Review: King Seiko SPB281

OK, I don't do many reviews but thought this one might be of interest even a few years since release as I have a few observations I haven't seen in any other reviews.

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Dimensions / Specs:

37mm diameter

12.1mm thick

43.6mm lug-to-lug

19mm lug width

100m water resistance

Movement: 6R31 (3hz, 70hrs PR)

I am not a Seiko fanboy. Far from it, really. I wore a Seiko Kinetic for many years in my teens and twenties but when I became a 'watch guy' in my thirties, Seiko held no great interest. Their watches were too big, too generic-looking and there were too damn many of them. But the re-introduction of King Seiko a few years ago was pretty exciting: distinctive looking, vintage-sized, somewhat dressy all steel watches with a high level of finishing. But then the elephant in the room: the movement.

I'm no movement snob but the initial enthusiast reaction chimed with me: 1) that's a lot of money for a so-so movement that will not have been regulated and may even (to hear no end of complaints) keep poorer time than advertised, and 2) the inclusion of one of their sub-par movements was an insult by Seiko to the name King Seiko, whose previous incarnation had prided itself on use of innovative, hi-beat movements.

So I sighed at the missed opportunity, filed it mentally under 'This Is Why You Don't Buy Seiko' and went on with my day.

Except I didn't move on. Not really. The looks of the 37mm King Seiko's were just too appealing and I wasn't (and still am not) seeing anything really similar in a 'better' package. I found myself periodically looking at sales until I found this piece at a price I considered acceptable. Frankly, I wasn't expecting much other than a fun, good-looking watch that I might struggle to bond with given the known limitations.

Long story short? Wrong. Loving the SPB281. Maybe I got lucky but mine is keeping great time (I've lost ~3 seconds in the first week of continuous wear. In total, not 3spd). The quality of case and bracelet finishing is superb and the overall feel is of a high-quality watch that hasn't obviously skimped in many areas.

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So what is this watch doing that works so well for me?

Brushing. I love me some brushing. There are some highly polished facets but by-and-large this thing is capital 'B' brushed. And it's great. Still catches the light, still has loads of presence but without the constant low-key fear of scratches and dings. More of this from everyone, please.

Bracelet. Awesome, simply awesome. Great angular looks, great thickness, drape is spot-on, butterfly clasp works great and at least for me (7.25in wrist) the removal of 2x links from each side gave me an ideal fit with no need for micro adjust. I'm definitely a bracelet guy and own many aftermarket options from Forstner but this is at least the equal of any bracelet I have in terms of comfort, looks and quality. I know the 19mm sizing will annoy some but I find there are a lot of 19mm aftermarket options and, honestly, swapping a bracelet this good and that suits the case so well would be anathema to me.

Dial. The vertically brushed silver dial was a big part of the appeal and it does not disappoint in person. I've got sunray dials up the wazoo so this was also a chance to try something different and I find it's a great looking and practical choice, adding to the matte look of the watch as a whole and making the silver-on-silver dial highly legible. The applied Seiko logo pops below the 12 index and above the 6 the printed 'King Seiko' wordmark is crisp and offers some contrast.

Indices. We're not quite in GS territory but the indices really pop and, as many reviewers have noted, the cross-hatching on the double indices at 12 is a lovely, subtle but eye-catching detail.

Case/Lugs. I've been in the watch game for about a decade and I think I may, with this watch, have finally cracked what I like: small diameter watches with big lugs. The angular case that evokes the 'grammar of design' ethos is justly famous for being a thing of beauty and has that rare quality of being identifiable from across a room. The thick, faceted, highly sloped and variously-finished lugs provide a lot of character and help balance the relatively diminutive dimensions. Maybe I would like a 36mm Nomos after all...

Thoughtful design: while the outer-facing elements of the watch are all ultra-sharp and angular, the underside is rounded with no hotspots to create discomfort. Not a big thing, necessarily, but shows some thought and consideration went into this design in the aggregate.

Wrist feel. It's a bit about weight and a bit about fit. I like a watch with a little heft because there's no getting around the sense that a good watch has a certain pleasing density, but I also like it when the watch I wear is unobtrusive to the point that I almost forgot I'm wearing it. The SPB281 does this very well indeed.

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In terms of issues, I've found a few thus far:

Winding. I don't have much experience with Seiko and no previous with the 6R31 but it's not a great winding experience. The feel is a little crunchy/gritty and while the crown is nice and snappy the stem is notably less solid-feeling than most watches of my acquaintance. As an automatic, this is not a big deal, but does diminish the overall quality feel of the watch.

Bracelet Resizing. Not. One. YouTube. Video. Not even one specific to the King Seiko! How could that be? My first experience of the infamous pin-and-collar system and it has to be on a Seiko that does not follow the same pattern as (seemingly) every other Seiko... That's an hour of my life I won't be getting back. Fiddly, confusing and frustrating. Just in case anyone benefits from this: the collars, unlike every other Seiko, need to be fit into the inside of the bracelet, not the outside. You can then place the links you're reattaching back in alignment to hold the collar in place before feeding the pin in. This is the only way to get the collar secured before you hammer the pins through. I'd put up a video but frankly I've suffered enough.

