The Seiko SARB is a series of affordable dress watches made for the Japanese domestic market.
But that didn’t stop it from being sold in the US and catching on like wildfire.
You couldn’t search Seiko on social media without seeing watches like the Seiko SARB Presage Cocktail Time, SARB017 Alpinist, and especially not the Seiko SARB033 or SARB035.
The entire Seiko SARB series is legendary. But one model, in particular, the Seiko SARB033, caught my eye.
Its classic and stylish design originally caught my attention, but its overall refinement and attention to detail are what really convinced me to purchase one.
In fact, I’d argue it’s one of the best watches for the price, ever.
Although the Seiko SARB033, and its cream-dial counterpart, the SARB035, have been officially discontinued by Seiko, you can sometimes pick them up on Amazon. Availability may vary depending on when you check.
Alternatively, you can also check out the spiritual successor of the SARB033, the Seiko Spirit SZSB012 which is much more available. It’s extremely comparable to the 033, just with a slightly larger form factor.
I’m not sure how much longer they’ll be available for purchase, so if you are interested, I highly suggest picking one up ASAP.
So, let’s talk more about one of my favorite watches in my collection, the Seiko SARB033.
An Affordable Dress Watch that Looks Expensive
One of the main reasons I love the SARB033 is because of how expensive it looks.
Every little aspect and design element on the SARB033 is completely intentional and well-executed.
The brushed and polished case finishing is by no means the best ever, but it certainly is miles ahead of most other watches in this price range.
On top of the case, you’ll find a stacked layer of metal that creates a harsh angle, and in turn, creates a beautiful level of contrast when reflecting light. This adds a level of texture and depth to the watch that most pictures and videos just aren’t able to capture.
The mirror-like polishing on the hands is familiar only on Grand Seiko watches that use a hand-finish Zaratsu polishing process, and costs thousands of dollars more.
With all of the effort and attention to detail Seiko put into this watch, it’s easy to see why the SARB033 has been unofficially nicknamed the “Baby Grand Seiko” by the watch community.
Finding a watch with specifications like and this level of finishing is rare. Let alone finding it for under $500.
Perfect One-Watch Collection
One of the reasons I love the Seiko SARB033 so much is its versatility.
As detailed and handsome-looking as it is, it’s not a watch that immediately screams out at you, or wins you over with fancy gimmicks, colors, or complications.
Instead, it’s a subtle beauty that can be appreciated more and more over time.
Best of all, it’s a relatively simple and clean looking watch, which means it’s extremely versatile and can be worn in just about any situation.
A perfect one-watch collection.
The case shape doesn’t lean too far toward either dressy or sporty. It has modern dress watch dimensions, coming in at 38mm in diameter. A slightly curvier and bolder case makes it a bit sportier than it’s dress watch counterparts, and more appropriate for everyday wear.
If you want to wear this with a suit, by all means, this would look fantastic.
On the other end, the SARB033 works just as well as a casual everyday watch, pairing with jeans or shorts, and a t-shirt. Thanks to its simple and clean look, it’s never going to look out of place, and you’ll never need to think twice about picking the right watch – the SARB is almost always the right watch.
Aside from being absolutely gorgeous, one of the main reasons the SARB033 spiked in popularity was because of how great of a value proposition it is.
It’s rare to see a watch this affordable with all of the included specs the SARB033 has, such as:
- AR-coated sapphire crystal,
- Completely solid oyster bracelet
- In-house Seiko 6R15 movement.
One of the best things about it, however, can’t be found on a specifications list. It’s not something you can quantify. The level of attention to detail and quality that Seiko put into this watch is unlike any other watch in this price range.
The glossy black dial simply can’t be mistaken. Many other black dial watches such as my Steinhart Ocean 39 actually have a very dark grey dial that appears black. The SARB’s dial is a deep black throughout.
A white contrasting chapter ring with hour and minute tracks surrounding the dial adds a bit of visual interest and a break for your eyes. It also helps to make the watch more legible, and of course to tell the time.
A black date wheel sits at 3:00 and blends in with the rest of the dial near perfectly. It’s framed in silver and is perfectly centered.
I love Seiko’s decision to go with a black date wheel instead of a contrasting white. This helps keep the flow and continuity of the all-black dial.
Branding & Text
The applied ‘SEIKO’ logo is done tastefully, and the font is subtle so as not to complicate the simple design.
