Without the Seiko 7S26 and comparable movements from Miyota (Citizen), Orient, and Swatch, many people would not be able to experience the joy of owning a mechanical watch at all.
John Davis

...you can buy mechanical watches at almost any price, from a seventy-five dollar Seiko 5, which keeps time quite nicely, within reason, and will run gamely for decades even if you ignore its most basic needs for an occasional cleaning and oiling (which most Seiko 5 owners tend to do, which is a shame) all the way up to nearly half a million dollars.
Jack Forster

Luxury goods are products and services that are not considered essential and are associated with affluence.
—Wikipedia

This is a review of the Seiko model SNK809 (also called Seiko 5) automatic, self-winding analog watch. I am not a watch fanatic nor a connoisseur. I have not worn a watch for more than 15 years (nor do I carry a mobile phone). When I needed to know the time, I used the clock on my camera or a nearby parking meter (when outdoors), or the clock on the computer (both at home and at work), or the microwave or the stove (when at home). The only other watch I own is a Timex quartz which is lost in a drawer. So this Seiko is a luxury item for me, as I am capable of functioning without a watch.

My Requirements

My requirements for a watch were as follows:

Unfortunately, there's no a website where I could just type in my watch requirements and get suggestions for brands and models (well, there is Watchluxus but it tends towards luxury watches). Instead, I had to read the discussions on the popular watch forums and keep copious notes.

Add to Cart

About a year ago, I finally found a watch that met my requirements— the Seiko SNK809— it was a small diameter watch and had a great design. I have been coveting it for about a year and a half. I eventually purchased it because:

  1. Amazon.ca had it in stock for $71.75 during Boxing Week (from Amazon itself, not an affiliate charging $200+ which I refused to pay)
  2. I was not able to buy this watch from Amazon.com (U.S. website) for $USD69 because it didn't ship to Canada
  3. The Amazon reviews were unanimously positive.

My patience paid off!

Packaging

The watch arrived on Sunday Dec. 31, 2012 while the tracking information predicted it would arrive on Jan 2, 2013. I was surprised that, 1. it was delivered on a Sunday and 2. that it was delivered on a Sunday by Canada Post.

It was already running when I opened the blue Seiko-branded box that was enclosed in a white cardboard slipcase with a rectangle cutout for the Seiko brand to show through. The watch was not attached to the display pillow (it also looked like it had been returned and Amazon hastily re-packaged it and shipped it to me; also, when I placed my order, it was out of stock so I was surprised when I received shipping confirmation). Some of the stuffing was spilling out of the slightly scuffed white leatherette Seiko-branded pillow. Please refer to the photo on the right that shows how I found the watch when I opened the box.

There was a price-tag for $185 tied to the wristband of the watch. There was no warranty card. Hmmm... grey market? Well, I don't care; it cost less than $100.

Body

Case

The satin finish, stainless steel case is 37mm in diameter (anything over 40mm looks oversized on my wrists) with a display back showing the Seiko 7S26C 21 jewel movement manufactured in Malasyia (from what I have read, robots build them and Seiko trained QA inspect the watches; Seiko watches made in Japan are sold in Japan only). The watch crystal is Hardlex and is recessed slightly below the bezel.

The watch is self-winding with a 38 hour power reserve when the crown is initially wound 30-40 times. It is rated to a depth of 100m.

The crown is located at the 4 o'clock postion rather than the traditional 3 o'clock position where it it digs into the back of the hand when the wrist bends upwards especially if it's a large crown.

The crown is actually miniscule and I need to use the tip of my nail to pull it out.

Dial

Two sets of numbers appear concentrically on the face. The minute hand points to the outer-most numbers which increment in 5 minute intervals while the hour hand points to numbers that increment in 1 hour, drawn in the inner-most circle. There is a sweep second-hand with a red tip with a luminous (Lumibrite) circular pan at the opposite end. Both hands are also luminous as are small circular minute-markers around the circumference. It should be noted that the 12 o'clock marker is not distinguishable from the 6 o'clok marker so it's possible to read the wrong time in the dark if the watch is not on your wrist. The watch is completely silent unlike many Timex watches that tick loudly.

It displays the day of the week (three-letter abbreviation) and date at the 3 o-clock poistion. On the day I received it, the day of the week (weekends are coloured red) was displayed in what I originally thought was French, but later found out to be Spanish.

The Manual

The pathetically inadequate instruction card (photo to come) mentioned to set the watch before noon. Why?

A week later, I found a more detailed instruction manual for the 7S26 movement on Seiko's site with far better instructions on setting the date and time and winding it. It also includes information about Lumibrite— exposing the watch face to bright light for 10 minutes gets you 7 hours of luminous dial; the luminosity diminishes over the 7 hours unless the watch is re-exposed.

