04 August 2017

Seiko Divers Kinetic 200

Why would I need another diver’s watch? Another timepiece to end up in a small drawer already filled up with, as any competent watch fan would recognize, substandard time measuring machines?
Well, in fact… I don’t. We could say, however, that there are worst ways of spending our hard-earned money. But I’m far for being a collector also.  It’s more of a healthy curiosity, I imagine.
Maybe it’s their mechanical complexity that is so attractive, so addictive. So many precision components working together in perfect balance and harmony with the simple task of dividing the days in hours, minutes and seconds.
The  lovely Seiko Divers Kinetic, with the reference number SKA371P2, is a very interesting introduction to the diving watches' , giving you you a "lot of bang for the buck" in a truly ISO certified diving watch.

However, I’d say, there’s a bit more to it. More than the simple amusement we have when looking at one of those fragile mechanisms that seem to have a life of their own, while the rotors and the escapements move and the little thing looks like a tiny heart, pulsating, tick after tick.
Can we imagine a more obvious mechanical metaphor to our living human condition?
So, why would I need another cheap divers watch? Well, I’ve never owned a Seiko and money was a bit short for a “Grand” one. And although I admire the elegance and technical mastery achieved by the dress watches, my heart always leant for the tool ones.
A simple design, with a flat Hardlex crystal and  a deep and easily readable dial. 120 clicks ,one-direction, turning bezel, the usual (over-sized and easily handled) screw-down crow. The lume is second-to-none, as per Seiko's standards and tradition. As a single complication: a date window at three o'clock. The push-button above the crown just tell us the the kinetic engine power-cell reserve. Honestly, do we really need anything more than that?

To me, basically, a wrist watch is an extension of our bodies. We live with it through the day. Heck, we even sleep with it sometimes. This means it has to sustain its daily amount of abuse without complaining. And while we are seeing the appearance, on the past decades, of several variations on the concept (field watches, pilot watches, alpinist watches, etc.), truth is, structurally speaking, dive watches are, still today, reference watches in terms of durability and toughness.
The reason for that, being, in my modest and deeply amateur opinion, due to three factors: reliability, simplicity and robustness.
The Seiko Kinetc Divers SKA371P2 is as solid as a divers watch can be. The case has an interesting design, mixing smooth and round contours with more harsh lines. But, hey, japanese design was never famous for being "classical". The screw-down case back has the already famous "tsunami" logo engraved on it. Can this be the quintessential diving watch? Well, it can well be. But this is a subjective matter. Objectively speaking, this is a wristwatch that you can use and abuse, without being worried to pay several hundreds of Euros just for minor repairs. For a price tag just under the 200 Euros you just trash it to the can, if needed be. Or pay a few dozen Euros for repairing it. Remember just one thing: forgetting for a moment their high level of reliability, Seikos (or Citizens and Casios, for that matter) are the Toyotas of the watch world. Everywhere in the globe you'll find competent technical assistance and spare parts.

Reliability, I’d say, in these particular timepieces, is normally hand in hand with simplicity. In fact most of the diving watches just tell the time. The more common complications (chronograph functions, date or GMT hands) are not true necessities to accomplish its basic function. If there’s a detail that distinguish them from the rest of the crowd it’s the rotating bezel, formerly used for dive time and decompression calculations, on a Era when diving computers were science-fiction material.
Avoiding movement complexity leads the design to simpler mechanisms. And with simplicity comes a lower probability of malfunctions. This is just basic common sense, valid for any human endeavor.
Regarding robustness, their design speaks for itself: compact stainless steel cases with screw-down crowns and case backs. With these two characteristics, a diving watch is as weatherproof and water-tight as a wrist-watch can be. It simply can’t be much tougher than that.
And amongst the many in the world, Seiko produces some of the best. Curiously, I first got acquainted with the brand already in my adult years. It was only during my seafaring years that I started noticing some of my fellow shipmates wearing Seiko watches (although not necessarily divers). The general preference for the brand was a mystery to me, until I noticed that during the seventies and the eighties it was common for the Portuguese merchant fleet (what was left of it) to sail on the Indian basin and on the Western Pacific. Macau, Hong Kong, Singapore and Yokohama, to name a few, were, at that time, some of the ports on the area where you could buy a few nice things still rare in Europe. Wrist watches were some of them, immediately followed (but not necessarily on this order) by electronics and photographic cameras.
The strap could be a little bit better? Well, it could. Instead of plastic, a more noble material could have been choosen, like rubber or silicone.But that would also put a price on durability. Fact is we can always look for faults if we look hard enought. Does it really matter, on my daily use? Not really.

