Seiko 5 SNK809 Automatic Review
On January 12, 2014 I had My First Experience With the Seiko 5 SNK809, and It Would Go On to Redefine How I Assessed Affordable Automatics
Updated August 19, 2016 – I’m excited to revisit this watch because the SNK809 really shaped my perspective. It was the first affordable automatic watch I reviewed that was made by a major brand in the watch world, and it was also the first that taught me that an inexpensive automatic didn’t need to look or feel cheap.
I decided to buy another one and spend some time with it. I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of years and I was curious to see how I’d feel about the SNK809 now.
My opinion of the SNK809 remains true today to what it was when I originally reviewed it two and a half years ago: the Seiko 5 SNK809 is one of the best values in the world of watches today. Let’s check it out.
SEIKO 5 SNK809 TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
Automatic, Seiko 7S26
Approximately 40 hours
30m / 99ft
Seiko 5 SNK809 Aesthetics & Design
The SNK809 is not what I’d call a looker. I find it attractive, and I’ll get to why in a bit, but in comparison to some other affordables (and including some of Seiko’s own affordables like the Recraft), the SNK809 isn’t leading in the looks department.
Like the much-loved Timex Weekender, the SNK809 is flat and simple. Hour markers are small white bumps (loaded with lume), with printed minute and Arabic 5 minute markers. It’s simple, not minimal, and I like it. This gives the dial a very flat appearance; aside from the barely-perceptible height of the hour markers, only the Seiko 5 logo and the hands themselves have any depth.
Flat isn’t bad, and in fact, it’s one of the reasons I like this watch. It’s so simple and versatile that it’s easy to wear up or down. Change out the strap – which is easy thanks to its 18mm lugs – and you can turn the SNK809 into just about anything. One thing it won’t ever be is formal, so if you’re looking for something dressy you may want to pass on this one.
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The crown rests at 4 o’clock instead of 3 o’clock (where it’s found on 99% of watches), and I quite like the small difference this makes. As one review notes, the crown at 4 o’clock doesn’t dig into your wrist when bending your wrist up and down like it would if it was at 3 o’clock. I also like how this small change breaks up the shape I’m used to seeing on a watch case.
The top of the case and lugs have a pewter-grey finish, which shimmers in light but doesn’t go so far as to be reflective. Turn the SNK809 over, and the polished underside showcases the undecorated but still beautiful 7S26 automatic movement. The 7S26 is actually the base movement for the 6R15 used inside the excellent Alpinist, and when I reviewed the Alpinist I mentioned that I was disappointed Seiko chose not to show off the movement. For the mechanical lovers out there, you can get your fix with the SNK.
Where I feel the SNK809 gets let down is the black canvas strap, which is durable but not exactly attractive. At least the clasp (engraved with Seiko’s name) and hardware are done in the same pewter-grey finish as the case. In my opinion, the SNK809 looks okay as-is and looks great with a nice leather NATO (I’ve got a few on order and will post an update with a few mix and match shots).
Overall, the SNK809 isn’t what I’d call pretty, but it’s attractive and versatile. Grab a few straps and you’ve got a great daily wearer.
Seiko 5 SNK809 Build Quality
My experience with Seiko watches in general has been positive, and the SNK809 echoes those experiences. It doesn’t feel premium or upscale, but it does feel solidly built. Its build gives a sense of reliability, which millions and millions of units sold has demonstrated the SNK809 is chalk full of. If it does ever break, just about any watchmaker will be able to service it fairly inexpensively.
Crystal, Case, & Dial
Hardlex is a material exclusive to Seiko (and its subsidiaries). It’s supposed to be more durable than a standard mineral crystal, and my experiences with Hardlex on a variety of watches has been positive overall. I’ve yet to see a wear mark on the face of a hardlex crystal, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen; sapphire is scratch “proof”, hardlex is resistant. Regardless, its use is perfectly appropriate for the price.
The mat finish on the case looks great and has the added benefit of acting as a safeguard against scratches. Where a polished case loves to showcase every scratch and mark, the mat finish here actively suppresses those things. Of course the case will still get scratched as you wear it, but it won’t be as visually obvious- a big plus for a watch many tout as the best daily wearer available.
