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Review: Seiko SJE073: A wallet-friendly baby “Grand Seiko”

by Daniel Chua on May 2, 2018

Seiko’s Presage line is synonymous for its stellar quality as well as being incredible value propositions. And its releases for Baselworld 2018 is no different, with striking and eye-catching pieces that will wow even the most seasoned connoisseur.

The model that got our attention this year was the SJE073 (international model number) / SARA015 (JDM model number), known more affectionately among collectors as the “Baby Snowflake” due to its resemblance with the Snowflake dial Grand Seiko. Both model numbers refer to the same watch, but we will be focusing on the SJE073 since its the worldwide model.

 

Seiko SJE073/SARA015

The Case, Dial and Hands

On the face of it, the new Seiko SJE073 is virtually identical to its predecessor, the SARX055. The differences only become apparent once you pick both watches up. The new watch and bracelet is crafted using stainless steel as opposed to titanium on its predecessor, which results in a heftier and solid feeling on the wrist. Its case is a seductive blend of mirror-polished and brushed surfaces, with the former being hand-done via a specialised technique known as Zaratsu.

 

The new Seiko Presage SJE073 is designed with slimness in mind, featuring a case height of only 9.7mm. This allows the watch to sit comfortably on any wrist.

 

But perhaps the biggest and most attractive change you’ll notice is its new case design: slender and attractive, it is beautifully executed. In a bid to keep its height to a minimum, the SJE073’s case has been redesigned to incorporate a “front-loaded” movement. This enables its sides to be angled inwards, allowing the watch to sit closer to the wrist. To secure the new movement, the watch adopts a primary screw-in bezel, with a secondary bezel to preserve the case lines. As a result of the design changes, the watch boasts an impressive a case thickness of only 9.76mm – a reduction of 1.24mm compared to its predecessor. This not only makes the watch more comfortable to wear, but it also enhances the aesthetics, giving it a more elegant vibe on the wrist.

 

Nicknamed the “Baby Snowflake”, the SJE073’s dial bears resemblance to the moniker Grand Seiko “Snowflake”.

 

The dial of the SJE073 borrows its aesthetics from the ravishing Grand Seiko “Snowflake”. Brilliant and intricate, the “Snowflake” texture reflects light beautifully, giving out a radiant ‘glow’ that is soothing and pleasing to the eyes. It’s silvery-white color contrasts nicely with the blue seconds hand and accents on the chapter ring, along with the “Presage Automatic” text that appears in the same shade of blue – a tasteful touch that adds a rich dash of color to a otherwise monochromatic dial. Though the “Snowflake” texture is not identical to its more expensive cousin, it still manages to punch above its weight and provides a highly enjoyable time-telling experience. It’s worth noting that the Presage collection has featured ornate dials, such as the guilloché sunburst on the Cocktail Time. Thus, it’s safe to say we’ll see more striking dials being added to the collection in the future.

The hands and applied indices are the proverbial icing on the cake. Meticulously polished and faceted, their luster adds an invigorating shine to the overall appearance of the watch. Though there is no applied lume, the hands reflects light beautifully, making time telling effortless in most situations, safe for the darkest.

Turning the watch over, you will find a see-through sapphire crystal case back that is engraved with  “xxxx/1881 LIMITED EDITION”. Unlike its predecessor, the new watch is limited to 1881 pieces.

 

The Movement

The SJE073 is powered by the Seiko caliber 6L35: an all-new automatic movement that is designed with slimness in mind. It boasts an impressive thickness of only 3.7mm and runs at a higher beat rate of 28,800bph with a 45-hour power reserve. This is compared to the 6R15 used in the SARX055, which is considerably thicker at 5.3mm, runs at a slower, albeit more stable rate of 21,600bph but has a 50-hour power reserve to boot. The new 6L35 is also factory adjusted to achieve an accuracy figure of +10/-15 seconds per day, in contrast to +25/-15 seconds per day of the 6R. Though not superlative in any aspect, our experience with Seiko movements would lead us to believe that the actual accuracy will surpass its rating once it “settles in”.

