The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner has a mystique all its own. Since 1953, regardless of its reference number, the Submariner has commanded the attention of both professionals and poseurs. I cannot afford one. Fortunately, there are many solid homages to this classic divers’ watch. I started hunting for an affordable replication, which I found in the Seiko 5 Sports SNZF17, or, informally, the Sea Urchin.
There were a few requisites to my search. The budget would be less than $200.00. While I would not actually be diving with the watch, I wanted it to be a decent quality timepiece with some water resistance. Since I am drawn to the look of the Rolex, the new watch had to have a black dial, coin-edged bezel with the proper silver digits on a black background, and a rugged bracelet.
In trolling Internet sellers, I saw the Seiko Sea Urchin and immediately knew it was a contender. My luck with Seiko’s has always been good. The Seiko chronograph bought for me for my college graduation has run without issue for three decades. I still wear my late father’s Seiko dress watch, one I had given him 18 years ago. The Seiko 5 SNZH57 Fathoms, which I previously reviewed, has been an excellent watch.
When I ordered the Sea Urchin, I went for the SNZF17J1–the J1 denoting its build in Japan as opposed to Malaysia. It may not have really made a difference, since my SNZH57 is Malaysian and it has been a good companion, but the “J” did add a few dollars to the price. The Sea Urchin’s total with shipping: $171.00.
When the Sea Urchin crawled out of its box, I was immediately thrilled. Its appearance was strikingly close to the Sub, without being a direct copycat. In proportion, numbers and indices, case and bracelet design, and fit and finish, it pleased the latent license-to-kill in me.
I removed three links from the bracelet, set the day/date and time, and then tried on the Sea Urchin. At 41mm in case diameter, it had a nice heft without being too chunky. The sound of the Seiko movement’s self-winding rotor was the sole noise emitted when I shook my wrist. Nice. The bezel rotated to port with confident clicks that centered on the marks. The Hardlex crystal shone.
My Sea Urchin went to work with me the very next day. I could not stop staring at it. It wears much more expensively than it costs. I thrust it out at a colleague sporting his Rolex Submariner. After examining the Sea Urchin, he judged it worthy, saying he could consider buying one as a daily driver. He already owns a Seiko Orange Monster.
These are specs for the SNZF17 from Seiko:
Calibre: 7S36 (23 Jewels)
Crystal: Hardlex crystal
Water resistance: 100m
Bracelet width: 22mm
Stainless steel case and bracelet
See through case back
Highly luminous hour markers and hands
Case: 45mm with crown (41mm without crown)
Made in Japan
One caveat here is that the crown does not screw down, thus the Urchin’s water resistance is, as far as I am concerned, suggested to be 100 meters. My watch will suffer no more than splashes or an occasional dunk of 1 meter–at most.
If you are a movement snob, be aware that Seiko’s 7S36 is non-hacking and non-stem-winding. These mechanical traits do not bother me for this type of moderate-use timepiece. My Seiko Fathoms watch contains the same automatic movement and its inclusion is not a detractor.
Seiko’s Sea Urchin has large spear-shaped hands, not the thinner Mercedes hands found in the Rolex. The pointy triangular hands on the Sea Urchin make it easy for me to read the time, especially in low light as they are coated with a pleasingly aggressive lume.
The Seiko 5 Sports SNZF17 Sea Urchin is a terrific-looking product that would fit right in with Ray Ban Aviators, an Al Mar Eagle, and a Glock 43. You may not be an intelligence operative, but this watch will make you “identify” as one.