Not really a review of the SARB017 Alpinist

The Seiko SARB017 has been reviewed to death. Therefore, it’s doubtful if I can reveal anything new that hasn't already been covered in depth by professional reviewers. It’s also a model that was discontinued by Seiko four years ago and replaced by the Prospex SBP121.  Therefore, there is really no point in going over its specifications, the history of the name, and its features. Instead, I’ll present my opinion on what made the SARB017 worthy of being an icon.

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It's a Seiko.

The SARB017 allows no confusion. The Seiko logo is applied in gold letters and appears prominently in the top section of the dial just under the 12 o’clock numerals. There is no confusing double branding caused by a “wingman” sub-brand logo and no extra information is needed except for the three lines at the bottom that display in a fine small white text that the watch is also an automatic, rated at 20ATM and features Seiko’s shock protection system.

That’s it. This is a Seiko, this is all that really matters.

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It’s not an Explorer.

I heard several times that the SARB017 is referred to as the “Japanese Explorer”. In my opinion this is one of the most misleading things that can be said about the SARB Alpinist because even a quick browse through Seiko timeline will show that the Explorer role was shouldered instead by the 6105 "Turtle" diver, worn in 1976 by the legendary North pole explorer Naomi Uemura. The SARB017 has a unique design, deeply rooted in Seiko own history and design language. Officially, the SARB017 is classified by Seiko as a mountaineer watch, whatever that means. Anyway, it doesn’t look like an Explorer, it doesn’t wear like one and it’s certainly not priced like one.

That’s it. It’s an Alpinist, this is all that really matters.

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It offers a great value for its price.

One of the frequent complain raised lately against Seiko is about the decrease in value vs price ratio. Many are quick to point that while the retail prices have crept up, this was not accompanied by a matching increase in features or quality. Hardlex crystals where one would expect sapphire, misaligned bezels on watches priced at 1KUS$ and above are common complains raised in reviews and online discussions. To me these are the symptoms of someone trying to maximize profitability without much care about the opinion of its customers or the possible long-term consequences – in other words, a bean counter mentality.

But the SARB017 is different. The impression it gives is of a team looking at the target price and trying to decide how many features and improvement they can add to make a great watch instead of what can be taken away to max profitability. Can we increase the WR? Of course, we can. There you go: 200M. is it possible to color match the date wheel and frame the window? Yes, we can. How about something a bit better than Hardlex? Sapphire to the rescue! And can we add a signed crown and nice mountain engraving on the back? Certainly!

For we are Seiko, and this is an Alpinist and we are proud of who we are and what we do, and we will offer you the best possible watch we can at this price range.

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It has a great dial.

The dial of the SARB017 is one of its most distinctive features so it’s easy to forget that its design is rooted in previous Alpinist models. Its polished gold and sunburst emerald green colors are striking, and yet the white minute’s track is perfectly legible as is the internal bezel. This is a dial that someone took a lot of time to design and perfect, even if he drew inspiration from previous models. It’s also a dial that is unique to the SARB Alpinist and every other attempt to “improve” it just managed to make it worse.

This is Seiko when they are not afraid of doing things their own way.

And a great size.

It’s not obvious, but when the SARB was introduced, we were still far from the turning point and large watches were still popular. Why Seiko decided to stick with a diameter smaller than 40mm is a mystery, but it was a blessed decision. The size and proportions are almost perfect.

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But the SARB017 is not perfect, and its faults should be acknowledged. The design while unique is hard to classify. As stated above it’s not an Explorer, Japanese or otherwise. However, it’s also not a field watch and looking at its profile we see that it’s too tubby to be a dress watch. The bundled strap didn’t help with defining the watch because while it tried to give it a premium look it was simply a horrible stiff, and artificial looking strap with the single redeemable quality that it was easy to remove and probably fully compostable due to the cheapness of its materials.

Seiko is no help in calling it a mountaineer watch as it infers that it has features that are crucial for climbing hills. It doesn’t. The inner bezel is more of a design element or party trick than a useful tool, and it introduce problems of its own due to a slightly wobbly and loose mechanism.

The lack of AR is also something that was acceptable a few years ago but not anymore and while the movement might be called robust, workhorse, and dependable, it’s also lame at keeping accurate time as it’s unregulated at the factory and has the annoying tendency to drift.

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In conclusion: The SARB017 is a relic from a time that is forever gone. Its faults are largely overshadowed by its qualities, and it offered something that no other companies could do when it was launched: A product that appealed to people who wanted something unique on their wrist but didn’t have a ton of money to buy from luxury brands.

