Seiko’s New 5KX Line: Not Quite the Same as the Old Boss
About the Author: Kris P. is a Philadelphia architect, development manager, and professor who is an enthusiast of old stuff, his wife and two daughters, and driving sports cars.
Editor’s Note: At post time, availability for the new 5KX watches here in the U.S. is scattered at best. Macy’s and Kohl’s, of all places, seem to be your best bets for early drops.
Is it better to get recycled or fade away? Seiko’s affordable lineups just experienced both. When Seiko announced the new 5 Sports lineup this summer, it was apparent that the vaunted SKX lineup was officially dead, and had been up-cycled into the new fashion line. Drowned out by the hype over that model’s discontinuation, Seiko quietly put their 55+-year-old Seiko 5 line out to pasture. (Officially, they’ll only be for sale on Amazon, with no further recognition on Seiko’s website.) The new 5 Sports have big shoes to fill in both cases. How do they do? Well, the nature of your relationship with the lines’ predecessors will likely have a huge impact on your opinion.
The new, SRPD71 from the 5 Sports “Suits” Line. Low to mid $200s depending on source and sale.
Enough has been written about the SKX that there’s little I could add here. Introduced 23 years ago, the SKX007/009 and their brethren are legendary ”beater” dive watches with a cult following and a cottage industry supporting aftermarket modifications. The lineup has been on an horology death watch for the past half-decade or so, as its technical specs and market position made less and less sense in Seiko’s modern lineup. But you don’t get rid of a winner, and production chugged along as demand for the iconic diver stayed strong.
The Old: The legendary Seiko SKX 007.
The Seiko 5 line was introduced in 1963 as an affordable and capable entry-level sub-brand, and since then has included more references than you can shake a stick at. All are bound by five defining principles: an automatic movement, day/date in a single window, significant water resistance, a crown at 4 o’clock (with some exceptions for the 5 line), and durable case and bracelet. Just as the SKX was a gateway to dive watches, the Seiko 5 watches played the same role of introducing quality, reliable automatic sport and dress watches to the market. Bright colorways and aggressive styling appealed especially to the younger buyer.
Old vs. New
Left: The old SKX 007. Right: one of the new 5 Sports, nicknamed the 5KX.
Take the physical parameters of the SKX and splash in the flair and ethos of the 5 line, and voila, you have the new 5 Sports line. Instead of 2 lines in a variety of configurations, capabilities, and cases, the Seiko 5 Sports lineup will consist of 27 different watches, sharing a common movement (4R36) and case (the old SKX case) but with diverse and different combinations of case finishes, dials, and straps. Identified by the SRPD internal code – but already nicknamed the 5KX – the line has been broken up into five categories of colorways and finishes: Sports, Suits, Specialist, Street, and Sense. The simple but reliable 7S26 movement from the SKX and many Seiko 5s is out and has been replaced with the Seiko 4R36. This type of upgrade was a super-common after-market modification for SKXs, and addresses a big knock on the 7S26 – the lack of hand-winding and hacking.
Style, but a slight step back in terms of Substance?
Like a fashion model who was scouted from a construction job-site (which actually happened to a friend of mine), the SKX case and dial clean up very well in 5 Sport form. But in the process of going from Carhartts to a tux, they get noticeably softer and a bit less capable.
The new logo, and script “automatic” on the dial. Same 42mm diameter as the old SKX.
The first change that hits you is the new 5 logo (controversial, but to me an improvement over the old 5) and the scripted “Automatic” on the dial. It’s all very sharp and stylized, but also signals that aesthetics are going to rule the day now. The flat, printed Seiko logo is now in elegant raised metallic letters, while the utilitarian red dive 200M dive rating is gone from the dial. On the two watches I ordered, the hour markers are outlined in silver, which is a subtle move that has a huge effect in upping the quality feel of the watch face. Some of the other colorways are really aesthetically aggressive – with blacked out dials and PVD coated cases – and they look great. The 42mm case is the same as the old SKX, but this time around, the finish absolutely pops. The polished portions are bright, and the seams are sharp. An exhibition caseback shows off the upgraded Japanese-made (not Malaysian) 4R36 movement. The lugs are drilled now for easier strap changes. True to reputation, you can practically read a book on a moonless light with the lume – it visibly glows in the shade on a sunny day.
Lume. Yes. It has it. And then some.
As for the softness? This is where your feelings towards the SKX will start to flavor your opinion of the new 5 Sports. The SKX’s screw-down crown? Gone. The ISO 6324 rating? Gone. The stainless steel screwdown caseback? Gone. Lumed pip on the bezel? Gone. The 200M water resistance noted on the dial? Gone. But before you complain, pause and consider whether you think of the new 5KX line as a replacement for the SKX, or, as a fashion watch. The 100M rating is a step back from the SKX, but it’s great for an automatic fashion watch. In general, when you match any of the 5 Sports lineup against its non-Seiko competitors in the price range, they represent excellent quality and value. And for a fashion watch, a screw down crown is just one more thing to break.
Hacking & hand winding Japanese movement.
But no screw down crown or screw down caseback.
