It’s been a while since my last watch review and so, it is my pleasure to bring to you a long term summary of the Seiko SRPD97J1. This piece comes under a slew of nicknames, baby blizzard, baby GS, zen garden and there is good reason for it. Hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did bringing this to you!
The watch in question was released in November 2019 without as much as a whimper in classic Seiko style. This Presage piece was the first model to reveal the brand’s intention to implement updates to their core model lines. So what’s different about this particular piece?
While the venerable 4R35 movement remains, a sapphire crystal replaces Hardlex and we are met with an entirely new case design. Leaving a footprint (or wrist-print?) of 38.5mm across, 11.2mm thick and 48mm lug to lug, this is a slight undercut to the existing range and a very welcome one. Amongst the new hardware, we also have a brand new dial finish and leaf hands, but more on that in a tick (pun absolutely intended). The Seiko manufacture has been lauded by collectors for many reasons and rightly so, but case proportions are not exactly their strong suit. The SRPD97J1 wears beautifully, with its dimensions hitting all the sweet spots for my (6.5inch/17cm) wrist. Not only is it extremely comfortable, it underlines a dress inclination with a subtle but classy presence on the wrist. For those coming from modern, larger watches, its 38.5mm case may feel slightly smaller than the measurement suggests, but once acquainted the fear of the SRPD97J1 being too petite wears away… quite literally.
Apart from size, what makes this watch fall on the formal side of the sport to dress scale, is the high polish case, hands and dial. Enthusiasts are familiar with Grand Seiko and top tier Seiko polishing techniques and know it is produced to an impeccable standard. Looking back to when I owned a blue cocktail time (which you can read about here), a mainstay of the Presage line, the polished hands and markers had slight blemishes that were visible to the naked eye. Not to say that it was poorly finished, it merely pierced the veil of economy required for Seiko to remain a profitable entity. For the SRPD97J1, the veil well and truly remains
I mentioned some improvements earlier, but none more-so than the level of polishing found behind the sapphire crystal. The hands are beautiful in their shape and finish. Elegant and mirror like, it is what marries the white winter canvas of the dial to its gleaming surfaces such as the applied logo at 12, date window frame and hour markers. And oh my the hour markers. The applied indices feature the same granulated appearance, reminiscent of very fine grit sandpaper or not too dissimilar from the appearance of an Audermars Piguet’s Royal Oak frosted bracelet. (Yes, I just made a comparison between AP and Seiko but I dare you to tell me they don’t look similar). Further, the edges of the markers are polished so not only do you receive glints of lustre from said granulation, but also beaming light from each hour marker. This results in the wearer being highly susceptible to repetitive strain injury as you continue to roll your wrist back and forth in order to view the ever lasting visual dance of the SRPD97J1. The way light finds its way from the surrounding environment onto the dial and sends its back to you in a glistening array of polished facets is usually reserved for pieces with a Grand to preface Seiko.
Moving to the dial, the nicknames mentioned in the introduction suggest strong connections to nature. Many timepieces by Seiko have been made in reference to the winter seasons and the SRPD97J1 absolutely slots into that category, but does so in a way different to any snowflake, baby GS or otherwise. The indentation on the dial is so fine that it can appear to be a stark matte white, produce a hint of silver sparkle or appear as soft snow depending on the type of light that is present. To avoid repetition of adjectives used to describe other pieces inspired by the Japanese winter, I will leave it to the photos to confirm that the SRPD97J1 is spectacularly glacial. A blue seconds hand provides some colour and does so from a deep tone all the way to a vibrant pop. The dynamism is achieved through the dye used to colour the hand, rather than the more labour intensive heat treatment. Keeping costs down for consumers and manufacturer while providing a pleasant, unique aesthetic? I can get down with that.
Would We Change Anything?
The Presage line has come with a value proposition as good as ever with build quality that is better than ever. Sapphire crystals, more attention to detail in polishing and an incredible new dial, it really is harder to pick apart the product I have spent 6 months with. However, there remains some critique.
The bracelet that has accompanied Presage pieces remains and being quite familiar with the folded, hollow 5 link design and butterfly clasp I am just not a fan. It is jangley in a way that facilitates comfort but is absent of structure. The butterfly clasp is sufficient, however the folded end links are made with very, uh, generous tolerances so they meet the case in much the same way the bracelet holds itself together. None of what I just said matters though (does anything I say matter?) because the antidote is to put this watch (or most Presage pieces) on a leather strap of your choice, especially with the SRPD97J1 being as dressy as it is. Problem Solved!
My second qualm is the crown. It sits proud, protruding just a touch from the case. My guess is that the same crown stems have been used for pieces with 40mm diameters as the 4R35 movement is common place amongst the Presage line. I’ll leave it to a watchmaker to confirm, but this is just one example of refinement that can separate a watch from being under or over $1,000. With the SRPPD97J1 coming in at an RRP of $825AUD I can forgive it, only because it did not impede on the wearing experience while making the crown easier to access and operate.
On the wrist from day 1, this Presage never waivers in its ability to capture and hold your attention through the way the dial and polished facets interact with light. Beautiful proportions, an incredible aesthetic accompanied by incremental updates makes this timepiece one that is hard to argue with. The SRPD97J1 is a thoroughly pleasant visual experience with an amazing value proposition and reliable components. If that ain’t Seiko then I don’t know what is.