Not really a review of the SARB017 Alpinist

4.4
Yes No
4/5
5/5
3/5
5/5
5/5
  • it a Seiko, pure and simple
  • A great dial with no disfiguring wart and no stupid Prostate logo
  • One of the last models to offer true good value for its price
  • Great size, excellent wearability
  • The included strap is a crime against humanity
  • No AR
  • Unregulated movement
  • WTF is a mountaineer watch?

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I own this watch, and your review is spot on.

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they called it mountain watch? really? 😂

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Unholy

they called it mountain watch? really? 😂

Well if the name isn't a big enough hint...

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All watches should be reviewed this way. Mechanical watches in general are more glamorous then they are practically usefull. So things like an aligned dial/bezel and durability are more important in my mind than "how usfull is this watch if I go on a real adventure?". 

If you can get both looks and actual practical use in the field from a watch (beyond telling the current time) you likely paid a lot for the top line old technology or a bit above average for the topline new tech (i.e. smart watch).

The current gen Alpinist definitely hits a sweet spot, good size, durable, good looking, and not too cheap or too expensive. I feel the same way about their solar diver models which is why I got one.

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cabarbhab

I own this watch, and your review is spot on.

Thank you, I was surprised to see that nobody here reviewed the SARB Alpinist before, which pushed me to do my bit.

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Righton!! 

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Thanks for your honest and straightforward opinions about this watch. I've looked at purchasing this watch more than a few times and maybe I still will now that I've read this review. 

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Catskinner

Thank you, I was surprised to see that nobody here reviewed the SARB Alpinist before, which pushed me to do my bit.

And you are not far off when you say this watch is worthy of being an icon.  I truly believe it will go down in history as an iconic watch.  It just has something special about it.  

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Unholy

they called it mountain watch? really? 😂

Yes, because it's designed to fit 2 roles at once. A dress watch at the office and something you could wear while mountain hiking which is a big hobby in Japan seeing as it's over 80% mountains. 

Hence why you get the cheap fake strap. 

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I have the feeling there's kind of a misconception about the inner compass of this watch and what mountaineering really means. For starters "to go to the mountain" doesn't necessarily mean to only climb, but also walk long distances. I've been going to the mountain for nearly 30 years and have climbed very little. Of course there's a lot of climbing in the mountains, if one wants to, but I wanted to state that that's not the only thing that defines the broad concept of going to the mountains. As a matter of fact, there's a lot of avoiding the sharpest slopes to stay away from dangerous climbs, which means to add miles to the hike and where having good orientation comes out vital.

This brings us to the second part I wanted to mention. When in the mountain with long hikes it is convenient to always take a magnetic compass with you and to have some orientation skills, and in the past, where you wouldn't have a GPS, to take a physical map of the area was necessary. Will, still today that is necessary.

While the magnetic compass is important, we need to understand that some regions can have magnetic interference coming from rocks with certain magnetic minerals, thus sometimes conventional compasses may not really show the right direction. During a cloudless night you may use the stars to confirm orientation and the sun during the day. 

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But it's not only important to know where the cardinal points are, but where you are and where are you going. That's only possible with a map and taking time to read the right direction across the planned route. Most watches will help with that, but the graduated compass inner bezel of this Seiko will help you read a more accurate route in the map, know the time and distance and what the next turn should be. Each time you will go in one direction reading the natural landscape and then, in the next turn you will need to turn the inner bezel again. This will happen multiple times during stops across the walk. That the inner bezel is easy to turn is not a bug but a feature. Once read and the direction set in the map, you will not need to read it anymore until the next stop and turn, because you will have slightly change directions very often, but will have to again adjust it once the next middle point is reached. The secondary crown will help to easy adjust it without even the need to remove it from the wrist; but I advise to remove it and put the watch over the map of course.

This was more important in the past and as a fail proof system than in the present, but something that can save you from bigger troubles indeed.

If you add a rather compact construction making the watch not too cumbersome you have a watch adapted to the mountains by definition.

Have I ever used a watch in this fashion? No. But if I only ever have to use it once that feature will be more than welcome.

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marioap

I have the feeling there's kind of a misconception about the inner compass of this watch and what mountaineering really means. For starters "to go to the mountain" doesn't necessarily mean to only climb, but also walk long distances. I've been going to the mountain for nearly 30 years and have climbed very little. Of course there's a lot of climbing in the mountains, if one wants to, but I wanted to state that that's not the only thing that defines the broad concept of going to the mountains. As a matter of fact, there's a lot of avoiding the sharpest slopes to stay away from dangerous climbs, which means to add miles to the hike and where having good orientation comes out vital.