So, after that introduction I started to look at the brand with a detailed attention. And, in fact, at sea, it was present nearly everywhere: in my shipmates’ wrists and also as ships clocks, master clocks and chronometers.
And, you can call me pretentious (or, perhaps, it’s just a bias), but after all these years it’s still to me a sign of a very good taste seeing a fellow seafarer (man or a gal) wearing a Seiko.
And that is, basically, for a reason. Although can I easily recognize that I’m leaded by preconception, we all agree that, to a vast extent, in the present bling society where we are living in, the suit makes the man. Naturally, the correctness of this assumption is another story.
And, somehow, I guess, the equivalent to an Armani suit in the watch world is a Swiss-made one.
But, truth be told, and I’m by no means an expert, there’s a reason why they include them in the chapter of luxury brands: simply because they can. They were always top of the line timepieces. It’s a fact. But I remember visiting a watch shop in Lisboa with my mother during the early eighties.
On those days the one catching my attention (as if I could afford it) was the Rolex Sea-Dweller.  At the time, that watch was priced just a tad above 1000 Euros, whereas a Citizen Aqualand (the first model, just fresh out of production) was costing around 270 Euros. So, on those days, a top of the line Swiss Rolex diving watch (the best divers of the brand, at the time) was costing four times as more as a Citizen Aqualand. Nowadays, you can buy the modern Aqualand model for 500 to 600 Euros. Tops.  Good luck trying to find a new SeaDweller for less than 8000.
Can you, as a consumer, find any logic in this? Neither can I.
But, hey, we all know that the vast majority of people wearing these watches couldn’t care less about time keeping. In fact, for most of them, time is dictated by others. Therefore, the much more important and needed I-Phone - also telling you the time - will suffice. These expensive watches are bought mostly as an exhibition of social status, power and financial wealth. Pretty much like buying a Harley-Davidson instead of a Honda. Or choosing Leica over Nikon. People who buy them couldn’t care less about the craftsmanship. And, seriously, how many people do you know, besides navigators, really needing a certified chronometer on their wrists?
Nowadays we have to recognize this behavior for what it is: a simple manifestation of vanity. But we have to understand that, like peacocks, we always love to show our most beautiful and colorful feathers. Did we really evolve all that much since those earlier days on the sunny planes in Africa?
Fact is this status-quo already reached the merchant fleet. And it became too common to see, presently, Officers on board wearing the flashy Swiss things: Rolexes, Breitlings, Omegas, JLC’s, you name it. Particularly on the cruise ship industry (where looks and pantomime are everything, or pretty much most of it) you get so tired of seeing one with a better (more expensive!) watch than the other that their use is becoming vulgar. There’s less and less place for imagination, creativity and individuality – if you like – because all of them are using the same 8000 Euros pieces of time-keeping, only in different shapes.  Curiously, in this particular case, there’s a great relationship between vanity and nationality (I promise I won’t go further, for the sake of good comradery). Generally, you can easily tell the nationality of the crew members for their flashy time pieces. And the opposite is also true. The most unpretentious ones are from particular nations. And these aren’t really countries famed for being low-income ones. Oddly, we are forced to recognize this particular behavior as a cultural thing.
As an interesting detail, the lugs are perforated from side to side. Although it breaks somehow the continuity on the elegant case, thruth is this is quite a useful feature for quicker strap changes.

So you can imagine my satisfaction when I see a fellow colleague wearing a discreet Seiko (or a Casio or a Citizen, or a Timex for that matter!). To me, he (or she) isn’t following the crowd. And instead of burning a horrendous amount of money on a vanity stunt, their choice is lead to a reliable and discreet piece of engineering. They couldn’t care less. It’s their way of sticking it to the man, if you like.
But don’t be fooled by the comparatively lower prices in relation to the Swiss ones. The heritage is there, since Seiko history is already a long one. Technically speaking they are leading the way, still today, in watchmaking. Their innovations and patents are vast. They even have their own in-house chronometer calibration bureau; a reference in the field and with more strict standards than the Swiss COSC one. Simply put we can say that a movement that passes Seiko chronometer standards will easily passes the COSC test. However the opposite is not always true.
So Seiko isn’t, by any means, just another brand. So what if they are able to produce both cheap and expensive movements under the same name. Their exquisite engineering is as much to praise as their middle-class, common man, products. Both made with the same respect for the consumer and under the highest professionalism. After all, it’s Japanese.