Seiko is amongst the few watch manufacturers that will always exceed your expectations when it comes to churning out iconic timepieces. As befitting its name, the Alpinist collection from Seiko offers a plethora of robustly constructed sports watches that were originally crafted to serve as a reliable reference for Japanese mountain climbers and currently boast the same spirit as the people it was made for.
Kintaro Hattori, Seiko’s founder, had the vision to be one step ahead of the rest by creating accessible watches with great quality at prolific rates and launched the very first Alpinist in 1959, which turned out to be Seiko’s first real attempt at a sports watch. Little did he know that the robust timepiece would soon become one of the greatest legends among the Seika lovers’ community.
Since the Seiko Alpinist line was established with mountain climbing in mind, the construction is robust and bears a no-nonsense appeal of a tool watch. And if you’re thinking that since it was meant for mountain men in the 1960s it would look like a tank, you are absolutely wrong my friend, as Seiko has released a series of reinterpretations of the Alpinist with distinctive 21st century designs that add elegance and class, as well as historical appeal.
History & Origin Of The Seiko Alpinist: The First Alpinist
The story of the Seiko Alpinist starts way back in 1959 with the Laurel Alpinist; a watch that was built for Japanese mountaineers known as Yama-Otoko (which means mountain men). The Laurel Alpinist featured highly legible luminous hands, a waterproof screw-down case back with a display heavily protected by a domed acrylic glass that made it tough enough to withstand dust and specks of dirt.
Although it had a non-sporty look, it was powered by the robust Seikosha manual movement with Diashock shock protection and 17 jewels, that boasted great accuracy and shock resistance for its time. The launch of the Laurel Alpinist marked the entry of Seiko into the sports watch arena and blazed the trail for many iconic watches (including timing devices for sports, stopwatches, and diver’s watches) to follow.
Still desiring to meet the needs of the mountain climbers who traversed dangerous topographies for leisure and work, Seiko introduced a more rugged version of the Alpinist called the Alpinist Champion in 1963 which was a redesigned version of the Laurel Alpinist and sported a light-colored centered dial that had a darker surrounding in addition to square-shaped, applied hour markers.
The resurrection of the Seiko Alpinist in the 1990s
From 1963 to 1992 the Alpinist seemed to have been buried in the canals of time, but after 30 whole years, the Red Alpinist hit the Japanese market under the Prospex line and gained a lot of popularity thanks to its unique features. Unlike its predecessors, the watch had a new dial design with luminous cathedral hands in a display that was no longer covered with acrylic glass but with Sapphlex; which happens to be a mineral glass with a layer of sapphire.
It now featured a rotatable bezel with compass markings to help the mountain climbers with orientation in the open terrain (depending on your longitudinal hemisphere, you can easily determine the northern or southern part of the globe with any timepiece but Seiko goes further with the Alpinist and now enables wearers to read other approximate compass directions correctly on the dial), a date display neatly located under a magnifying lens at 3 o’clock and the highly regarded Seiko 4S15 Hi-Beat automatic movement which is hackable and also supports hand winding.
Nicknamed Red Alpinist by fans of Seiko because of the word “Alpinist” written in red just above 6 o’clock, the model was released with three dial color alternatives, namely black, cream, and emerald green. It remains well-loved to this day.
Seiko Alpinist SARB 2006 series
Again in 2003 the Alpinist 8F56 was introduced into the market and stands as one of the rarest models in the Alpinist collection that was fitted with the highly revered 8F56 super-accurate quartz movement. It was water resistant up to 100 meters, featuring a perpetual calendar and a 10-year lithium battery. After it, the SARB Alpinist came to the market in 2006.
It took its design cues from the Red Alpinist but was fitted with the caliber 6R15 Automatic Diashock 23 Jewel movement with a 50-hour power reserve and 200 meters of water resistance. The red “Alpinist” above 6 o’clock has now been replaced by the word “Automatic” written in white, the crystal is now Sapphire, and the date display is no longer magnified.
The SARB013 (cream dial), SARB015 (black dial), and SARB017 (green dial) became an instant success upon introduction and are the longest-running models. So while the core character of the Alpinist line has remained unchanged, the styles and designs have evolved over time, and it has continued to gain popularity to date because of its elegance and versatility.