The text at the 6:00 position reads “Automatic, 23 Jewels” in a script font that adds just a bit of contrast and interest to the rest of the design. Subtle, yet striking.
The script font helps break up the simplicity of the dial and adds a little extra “something” that makes the watch stand out.
Hands & Hour Markers
The sword hands and applied hour markings are both done exceptionally well. You can tell Seiko put time and effort into making sure the angles and bevels are manufactured near perfectly.
This results in light absolutely glistening off of the watch from various angles, which gives you just the right amount of bling and shine.
The overall design is subtle at a distance, but as you wear the watch more and more, you begin to notice all of the fine intricacies that make the SARB033 look much more expensive than it really is.
Case & Finish
The case design is subtle, with contrasting polished and brushed surfaces that help give the watch its shine.
The all-polished bezel is rounded and slightly reminiscent of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual, but in a more subdued and compact form factor.
Taking a look at the sides of the case reveals multiple angles that are geometric and pointed, but rounded off just enough to not feel uncomfortable or sharp when you run your fingers across them.
Again, this is another area where Seiko precisely paid attention to the littlest of details that many other brands overlook.
At the 3:00 position is a signed crown that sticks out without any crown guards. This makes it extremely easy to wind or set the time on the crown.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t screw down, which is likely a part of the reason the water resistance is only 100 meters.
The crown has a nice texture to it, making it easy to grip and wind.
Simply rotate the crown forward 30-40 times to wind the watch and fully charge the automatic movement.
On the crown is a signed and engraved “S” insignia. A nice little detail that many other watches tend to overlook. I suspect that this S stands for the “SARB” series more than it does “Seiko”, as this is not a detail you’ll find in many Seiko watches.
Dimensions and Wearability
Another reason I love the SARB033 so much is its extremely tasteful and classic dimensions.
On my 7″ wrists, I find between 38mm – 40mm diameter watches to be my personal preference.
The SARB033 comes in with a diameter of 38mm. Paired with the lugs that slightly curves down toward the top and bottom of the case, this watch wears beautifully on just about any wrist size.
It’s also surprisingly thin, coming in at just barely over 11mm. This makes it extremely comfortable and wearable for everyday wear. It also fits easily under a cuff, in case you’re planning on wearing this under a button-up shirt sleeve in an office or otherwise formal environment.
The lug width is an average 20mm. Most of the straps I own are 20mm so I have plenty of options to mix and match.
Weighing just 136g with the stock oyster bracelet attached, it’s also relatively lightweight and comfortable. The weight can be further reduced by swapping out the metal bracelet for a more lightweight strap. More about that later.
If you value comfort as well as style, this watch offers both.
- Diameter: 38mm
- Lug width: 20mm
- Thickness: 11mm
- Lug to lug: 44mm
- Weight: 136g (with bracelet)
The SARB033 is “classically” sized, defying the modern trend of larger watches. This makes it comfortable, lightweight, and suitable to wear on just about any wrist.
The SARB033 Bracelet is simply awesome.
It’s completely solid with fitted endlinks that curves around the case perfectly.
The brushed finish is not the best brushing I’ve ever seen, but is certainly decent enough.
A polished trim on either side of the bracelet frames the bracelet nicely, and adds a pop of shine and bling to a rather subtle watch.
The bracelet is also relatively thin, so it doesn’t stand tall on your wrist.
It drapes nicely around the wrist, and is comfortable to wear.
The Seiko branded push-button deployment clasp is machined well and feels of quality. Only 2 micro adjustments are available for adjusting the size of your watch. More adjustment holes would have been nice, but also would have added some additional bulk and heft.
I only wish it had screws instead of pushpins to remove the links and adjust the size of the watch. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but I feel pushpins just make it feel like a cheap watch.
Through the transparent display case back you can view the 6R15 movement from the inside.
Admittedly, it’s by no means the most well-decorated watch movement. It’s relatively plain-looking. The rotor is slightly textured and has Seiko branding written on it.
But considering the price point, and the fact that this might be many people’s first mechanical watch, having a display case back can be fascinating, to view the mechanical movement, potentially for the first time.
I’d love it if there were some more decoration and colors added into the mechanical parts of this movement, to make it more engaging to look at… But at this price point, it’s hard to ask for more.
