When shopping for your first automatic watch, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the variety of options. Different watch influencers try to pedal their personal favorites down your throat without considering which watch would actually be a good start to your collection.
Plus, spending money on a timekeeping accessory that is likely less accurate than the phone in your pocket can be a bitter pill to swallow. But, if you’ve already committed to owning one of the best tiny, self-powered mechanical machines that fits on your wrist, I’ve got you covered.
The Seiko 5 Sports is Seiko’s entry-level automatic lineup. There’s a large variety of designs and sizes to choose from, so you’re bound to find one that fits your style. Their movements are built in-house, meaning Seiko manufactures them instead of outsourcing them to third parties. They’re known to last a long time (up to 10 years!) without needing service, saving you money in the long run. And best of all, they’re some of the most affordable automatic watches from a reputable brand.
Sure, they’re not perfect. They have a few shortcomings, which we’ll cover later in this article. However, most people, they make an excellent one-watch collection or entry point into the fascinating world of horology.
If you’ve already decided the Seiko 5 Sports is for you, and need help picking one, check out our other article that covers the best Seiko 5s on the market.
With that said, let’s dive deeper into why this is such a great starter watch.
1. They Look Much More Expensive Than They Are
This is an obvious one, but for someone just starting, the way a watch looks is much more important than how it runs. You want a watch that you enjoy looking at, with enough details to appreciate even after months and years of wear.
To the unaware, these watches look much more expensive than their actual price tag. And that’s not just for bragging rights—you have a watch that can grow with you as your tastes develop and change. And it also means that you won’t want to replace it quickly if you do decide to expand your watch collection.
One of my first ever mechanical watches was the Seiko SKX, which many modern Seiko 5 Sports are based on. Three watch boxes (and a hole in my pocket) later, the watch is still one of my favorites. Even though it was more affordable than many I’ve picked up since then, it looks and feels just as good, and still gets regular wear.
2. Beauty in the Subtle Details
For an entry-level watch, the 5 Sports has a somewhat complex design.
Its case is multi-faceted, and has bevels that alternate between brushed and polished finishes. Most brands will just use one type of finish across the entire watch case. It’s rare to find watches so affordable that combine different layers so well. This makes the watch look more dynamic and allows it to “pop” when the light hits it from different angles.
But it doesn’t stop there. Their dials are refined as well. They’re not overcrowded, but they’re not plain and boring either. Little details, like frames around the hour markers, not only make the watch more legible but also pleasing to the eye.
It’s little details like this that make the watch look great, not just from afar but even when inspected up close. With a great watch like the Seiko 5 Sports, you might get a sense of how it looks and feels after just a few years, but it won’t be months until you’ve truly spotted all of the subtle nuances about it.
3. You Can See the Movement Inside
A mechanical watch doesn’t use a battery or electronics. Instead, it uses a series of gears and springs to run completely independently once it’s wound. One of the coolest parts of owning a mechanical watch is seeing all of the tiny little gears and springs working cohesively to power your watch.
The Seiko 5 Sports has clear, see-through casebacks. This allows you to see the movement, and all of its parts in motion, when it is wound.
While the movements aren’t the most decorated or beautiful, as they might be in much more expensive luxury watches, just being able to see the movements in my first few watches helped me connect with them, enjoy them, and appreciate not just how the watch looks, but also all of the little parts and all of the manufacturing that goes into it.
4. More Affordable Than Most of the Competition
It’s true, the Seiko 5 Sports are some of the most affordable automatic watches you can possibly get. And unlike in many other industries, cheaping out here still gets you a great watch.
Most models have an MSRP of less than $300 and often pop up for less than retail from different sellers. This makes them a great entryway for new collectors, without breaking the bank.
5. Seiko is a Good, Reputable Brand
If you were car shopping and came across a car that seemed great, but it was from a terrible brand, would you still buy it? Of course not. Same thing with watches. Sure, there are plenty of lesser-known microbrands with great reputations that make great watches, but there are also plenty of not-so-great brands as well.