Remakes and Reinterpretations
From the first generation of vintage Seiko Alpinist models that were released in 1959, all the way to the latest iteration of special editions from the iconic line in 2021, Seiko Alpinist keeps getting re-born in a re-creation that characterizes the spirit of the very first timepiece that has evolved over six decades, and now comes with a more current automatic movement as part of Seiko’s professional specifications “Prospex” line.
The Alpinist Re-Creation
On the occasion of the company’s 140th anniversary last year, the brand launched a modern recreation of the original ‘Alpinist’ with inspiration from the Seiko Laurel Alpinist. As with the 1959 original, the design is simple and practical though more recognizable, with Lumi Brite on the dial and hands and a full 100 meters of water resistance.
The Alpinist Re-Creation is now limited to only 1,959 pieces available globally and is now fitted with the ultramodern automatic Seiko slim cal. 6L35, a more accurate movement with 28,800 vph that offers 45 hours of power reserve. Since it was meant to be a reliable timepiece for Japanese ‘Yama-otoko’ mountain men, the Alpinist Re-Creation features a protective leather bracelet to protect the wearer from the effects of the cold case black metal on the skin when scaling high altitudes.
I’m no scaler of the Alps but I consider this very thoughtful. In addition to these added features, the case is slightly larger with a diameter measuring 36.6 mm (The Seiko Laurel Alpinist measured 35mm in diameter, 41mm Lug to Lug, 11mm Height, and 18mm Lug Width). The date display is now at the 4 o’clock position and the watch boasts a domed sapphire crystal.
The Re-Interpretation was simultaneously released with the Re-Creation by Seiko in 2021. Also marking a return to the simple 1959 Alpinist model, this model was introduced on the occasion of Seiko’s 140th anniversary under the name, ‘1959 Alpinist Re-Interpretation’ and comes in three variants; the creme (SPB241J1), green (SPB245J1), and gray (SPB243J1) dial.
The Alpinist Re-Creation and Re-Interpretation may look the same, but on closer inspection, you would find that the latter features a minute ring with a subtle sunburst effect, while the date display can be seen at 3 o’clock and not the 4 o’clock position like the former.
The case differs in measurement at a diameter of 38 mm, while a flat sapphire crystal (not domed) protects the dial that features stylized triangles resembling mountain peaks at 6, 9, and 12 o’clock, with dauphine-style hands, the Seiko Prospex logo, and the Automatic wordmark neatly displayed in a retro script typeface.
The cathedral shaped hands remained in all variants in addition to the presence of the cyclops. Visible beneath the see-through case back of the 1959 Alpinist Modern Re-interpretation, is the automatic caliber 6R35 with an accuracy of -15/+25 seconds per day and a power reserve of 70 hours.
What Makes The Seiko Alpinist So Special?
The Seiko Alpinist brand possesses a history. Ask most Seiko collectors and they’ll tell you they own an Alpinist. One amazing thing about the Alpinist line is that Seiko ensures that there is something for every collector. The robust timepiece is one of the favorite collectibles among Seiko fans and is known for its distinctive and sturdy design for adventure seekers in the water, in the sky, on land, and for businessmen.
It is popular because it is versatile and can literally be worn in just about any situation whether professional or casual outings. From the start, the Seiko Alpinist was well received and, over the next six decades, its reputation extended beyond the Japanese and Asian markets for which the collection was first intended with an unexpected cult forming around the model.
Interestingly in 1959, the Alpinist was the first Seiko watch ever produced with ‘sports’ in mind and it blazed a trail that led to the production of various iconic timepieces for sports. The Seiko Alpinist is far from being the perfect tool or sports watch but it is special and over the years it has retained its no-nonsense appeal and originality that exceeds the price tag the price it comes with.
Without swaying you further, here are some specs of the Seiko Alpinist brand that makes it spectacular.
- Unquestionable quality and sturdiness.
- Numerous rare collector’s pieces that come at a very affordable rate.
- Great overall finishing.
- Versatility tool watch that can be worn anywhere.
- Compact with a wearable proportion that conforms to various wrist sizes.