The dial, in its simplistic glory, is as close to perfect as I think you’ll find on a watch priced in the $50 – $100 range.
Strap & Clasp
The black canvas strap is made well; there are no errant fibers or frays that may damage it, and the holes for the clasp to connect through are reinforced with some kind of leather or vinyl. The big plus to the strap is that, while it’s certainly not the highlight of the watch visually, it’s durable and strong.
You’re not going to rip or tear it unless you’ve got help from something sharp. The canvas feels strong but not thick, and it’s comfortable enough to wear.
The hardware is finished like the case, and the buckle is engraved with Seiko’s branding. It’s a standard affair and not memorable, but it does its job as intended and won’t cause any problems.
The Seiko 5 is an Important Watch With a Great History
I’m not going to get into the complete history of the Seiko 5 here, but I thought I’d speak to a little bit about what makes the Seiko 5 an important series of watches. In 1963 Seiko sought out to create a watch that had five key attributes: automatic winding, day/date displayed in a single window, adequate water resistance, a recessed crown at 4 o’clock, and a durable case/strap.
During the evolution of the Seiko 5 brand and product cycle two important “firsts” were accomplished:
- First affordable combination of the five elements listed above
- First automatic chronograph, introduced in 1969 (the Seiko ‘5 Sports’ Speedtimer)
When you wear a Seiko 5 you are wearing a notable piece of modern horological history. Modern 5’s typically use the Seiko 7S26 movement (which made it’s first appearance in 1996), which has proven itself to be an economical and reliable movement. It is tried, tested, and proven, and it’s also probably the best automatics you can buy at the price points they are found at.
About Seiko’s 7S26 Automatic Movement
The 7S26 automatic movement is a basic but durable movement. The movement beats at 21,600bph and has 21 jewels; it lacks many features found on even slightly more upscale watches, such as hacking and hand winding, but it makes up for those omissions with its reliability and affordability. It goes without saying that finding an automatic for $100 or less from a brand like Seiko isn’t a common occurrence in the watch world.
Standard deviation is -20/+40 seconds per day, meaning that the SNK809 can be out by as much as minute per day. I didn’t properly assess the accuracy in my original review, so I can’t compare the two SNK’s I’ve had against each other, but I did test this one using toolwatch.io (have I said how much I love that site?) and found it to be +34 seconds per day. That’s a lot, yes, but can be regulated (if desired) and is within spec.
In terms of reliability, both the SNK809’s I’ve tested have been great. Scour the internet- you won’t find many posts of problems despite Seiko selling millions of these.
How to Set the SNK809
- To set the time, pull the crown to its furthest position (3). Turn clockwise to set the time. Note that the day/date display will automatically rollover at midnight.
- To set the day and date, pull the crown to its middle position (2). Turn clockwise to set the date, turn counter-clockwise to set the day.
Where to Buy
The SNK809 Offers Great Value for Your Money. It’s Also a Great Watch.
When the only complaint you can make about a watch is the strap, it’s really hard not to write a review that doesn’t just sound like 1,000 words of praise. The reality is that the SNK809 deserves the praise; it’s earned its place as one of the best watches you can buy for under $100, if not the best watch you can buy for under $100. It’s regularly found on Amazon for under $70.
Since I started WYCA in 2013 I have personally reviewed nearly 70 watches, with the SNK809 being one of the first, and it’s still one of my favorites. It’s a purchase you can make with confidence and feel good about; it will last for a long time, giving you years of wear, and is made of all the stuff that makes a watch great.
It’s not just the automatic movement that gives the SNK809 its value. Other factors, like the excellent nighttime visibility, or the day/date complications, add value of their own. So too does the Hardlex crystal and exhibition caseback.
The only caveat to the value is the size: you’re getting a 37mm case. That’s fine for most people, and makes it a unisex size, but if you’ve got bigger arms/wrists, you may find 37mm to be a bit small. Stepping up to a larger 42mm size adds about $35 to the price (check out the SNZG15 for the same-but-larger version of the SNK809). Even at $110 for the SNZG15 variant of the Seiko 5, it’s still good value.
I recommend the Seiko 5 in any flavor; everyone needs at least one in their watch box.