Nostalgia is a funny thing. We always remember our first kiss, our first car, our first job. I remember my first watch. Or rather, my first real watch. It was the late 1980s and, as bored high schoolers are wont to do, I spent a lot of time aimlessly strolling the shopping mall with friends. It was on one such safari that something caught my eye in the window of a jewelry store — a big steel diving watch with a long rubber strap. There were more valuable and prestigious watches in the store, but that one captivated me. It reeked of adventure, virility and adulthood. I had to have it. At $80, it took me a full summer of cutting lawns to earn enough to buy it but at last, it was mine.
That watch was, like many other watch nerds’ first watches, a Seiko. It is regrettably long gone and I don’t recall the exact reference, only that it was an automatic and kept miserable time. Still, its red and blue rotating bezel and long strap made me feel swashbuckling and grown up. I accessorized it with a photojournalist’s vest and hiking boots and started smoking a pipe.
It’s a sure sign I’m getting old that a watch I once bought new on the cusp of adulthood is now considered vintage and worthy of a reissued homage. That’s the case with the new Seiko SRP777 ($475), a dive watch in the Japanese company’s Prospex line. The watch is an homage to one Seiko made from 1976 through 1988, the reference 6309, a 150-meter-rated diver lovingly known as “The Turtle” by collectors because of its distinctive rounded flat case, and a favorite of modders, who adapt it with new dials and bezels into bespoke creations.
It is a sure sign that I am getting old that a watch I once bought new on the cusp of adulthood is now considered vintage and worthy of a reissued homage.
Putting the watch on for the first time was instantly familiar, so much so that it felt less like a new watch than one I had discovered in the back of my desk drawer, forgotten for decades. The double-ridged grip on the bezel, the dial markings, the bilingual day wheel (which felt so exotic in 1987) all were there. The updated strap, now a more pliable silicone, is nicer than the old stiff rubber one, but is still long enough that its tail flaps free when cinched up. That was a feature I relished on the original; adventurous watches are meant to be worn over wetsuits and double as leg tourniquets in a pinch.
Seiko has been building dive watches since 1965. It’s both a blessing and a curse that picking up any of them from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s feels largely the same — they have always been bigger than other watches of their time, have borne a strong design lineage, and are renowned for their durability, with no quaint plastic crystals or fragile Bakelite bezels. That all makes it tough to build a “vintage-inspired” watch; almost any new one you buy will already feel vintage and most vintage ones you buy will seem almost new. It’s the same with the new SRP777. Other than some improvements to the movement, greater water resistance and a better strap, this is a dive watch circa the 1980s.
That makes the SRP777 perhaps the most honest vintage reissue out there. There’s no painstaking color matching to some faded lume, or a “rediscovered” retro font. No, it’s as though Seiko dusted off and restarted a dormant production line: the forge comes to life stamping out steel cases again and workers coming off of a long tea break to print the dials.
With most new watch reviews, I pore over the details, touting the merits of a hacking and hand-winding movement or its compatibility with a shirt cuff. But with the Seiko SRP777, I don’t care about those things. Not long after I strapped this watch on, I was pulling out old photo albums from past adventures, squinting at faded Kodachrome images in which I had worn that old Seiko, my first real watch.