It’s not often that a watch you’ve owned and loved for years gets a facelift with a brand new model.
The Seiko 5 SNK809 is one of the first mechanical watches I’ve owned and have loved it since day one. To this day, the combination of its sandblasted case and smaller sizing that disappears on the wrist really made it feel unlike any other watch I’ve owned.
Recently, Seiko has released a new lineup of pilot watches that are similarly styled to the SNK809 (and other SNKXXX models) including the Seiko 5 SRPH29, SRPH31, and SRPH33.
Although Seiko improved the SRPH29 by upgrading to a Seiko 4R36 movement with hacking and handwinding, other key features that made the SNK809 unique are now missing. No longer does the case of the SRPH29 have the unique satin/sandblasted finish of the SNK. Instead, it has a brushed finish that is done admittedly well compared to other watches under $300, but its design is a bit bland.
These changes make the SRPH29 look a bit more traditional, like any other watch you’d find in a department store. For the watch collectors with many other watches, this may mean the SRPH29 is overlooked. For the Seiko fanboys – this may not be the SNK809 alternative we’ve all been waiting for. For someone just looking for a great-looking and affordable pilot watch, however, this may be just the watch for you!
So… Is the Seiko 5 SRPH29 the SNK809 alternative we’ve all been waiting for? Let’s find out in this in-depth review.
The larger dimensions of the SRPH29 are one of the biggest (pun intended) visual differences of the watch itself.
Coming in at 39.4mm in diameter, the SRPH29 will be a mass-appealing crowd-pleaser, as watches under 40mm tend to fit the sweet spot of fitting well on nearly all wrist sizes.
At a thickness of 13.2mm, the watch stands quite a bit taller on the wrist than the SNK809 did, and doesn’t fit as comfortably under the cuff of a shirt or sweater.
The 20mm lug width is another happy standard that matches the diameter of the case perfectly and suits many wrist sizes. I’ll share more about my strap suggestions for the SRPH29 later in this article.
Although personally, I favor the smaller dimensions of the SNK809, Seiko chose a near perfect size that will appeal to the most amount of potential watch buyers possible and I believe this was exactly their intention when designing this watch.
New Brushed Case
Another visual change that immediately stuck out to me is the new brushed finish of the SRPH29 case.
First off, I’m a bit disappointed that the SRPH29 is no longer finished with a satin/sandblasted finish as the SNK lineup is. In my opinion, that was one of the greatest and most unique things about the watch. By taking that away, the SRPH29 looks like so many other watches on the market, even down to the simplest Timex (Timex Expedition).
The brushed finish runs uniformly throughout the entirety of the case, including the bezel, and even throughout the sides. Understanding that the SRPH29 is a pilot watch, and therefore a tool watch in nature, is key to understanding this type of finish. A pilot wouldn’t want a polished watch that creates all sorts of glares and potentially blinding reflections while piloting an aircraft. But let’s be honest, how many of us are actually going to use a pilot watch for its intended purpose?
Instead of a rather bland all-brushed finish, it would have been a bit more appealing if Seiko had added just a bit of visual contrast with a few polished surfaces, even if minor. For instance, there are a couple of bezels between the bezel and case that, while small and subtle, could have been polished ever so slightly. Seiko has done this exact type of finish in the past with their ‘DressKX’ Lineup. Specifically, let’s take the Seiko 5 Sports SRPE61. The watch is almost entirely brushed, except for the thinnest angle on the bezel. This means when you look at the watch from the top-down, it adds just a touch of contrast and visual interest, exactly the type of finish I would have loved to see replicated on the SRPH29.
Design & Aesthetics
The SRPH29 is a pilot watch made to be read quickly, and legibly at a quick glance. It has bold white hour markers that make the watch incredibly simple to read.
The dial is a dark olive/forest green that has slight hues of a lighter, almost dull lime-green, under direct sunlight. This is a color shift I was not expecting, although it is not unappealing, and makes the watch dynamic in different lighting conditions.
Maybe the most subtle design changes about the watch are the visual design of the dial itself. The watch has both minute tracks, with minute numerals in 5-minute increments, and an inner 12-hour track. This makes reading the time very easy at a quick glance with very little guesswork.
In order to further add clarity and legibility to the watch, Seiko has now added contrasting orange hour marker lume pips at 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock positions. This is a nice design element that not only adds visual interest but also aids in orienting the watch on your wrist when reading the time.
Complimenting the new, larger watch dimensions, are a new, beefier handset. Unfortunately, they look a bit disproportionate and maybe could have been a bit longer to fill out the larger dial better. I also would have preferred if Seiko kept them painted all-white as they did on the SNK809. This is but a mere personal preference and neither a pro nor a con.
Like all new Seiko 5 Sports watches, this watch features the Seiko 5 Sports logo at 12 and ‘Automatic’ denoted at 6. This is the same script font they use to denote ‘Automatic’ on all of the new Seiko 5 Sports watches. While I think the font works well on certain, dressier models, the SRPH29 is not one of them. The script font looks a bit too fancy for a tool watch like this, and this is a combination that doesn’t gel well for me. Because the text is small, this is a detail that you may easily overlook. But as the saying goes “beauty is in the details”.
New Domed Crystal
The SRPH29 features a slightly domed seiko hardlex crystal. I have no gripes with Seiko’s hardlex crystals, and find them scratch-resistant enough for everyday use, though it would be great to see this upgraded to sapphire down the line. This would make the watch even more scratch-resistant than it already is, and other affordable Japanese watch manufacturers such as Orient have proved that it is possible to produce automatic watches with sapphire crystals for under $200, as seen in examples such as their Orient Kamasu models.