Operation

Starting the Watch

Instructions for starting/winding the SNK809 that do not appear on the instruction card but are taken from the PDF from Seiko's website:

To initially start your watch swing it from side to side in a horizontal arc for about 30 seconds.

Keeping it Running

One morning, a few days after getting my watch, I noticed that the watch had stopped at 4:24AM; I hadn't worn the watch the previous day but I had expected the power reserve to carry me over. (Maybe I didn't wind it enough times as the manual recommended, though I was sure I wound it the suggested 30-40 times at the start). After I wiggled it a few times, the minute hand started again but the clock didn't set itself to the correct time; a correction after a wake-from sleep would have been a nice feature which some luxury watches have.

On weekends, when I don't wear my watch, I swing the watch 60 times in the morning and 60 times in the evening. Since I started doing this, it has never stopped running.

Setting Day/Date/Time

The crown, located at the 4 o'clock position, has two pull-out positions: the first position sets the day/date (rotating counter-clockwise sets the day of the week and alternates between English and Spanish, rotating clockwise sets the date) and the second pull-out position sets the time. It's important to set the time first and notice what happens to the date when the minute hand crosses "12": if the date advances, then it's 12 midnight otherwise it's 12 noon.

On Monday Dec. 31st, just after midnight, I set the date to "Mon" and "31" manually. At noon on the same day, the date changed to "1" and the day-of-week to "Lun". I read that the Spanish switchover happens temporarily and the correct day-of-week appears within a few (perhaps a couple? at 1AM it was still in Spanish) hours. At around 2PM, I again set the date to "Mon" and "31". At midnight, the date advanced again— now I knew that the watch was 12 hours ahead.

So I set the time again, accomodating for the difference and everything is working fine.

The 7s26 movement is non-hacking, meaning that the second hand doesn't stop when you go to set the time. However, there is a method to set the seconds.

Strap

The strap is a black, woven nylon 2-lug ZULU strap (see this site for the difference between a ZULU strap and a NATO strap) with a Seiko branded buckle. I used the next-to-last hole to get a snug fit but the watch was still loose enough that it slides and rests off-center on my wrist.

During the first few days, the nylon strap had a strong odour that gave me a headache. After a week, the smell was non-existent but my sinuses were still irritated. Looks like I'm allergic to the plastic in the strap.

Thu 10 Jan 2013 10:53:32 PM EST: After a week, the strap was malleable enough that I could use the last hole and now the watch sits snugly on my wrist without sliding around.

Wed 06 Mar 2013 09:18:46 AM EST: The strap has become more loose and the watch slides back on my wrist and shifts slightly off-center. It is slightly troublesome to check the time when wearing a coat. As a remedy, I jam the sleeve of my shirt under the dial to keep the watch pinned in place.

Fri 05 Apr 2013 02:34:09 PM EDT: I am now using the last hole in the strap to keep the watch tight on my wrist.

The Verdict: 8/10

Wed 09 Jan 2013 09:33:58 AM EST: I bought this particular model because I liked the design of the double set of numbers and the relatively small size of the case. It has been accurate so far (I have not kept track of the seconds accuracy). The display back, luminous dial and the day/date function were a bonus, though I don't look forward to adjusting the day at the end of a 30-day month.

The instruction card that accompanies the watch is a travesty. There is a nicer PDF manual available on Seiko's website (local copy). If the cost was prohibitive then Seiko whould have printed a link to the online PDF on the card. All the complaints I have read online, about this watch stopping, would not have existed if the supplied instructions were better.

I hate the strap. The smell of the nylon initially gave me a headache but it passed. The strap was not meant to last long as the edges were fraying when I took it out of the box. Fortunately it can be replaced and the Seiko-branded buckle can be migrated to the new strap.

I would give this watch a score of 8/10. It loses one point for the manual (which is the cause of much grief, based on various online comments, when the watch stops running because the auto-winding wasn't explained properly in the deplorable instruction card) and one point for the cheap strap.

Sun 15 Dec 2013 10:59:12 PM EST: Nearly one year later, the watch is still running with the 1-minute-per-week-slow accuracy (I don't manually shake the watch to wind it; I just put it on in the mornings) even after suffering approximately one severe knock per month. The strap has become somewhat smelly requiring me to wash it occasionally with mild hand soap. Other than that, I still love my Seiko SNK809 and I would heartly recommend it as a starter, self-winding automatic watch. Buy this watch if you see it.

Accuracy

It is recommended that a watch's accuracy be decided only after two months of wear, to give the mainspring time to "settle". Additionally, mechanical watches are usually adjusted to run fast rather than slow. Depending on the position they are laid at night, watches may run fast or slow, which can then be used to maintain accuracy after careful observation.