- Robust shock-protected in-house movement with updated automatic movements in the re-released editions.
- Large selection of model variations
- Crown guard & screw down movement crown with nice design
- Date display.
- Affordable watch for connoisseurs.
Is the Seiko Alpinist the right watch for you?
The best reason to buy a Seiko Alpinist is that you want to use the function it comes with. One good thing about the Seiko Alpinist is that it has a personality and a story that dates back to the 1950s and there is one for everybody. Since it was originally designed with durability and strength in mind, it has remained very robust and versatile.
Apart from the Alpinist taking up an unusual spot in Seiko’s wide range of models, it comes with unique designs that are subtle and quirky so much that it is really difficult to find an alternative that can perfectly displace it.
The Alpinist is a timepiece with personality and a story, making it perfect for collectors and enthusiasts. It’s got an unusual place in Seiko’s wider range, with design elements not found in other models as well as historical appeal as the brand’s first sports watch line.
When it comes to functionality, the watch is waterproof and sturdy, the dial is legible and clear with bright indices and liberally applied luminous material, and features a rotating bezel which makes it useful underwater, on land, and in the skies.
Though it has been recreated into a more elegant and modern piece with borrowed features from contemporary dress and pilot watches that offers it modern vibes than that of a lackluster tool meant for scalers of the Alps, I’m not sure the Alpinist could ever quite be a formal dress watch, but apart from collectors and enthusiasts, the Alpinist would serve excellently as a day-in and day-out watch for casual or business outings.
At the core, it has remained an outdoor beater watch fitting for swimming/ diving (thanks to its water resistance rating of 200m), everyday activities (due to its small size and restrained design), and hiking, camping, or mountain climbing because of its compass bezel. Plus the new models feature an upgraded in-house movement that offers an impressive 70-hour power reserve with premium features like sapphire crystal.
Seiko Alpinist Models:
Seiko Laurel Alpinist
The Laurel Alpinist marked Seiko’s entry into the sports watch arena and dates back to 1959 (many sources conflict on the production date but according to Seiko, 1959 was the year). Since it was the first watch made for Japanese mountaineers, it was elegant, yet rugged and superbly functional. Offered with either a black or cream dial and a sturdy leather Bund strap, the Laurel Alpinist is now amongst the rarest and most sought after of the Alpinist watches among Japanese collectors.
The case measures 35mm (this might seem small by today’s standards but it was a decent size at that time), with a domed acrylic glass protecting the display. The dial features luminous dauphine-shaped hands and triangular index markers at 3,6,9 and 12 o’clock. It was powered by a manual movement, marked Seikosha that beats at a relaxed 18,000 BPH with Diashock shock protection and 17 jewels.
Seiko Champion Alpinist 850
The second generation Alpinists after the Laurel Alpinist, referred to as the Champion Alpinist 850, were launched in 1963. The core design remained the same but got a subtle makeover. The case still measures 35mm and comes in a chrome-plated or gold-plated stainless steel case, but the dial has the word “waterproof” in addition to Alpinist written on it with trapezoidal lumed indexes, narrow lines separate the face into five-minute segments, while the minute markers are moved to the outer periphery of the dial.
Under the Champion series the J13043, the J13049, and the J13079 were also released and though many models were created, some were immediately recognizable because of their sporty understated dial design with applied bar indices (such as the 85899 model that was released in 1964 which was just a gold version of the Champion series), and all 3 models were called Champion 850 Alpinists since they were powered by the caliber 850, rated at 18,000bph with Diashock protection. Later versions used the 851 movement.
After thirty years, the Red Alpinist was released under the Prospex line. It was originally designed for the Japanese and Southeast Asian markets and was nicknamed Red Alpinist by Seiko fans because of the word “Alpinist” written in red above 6 o’clock next to a mountain picture. Seiko’s long-time in-house designer Shigeo Sakai, Seiko’s famous in-house designer, fitted the Red Alpinist with a new dial design that changed the appearance of the timepiece fundamentally from the previous ones.
The display is now protected with Sapphlex crystal, a crown at 3 which is for setting the time and date, and a crown at 4 for rotating the compass ring, and the date display, located under a cyclops date window magnification lens at 3 o’clock, is new. Additionally, a unique inner bezel compass has markings meant to help the “men of the mountains” or “Yama-Otoko” with orientation in the open terrain.
