#TBT Seiko H558 Arnie – One Serious Diver
With today’s look at the Seiko H558 Arnie, we find ourselves heading down a precarious path into the realm of the “celebrity watch”. Don’t worry, we’ll speak a little about the man this watch takes its name from, but we’ll spend more time on why this product of the 1980’s deserves more recognition aside from its relation to a film star and politician. Oh, and lest I forget, this watch falls under the Tuna category and while I stated that we were almost complete on cataloguing those great watches, a return to the subject with the H558 is a real case of “I’ll be back”. You knew that was coming…
Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, astronauts, Jochen & Nina Rindt: the list of celebrities who now have a watch named after them goes on and on. Most of the time, thankfully, the watches are pretty good and their secondhand value reflects this as well. Despite the fact that today’s watch isn’t mechanical, the Seiko H558 Arnie, which is named after one Arnold Schwarzenegger, is also highly prized amongst collectors. It turns out that Arnie, who is a rather legendary watch collector, favored a fairly pedestrian Seiko in the mid-1980’s and wore it in some really big films such as The Predator, Commando, Raw Deal, Running Man, and Twins.
The rugged looks of the watch seemed to fit the nature of the characters he played (ok, not in Twins, but perhaps his use of the watch in this film tells us even more about how much he loved wearing it) and because of the superstardom he achieved during this period, the watch became immensely popular throughout the globe. Now, I feel a bit like an old geezer in saying this because I realize some of our readers might be a bit younger, but Schwarzenegger was massive in the 80’s and early 90’s. Sure, there were other action stars (Stallone, Van Damme, Lundgren, Seagal and others), but Arnie kicked the most ass. Plus, he was hard not to like and due to his often self-deprecating style of acting, there was a genuine feel about him. People liked him so much that he was elected governor of California – twice – as a Republican! I even recall absurd discussions about eliminating the rule that US President had to be born on American soil in order to make room for a possible Austrian president. I mean, who wouldn’t want the Terminator as the leader of the free world? But politics aside, prior to Arnie’s switch over to Panerai, AP, and other monstrosities, he went with Seiko. Did he choose a good watch in the Seiko H558?
I’ll cut to the chase, the Seiko H558 Arnie is a cool watch and certainly worthy of the collectable status that it enjoys. Prior to the H558’s arrival, I didn’t really know what to expect. For sure, I knew that the Arnie was legendary in Seiko circles, but I also knew that the displays were prone to flaking out, their small lights often no longer working and, worst of all, the original plastic shrouds are frequently cracked. The latter issue is so common that there’s even a small cottage industry making reproduction replacement plastic and stainless steel shrouds that can come to the rescue. Thankfully, this Japanese-sourced example is in sublime condition, so it makes for a good article piece.
The Seiko H558 Arnie was introduced in 1982 and made until (or through) 1990. In Japan, it retailed for a fairly pricey 45,000 JPY. After this, it was replaced by a cool, but cost-cutting model called the H601. Upon its debut, the Seiko became the world’s first hybrid diver 150M and equipped with an alarm and chronograph. That’s a lot of qualifiers, so it’s hard to figure out exactly what were the “firsts”, but I can imagine that it was fairly groundbreaking 36+ years ago. As a note, the 200M Citizen Aqualand pictured here, with a depth sensor, didn’t come around until 1985. Unfortunately, I don’t own a Casio AMW320, but I believe these also came after 1982 (oh, and Arnie wore one of these as well). Yes, ana-digi divers were popular back in the 80’s. The Seiko was made in a few different variants. The -5000 is what you see here and is a JDM model that states “Water 150M Resist” on its dial. -5009 variants for the rest of the world simply state “Diver’s 150M” and are likely the variant that Arnie wore. A rare orange version, the -500a, also exists with both the JDM and rest of world dial wording as well. And finally, a very rare -500a variant exists with gold hands and gold font on the bezel. As you know by now, nothing is ever simple with Seiko.