Face-up

Leaving the watch face up at night, here are my observations on the accuracy:

I have not been keeping records of any sort but I do check my watch against the clocks on the departure board of Union Station. I tend not to mind too much nor be bothered when the watch is one minute off but it is noticeable when it is two minutes off (in this case, slow). For the last month, I have been adjusting the watch every other Friday to the correct time. So it is reasonable to conclude that this particular watch runs two minutes slow.

Face-down

Beginning March 8th, leaving my watch face down at night, here are my observations on the accuracy:

Sun 28 Apr 2013 09:21:00 AM EDT: I adjust the time about once every three weeks. I suppose I can take the watch to the jewellers and have it adjusted permanently, but I'm satisfied with the current timekeeping. The watch is consistent enough that I can advance the watch 1 minute every three weeks without checking against a clock, knowing that it will be correct.

Alternatives

The SNK "military" model is also available in beige (SNK803), blue (SNK807) and olive green (SNK805K2) with canvas straps or with a metal band (SNK809K1).

The SNZG series in navy (SNZG11) and black (SNZG15) has a similar style (the dials show military time) and is much larger in diameter (40mm vs. the SNK809 37mm).

Mon 18 Feb 2013 08:15:05 AM EST: Roachman.com has a complete catalogue of all Seiko military watches.

Citizen's BM8180-03E Eco Drive watch has a similar face as the SNK809 except that the numeric hour-markers have a comparatively larger font, also, EcoDrive watches are solar powered (no battery technically, but there is a "capacitor" for the power reserve that needs to be replaced approximately every 10 years). So it would be a compromise in my requirements for non-battery powered.

Fri 11 Jan 2013 11:45:23 PM EST: The SNK809 was discontinued in 2010 and has been replaced by the SNKH63. The difference seems to be 20mm lugs (where the wrist strap attaches to the watch) and minor cosmetic changes (for the worse) to the hands and face.

Fri 18 Jan 2013 06:49:26 PM EST: I was surprised to learn (via Harry Bishop) that Seiko had a boutique store for their high-end watches on Bloor Street in Toronto, but it closed in April 2012— just when I started falling in love with Seiko watches.

Hacking the 7S26

I have not tried this procedure as I am not interested in up-to-the-second accuracy nor am I involved in commando operations that require everyone to synchronize their watches down to the second. This information is provided for pathalogical completeness.

[chizeledlight.comvia The Wayback Machine]

Hacking is the ability to stop the second hand so you can sync the time to another timepiece. This is usually done when you pull out the crown to set the time. Some watches have additional buttons to stop the movement for this purpose.

Like many automatic movements, Seiko's 7S26, found in most of their lower end automatics, is non-hacking.

Disclaimer: What I am about to explain should not be taken as a how-to on all watches using this movement. I am not a horologist and cannot guarantee that this will have no ill effect on your movement. I will say that this is a common practice and I have heard of no problems in doing so:

Now you can set your day/date and voila, a perfectly set 7S26. This comes in handy when you are trying to check the accuracy on your clock or in military applications when you have to sync your time with the team.

I have found this technique to also work on other non-hacking automatics and manual movements including the Vostok 2416 B, Poljot 2614, Poljot 3133 and the Miyota. I also have a 1970s Tissot with unknown automatic inside that this also works with.

Chronolytics

Chronolytics posted statistics for 2012 about consumers searching for watches. The top 3 brands searched by consumers from Europe for watches costing less than 1,000 Euros are:

  1. Seiko
  2. Longines
  3. Hamilton

The top 3 brand searches by consumers from the United States for watches costing less than 1,000 Euros are:

  1. Certina
  2. Victorinox Swiss Army
  3. Seiko

Also, approximately 70% of consumers preferred a mechanical movement inside their watch.

It must gall the Swiss watch industry to see a Japanese brand at the top of European search queries— but I love it! Seiko disrupted the monopoly artificially created by the Swiss watch industry for both inexpensive and luxury watches.

I am very impressed how well Rolex markets their watches to take them to the top of the luxury brand search rankings at 21%; the second best is Omega at 8% despite having better technology.

Website Analytics

In the four months this page has existed, I was surprised to find that it is now ranked second on Google for, "seiko snk809 watch review" searches. I average about 20 hits per day with about 800 hits over the lifetime of the page and about 700 unique visitors.

The vast majority of the hits are from the US and Canada, with the UK, Singapore and Australia coming in third, fourth and fifth. Then Spain and France followed by Indonesia, Malasia and finally Germany in 10th place.

Average duration of a visit is 1 minute. Which means people are searching for a specific aspect of this watch (very likely about winding it!) rather than a full review; or maybe they're just reading the final verdict. 34 visitors spent about a half-hour enjoying the site.

I made this site so that I could keep a detailed record of my experiences, but I am glad other people find it useful. Thank you, readers.

Seiko SNK809 Review / / Created: 01 Jan 2013 / Updated