Welcome to another Sunday Morning Showdown! We hope you woke up with a nice cup of coffee this Sunday morning and are ready to vote for your favorite watch in this week’s battle of the divers. This week, it’s going to be like David versus Goliath. In one corner, we have the new Formex Reef 39.5mm, which came out in December of 2023. It’s going up against the Seiko Prospex Marinemaster, which Seiko announced last November. These are two brand-new divers with different price tags from two completely different brands. But could this battle be closer than the price difference might suggest? It’s time to find out!

Back in November, the introduction of the new Seiko Marinemaster was big news. With a design inspired by the first Seiko diver from 1965, a smaller and slimmer case thanks to a Seiko Slimline movement, a new bracelet, and new dials, this was a new step for the Marinemaster. But with a list price of €3,400, the new models had you all talking. It’s time to find out whether one of the newer kids on the block can take on the Japanese juggernaut Seiko and claim the victory. The Formex Reef is highly praised and has made a name for itself as a best-in-class diver. After first releasing the 42mm model in 2020, the brand announced a new 39.5mm model at the end of last year. It offers the same brilliant package of looks and specs for well under €2,000. Can it beat the mighty Marinemaster? Let’s find out!

Last week’s Sunday Morning Showdown

Before Daan and Jorg get into this week’s battle, let’s look at the results of the previous one. Last Sunday, the Chopard Alpine Eagle 41 XPS kicked Louis Vuitton’s butt. It took 72% of the votes, securing a solid victory and leaving the Louis Vuitton Tambour with a measly 28%. Looking at the comments, people seemed to be struggling to pick either. In a fictitious battle without losing any of your money, we expect votes next to opinions from you, Fratelli! All jokes aside, all input is welcome in these battles; we expect nothing else this week. Over to Jorg and Daan to make their cases for this week’s contenders. Gentlemen, take it away!

Jorg: Formex Reef 39.5mm

Sometimes you must get used to a watch before falling in love with it. That’s exactly what happened to me with the Formex Reef. Until the brand released the limited edition Reef Radiant Bronze, I liked the Reef line. But the Reef GMT’s design is too busy for me, and the regular 42mm Reef was capable but almost too technical. Don’t get me wrong; I like the design, but it wasn’t until the Radiant Bronze version that the Reef got a true soul that I connected with. It was also when I realized that relatively smaller changes could transform the standard Reef into something special.

Best under €5000

That small change first came in the form of a warm bronze dial that looked amazing. That’s why I was unsurprised that the collaborative effort with Collective sold out quickly. But what would be a great next step for Formex to follow up on that success? More special dials? The answer came late last year in the form of a smaller 39.5mm version of the Reef. When Thomas opened the box and handed the watch to me, I knew this was the right next step to win me over completely.

The new 39.5mm version (left) next to the original 42mm

How the Reef found its soul and won me over

Daan, I realize that the 42mm Formex Reef is a modern and technical-looking dive watch that can feel cold and somewhat impersonal. And it doesn’t come with the incredible backstory of any vintage-inspired Seiko Prospex divers. Therefore, the Reef risks becoming somewhat of a spec nerd’s dream without the right story or emotion. I didn’t expect that the smaller 39.5mm version would change that. But miraculously, it did for one simple reason: the smaller case size changes the overall dynamic of the design, taking a step away from an overly modern and technical feel.

With the new case, the watch’s dimensions and presence changed. As Thomas perfectly explained in his review, while the case size is smaller, the bracelet is still 22mm wide. As a result, the flared sides aren’t as prominent. It makes the Baby Reef feel more slender and less of a statement. This newfound subtlety is exactly what I needed to click with the Reef.

The Formex Reef has the specs and looks

So, let’s dive into the impressive list of specs. First, the Baby Reef has a 39.5mm stainless steel case that measures 11.4mm thick and 45.5mm from lug to lug, and it’s also water resistant to 300 meters. Furthermore, the watch comes with interchangeable bezels, making it easy to switch up the look when you want to. Inside the case is a COSC-certified Sellita SW300-1 with a 56-hour power reserve. You can choose between blue, green, and black sunburst dials or a crisp white dial. Formex then lets you match them with blue, green, and black ceramic bezels or a stainless steel bezel.