The Red Alpinist uses the 4S15 caliber, which is hackable and also supports hand winding. Model numbers are SCVF005 (black variant with small triangles serving as indices), SCVF007 (cream dial with the hour markers alternating between Arabic numerals and pointed indices), and SCVF009 (a popular green variant that is highly sought after by collectors). It was discontinued after two years despite being a sought-after watch.
SSASS LIMITED EDITION ALPINIST
The SSASS or Seven Summits Actions for Sustainable Society Alpinist edition was released in 2003 and is a very very rare Seiko Alpinist model. Paying tribute to Japanese-American mountaineer, Ken Noguchi and his foundation (SSASS) that single-handedly collected tonnes (seven to eight tonnes precisely) of garbage from Everest left behind by other mountain climbers and their teams and disposed of them properly, the limited 2003 SSASS Alpinist is beautifully crafted with comes with a teal dial depicting the skies that remind collectors of respect, admiration and service to humanity. It is limited to just 500 pieces and is powered by an 8F56 high-accuracy quartz. It remains revered among collectors today.
In 2006, the SARB series was launched with three watches under it; the SARB013, SARB015, and SARB017. All three were an immediate success, especially the SARB017 (more on this later) which soon gained a cult following thanks to its luxurious design and impeccable elegance that continues to leave its wearers and on-lookers constantly mesmerized with its green dial.
All the watches in the SARB series are based on the in-house 6R15 caliber; a robust and reliable automatic movement equipped with a hacking function and manual winding with 23 Jewels, that runs at 21,600 beats per hour, and offers 50 hours of power reserve.
The first SARB watches appeared in Seiko’s 2006 catalog (second volume), and although it was predominantly aimed at the Japanese market, it became popular across numerous markets across the globe and even though the line was discontinued a few years ago, the SARB033, SARB035, the Alpinist SARB017, and the Cocktail Time SARB065, continues to be highly sought after by enthusiasts and collectors from the watch community.
In late February 2019, Seiko released the SPB089 to commemorate 60 years of the Brand’s sports watch production. Limited to just 1959 pieces, the SPB089 also known as Blue Alpinist heavily resembles the popular green SARB017, and would be perfect for people who loved the SARB017’s overall design but didn’t find the green attractive. The dial is sunburst blue, the stainless steel case measures 38mm with a sapphire crystal.
The watch size is a perfect measurement for small and medium-sized wrists, and the timepiece features a vintage-style leather strap. The cardinal directions are easily noticeable with the north being highlighted in red. The case back features the standard Seiko markings, in addition to the Alpinist logo, “Limited Edition,” and the individual piece number out of 1959 written in large print. Apart from the dial change and movement (which is the 6R15 automatic movement), it is a true reproduction of the SARB series.
Current Prospex Alpinist
The Prospex Alpinist is one of the most desirable Alpinist watches that have a flair of sophistication and elegance making it versatile and wearable for any situation at all. After the Red Alpinist model, all the Alpinist watches that followed have been sold as part of the Prospex collection and from 2020 the SPB series come with the Prospex logo on their dials. The designs are largely the same and date back to the 1959 model but the caliber 6R35 now offers a power reserve of 70 hours.
The cyclops lens that had disappeared for a while also makes a comeback. The case measures 39.5 mm in diameter and in addition to the dial colors from the previous generations, the 2020 SPB Alpinist comes in a variant that features a brown sunburst dial (SPB209J1), and one that features a glacier-blue dial (SPB199J1). Prices for standard models like the SPB209J1 with a brown sunburst dial fall around 850 USD. For limited models, however, the prices go up to a little over 1,000 USD.
The Baby Alpinist just happens to be another SPB model launched in the year 2020, but updated in 2021. In contrast to its other Seiko Alpinist models, it has a smaller case profile at 38mm and lacks an internal bezel which means it lacks the additional crown at 4 o’clock.
The dial design remains the same as the larger models but has a more delicate texture and an elegant gradient as can be seen in its four variants; SPB155/SBDC115 (green dial), SPB159/SBDC119 (black dial), SPB157/SBDC117 (blue dial), and SPB21 (two-toned dial), offering excellent versatility and value propositions for those seeking a sleek everyday watch from the Alpinist line.