Anti-Reflective Coating (Could Be Better)
One of the only other things I don’t like about the SARB033 is the lack of a double-sided AR (anti-reflective) coating on the crystal.
The included sapphire crystal only has an anti-reflective sapphire coating on the underside of the crystal.
While any anti-reflective coating is better than none at all, I do find that in certain dimly lit lighting conditions, this does create some reflections that can make the watch not as legible as it is in direct lighting.
This can also make the watch crystal look “cloudy” at times and is really the only thing that breaks the immersion and feeling that I might be wearing a luxury watch when the 033 is on my wrist.
Seiko 6R15 Movement
Seiko’s 6R15 movement is an absolute workhorse that is known to go on for years and years without needing a service.
Based on the entry-level 7S26 movement that you’ll find in many Seiko 5s and entry-level Seiko models, it’s essentially an upgraded version for higher-end (and higher-priced) Seikos.
While the 6R15 movement is automatic like its predecessors, the 7S26 and 4R15, the 6R15 adds the ability for hacking and hand-winding.
These are by no means a make or break for me, but definitely nice to have.
Aside from the Seiko SARB series, you can also find the highly regarded 6R15 movement in other mid-range Seiko watches such as the Seiko SUMO and 62Mas. Both are part of Seiko’s Prospex (professional diver) line.
These movements are widely appreciated for being relatively accurate with a claimed accuracy of -15/+25 seconds per day. Not amazingly accurate by any means, but from my own personal experience, the 6R15 watches I have owned tend to be even more accurate than that.
The 6R15’s only downside is that it only beats at 21,000 BPH (beats per hour). So while it does produce a smooth second hand sweep, it’s definitely not the smoothest, especially when compared to some similarly priced watches such as the Hamilton Khaki that use a movement based on the Swiss ETA2824 movement, with a 28,800 bph.
Best Straps for the SARB033
The SARB033 is a strap monster. Being so versatile, it’ll look great on just about any strap you throw on it.
With that said, there are a few straps that I personally find myself gravitating toward on my SARB033 all the time.
When I’m not wearing the awesome stock metal oyster bracelet that comes with the SARB033, you’ll often find me wearing it on a brown or black vintage leather strap. This complements the ‘classic’ nature of the watch.
If you’re looking to really complement the refinement and dressy nature of the SARB, you’ll want to consider exotic straps. Exotic leather straps such as crocodile, alligator, and even snakeskin tend to look amazing and dress up the watch beautifully. Perfect for pairing with a suit, or even a slightly upscale put-together look.
If you’re looking to take advantage of the SARB033’s 100m water resistance, you’ll want to look into waterproof watch straps such as Canvas or Perlon, which will dry without damage. Canvas straps will add a touch of rugged casualness, while the perlon is a bit dressier, but still comfortable.
Extremely casual straps such as NATOs and rubber straps tend to look slightly out of place on the SARB, and I tend to avoid them, but it can be done with the right monotone NATO or rubber strap, if you’re so inclined.
I’ll have a more in-depth article with all of the best SARB033 straps here soon – stay tuned.
The SARB033’s One Big Flaw (Why I Sold The SARB033)
The SARB033’s one big flaw is the reason I sold my first SARB033. Of course, I later regretted it and ended up buying a second one, which I still own to this day.
After reading so many reviews, and watching so many videos about this watch, I heard nothing but good things.
Unfortunately, not a single watch reviewer explained that the watch, being so simple, can also be a bit… Bland, at first glance.
So after wearing the SARB033 for a bit, I just didn’t bond with it. To be honest, I thought it was a bit overhyped.
So I sold it.
Why I Bought Another
Just months later, I decided to give the watch another shot. Maybe I cast judgment too soon. So I bought another one.
This time around, I allowed myself to ignore any previous judgment I cast on the watch, and I wore it.
And wore it, and wore it. I wore it as my daily watch for 3 months straight.
What I realized in those 3 months was that the watch started to grow on me. The subtle nuances and details of how the case curves and the bracelet drapes just perfectly around your wrist.
The sword hands catch the light to reveal an almost mirror-like finish. How could I miss that?
The geometric chamfers layered on top of the case are like no other watch that exists and are done extremely well.
Basically, little details that I just didn’t notice after wearing the SARB for just a few short weeks the first time around. These details became much more evident the more I wore this watch.