Seiko is not just another watch brand trying to sell watches to make a buck. Over the years, they’ve made countless innovations in watchmaking to push the industry forward, including inventing the quartz watch.
They’re a Japanese watch brand that has been around since 1881, and are known for their craftsmanship and reliability in their watches across every price range, from affordable to luxury.
The Seiko logo on your watch is something that many watch collectors will recognize and even admire. Many collectors, including those who now own dozens of luxury watches, started with Seiko, or still own some in their watch boxes today.
6. The Movements Are Built In-House
Seiko completely manufactures their own movements, not just in the Seiko 5 Sports line, but across all their watches. This means they completely own the process of development and manufacturing of every little gear, cog, and spring that goes into the watch, giving them finer control over the process.
While this alone doesn’t make their movements objectively better, it can be seen as a badge of honor to wear a watch completely made by a single brand, top-to-bottom. This is a rarity, even in many Swiss luxury watches, which outsource their movements to third parties.
7. Their Movements Last A Long Time Without Needing a Service or Repair
The 4R series movements used in Seiko 5 Sports watches are great, plain and simple. They’re durable and have shock and magnetic resistance. This means you don’t need to baby them too much, and you can spend more time wearing your watch than worrying about it.
While most automatic and mechanical movements need a service every 3-5 years, many wear their Seiko for up to 10 years without one. Getting your watch serviced is costly, and can cost hundreds of bucks, so this will save you plenty of money in the long run.
Note: Of course, just because you can wear a mechanical watch for a decade without getting it serviced, it is still recommended to regularly maintain your watch, to keep it in tip-top shape.
8. You Can Wear Them Swimming
That’s right. Most Seiko 5 Sports models have a water resistance rating of 100 meters, which means they are water resistant enough to swim with.
In fact, this is one of the things that earns them the “Sports” title, over their older, regular Seiko 5 models of the past, which only had 30 meters of water resistance, not enough for swimming.
9. They Look Great on a Variety of Straps
Although they have interesting designs, the Seiko 5 Sports aren’t overly complex or extravagant. They’re rather neutral, so you can really have fun mixing and matching different types of straps: materials, and colors to change up the vibe regularly.
This allows you to completely change the look and feel of the watch for different occasions, or even when you just want to try something new.
While the best strap varies, depending on the exact type of watch and color, I always suggest picking up two to start experimenting with.
- A grey NATO strap.
- A black or brown leather strap.
Wear the NATO when doing any sort of physical activity: running, swimming, hiking, as it will stay fixed on your wrist, even if one of the springbars fail. It’s also comfortable, lightweight, and waterproof.
Wear the leather strap of your choice with a casual outfit at home, at the office, or out and about.
Of course, when it comes to straps, the sky is the limit, and their versatility is really what makes these watches amazing. Almost no strap will look bad on them.
Note: When picking out a strap, make sure you pick the right size. Some Seiko 5 Sports like the SRPE have a 20mm lug width, and require a 20mm strap. Others, like the SRPD have a 22mm lug width and require a 22mm strap instead.
10. They’re Durable Enough For Everyday Wear
The Seiko 5 Sports aren’t fragile little pieces of jewelry, they’re meant to be worn.
Seiko uses their own special hardlex crystal, which is not as scratch resistant as sapphire crystals, typically found in more expensive watches, but is much more scratch resistant than mineral crystals typically found in similarly priced watches.
As mentioned earlier, the 4R movements inside the watch are shock resistant, so you don’t need to worry about damaging it through minor bumps, or even dropping your watch. Sure, if you drop the watch from a helicopter, it will still break, but it’s more than durable enough for your day-to-day activities.
11. Hacking, and Hand-Winding
While not necessary features, hacking, and hand-winding are nice-to-haves in any automatic watch.