Hands. I may be in the minority here - haven't seen this elsewhere - but while the hands are lovely, shiny and dauphine... They also somehow look flimsy. This may be because I own a GS with notably heftier dauphine hands and therefore the KS suffers by comparison? Don't get me wrong - in most aesthetic ways they're great but there is something oddly insubstantial about them.

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In conclusion:

I'm both glad I picked this up and pretty glad I waited for the price to be right. I think there is no getting around that the RRP is too high for the movement in this watch as is. If Seiko made a point of regulating the movements in their four-figures and up timepieces then maybe I'd be more forgiving. Having had some time with it, I ask myself 'Would I pay two or three times as much for a version of this same watch with a significant movement upgrade (say a COSC-equivalent time keeper)'. The answer: I don't know. The newer KS with 39mm diameter and partially improved movements don't float my boat as the 37mm does and having seemingly lucked out with the reliability of my model it would be tough to justify. But I do begrudge that buying a four-figure watch is a lottery in terms of how well it will keep time.

Is the inclusion of a 3hz beat rate movement an insult to the very name King Seiko? Yeah, kind of. I have sympathy for anyone who feels this and therefore won't be pursuing this watch. For my part I've made peace with it on the basis that my choices in 37mm are limited (and I fear the unforeseeable issues that could arise with vintage) and will one day appreciate the low maintenance cost, I'm sure.

However, in all other ways I'm really happy with this watch and it definitely feels like something I can't get anywhere else, even from Grand Seiko. The vintage vibes, GADA styling, 100m WR and spot-on sizing make this a great grab-and-go choice with loads of character. If, like me, you've been somewhat on the fence about this, I would say bide your time, look for a deal that works for you and then move with confidence. And good luck getting one with a movement that keeps decent time...

Reply

Love that watch. I couldn鈥檛 agree more with your conclusion. I want a particular KS because it looks terrific and the bracelet is fantastic but I can鈥檛 get there on price. Here鈥檚 hoping for post holiday deals or better yet, preowned.

How is the thickness? Can it be used as a dress watch? Or too thick?

Donster_125

How is the thickness? Can it be used as a dress watch? Or too thick?

At 12.1mm thick it's pretty slim for an automatic and I find it sits fairly flat on wrist thanks to the aggressively downward sloping lugs. It would definitely fit under any cuffed shirt I own, put it that way. I guess it depends on your definition, really. I like really slim watches and for dress watches I would always prefer under 10mm, so I wouldn't say this is particularly slim but for me this is a smart-ish every day watch, not dress.

Fair. My Lorier Zephyr is 8mm.

Donster_125

Fair. My Lorier Zephyr is 8mm.

Ah, a great and similar watch (though the Astra is probably even more similar). If you have the Lorier I would think twice about the KS as they are definitely in the same mid-century aesthetic wheelhouse.

DixonSteele

Ah, a great and similar watch (though the Astra is probably even more similar). If you have the Lorier I would think twice about the KS as they are definitely in the same mid-century aesthetic wheelhouse.

Much appreciated. I was wondering if I should part with the Lorier for the KS but I sincerely appreciate your honesty on sticking with the Lorier.

Ok so I鈥檓 still enamored with this watch. What role does this watch fill for you? Dress, GADA, Sport?

Donster_125

Ok so I鈥檓 still enamored with this watch. What role does this watch fill for you? Dress, GADA, Sport?

For me, GADA, which I think it excels at: 100m WR, a bit sporty on the bracelet, a bit dressy with the light play and brushed dial. Not too thick, not too large just an awful lot to enjoy. I've worn this watch for 12 consecutive days which is pretty much unheard of. I tend to mix up my watches quite consciously but the KS is so versatile it's been too easy to slip it on every day regardless of what's on. If that's not a recommendation for a GADA watch, I don't know what is.

DixonSteele

For me, GADA, which I think it excels at: 100m WR, a bit sporty on the bracelet, a bit dressy with the light play and brushed dial. Not too thick, not too large just an awful lot to enjoy. I've worn this watch for 12 consecutive days which is pretty much unheard of. I tend to mix up my watches quite consciously but the KS is so versatile it's been too easy to slip it on every day regardless of what's on. If that's not a recommendation for a GADA watch, I don't know what is.

Fair. That鈥檚 a great view of it. Don鈥檛 know how it would fair against my Pitzmann 2. Granted that鈥檚 more of a sport watch; which I still haven鈥檛 defined yet.

I鈥檓 now on the fence of keeping my Lorier AND getting the king Seiko.

Almost bought that same beautiful KS,bought the brown turtle pattern.You鈥檙e totally right on the winding experience.Also applies for time setting on mine.My KS bound up on me one day,while settling time.Back to seiko it went,they returned it running super slow.Back it went again.Seems OK now.It鈥檚 a little small for my taste.Great review.Agree with all points.