Aside from the aforementioned stated complications, the Seiko H558 Arnie employed the same “L-shaped” crystal gasket found on the big dog Tunas we’ve reviewed before. The bezel is uni-directional and clicks reassuringly. The large crown is screw-down and the screw-down case back features the familiar tsunami motif that tells us we’re dealing with a capable watch. And while the same sentence appears all over the web, it’s worth noting that Seiko apparently designed the H558 for serious exposure. It was tested by Seiko engineers from low temperatures of -40C and up to 60C. The watch accompanied climbers to a successful ascent of Everest in 1988 and also went on explorations of both the North and South Pole. Most credit this watch for kicking off the Landmaster formula that we still have today.
Amongst Seiko collectors, the Seiko H558 Arnie falls into the Tuna category. Consider it more of a crazy uncle (along with the Ashtrays we looked at not so long ago) instead of a brother because it contains some design tropes from the deep divers, but lacks things like a front-loading case, crown at 4:00 and ultra-deepwater resistance. In looking at the dial, it’s clear there’s a resemblance in the hand shaping, the use of large white indices and, of course, the shroud.
Plus, like the Tunas, it’s not small at roughly 45mm in diameter, 46.5mm lug to lug, and with 22mm lugs. But, unlike the rest of the Tunas, the H558 comes in at a svelte 11.3mm, which makes it very different from the rest of the family – see the 7549-7010 above. Due to its stainless chassis, though, the watch is heavier than one would expect.
The user interface for the Seiko H558 Arnie has to be one of the best I’ve ever used. I say this knowing that I am an idiot when it comes to using multi-function digital watches. The upper left button on the left side activates the digital display light when the chronograph is not being used. The lower left button allows the user to scroll through the various functions such as the date, local time, time at other location, alarm, and chronograph. To adjust most things, one simply has to scroll to the right function, unscrew the crown to the second stop (the third changes the analog hands) and turn the crown in either direction to adjust the setting. When the crown is pushed down, everything is locked into place. For sure, there’s a bit more complexity than that, but that’s the primary style of menu and it works brilliantly.
It should be noted that the movement design necessitates the position of the buttons and crown. When flipped over, everything is asymmetric; even the crown is not exactly at 3:00, which makes for a bit of a trick to the eyes. Finally, while we are discussing functionality, take note of the words “Depth Meter” on the inward sloping dial. Sadly, the Arnie doesn’t contain Aqualand-like capabilities in this regard; the depth meter is simply a scale that, if the bezel is left with the arrow at 12:00, tells us the minimum amount of time (in seconds per the outer bezel) that a diver would need to resurface from the corresponding number of meters shown on the inner bezel. Think of it as a poor man’s “no deco” bezel and you’re on the right track.
It’s taken quite a bit to explain the Seiko H558 Arnie, but how do I like it? Even though it’s quartz and contains a digital (gasp!) display, it’s hard not to love this watch (it’s endearing much like the 7A28 Yacht Timer from the same era). Aside from the seemingly fragile shroud, this is one solid nugget and it’s wonderfully made. The various sloping dial surfaces, the weight, and the functionality all come together in a great package. Plus, after reading loads of forum postings about this watch and seeing Arnie in his sleeveless fatigues from Predator, it’s hard not to fall for the no-nonsense looks of this brute. Whether on rubber, a NATO, or a mesh bracelet, the Arnie fits my wrist very well due to its round shape. The slim thickness gives it a very “un-Tuna” like feel too because the watch lacks the typical top heaviness that plagues the bigger relatives.
When it comes to securing a Seiko H558 Arnie, you’ll find that prices are all over the map. Condition varies wildly as well and it’s very difficult to find one that isn’t lacking something (such as that silly light that honestly isn’t very bright anyhow). Most shrouds have either been replaced or epoxied and the flat vent straps like the GL831 are normally long gone. Wrecked movements are an issue as well because this movement was only used in this watch and a similar piece with an ashtray-like bezel. That being said, unless water comes in or an errant tool destroys some electronics, they’re known to be reliable. Coming back to prices, you can expect to pay anywhere from $500 to well over $1,000. At the $500 mark, you’re almost definitely talking about a watch that has had work done or needs it.
Hopefully, today’s look at the Seiko H558 Arnie convinces you that this watch is more than a celebrity piece. Seiko put a lot of effort into this watch in trying to make it a real rugged piece for use above and below the surface. Give an Arnie a go and take solace in the fact that you don’t require biceps the size of a tree trunk to wear one well. And with that, …we’ll be back. 😉