Hacking means the second hand will stop completely when pulling the crown out to set the time. This lets you set the time more accurately than you could otherwise, down to the second.
Hand-winding lets you wind the watch with the crown, in addition to the automatic mechanism, while some automatic watches can only be wound automatically (on your wrist). Hand-winding is useful to fully wind and power the watch after not wearing it for a while, or when you plan on not wearing it for the next day or so. Wind it up fully, put it down, and when you come back to wear it again, it should still be running, so long as the watch’s power reserve hasn’t fully wound down yet, which typically takes about 40 hours.
12. They Have GREAT Lume
Lume is luminescent paint that is traditionally applied to diver watches, to make them easier to read when underwater. The lume is charged throughout the day from the sun, or artificial light when going about your day. While most of us aren’t exploring the depths of the ocean on a daily basis, lume helps read the watch any time you’re in a dimly lit area.
Best of all, Seiko’s lume, even on their cheaper watches like the Sports lineup, is very bright. Sure, it’s not going to shine like a torch, or even replace your phone’s flashlight, but it can make just enough difference when you’re somewhere dark, and need to tell the time quickly.
13. They’re The Perfect Size For Most People
Seiko created the new Sports line in order to appeal to a large number of new people. This means making them in sizes that will fit most wrists, and that’s exactly what they did.
Most Seiko 5 Sports are either 40mm or 42mm. 40mm is the “sweet spot” for most wrists, in my opinion, and is never too big, nor too small. But 42mm is slightly larger, giving it more wrist presence for those who prefer a larger watch.
Further, their diameter alone doesn’t tell the whole story of how the watch wears. They have shorter lug to lugs than most other watches of their size. The lug-to-lug is the length between the top and bottom of the watch and arguably a more important measurement than the diameter.
If a lug to lug is too long for your wrist, it will hang over your wrist and look ridiculous. But these watches have lug-to-lugs of 44mm – 46mm, which will suit most wrists just fine.
Regardless, either will fit 99% of wrists, and aren’t too big, or too small, like many other watches on the market today.
14. HUGE Variety Of Designs to Choose From
One of the best things about the lineup is there’s so many models to choose from. From sporty, diver style models, to dressier watches, and even collaborations, there’s almost definitely one for you.
They’ve even begun adding a couple of different styles and complications to the mix, like a GMT watch that tracks another time zone, though it’s a bit more expensive, I don’t recommend it for your first automatic… Maybe your inevitable second one, *wink*.
Still, the sheer variety can make it difficult to narrow down the perfect watch for you. So in the next section, we’ll help narrow it down.
The Best Seiko 5 Sports to Start With
DressKX: SRPE51, SRPE53, SRPE55 & SRPE57
In my opinion, the best Seiko 5 Sports to start with is the SRPE series, specifically the models that come with a metal bracelet: SRPE51, SRPE53, SRPE55, and SRPE57.
There are other models that include a NATO strap instead of a bracelet, but the bracelet is much more versatile, and it’s not easy to find a replacement. On the other hand, it is very easy to find another NATO strap that fits the watch well, and is as good, or better, than the one included.
Pick the one that has the dial color you prefer. My personal favorite is the charcoal dial SRPE51, but the blue SRPE53 is a crowd favorite.
They’re nicknamed the “DressKX” because they combine visual elements from their older, SKX diver, in a more modern, dressier package.
This makes them extremely sporty and versatile.
Pair it with a NATO or rubber strap to add some color, and functionality when doing some physical activity. Throw it on a leather when you’re just hanging out. Or, just wear it as is, on the included strap or bracelet. They can even be dressed up on an exotic leather strap, and worn with a suit, if needed.
They have rich, sunburst dials which add a pop of color without being too vibrant, or flashy. The hour markers are diver style, large and bold, making them easy to read. and filled with lume, or luminescenet
The designs are minimal and sleek enough to be worn as a dress watch, but sporty enough to be worn as an everyday watch.