As mentioned, the watch comes with a 22mm stainless steel bracelet that feels super solid and features screw pins for easy sizing. The clasp has quick-release and toolless micro-adjustment mechanisms for even greater comfort. If there is one thing I didn’t like about the bracelet, it’s the lack of tapering. It would have made sense to fit the smaller, more elegant case with a tapered bracelet. It’s something that I hope Formex will change over time because that would make the Baby Reef impossible to resist.

The details give the Reef something extra

Overall, the list of specs is impressive, especially if you consider the €1,960 list price of the watch on the bracelet. And what you get is not just a fantastic-looking watch with a great set of specs. As you’ll quickly discover if you ever wear a Formex Reef, it’s also a watch full of impressive small details. The finishing is great, mixing brushed and polished surfaces. The hands and markers are nicely executed, and I love the design of the date window with its sloping sides.

On top of that, all the interchangeable parts can be swapped without using tools. All these elements show Formex’s great eye for detail and quality. The new Reef 39.5mm is a home run that is hard to beat under €3K. Yes, you read that correctly; even under €3,000, it’s hard to find a better watch than the Baby Reef. But unfortunately, that won’t even get you the new Seiko Marinemaster. When I read about that watch, I had a lot of questions about the design, the construction, the movement, and the price. If you put it against the Formex Reef 39.5mm, I have only one question, Daan: what makes the new Marinemaster the better watch?

Daan: Seiko Prospex Marinemaster

That’s a very good question, Jorg, but is that really the question we’re answering here? There are many watches out there that are “better” than the ones I have in my watch box. Still, I love my watches and prefer them over those supposedly superior ones.

Just like you, Jorg, I wasn’t a big fan of the 42mm Formex Reef. I also agree that the 39.5mm version feels like a much better-proportioned package. However, unlike you, I still can’t fall in love with it. I appreciate things like the swappable bezels. That’s something more brands should offer, just like the quick-release bracelet with on-the-fly micro-adjustment. But the Reef’s wider and more angular style just isn’t my thing. It’s most definitely a high-quality and well-designed watch, but it’s not for me. The new Marinemaster, on the other hand, does speak to me.

Funnily enough, Thomas, who reviewed the Reef 39.5mm, also reviewed the new Marinemaster lineup when it came out. In that article, he mentioned some of the history of the Marinemaster and how the SBDX001 Marinemaster 300 was such a pivotal model. I like how he mentioned that the new lineup certainly takes hints from earlier Seiko divers but also mixes those with new design elements. That’s exactly why I like the new Marinemaster so much. The case, bezel, and dial are all recognizable, yet, at the same time, they feel brand new.

Not a mini Marinemaster 300

I felt like many of the commenters underneath Thomas’s review were disappointed that this new Marinemaster didn’t look like a mini Marinemaster 300. Seiko already did such a thing in the past, for example, with the SPB185 and SPB077. With this new Marinemaster, it was time for something different. This means that, next to it being a very functional diver’s watch, it also offers a bit more frills for the luxury watch lover.

The well-executed polished bevels on the case make a strong first impression, and the larger teeth on the bezel add to that powerful look. The deckside decoration on the dial and the five-row bracelet, however, show Seiko from its more fashionable side. I like this contrast as it results in a watch design that, in my eyes, works really well. However, the end links might need a little adjustment for a better match with the case.

The premium price point

The biggest obstacle to overcome here is the price. It looks like the new price tag of €3,400 is Seiko’s way of competing with the likes of Tudor. Seiko used the same strategy with the SJE093, the perfected 62MAS re-edition. People were offended then, and they were offended again when that same price appeared on the new Marinemaster. Yes, the 6L37 movement might be slimmer and more refined than previous calibers. Other than that, though, it’s not very impressive, especially when you look at its advertised deviation of  +15/-10 seconds per day.

I know that I’m defending the Marinemaster here, but at this price, Seiko has some catching up to do. The Formex Reef is a perfect example of how much watch a brand can offer at just under €2,000. I still may not like its looks more than the new Marinemaster’s, but specs-wise, the Reef wins with a knockout. However, that doesn’t change the fact that I’d still rather wear the Seiko instead of the Formex, primarily due to its looks.

Cast your votes!

All right, there you have it — the battle between David and Goliath. Will you go for the Prospex Marinemaster with its long and impressive Seiko lineage, or do you prefer the fresh-faced Formex Reef 39.5mm? Make up your mind now, and get ready to vote. Also, let us know in the comments why you think your pick should win this week’s Sunday Morning Showdown.

Formex Reef 39.5mm vs. Seiko Prospex Marinemaster