The water resistance rating is 200 meters and the Baby Alpinist is fitted with the robust 6R35 movement which is reliable and easy to service. The movement that beats at 21,600 BPH (3Hz), has 24 jewels, and a generous power reserve of 70 hours (an upgrade from the 6R15 movement which had a 50-hour power reserve).
Alpinist in SKX Style
The Alpinist line has gone through various revisions over the years but has always stayed true to the original model from the 1960s. However, in 2009, Seiko released an Alpinist variation that differed significantly from the traditional Alpinist model. Available under the reference SARB059 that features a green dial and reference SARB061 with a black dial, the SKX-styled Alpinist model was introduced for the Japanese market.
Rated at 200m water resistance the case is the 42-mm case from the SKX diving watches and is finely polished with a crown at 4 o’clock as well as a rotating bezel that now has beveled edges, a 60-minute scale, and compass markings. The hands are not the cathedral-styled hands in the traditional Alpinist watches but sword hands, and all the variants have luminous silver-outlined hands, minute bars, and black-framed hands. The watch is powered by the 6R15; a 23 Jewel automatic movement that Seiko claims has an accuracy rating of -15/+25 seconds per day under normal temperature conditions ( 5 to 35 degrees C).
Seiko SARB017: The Iconic Alpinist Watch
To not write about an iconic timepiece that amassed a huge cult-like fan following despite being released alongside other timepieces, would be sacrilegious. The Seiko SARB017 is part of the Seiko SARB collection. Let’s take a quick look at some of its features.
The Seiko Alpinist features a strong case made of stainless steel that measures a wearable 38mm in diameter with two screw-down crowns. With a thickness of 12mm, lug-to-lug width of 46mm, and a perfect lug width of 20mm, the case is between graceful ( add to that an elegant combination of polished and brushed elements) and hefty, and though crafted as a field watch, it has turned out to be versatile enough for any situation at all, with a plethora of bracelets and leather straps dedicated to it by other brands.
The back of the timepiece features a solid stainless steel case back, screwed down to safeguard the movement inside. Protecting the display is a high-quality sapphire crystal glass; one of the hardest substances with a hardness of 9 on the Mohs scale, only second to diamond which rates the highest at 10, making the timepiece greatly optimized outdoor adventures from the peak of the mountains to the depths of the sea.
The Seiko SARB017 owes a lot to its mesmerizing emerald green dial for its popularity. The first thing anyone notices when they look at a watch is its dial and this one is an object of fascination that reveals the story of the Alpinist line each time the classy lumed cathedral type hands sweep across the green background. The dial is clean and doesn’t have a lot of inscriptions on it; only a gold Seiko logo at 12 o’clock, and ‘Automatic’, ‘DIASHOCK 23 JEWELS’, and ’20BAR’ at 6 o’clock, giving the wearer all the information needed about the timepiece.
The gold hands have a generous amount of luminous material, making them legible in the light as it is in the dark. There is a discreet date display at the 3 o’clock position, a useful detail – balanced by the gold-toned applied even hour Arabic numerals that alternate with odd hour triangle markers, giving the watch a peculiar look among many Seiko timepieces.
The Seiko SARB017 is fitted with the in-house Calibre 6R15, and this movement which was introduced by Seiko for the first time in 2006 is one of the points in favor of the Seiko Alpinist. Paired with a power reserve of approximately 50 hours, the self-winding movement with 23 jewels, an integrated Diashock system, and a Diaflex mainspring has an accuracy of +25/-15 seconds per day. The movement beats at a frequency of 21,600 BPH and is designed to be less susceptible to damage from shock or impact. Its manual winding and hacking capabilities allow the wearer to set the time more accurately.
The strap of the Seiko SARB017 seems to be the only issue among enthusiasts. It seems that the classic brown leather is stiffer than it ought to be and comes with a bit of a pseudo crocodile pattern that doesn’t sit well with a lot of people, but there are currently a bunch of elegant options out there that can perfectly compliment the wristwatch’s head and it’s universal 20mm lug width makes replacement easy so this isn’t much of a problem. That aside, the wide bracelet with a thickness of about 13mm is a major reason why the 38mm stainless steel case wears more prominently than it should, and it is bold, masculine, and instantly recognizable.