The more I wore it, the more I began to appreciate the finer details and nuances that put the SARB miles ahead of almost any other watch in its price range.
SARB033 vs Grand Seiko
Watch collectors on forums often call the Seiko SARB033 and SARB035 the “baby Grand Seikos”.
Grand Seiko is the highest lineup of Seikos’ watches. In fact, it’s basically an entirely different brand that competes with luxury brands such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, Omega, and etc.
So how does the SARB033 and SARB035 compare?
Both the SARB series and Grand Seiko feature designs that win you over with the details, rather than with an over-the-top and outrageous design.
Grand Seiko known for their unrivaled quality of finish, with zaratsu polishing that is so well-done, it’s almost literally like looking into a mirror.
Of course, Grand Seikos come at a much higher cost.
While the Grand Seiko is undoubtedly a much better watch objectively, the Seiko SARB does have an excellent level of finish and detail that easily rivals anything in this price range – and is considered the Grand Seiko of the sub $500 price bracket.
But when you break down the price difference, is the Grand Seiko really worth 6x the price (or sometimes more)?
Most people would hardly know the difference between the two, so if it’s worth the extra cash is completely up to you, your budget, and your watch collecting desires.
While I would love to one day own a Grand Seiko, they’re my grail watch, I am perfectly happy with my SARB033 for now.
With the Seiko SARB033, 035, and SARB017 Alpinist all discontinued in 2019, there have been many questions about the future of the SARB line.
While there’s no news or updates on the SARB033/035, the Alpinist has had a bit of a refresh.
Unfortunately, the new 2020 Alpinists have been removed from the SARB line, and have been ‘promoted’ to Seiko’s slightly more expensive Prospex line.
With the insane success of the SARB line, I highly doubt that Seiko would just leave discontinue these pieces without any consideration for refreshing them.
It’s possible to dress watches such as the SARB 033 and 035 may follow the SARB017, and that we’ll see upgraded and more expensive variations pop up. Time will tell.
Sarb033 vs Sarb035
The Seiko SARB033 and SARB035 are pretty much the same exact watch, just with different dial and date-wheel colors.
The SARB033 has a glossy black dial, while the SARB035 has a cream dial.
Their date wheels also differ, as the SARB033 has a black date wheel, and the SARB035 has a white date wheel. Mind you, the SARB035’s white date wheel does not match with the cream dial color. Something to take note of.
Colors aside, they’re essentially the same watch, and the one you choose will depend on your personal preference and style.
I felt the black dial SARB033 was more versatile to pair with my monochromatic New York City wardrobe, but I feel the SARB035 has a certain elevated level of elegance. I am constantly fighting with my urge to own both. 😁
Alternatives to the SARB033 & SARB035
With the SARB035 and SARB033 being officially discontinued, you might want to consider a few alternatives.
The Seiko Prestige SARX035, for instance, is very similar looking to the SARB033/35 lineup, with a few improvements. A refined case and improved bracelet – this time with brushed and polished center links, take the SARB up a notch.
The Seiko 5 SNKL23 is the perfect affordable alternative. It maintains and like many Seiko 5s, it looks way more expensive than it really is.
Watches like the Tissot Visodate and Hamilton Khaki aren’t as closely comparable to the SARB as some of Seiko’s other models, but they offer similar dressy-yet-sporty vibes around the same price point as the SARB.
Check out the in-depth article I wrote listing some of the best alternatives to the Seiko SARB here.
- Movement: Seiko 23-Jewel 6R15 Caliber Automatic (self-winding, hand winding, hacking)
- Case: Brushed and polished 316l stainless steel
- Case back: Exhibition display case back
- Crystal: Scratch resistant sapphire with single-sided AR coating
- Band: Solid stainless steel Oyster Bracelet with solid fitted end-links and push-button deployant clasp.
- Water resistance: 100 meters
- Diameter: 38mm
- Lug width: 20mm
- Thickness: 11mm
- Lug to lug: 44mm
- Weight: 136g (with bracelet)
The Final Verdict
The Seiko SARB033 is a classic watch that perfectly treads the line of dressy and sporty, making it the perfect one-watch collection.
Under $500, there aren’t many other watches that come close to this level of refinement, build quality, and attention to detail.
While the SARB033, unfortunately, isn’t currently available, you can still pick up the cream-dial SARB035 on Amazon for the time being.
Last update on 2023-12-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API