My biggest gripe with the new domed crystal is that, while it may add some visual interest and distortion when viewing the watch at different angles, it can cause a bit of extra glare in certain lighting conditions; making the watch more difficult to read. While a flat crystal may not be as interesting when viewed from different angles, it helps to maintain the overall theme of the simple legibility of a pilot watch.
Seiko SRPH29 Movement – 4R36
Housed inside of the Seiko SRPH29 is an upgraded 4R36 movement. The 4R36 features a basic day/date complication. It comes in at 21,600 BPH, it has a healthy ~40-hour power reserve, and maybe a significant upgrade over the previously used Seiko 7S26 movement, it has hacking and hand-winding.
Hacking allows you to stop the second hand when pulling out the crown to accurately set the time down the second.
Handwinding allows you to wind the crown and power the automatic watch movement.
Ultimately, the 4R36 is a relatively no-frills movement that modernizes the Seiko 5 just a bit, to align itself with hacking and handwinding features we’ve come to expect even in other affordable automatic watches.
Watch Strap Suggestions
The SRPH29 is a pilot watch that has a very particular and distinct look to it. There are a few types of watch straps that I think would pair exceptionally well with this type of watch.
- A brown leather nato or zulu strap would add just the right amount of distressing and rough and worn look.
- A black pebbled leather strap would add a bit of needed texture to an otherwise simple matte dial and brushed case.
- A brushed milanese mesh bracelet will play nicely into the brushed case of the watch without making it seem too formal/dressy.
Seiko SRPH29 Alternatives
With so many watches on the market, you may be asking yourself, why buy the Seiko 5 Sports SRPH29 over the many existing alternatives? Here are a few to consider if you’re looking for a solid affordable tool watch with a similar aesthetic.
Seiko 5 SNK809, SNK807, SNK805 & SNK803
The most obvious alternatives to the Seiko 5 Sports SRPH29 are the previously released SNK lineup, including the Seiko 5 SNK809, SNK807, SNK805 & SNK803.
Featuring a near-identical dial design, the SNK lineup may be a better alternative for those looking for a more affordable automatic watch, coming in at under $100.
It also may be more appealing to someone who prefers smaller watches, with its 37mm diameter, and its unique features such as its sandblasted case, and painted white hands make it stand out from the crowd just a bit.
The SNK series comes in a variety of colors (black, cream, blue, forest, and even red), and the SRPH is still lacking in such variety. I’m sure Seiko will likely release more colorways over time, but that is yet to be proven.
Frankly, the Seiko 5 SNK series are still some of the best automatic watches under $100, so if you’re in the market for an affordable pilot watch, you may want to start there.
When I first saw the SRPH29, my mind immediately jumped to the Timex Expedition field watch. Although not exactly a similarly styled pilot watch, its combination of outer minute track and inner hour track, and forest-green dial made it seem like an obvious comparison with a similar design.
Of course, the Timex Expedition is quartz instead of automatic like the SRPH29, but this means it comes in with a much more affordable price tag, under $100. It also features indiglo technology which illuminates the entire watch – great if you need to tell the time in the dark.
Seiko 5 Sports Field Watches (SRPG27K1, SRPG29K1, SRPG31K1)
The recently released Seiko 5 Sports field watches (Seiko 5 SRPGXX) feature an obviously slightly distinct design from the SRPH’s pilot watches.
These field watches have the same MSRP ($275) as the SRPH series but feature a wider variety of styles to choose from. With 9 models total, there’s quite a bit more variety in color schemes and even case finishing than that of the SRPH series.
Ultimately, this is more a matter of design preference, as the SRPH and SRPG series is built to nearly identical specifications, even down to the movement.
Models: Seiko 5 SRPG27K1, SRPG29K1, SRPG31K1, SRPG33K1, SRPG35K1, SRPG37K1, SRPG39K1, SRPG41K1, and SRPG42K1.
Hamilton Pilot Pioneer
If you like the look of pilot watches but want something a little more upmarket, higher quality, and with a more unique design, check out the Hamilton Khaki Pilot Pioneer.
Although the cushion case shape and faux patina hour markers and hands attempt to make the Pilot Pioneer look a bit more retro than the modernized SRPH29, it offers a unique look.
It features a satin finish more true to traditional pilot watches, and maybe most importantly, housed inside is a Hamilton Calibre H-50 movement with an extremely impressive 80-hour power reserve.
The Hamilton Pilot Pioneer is quite a bit more expensive and niche than that of the affordable and more mass-appealing SRPH29, but that may be exactly what you’re looking for.
- Automatic with manual winding capability
- 21,600 vibrations per hour
- Power reserve: approximately 41 hours
- 24 jewels
- Day/date calendar
- Luminous hands and markers
- Screwdown see-through caseback
- Case diameter: 39.4mm
- Stainless steel case
- Water-resistant to 10 bar, 100 meters (330 feet)
- Caliber 4R36
I hope this Seiko 5 Sports SRPH29 review was helpful in determining if this is the right watch for you. The SRPH29 is an affordable and good-looking pilot watch designed to appeal to almost anybody and everybody. Next time, Seiko, let’s see a version with a satin case finish, and a white handset more true to the original Seiko 5 SNK809. When that time comes, I’ll be the first to add one to my collection and call it my own.
Although Seiko removed some of the features of the previous Seiko 5 SNK generation this watch is based upon, the SRPH29 offers a great value proposition when considering its affordable price compared to its specifications.
Because of this, I believe the SRPH29 is one of the best pilot watches one can buy for under $300.
Thanks for reading! Please let me know in the comments below if you have any questions, or thoughts about the SRPH29.– Anthony