Seiko SARB017 Pros;
- An extremely versatile timepiece with attributes of field and dress watch that can be used for any occasion.
- Great value for money with impressive quality and build.
- The Alpinist line is steeped in history which makes it very desirable and interesting.
- 200 meters of water resistance.
- Beautiful timeless design from every angle with great overall finishing.
- Mesmerizing green dial.
- Luminous hands.
- Date display.
Seiko SARB017 Cons;
- The leather strap is uncomfortable and stiff and has a plastic feel
- Sapphire Crystal lacks an anti-reflective coating.
- A case size of 38mm may not be suitable for people with large wrists.
Alternatives to the Seiko Alpinist
It is hard to find a good alternative to the Seiko Alpinist (though not impossible) since the Alpinist has its unique design language, and sings a song to the heart of collectors that no other watch can, but take a look at some watches that come close.
1. Seiko Prospex SRPA77J1
The Seiko Prospex SRPA77J1 is intentionally straightforward, simple, and no-nonsense, making it a tool watch in every sense. From the dial to the strap and buckle, it is honestly a durable timepiece coupled with practicality and an unmatched history written by Seiko over the years on the grounds of affordability.
With a case diameter of 42mm and a thickness of 13mm, the SRPA77J1 is a classic made especially for any person challenging the vast earth and is within reach of people with an interest in mechanical watches with a price tag of less than 500 USD.
It is handsome, straightforward, and legible with a green dial, luminous hands and markers, a date display, a see-through case back, and 100 meters of water resistance. Made to offer tremendous performance, the Caliber 4R35, a 23 Jewel movement beating at 21,600 BPH provides approximately 40 hours of power reserve.
2. Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical
This quintessential field watch is rugged yet refined, and like the Seiko Alpinist was made to support the adventurer every step of the way. The case is 38mm wide in steel with a black dial, and the dial design is free from obscurity, giving it an appeal to adventurists who want a solid, traditional, and sturdy timepiece without any unnecessary decorative frills.
The highly legible matte black dial features silver-tone luminescent hands and crisply printed white Arabic hour markers and a 60-minute track around the periphery. The display is protected with the desired scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, and the watch comes with a standard olive green NATO strap and stainless steel buckle that secures it comfortably to the wrist. The H-50 in-house mechanical hand-winding movement provides an impressive 80 hours of power reserve.
3. BOLDR Venture Field
The Boldr venture field watches put Boldr in the spotlight and have become a desired timepiece for many collectors. Coming in a 38mm angular titanium case, the classic field watch is sleek and bridges the gap between vintage watches and 21st century timepieces excellently well. The watch wears well on the wrist at 12mm thick and is incredibly light thanks to its titanium case.
Made for every adventurer, the venture field watch comes with a solid water resistance of 200 meters so you can swim and dive with it. It also features a flat sapphire crystal with an anti-reflective coating, and is powered by Seiko’s NH35 automatic movement that has 24 jewels, beats at 21,600 BPH, and offers a 41-hour power reserve.
Seiko has been in business since 1881 and has been recognized for making great affordable timepieces loved by millions across the globe. The Alpinist is no exception with features that can seldom be found in other watches for the price it comes with. There’s great value in the Seiko Alpinist timepieces, and prices for a new Seiko Alpinist range from around 450 USD to 2,700 USD.
On the lower end of this price range, you’ll find the SPB models, while the current Prospex models (the reinterpretations and recreations) have prices that start from around 700 USD. With a bit of luck, you might find a “Red Alpinist” from the 1990s, or other vintage references like the Alpinist Champion but be prepared to spend from 1,000 USD up.
The most expensive Alpinist however is the Alpinist Re-Creation SJE085J1 that dates back to 1959 and was introduced in 2021. The watch is limited to just 1,959 pieces and sells for approximately 2,700 USD, and if you’re a thrifty shopper, you may find it at a significant discount. Overall I think the Alpinist is definitely a watch worth adding to your collection!