you. While it does come with both bracelet and rubber strap, it also comes with a quite a hefty premium over its single-banded sisters, for what, in my eyes, amounts to be a dial which, depending on the light conditions, might not even look that great. Additionally, while it says on the Austrian Seiko web page the Blue Hole is a special edition, nothing would indicate this on other countries’ web presences, nor does there seem to be a reference to it on the box or a cap in availability or production.

I think the watch is geared towards people with an affinity for Seiko watches to begin with, even though those might find the Twilight Blue or Forrest Green special editions to be more appealing. For someone just looking for a good everyday watch, the basic black or blue bezeled version might be the better deal. But if you want a little bit of that blue dial diver magic going around at the moment and don’t mind paying a little bit extra, the Blue Hole might just be the thing for you.

Bonus facts:

This watch is part of a set of modern interpretations of the ‘68 divers by Seiko and comes in four different colour variations in the base collection, black on black, blue bezel on black dial (with a rubber strap), a blue and red bezeled, black dial PADI version (again a rubber strap) and the Blue Hole. There are also special and limited editions of the model, most notably the Twilight Blue, blue dial with orange accents, the Forrest Green, with a green dial, duh, and golden accents on the hands and a Zimbe version, also in green but more towards lime then forest green.

Prices range from 1000 € for rubber versions, over 1200 € for the bracelet, to 1300 € for the special editions like the Blue Hole, all taken from the Austrian Seiko website in September 2020. Zimbe versions obviously command more of a premium.

Lastly, there will be updated versions appearing on the market soon, with more classic hands similar to the ones used on the MM300 and an upgrade to the 6R35 movement with 70h power reserve, so you might want to hold out for those. These should also include a version with a true stainless steel bezel.