The SRPE comes in at 40mm, which is the perfect size for 99% of wrists. It will almost never look too large, or too small.
Of course, the SRPE is not the only watch in the lineup. If you want something a little larger and sportier, the diver-style SRPD series is a great choice.
At 42mm instead of 40mm, the SRPD is just a little larger and has a little more wrist presence. The additional size is partially due to the rotating diver bezel, which is traditionally used by divers to measure time remaining in an oxygen tank but can be used in your day-to-day to time just about anything.
This bezel makes the watch look much sportier, and is not quite as versatile as the SRPE series. Sure, you definitely can get away with wearing this with a suit, but it won’t look quite as classy.
Are There Any Reasons You Shouldn’t Get One?
It’s hard to beat a watch that is as affordable, reliable, and good-looking as the Seiko 5. With that said, they’re not perfect. Here are some reasons you might want to save your money for something else.
It’s not the most accurate.
The 4R caliber movements used in the lineup have an accuracy that can be off by up to 40 seconds per day! In most cases, it’s much more accurate than that, however, and most of mine run within -/+ 10 seconds per day. They can also be easily regulated by an experienced watchmaker to increase their accuracy, down the line.
Of course, this accuracy is well within reason for any affordable automatic watch. You won’t do much better unless you get a battery-powered quartz watch instead, or spend much more on a more expensive watch with a more accurate movement.
It doesn’t have 200 meters of water resistance.
When Seiko released the 5KX diver, many were disappointed as they assumed it would have 200 meters of water resistance, like the watch it was based on: the Seiko SKX.
Instead, it only has 100 meters of water resistance, which is still more than enough for most people. Let me explain.
200 meters of water resistance is necessary for dive watches and, well, diving! How many of us are going to go diving with our watch, though? Most of us probably just want to use it to take a dip in the pool, or the ocean, once in a while, and 100 meters will more than suffice.
It doesn’t have a sapphire crystal.
Sapphire crystals are much more scratch resistant than any other crystal on the market. It’s not often that you’ll find them in watches this affordable, however, but they do exist in (just a few) similarly priced watches, like the Orient Kamasu.
Still, after months and years of hard use, none of the Seiko watches with a hardlex crystal in my collection have any scratches. I think it will be more than scratch resistant enough for most people.
One area where Seiko often gets a lot of flak is its quality control. Sometimes their watches have misaligned bezels, handsets, or chapter rings that just barely don’t line up how they should.
It would certainly drive me crazy if I had a watch that looked wonky, but thankfully, of the dozens of 5s I’ve owned, only one has had a problem.
The chapter ring in my SRPD95 is misaligned ever so slightly that it took me years to notice, and even now, I can barely tell.
Still, my experience is anecdotal, and there are plenty of people who have complained of receiving watches misaligned much worse than mine.
To overcome this, simply purchase from a reputable retailer or website that has a great return policy. If the watch you received has misaligned parts, return it.
You Don’t Like How it Looks
This one is obvious, but if you don’t like how any of these models look, don’t get one. It doesn’t matter if it’s the best watch in the world and only costs a penny. If you don’t like the way it looks, you won’t wear it, and you won’t enjoy it.
And don’t buy it because I like the way it looks, I’m not the one going to be wearing it (I have plenty of my own to enjoy, thank you very much). Buy it only if you do.
The Seiko 5 Sports is one of, if not the best starter watches on the market. It has a solid automatic movement from a reputable brand. It looks great, and there’s a variety of different styles to choose from.
It doesn’t have 200 meters of water resistance, or a sapphire crystal like some other watches on the market, but it is certainly robust enough for most people for everyday wear.
And if it just doesn’t do it for you, for whatever reason, there are plenty of other great, affordable automatic watches to start your collection. Take a look at our article, where we break down some of our favorites.
Let us know what you think the best starter watch is in the comments below!