 

The all-new 6L35 caliber is visible through the clear sapphire case back. Nothing special about its finishing, but otherwise a very well-engineered movement.

 

In terms of finishing, the 6L35 will not win any beauty pageants with only basic luxury decorations such as “Tokyo Stripes” present on the rotor. However, it still remains as a very well-engineered caliber that bridges the gap between the pedestrian 4R and the haute-horlogerie 9S Grand Seiko movements.

An interesting note about Seiko movements is their “Trimatic” technology. “Trimatic” is a term coined by Seiko which refers to three of their innovations in movement development: Dia-shock anti-shock system, Magic Lever winding system and SPRON alloy. This technology is present in all but the highest end of Seiko movements. Seiko has not specified whether the 6L35 makes use of this technology, and it remains to be confirmed.

Prior to the 6L35, the only slimmer Seiko calibers in existence were the 4L25/4L75 introduced in 2007, though they have been discontinued since 2013. At 3.6mm, they are the thinnest-ever Seiko automatic movements produced. Although not officially confirmed by Seiko, it is widely speculated that the 6L35 is a reproduction of the 4L: both movements appear to be rather similar in design, with only the jewel count and anti-shock system differing. Even so, the re-introduction of a slim caliber will open-up endless possibilities for thinner and classical watches.

 

Competitive Landscape

The Seiko SJE073 has a recommended retail price of EUR 2,200, which makes it one of the most expensive offering from the Presage line. Part of its price can be attributed to the development costs of its new movement and re-engineered case. Not surprisingly, there are many watches in the market that would rival it.

 

 

We begin with the incredibly versatile Tissot Le Locle Powermatic 80. As its name suggests, the watch is equipped with the Powermatic 80: a caliber based off the workhorse ETA 2824-2. Boasting an impressive power reserve of 80-hours, decent finishing and fitted with a stunning guilloché dial, it is arguably the better value-for-money choice. Though, with a case height measuring in at 9.8mm, it is marginally thicker than the Seiko. The Tissot is available in a slew of dial variations and starts at USD 575 on a leather strap / USD 630 on a metal bracelet.

For connoisseurs who prefer dressier pieces, we reveal a surprising yet charming choice: the Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie Ultra Slim which we reviewed here. Poised and refined, the Ultra Slim measures 38mm in diameter and has a case height of only 5.8mm. The watch oozes class and elegance with its sunburst silver dial, topped off with arabic numerals and Dauphine hands. Its finishing is rather typical, though the presence of a signed crown is a nice touch. With a power reserve of 40-hours, it’s less than the Seiko. The Montblanc is available in either a stainless steel or rose gold case, priced at approximately USD 2,300 or USD 6,400 respectively.

Finally, we propose the NOMOS Orion 38 Ref. 387. Simplistic and elegant, the Orion features a case height of 7.4mm and diameter of 38mm, allowing it to slip under cuffs with ease. Equipped with the in-house manual-wound Alpha caliber, the watch has a power reserve of 43-hours. But, its crème de la crème aspect would be the finishing and quality: although machine-done, it is completed to a high level and features decorations such as Glashütte ribbing (Côtes de Genève) and NOMOS perlage. As with all other pieces in the NOMOS range, the Orion’s solid white dial features the brand’s iconic Bauhaus design. Starting at USD 2,260, it is an incredible value proposition.

 

Concluding Thoughts

 

Though it retains the same visual appearance as its predecessor, the reduced thickness and thoughtful refinements make it a worthy upgrade.

 

At first glance, one might not consider the SJE073 as a “new” or appealing offering by Seiko as it shares the same visual cues as its predecessor while costing almost twice as much. However, with a thinner case and refined appearance, the new “Baby Snowflake” fulfills the dress/casual criteria and is a handsome watch that deserves to be a part of any collection. Limited to 1881 pieces worldwide and with the attention it garnered among collectors, we reckon that Seiko has pulled off yet another masterpiece.

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