But for many SKX wearers, the dive rating wasn’t literally about diving, but perhaps body surfing, or fishing, or surviving an overturned canoe 15 years down the road. Between it’s shiny finish and its backed-down specs, the 5KX just doesn’t have the “go anywhere do anything” vibe of its predecessor. The SKX wasn’t just a tough watch – it was a rare item (see Levis 501s, Jeep Wranglers, waxed cotton shooting jackets, etc.) that looked better with a little bit of wear and tear. The new 5KXs? Many of them are just polished enough that they’ll look tired, not rugged, when they patina and fade. So, if you’re the kind of person like me, who laments that you can’t get good stuff at Army/Navy stores anymore, then the 5KX evolution away from utility is disappointing.
Prettier? Perhaps. Not as rugged? For sure.
Similarly, making a blanket statement comparing the SRPD lineup to the preceding Seiko 5 line is as hard as comparing it to the SKX is easy. The 5 lineup was so diverse – Amazon alone is currently carrying dozens of Seiko 5 models. It ranges from two of the best affordable field and dress watches on the market to some poorly designed “dive-style” models that seemed like cheap fashion watches next to Seiko’s big-boy divers. With this in mind, I can’t help but wonder if this one-case-replaces-all strategy is a mistake. I rarely wear my SKX007 or 009 to work, because its 13.25mm case thickness (which makes sense for an ISO rated diver) just doesn’t fit under my dress shirt cuff with ease. A dress watch should have a certain sleekness that these watches are never going to have with their thick cases and dive bezels. Seiko was wise to ensure that the massive aftermarket modding world continues to be fed with new SKX-spec parts, but I can’t help but wonder if they should have introduced at least one or two slimmer cases in parallel, especially for the dressier references. There are unconfirmed rumors of a Seiko 6 line may be in the works (the 6th element being a sapphire crystal) that may have more styles, so perhaps I’m not the only one who thought this.
Reflections on two, new, specific Seiko 5 Sports models
The blue SRPD71 from the “Suits” line caught my eye immediately. The previously mentioned silver-ringed hour markers really refine the look, and this model’s red-tipped seconds hand (a “Suits” thing, apparently) is a very nice touch. The white chapter ring, maybe less so, though it does make the whole watch seem smaller. Annoyingly though, the bezel and the face colors don’t quite match each other in person – closer examination showed a sort of ombre effect in the face’s blue. The SRPD71 also uses vintage-y off-white lume in the hour markers, but not on the the pure-white chapter ring. The steel mesh bracelet that the 51 shipped with is sharp – not really my style, but sharp, and vaguely vintage-y as well. With the crisp finishing and inconsistent coloring, I am not sure what this watch is trying to be. It almost feels like 27 varieties may have split the designers’ attention.
The blue SRPD71, and the black SRPD55.
The SRPD55 from the “Specialist” line boasts the same embellished logos and hour markers as the 71, and is probably the most direct comparison to the iconic SKX007, with it’s simple black face and bezel. Side by side, the enhanced finishing of the SRPD is clear – it pops like a newer and fresher SKX. The SPRD55 is a good looking watch, and again, I’d buy it over most of its non-Seiko competitors. But its similarity to the SKX007 only highlights the steps back in capability. The rest of the line holds some pretty punchy and unique colorways that offer a little more distinction and fun, and more of a visual step forward from the SKX than this basic black model does.
The Seiko 5 Sport MSRPs for $350, but I was able to get both watches shown for about $200 each from Macy’s during their Friends and Family sale. Macy’s should be an Authorized Dealer, but for some reason, neither watch came with a warranty card or manual, and the blue watch arrived at my door in a Citizen box. (WTF, Macy’s? I WANT to support you during the retail apocalypse, but you’re not making it easy.) Kohl’s is offering a similar deal with coupons on some alternate colorways. If this trend holds up, you won’t have to wait longer than the next department store holiday sale to pick one up for $200 or less.
This is not an SKX 007.
I think the 5 Sports are a great value at $200. They are reliable, well-made fashion watches with nice detailing and enough variety that there’s sure to be one in your style. If you’re aggrieved by the lack of capability vs. the SKX, you can still pick up a new SKX for the mid to high $200s, plus Seiko officially made a gazillion bulletproof SKXs in 23 years that can be found any day on the secondhand market. For the full $350 MSRP, I’d probably pass on the 5 Sports, though, and wait for a more-capable Seiko Turtle to come on sale, or go for another quality brand’s entry-level diver.
I have to wonder if the inevitable outcome of this shared platform/many options launch is mass customization. (Seiko, if you haven’t considered this, call me!) I would have liked to have ordered one of the more extreme options from the line of 27, but most of them aren’t to market in the US yet, which I’m sure hints at the difficulty of keeping inventory for 27 fit and finish combos, plus various straps. With some fantastic watches (Christopher Ward, Dan Henry, others) eschewing brick and mortar stores, and with youth being the traditional Seiko 5 market, online sales make sense. Plus, the intense modding culture around SKXs shows that customization is a big draw. Being able to customize your watch from the factory and have it delivered to your house is the logical next step. If/when it happens, you can say you read it here!