The Seiko Alpinist series is a beloved staple of enthusiasts on watch forums and Instagram, with its comfortable shape, size and particular Japanese take on a sophisticated field watch with a rich history. Earlier this year, changes came to the lineup, with the Alpinist logo no longer present, and the Prospex X above the historical “Automatic” vintage font logo at 6. I observed the discussions that ensued, and was left with the positives of the excellent 6R35 movement easily tipping the scales on the plus side. This time the new Seiko Alpinist SPB155J and its siblings SPB157J and SPB159J are not simply improved, but rather redesigned from the case up, with the only instantly recognisable feature being the charming Alpinist cathedral hands, ready for a new audience.
We are looking at a svelte, perfectly shaped 38mm case with the Alpinist name, yet it takes nothing away from the rich history. I, for one, am excited by these latest models, the SPB155J, SPB157J and SPB159J. How Seiko has managed to completely redesign the Alpinist range in a year with a plethora of new releases frankly boggles the mind, because this is no simple re-hash. Hopefully it will manage the feat of keeping the #Seikobois happy while also garnering new-found support for a classic.
I am firmly in the last camp, having most Seikos very close to my heart and always more than one in my collection. I have the utmost respect for the history, but have always felt the Alpinist a bit too fussy of both case and dial design, though now it re-emerges as a true field watch whittled down to its essence – with added Japanese sharpness.
The new case
The case of the Alpinist has gone from 39.5mm down to the perfect sweet spot of 38mm, mainly through the loss of two main features — the swoopy crown guards and the 4 o’clock crown for the inner compass bezel that most of you, let’s face it, did not know how to use. This, for me, is the best change, as the simple utilitarian brushed case of a field watch – especially at this size — is a joy to strap on and enjoy for its clean, utilitarian lines.
The subtle Seiko quality touches are still there, like the small sharply polished bevels on the inside of the lugs, recognisable from the iconic SARB cases, and the polished bezel sharpening up the visage. This might have been enough, but everything under the now sapphire crystal has been distilled to a vintage matt aesthetic befitting the rich history of the Alpinist. All three dials have a sophisticated textured granulated surface with a subtle degradè colouring darkening towards the edges of the dial.
The rich print of the redesigned railway minute track and square lumed hour markers work perfectly with the large cream Arabic numerals, the dark degradè edge increasing legibility with consummate vintage style. Yes, the cathedral hands are still here, sharpened slightly but remaining the Alpinist signature. The hour and minute hands are steel on the blue dial SPB157J and dark grey SPB159J, while the SPB155J is bestowed with gold hands on what is the new version of the beloved green Alpinist. There is one small but significant change, and that is the redesigned arrow-needle seconds hand having a new shape and a bright red long tip. This last detail for me is the pièce de résistance, together with the textured degradè dial surface.
Yes, the nouveau Alpinist is keeping the most prominent improvement made to the outgoing model, the brilliant 6R35 automatic movement found in the medium+ tier of Prospex and Presage references. It’s a winner. You can’t argue with a solid 70 hours of power reserve, low service costs, and despite the typically understated +25-25 seconds per day specs on paper, often much closer to COSC accuracy.
Strapology and conclusions
The dark blue and charcoal grey versions come on vintage-perfect two-stitch leather straps, while the green comes on a solid-looking oyster style bracelet befitting its dressier dial. For me, this is the iconic spirit of the Seiko Alpinist distilled for purity, with the simple case and large crown being close to perfect in their proportions. Yes, with the 38mm, the classic Seiko chunkiness of 12.9mm might be thicker than you have imagined, making it wear slightly larger, but good for those of you still struggling with sub-40mm anxieties.
But you might not be surprised that the main reason behind this is Seiko’s strong focus on durability in materials and movements, so the extra girth is here for a reason. And what better reason than to imbue a functional field watch with an extra dose of strength — the crisp readability in a small but solid package being just what you need for your exploratory needs when the world wakes up again … A new lease of life for the Alpinist, and another winner for Seiko in a 2020 packed with news.