Most of us have experienced it - looking at a watch ending its production only to find out later that prices in the used market are hiking towards the mountain top. This is a review of a watch that is no longer available from an authorized dealer. The watch we are talking about is the Seiko SARB033, what used to be a hidden gem within the Seiko catalog.
I still remember when this watch was first introduced, I asked myself, "What is that? Is that a Grand Seiko?". The proportions and design are reminiscent of Seiko's bigger brother, Grand Seiko. Seiko first released the SARB033 in 2007 as a JDM only model. Which means for anyone living outside of Japan, they would have to import the watch. After eleven years of production, the watch was officially discontinued in 2018 and prices seems to have fluctuated upwards ever since. At the time of writing this review, an example from the pre-owned market is being sold for between $600-$1,200 CAD. That is quite a bit more than what Seiko was originally asking for.
The case is finished with a polished bezel, brushed lugs, and polished case sides. I am not a big fan of how the facets are transitioned from brushed to polished as they never seem to be crisp when viewed in close proximity. However, you can't really fault a $400 watch for not having the best finishes in the highest standard possible. After all, a manufacturer can only do so much with a limited budget.
The watch comes standard with a sapphire crystal on the dial side and a Hardlex crystal on the case back for movement viewing. Back in 2007, watches at this price point rarely come standard with sapphire crystals, let alone a see through case back. The 46mm lug to lug distance makes it very wearable. At first glance, you may think the 38mm diameter is small by today's standard, but once the watch is on the wrist, it becomes apparent that it is appropriately sized.
Case diameter: 38mm
Case Thickness: 11mm
Lug to Lug: 46mm
Lug Width: 20mm
The 11mm thickness of the watch is just substantial enough to be used for sports or casual events. The watch is rated at 10 ATM, an equivalence of 100m water resistance. The crown has a Seiko signed "S" logo. Further to the thickness, Seiko visually slims down the case by creating a rounded case side. Most of the remaining bulk is from the case back and sapphire crystal/bezel front. By intelligently utilizing multifaceted finishes, it gives the illusion of an overall thinner case.
The dial of the watch looks like an inky black, but under direct sunlight, a sunburst effect could be observed. The applied "Seiko" logo along with the metallic texts are also a welcomed detail. The logo is held on by a few small feet that are hidden out of sight. Look closely and it is as if the logo is floating in midair.
The date display has a metal frame around the date cut out - a feature we usually find on more expensive watches. Also, luminous is applied on each hour marker as well as on the hour and minute hands to assist visibility when it is dark.
Who else is into the "in-house movement" hype right now? Because Seiko has been doing it for years. The SARB033 uses a Seiko in-house manufactured 6R15 movement. Seiko usually reserves the 6R for their higher end products. However, we find this very movement in the SARB. The 6R15 contains features such as hacking, manual winding, as well as 50 hours power reserve. These are features you would not see in the similar price point Seiko offers, such as the 7S26 used in the SKX. The 6R15 is broadly considered as a direct competitor to the Swiss counterparts such as ETA 2824 and Sellita SW200.
This brings us to anther great aspect of the watch - a solid and reliable bracelet. The entire top of the bracelet is brushed with both sides polished. Each link is connected with a pin and collar. While most people would prefer the more secured feel of a screwed link bracelet, the pin and collar connections on the Seiko are solid with minimal rattle. The clasp is milled from solid stainless steel and features a double pushed deployment that gives a positive "click" feedback each time it is closed. This is great value as most of the sub-$500 Seiko would only get a stamped steel clasp as opposed to a solid milled clasp.
The only negative to this bracelet is that it scratches easily. It seems that Seiko has used a softer metal on the bracelet compared to the rest of the watch. However, since the brushed strokes are in a single direction, the bracelet can be easily refinished. We made an article about it here where you can read more on how to refinish a brushed watch bracelet. An alternative would be to throw on an aftermarket strap. After all, the options for 20mm straps are endless.
All in all, the SARB033 is a great watch that used to be a great bang for your buck. If we are strictly talking about value proposition, the watch at the current market value simply is no longer the bargain watch that delivers more watch than money can buy. It is nonetheless a watch that is asking for a fair price. For watches in a similar price bracket, one could seek Seiko's other offerings such as a Cocktail Time or a SARX, both with a larger case size with arguably more details and finishing.
However, those two lack the nostalgia the SARB has with a simpler design and a more compact case size. The SARB is still a great choice for those looking for a collectable. If nostalgia and compactness are what you look for, now would not be a bad time to pick one up.