Hands-On With The New Seiko SPB411 Navigator Timer Reissue
Occasionally, a watch brand releases a new model that is exactly what you were hoping for. I am not referring to getting the call from your authorized dealer about the allocation you have been waiting for, nor am I talking about obtaining your current grail watch. Somewhere, each of us has an idea for a watch, either a new design or reissue, that we are hoping a brand will release. This has happened to me once before. They say lightning does not strike twice, but in the case of the new Seiko SPB411 Navigator Timer reissue, it has!
I have had the watch for nearly two weeks at the time of writing, and I have yet to wind it. It has barely left my wrist. Fittingly, the day after picking the watch up from Richter & Philips (my local AD), I took it on a trip to a different time zone. The one-hour adjustment doesn’t require a GMT function, but there is something romantic about traveling with this complication. Spending so much time with this watch has me second-guessing myself on occasion. While I haven’t been able to try on an original 6117-8000 (yet), I catch myself thinking, “Is this a new watch, or is it new old stock?”
The 411 on the 411
The recently released SPB411 is as faithful a reissue as any watch I have seen in recent memory. In a prior article, Mike was kind enough to point out how closely the dimensions (38.5mm × 45.2mm × 12.6mm) are to those of the original. While there are sub-1mm differences in the diameter and thickness, the lug-to-lug measurement remaining unchanged means that this watch should truly feel like the original on the wrist.
The SPB411 comes on a five-row bracelet, which fits the vintage vibe of the watch. While the original 6117-8000 had a five-row bracelet, there are some differences between the vintage and modern ones. Whereas the vintage bracelet’s links were thin and flat, the modern one has much beefier, more angular links. This bracelet also has female end links, allowing it to drape around smaller wrists, and it tapers nicely to the clasp. The clasp is small, with rounded corners and just a slight amount of play. While some might not like this, I think it adds to the charm of this particular piece.
Like the original, the anthracite dial has a sunburst finish that catches light but remains legible. The handset is virtually identical to the original, and the date window is in its proper location at 3 o’clock. Going a step further, the applied Seiko logo and “automatic” text at 12 o’clock are true to the original. There are two lines of text at 6 o’clock as well. While the words are different due to modern technology increasing the water resistance rating, the appearance is the same.
Putting the Seiko SPB411 through its paces
Picking up the watch and then boarding a plane within 24 hours let me use the SPB411 for its intended purpose — travel. The two flights that I took were 45 minutes each, and my layovers in Chicago (one on the way to my destination and one upon my return) were also less than an hour. The SPB411 felt right at home in the friendly skies and in the three airports that I visited. It slid under my cuff thanks to its svelte case and felt at home in the home office that I was visiting on my work trip. Its minimal polishing lends itself to travel. While I wasn’t climbing mountains, hiking, or spelunking, boarding and disembarking a regional jet with two carry-on items can lead to bumps and knocks.
I have never been one to baby a timepiece, but in some ways, the design of the SPB411 makes it ideally suited for this endeavor both now and 55 years ago. I gravitate towards tool watches because of their versatility. The cliches abound, but wearing a watch that works in both casual and modern business settings is important for me because I try to travel with only one watch. The vintage proportions of this one don’t draw too much attention, but the dial and bracelet catch plenty of light. In addition, the red GMT hand hints that this watch is something a little more special than your average fare.
The GMT hand and quick-set date function operate off the first crown position. I have found that setting the GMT hand to Greenwich Mean Time (Universal Time Coordinated) and using the bidirectional friction bezel to adjust +/- for the desired time zone is the best way to use a caller GMT like this. It does mean having to know which time zone you are after, but there are a few that I track frequently and come to mind easily. This means that I use the bidirectional bezel more frequently, and I must say, it is a joy. It is easy to rotate but firm and smooth in both directions. Rarely has it been knocked off the position I last left it in.
The SPB411 is such an easy watch to wear in any situation that it has barely left my wrist since I acquired it. The C-case is slim, and the sub-40mm diameter makes this watch incredibly wearable for many folks. If you are lucky enough, the case back might even sink comfortably into the area between your radius and ulna, allowing it to feel even slimmer. Something that I hadn’t thought of but have started to notice is that the recessed crown near 4 o’clock (not centered at the marker, which might be a slight miss for some) nearly lines up with the edge of the case. While this is common on several vintage Seiko models, I had never worn one for an extended time. This crown placement is incredibly comfortable and increases the case symmetry, which is visually pleasing.
I was excited to see this watch in the metal for such a long time, and while the wearing experience has been superb, there is one detail that I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up. I have brought it up previously, and it has to be mentioned. The Seiko caliber 6R54 is a fine movement, but it is a caller GMT. Now, I suppose that’s an improvement over the original 6117-8000. In that watch, just like the Rolex GMT-Master (not GMT-Master II), none of the hands were independently adjustable. In a way, then, you could still see the caller GMT function as a step up. But would this watch be even better if it had the Seiko caliber 6R64 with its independently adjustable 12-hour hand? My initial reaction would be to say, “Yes.”
However, I am not sure that movement would allow for the same proportions. I am sure that if this watch were thicker or had a larger diameter, it would not wear as well as it does. I certainly wouldn’t trade the wearing experience for an independently adjustable 12-hour hand. Not to mention, the Seiko 6R64 has a date sub-dial at 6 o’clock and a power reserve indicator at 9. With the focus on adhering to the original 6117-8000 as closely as possible, I think that Seiko made the right call(er) here.
What do you think of the Seiko SPB411 Navigator Timer reissue? Let me know in the comments below!