Introducing: The Seiko SPB441 — Kicking Off The Brand’s Official 100th Anniversary
Well, 2024 is going to be a big year indeed! Of course, we’ll have the UEFA European Football Championship in Germany and the Summer Olympics in France. But it’s also the year in which the Seiko brand turns 100 years old. And for the occasion, the Japanese watchmaker is kicking things off with the new Seiko SPB441. This watch is inspired by the very first Seiko-branded wristwatch. It’s a limited edition of 1,000 pieces, and it features a brand-new movement.
When I first looked at the press release for this new watch, I thought I was having déjà vu. At the end of last year, I wrote an introduction article for another limited edition, the SPB359. That watch was released to celebrate the 110th anniversary of the first Japanese wristwatch, the Laurel from 1913. When you look at both the original watches side by side, you can see they have quite a lot in common. That’s also true for the re-editions, but the fact that Seiko uses a new movement inside the SPB441 means it also looks a lot more like the original from 1924. Let’s take a look.
The birth of Seiko as a brand
In September 1923, Japan was hit by the Great Kantō Earthquake, which had a magnitude of 7.9 on the Richter scale. Among many other buildings, it also destroyed a large part of Kintaro Hattori’s Seikosha factory. But the company’s founder wasn’t easily put off. A little over a year later, in December 1924, he restarted the production of wristwatches and decided to give them a new brand name — Seiko. That first watch was based on a prototype that, luckily, had survived the earthquake. With the proceeds from the new watch, Hattori could finance the renovation of his factory and the modernization of its manufacturing equipment.
If you’re familiar with the Laurel, then this first-ever Seiko-branded watch will also look quite familiar. It has the same pebble-shaped stainless steel case, white enamel dial with graceful Breguet numerals, blued hands, and a sub-seconds dial at 6 o’clock. It used to be quite a small watch, though, at right around 24mm in diameter. The watch debuting today is a very close representation of that very first Seiko-branded wristwatch. However, some elements have received a slight redesign to meet modern standards.
The 2024 Seiko SPB441
The most obvious change in the SPB441’s design is probably the 35mm size. Also, the wire lugs have made way for a sturdier construction. Other than that, at first sight, the watch looks very similar to the original from 1924. The white enamel dial is still very white, and the painted numerals on top still look very graceful. Even the Seiko signature looks like it’s in the same font as the one from 1924. But then, when you look a little further, some clear differences also pop up.
This new watch has four hands instead of the original’s three. A central hand now indicates the seconds, and the 24-hour sub-dial indicates whether it’s night or day. While this is a departure from its historical inspiration, the overall dial layout still looks very similar to that 1924 original. That’s not something that could be said about last year’s re-edition, the SPB359. This has everything to do with a new automatic movement that Seiko was able to use.
A truly modernized re-edition
The new 6R5H is very similar to the 6R51 and 6R55 calibers. The former is a time-only movement, and the latter adds a date complication. Instead of the date, the 6R5H has a 24-hour sub-dial (which some will say is useless without a date, but you can decide for yourself). The movement runs at a 21,600vph frequency, and it has a comfortable power reserve of 72 hours. It also houses 24 jewels and has an advertised accuracy of between +25 and -15 seconds per day. Other than this new movement, the SPB441 also feels more grown-up when you look at the rest of the specs.
The 12.3mm-thick stainless steel case is water resistant to 5 ATM. That means it should be fine in the rain and perhaps even swimming for brief periods. The domed crystal is sapphire, and it has an antireflective coating on the underside. Both the crown and the case back bear the corporate Seiko “S” logo. And even Kintaro Hattori’s motto —”One step ahead of the rest” — is engraved on the case back. Finally, the watch comes on a Bund-like black leather strap, which was quite common back in the 1920s.
Honestly, I wasn’t all that excited about last year’s SPB359. I felt it was a bit too far from the original, so it couldn’t convince me. But this year’s re-edition of the first-ever Seiko-branded wristwatch does do a very good job of bringing back that 1920s charm. No, it’s not 100% the same as the original, but at least the dial layout stayed more or less the same. At €2,000 it’s only €100 more expensive than last year’s anniversary model. And you might have to be quick to get your hands on one because Seiko will produce only 1,000 pieces.
The Seiko SPB441 comes in a special old-school box, which includes a pin badge with Seiko’s trademark “S.” The watch will be available as of January 2024 at official Seiko boutiques and selected retail partners worldwide. For more information, please check out Seiko’s official website.
Let me know in the comments below what you think of Seiko’s new SPB441.