This brings us to the second part I wanted to mention. When in the mountain with long hikes it is convenient to always take a magnetic compass with you and to have some orientation skills, and in the past, where you wouldn't have a GPS, to take a physical map of the area was necessary. Will, still today that is necessary.

While the magnetic compass is important, we need to understand that some regions can have magnetic interference coming from rocks with certain magnetic minerals, thus sometimes conventional compasses may not really show the right direction. During a cloudless night you may use the stars to confirm orientation and the sun during the day. 

Image

But it's not only important to know where the cardinal points are, but where you are and where are you going. That's only possible with a map and taking time to read the right direction across the planned route. Most watches will help with that, but the graduated compass inner bezel of this Seiko will help you read a more accurate route in the map, know the time and distance and what the next turn should be. Each time you will go in one direction reading the natural landscape and then, in the next turn you will need to turn the inner bezel again. This will happen multiple times during stops across the walk. That the inner bezel is easy to turn is not a bug but a feature. Once read and the direction set in the map, you will not need to read it anymore until the next stop and turn, because you will have slightly change directions very often, but will have to again adjust it once the next middle point is reached. The secondary crown will help to easy adjust it without even the need to remove it from the wrist; but I advise to remove it and put the watch over the map of course.

This was more important in the past and as a fail proof system than in the present, but something that can save you from bigger troubles indeed.

If you add a rather compact construction making the watch not too cumbersome you have a watch adapted to the mountains by definition.

Have I ever used a watch in this fashion? No. But if I only ever have to use it once that feature will be more than welcome.

I'm pretty familiar with land navigation and did plenty of trekking on foot, some of it even voluntarily. Which is why IMO the inner bezel is in no way a substitute for a mil compass and a topo map with a ruler, which BTW is still the way I prefer navigating instead of relying too much on a GPS or cellphone.

Is the inner bezel useful? Well...kinda yes if you find yourself in the wilderness with no other tool than your watch. Of course in this case finding the North may be the least of your problems. Is it something crucial to land navigation/mountaineering? Hell no. It's just marketing BS in the same vein of the story that the Rolex Explorer II had a GMT added because it was intended for use by cave explorers. It's a nice story, it add a way of humanizing an otherwise functional tool and it help makes you relates to it emotionally, all of which is part of a marketing campaign meant to make you want to buy a product.

PS

For those who have no idea what we are talking about: Below picture is for showing what a mil compass is and what a basic set of equipment needed for land navigation looks like.

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Of course it is not substitute and less in modern days, but that was my point. It is something you can use should you have only a map of the area and some knowledge. Without map you do have, as you stated, more important problems to solve.

I have hiked a lot and most voluntarily in different areas with different types of rocks. Most of the time together with people well aware of the route. Not always the magnetic compass was showing the directions properly. Did I use the watch to fix that. Hell no! I wore a digital Casio back in those days. When lost a couple of times we would wait for better weather conditions and searching and finding familiar places and signaled routes.

But a lot of people seem to think that the inner bezel is only a gimmick while is not. Yes today is of little use, but to confirm directions, reaffirming directions and that everything is cool "might" be useful sometime. And that time will make the whole thing worth. 

But as you say, that is the reason why while in the mountains I take maps and not one, but two or sometimes three compasses. And the knowledge. I didn't get the sarb for the compass but I like that is has it. It reminds me of those good all days and that's all I need.

BTW, cool compass!

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marioap

Of course it is not substitute and less in modern days, but that was my point. It is something you can use should you have only a map of the area and some knowledge. Without map you do have, as you stated, more important problems to solve.

I have hiked a lot and most voluntarily in different areas with different types of rocks. Most of the time together with people well aware of the route. Not always the magnetic compass was showing the directions properly. Did I use the watch to fix that. Hell no! I wore a digital Casio back in those days. When lost a couple of times we would wait for better weather conditions and searching and finding familiar places and signaled routes.

But a lot of people seem to think that the inner bezel is only a gimmick while is not. Yes today is of little use, but to confirm directions, reaffirming directions and that everything is cool "might" be useful sometime. And that time will make the whole thing worth. 

But as you say, that is the reason why while in the mountains I take maps and not one, but two or sometimes three compasses. And the knowledge. I didn't get the sarb for the compass but I like that is has it. It reminds me of those good all days and that's all I need.

BTW, cool compass!

It's a true military mil compass dating to WW2. From what I could determine it was used by a British mortar battery.

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I put mine on a Miltat bracelet 

one of my never ever ever sell watches.