This year is set to be a big one for Seiko, as the brand celebrates their 140th anniversary. They’ve got a ton of new watches in the works, and as you’d expect they’re paying particular attention to historical lines and calling attention to the anniversary with some thoughtful limited editions. One of the most pleasant developments in this initial batch of Seiko announcements is a renewed and serious focus on the Alpinist, taking the full history of the product line into account in a way that we haven’t really seen before. If your only experience with the Alpinist is the modern incarnation of the watch with colorful dial options and a prominent compass bezel, this year’s releases might surprise you.
Seiko’s approach with the Alpinist this year seems to be borrowed from the release strategy of some of their key dive watches in recent years. At one end of the pricing spectrum, they’re releasing a limited edition “Re-creation” of the original version of the Alpinist that is clearly geared toward the collector’s market, and at the other end are more consumer friendly “Re-interpretations” that are quite a bit more affordable and are essentially modernized versions of historic references. (Think of the SLA037 and SPB149 releases last year and you’ll get an idea of what Seiko is doing). The re-creation, reference SJE085, is a remarkably faithful rendition of the original watch from 1959, down to the bund style strap and glossy black dial, while the three modern versions of the Alpinist that Seiko previewed maintain the general aesthetic of the original mountaineering watch but with modern touches that anyone familiar with contemporary Seiko will recognize.
We’ll start with the re-creation. The watch it’s based on is the original “Seiko Laurel Alpinist” introduced in 1959, now considered the brand’s first sports watch. Among this watch’s innovative features were a screwed case back (to keep dust, sand, and the like away from the movement), lumed hour markers and hands, and the instantly recognizable thick, cuff-like strap that was meant to protect the case from perspiration. Yes, these are all relatively common features on contemporary sports watches (well, with the exception of the not currently in vogue bund strap), but in the late 50s, for Seiko, this represented serious innovation, and was the beginning of a long run of sports watches that nobody could have predicted at the time, and is arguably unmatched by any other brand (including the one with the crown logo).
The SJE085 is powered by Seiko’s premium 6L35 movement, and is conservatively sized at 36.6mm in diameter. The slim Seiko movement keeps the case relatively thin at 11.1mm tall, which is slightly thicker than the original. That small bit of extra heft can at least partially be attributed to the inclusion of a date complication on the new watch, something not present on the original Alpinist. This has the potential to be a talking point among enthusiasts who prefer a cleaner, date-free dial, but I think Seiko has done a nice job of executing the date window here, particularly given that they’ve placed it at 4:30. Anywhere else and the triangular hour markers would need to be somehow split up or removed, and that feels like a higher crime than a relatively discrete, color matched date window. The retail price on the SJE085 is $ 2,900, and it’s limited to 1,959 examples.
If the old-school Alpinist look is appealing to you, but spending nearly $ 3,000 on a meticulously reproduced near-replica of the original watch isn’t exactly appealing, Seiko has you covered with three more affordable Alpinists that take the same basic style and throw it into a modern and affordable package. The Alpinist re-interpretations are similar to the re-creation at a glance, but filtered through a more contemporary design language. For starters, these are just slightly upsized at 38mm wide and 12.9mm thick. The case appears to have more modern proportions and is polished all around.
The most notable difference between the re-creation and re-interpretation might be the dial design. While the triangular hour markers and interior minute track remains, the finishing on the re-creations has a subtle sunburst texture and Prospex branding. We also get a date at 3:00 (unfortunately taking the place of a triangular marker) and three color options: silver, gray, and a dark green that has become closely associated with the Alpinist lineup in recent years. The movement is Seiko’s 6R35, and all three variants here are open additions and priced competitively at $ 750 for the SPB241 and SPB243 (on a bracelet) and $ 725 for the SPB245 (on a strap).
These releases represent a full embrace of the Alpinist’s history after a series of releases of the watch in a more modern guise. They really get to the core of what the Alpinist is all about: a simple and somewhat conservative mid-century sports watch. The lack of a compass and cathedral hands here help break down the watch to its essence, and reveal those flourishes might have been unnecessary to the mission of the watch. The lower priced versions of the Alpinist, complete with thee robust qualities you expect from a modern Prospex watch, are likely to be enticing to anyone seeking a solid go anywhere, do anything timepiece that isn’t a diver and stays relatively true to midcentury style cues.
All of the new Alpinists will be available in August. More at Seiko.