The watches I wore the most in 2020: The Seiko Prospex SPB083J1, Sinn 104 and Lorier NeptuneThor Svaboe
Sooo difficult! This has been a bastard year, in which one of the few ways to cheer yourself up in the Home Office has been to keep the collection in rotation and flip some unworn wrist machines. But still, within my changing collection, there are a handful of watches that have stuck with me. I wanted to pretend that my favourite two watches were also the ones I wore the most – namely my Holthinrichs Ornament or the inky black Grand Seiko SBGR053. But even as I enjoy reading about scratched-up Subs and dented Daytonas, my OCD tendencies demand a safety-first approach to my wristwear. As a result, my best pieces tend to stay mollycoddled as, God forbid, I should scratch a hand-finished bespoke case or sully the name of the mirror-like Zaratsu. But, like WOW, did watches cheer me up in lockdown. Safely protected from the elements, what better pieces to wear (again and again) than an adventure-inspiring diver’s watch named after a mysterious natural phenomenon known as The Great Blue Hole (the Seiko Prospex SPB083J1), the pilot’s tool watch Sinn 104 and the Lorier Neptune?
Numero Uno for wrist time, the Seiko Prospex SPB083J1
The one I wore the most is the deep blue dialled SPB083J1 JDM model – Great Blue Hole edition, aka a variant of the Baby Marinemaster. This is my second version of this watch, the first one being bought – inspired by a Time+Tide review in 2017-18 (true), and by then part of a growing collection of vintage Seikos and big diver’s watches. My first, the black dialled/blue bezelled SBDC063, was one of those watches that instantly felt at home on the wrist and that, while it has a 44mm case, wears more like a comfortable 41-42mm.
This Baby Marinemaster is now one of only two large watches in a box dominated by 37-40mm watches, and that’ll tell you a lot about its comfort and build quality. First off, the 6R15 movement doesn’t have a huge power reserve, but on most days stays COSC-close, at +/- 5 secs a day. Functionality is further enhanced by the lume that glares as bright as a lighthouse beam. But the case is what really sold it to me, still looking new thanks to the DiaShield coating that has kept dings and hairlines away, darkening the steel slightly. Does it work? Well, despite being worn a lot, there are no desk-diving marks on the clasp or bracelet, so indeed it does.
The 44mm case has the typical dramatic slope of the immaculately polished dynamic case sides, which means that the caseback touching wrist is less than 38mm, and boy do you appreciate the soft finishing of the case, which, combined with the crown at 4, equals a loving embrace even if it is no flyweight. The case is a classic muscular Seiko Prospex, inspired by the 62MAS diver, but meant as a modern re-interpretation. Bezel action is clicky perfect, with the only mark on the watch being a nudge or two on the hard lacquered black insert.
The solid steel bracelet is, in my opinion, actually superior to the Marinemaster offering, being quite angular though familiar in its 3-link layout, with superb polished and brushed details and a decent folding clasp with a diver’s extension. But, for me, it’s always about the dial first, and this is a never-ending love affair. The unusual degrade effect, in what is another piece of Seiko dial art, is vertically centred, so the darkness is on the right and left side, and the vibe is one of deep, dark ocean – clearly illustrated by the inspiration from the diving mecca The Great Blue Hole, a giant weirdly circular (alien?) marine sinkhole off the coast of Belize. The circular indices are as sharp as they are delicate, with a nice thickness, and a fine proportionate balance against the monolithic indices at 6, 9 and the double 12. While some Seiko fans bemoan the use of the large Monster-ish hand set, I think they work in their boldness, and only add to the superb legibility.
The reason this is called the Baby Marinemaster is that the shape is very similar to the iconic and kick-ass Marinemaster SBDX001, but sleeker and less thick. Meaning this is far more versatile and slips under a cuff (good for me as I have never owned any diving gear save for photo props). Similar models are still available for around $2-2500 AUD, and should you still feel this watch a tad too big, despite my florid description, have a look at the new slightly more slender SPB185 and SPB187 reviewed by us here.
A strong number two, the photogenic German tool, the Sinn 104
Never has the term “strap monster” been as apt as for my Sinn 104. Ever since the aquisition in March, whichever strap I put on it, it’s a killer, as you can see on my deeply watchaholic Instagram account, @thorsvaboe. This forum and Instagram favourite has a tough monochrome 41mm pilot’s watch vibe. The first thing that strikes you when seeing it in person is the compactness, and juxtaposition of tool toughness with polished eye-catching detail. Combined with a Leica-like clickety-click of the most solid 60-click countdown bezel you will have encountered (captive screws, natch), it feels at home on the wrist after three secs. Sinn are exceptional at applying AR coating to their sapphire crystals, which together with a CRISP white set of syringe hands and dial print makes it as intensely legible as photogenic. The slight dome of the crystal is exactly matched to the curvature of the bezel, and the lugs are stumpy short, which makes it look and feel like a Goldilocks 39mm on the wrist. Under the display back lies the accurate Sellita SW300 automatic with a day/date complication as useful as it is intensely satisfying to watch at midnight, when the day and date instantly snaps over, with a very German click. The importance of haptics are often unsung in watches, and the feeling I get from twisting the bezel or the crown is the same as that derived from the solid feel of a BMW volume knob. That says it all.
The near perfect budget everyday diver, the Lorier Neptune II
While the Lorier Neptune comes on the best microbrand bracelet around, a slinky brushed flat link steel in a tapered Omega 300-ish style, this has found its home strap on a soft Tropic. This is a sturdy fit-and-forget sharp vintage diver’s watch with my favourite dial colour of dark blue, and that delicately slim chameleon-like blue-black aluminium bezel insert bringing that vintage vibe I’m a sucker for. The Seiko NH35 movement after close to two years still runs close to COSC standards, and the 200m depth rating means that this is the mechanical holiday and adventure watch of choice. There is a real reason Lorier Watches sell out their stocks within half an hour when they release new batches.
And this brings me to the final aspect of the love. This arrived in 2018 just in time for my birthday, before my watch writing career started, and has stuck by me. The guarantee card has a handwritten message on the back wishing me a happy birthday from the friendly husband-and-wife team Lorenzo and Lauren, and this level of personal attention is why so many people have a deep affinity for microbrands. You don’t get this with a $20K grail, but with a $499 US vintage microbrand diver’s watch, and you can bet your bottom dollar it works. When you combine the personal touch with a case bevel punching leagues above its price, thick classic lume plots and that just-so midnight blue you might just have a winner.