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Opinion – Why I believe the Captain Willard SPB153 is the Coolest Seiko of 2020

opinion-–-why-i-believe-the-captain-willard-spb153-is-the-coolest-seiko-of-2020

Earlier this year, Seiko brought back one of its legendary designs, a watch that not only marked the brand’s history and became an incredible commercial success in the 1970s, but a watch that gained fame after being worn on Captain Willard’s (Martin Sheen) wrist in Apocalypse Now. Available in black and in green, and despite the fact that the green version is not historically relevant, I immediately fell in love with this olive-coloured, military-inspired edition… and I bought it. So, let’s make it clear, this article is not going to be objective. It’s not going to be factual. But it will simply reflect why I think (why I’m sure, actually) the Captain Willard SPB153 is the coolest Seiko of 2020.

Background

Before we move on with this article, it’s important to remember where the Seiko ‘Captain Willard’ Reissue comes from. This isn’t the first time that Seiko brings back a reissue of the so-called Turtle watch. There’s already a widely available modern interpretation in collection, with the accessible SRP series. On the other side of the range, there was the Seiko 1970 Diver’s Re-Creation SLA033, a far more precise and high-end take on the Turtle watch, this time a faithful recreation of the 6105 watch.

An example of Seiko 6105-8110 – image by Fratello Watches

The Turtle concept, with its atypical case, started life with the reference 6105, later replaced in 1976 by the 6309 series. While quite similar to the 6105, the 6309 has an even more asymmetrical case design and also adds a day function and a dial with circular luminous plots instead of rectangular ones. But the topic of the day is the Captain Willard watch, as such a 6105. Produced from 1968 onwards, the Seiko 6105 was a sturdy dive watch with a water-resistance of 150 metres. What caught everybody’s eye was the crown positioned at 4 o’clock (which was, in fact, used for the first time in the 1961 Seiko Silver Wave) and the big, lower crown protector.

The watch is famous for two things. First, it was tested in real life by explorer Naomi Uemura, a very popular Japanese adventurer, well respected for having achieved solo feats. For instance, he undertook a one-man dog-sledge run from Greenland to Alaska, a journey of 12,000 km that took 18 months. He was the first to reach the North Pole alone. He was also the first to descend the Amazon river in a boat. Why it matters is because he was wearing a 6105 during most of his travels. Not as part of a marketing campaign orchestrated by Seiko; it was just a watch that was robust, reliable and durable enough to accompany Uemura on his adventures.

Dennis Hopper, Martin Sheen, and Frederic Forrest survey a temple in a scene from the film Apocalypse Now, 1979. (Photo by United Artists/Getty Images)

Second, the reason for the fame of the reference 6105 has to do with the iconic movie, Apocalypse Now. The watch was worn by one of the movie’s main characters, Captain Willard, portrayed by Martin Sheen. Not just a fancy prop, the watch was actually used in a real wartime situation. It turns out that the 6105 was sold in Asia during the Vietnam conflict and American soldiers had better – and cheaper – access to it than locals because they paid in dollars. The watch earned a solid reputation among the ranks for being a sturdy piece of equipment, to the point of becoming a favourite among the soldiers. When the soldiers returned to civilian life, so did the watch.

American actors Martin Sheen (left) and Frederic Forrest (right) walk together on the set of their film, Apocalypse Now (Photo by Steve Schapiro/Corbis via Getty Images.

The call for a re-edition increased notably with the re-release of the movie in 2001 (known as Apocalypse Now Redux). And Seiko has taken its own sweet time to please its fans, first with the SLA033 and today with the SPB151 and SPB153.

The Seiko ‘Captain Willard’ SPB153

Earlier this year, Seiko announced a new series of watches inspired by the 6105, a relatively faithful re-edition of the original concept with vintage flair but modernised too on several levels. While the SRP series is clearly inspired by the 6309 watches, this SPB153 takes most design cues of the Ref. 6105 and brings them into a contemporary package, part of the brand’s mid-range collections. Both elements, its lower price and this addition of contemporary elements, are what truly differentiates the SPB153 from the expensive and limited SLA033. And while I’d love to own the latter, I think the far more accessible price tag of the olive-green SPB makes for an even more desirable piece, which can be bought easily by most watch enthusiasts. In addition to that, the original late-1960s watches were far from being luxurious items.

The Captain Willard reissue reintroduces the original design of the 6105 with its atypical case, an almost identical dial design and the same spirit of reliability, robustness and (relative) affordability. The 2020 Captain Willard is built around a cushion-shaped central container with the crown positioned at 4 o’clock and protected by an asymmetrical guard. Just like the original watch, the case is circular brushed on the upper surface and polished on sides, with drilled lugs and an unmarked screw-down crown. The quality is typical Prospex: simple but clean, and very well adjusted. It feels (and is) solid.

An important thing with the Captain Willard SPB153 is the size of the case. This watch demonstrates once again Seiko’s intention to downsize some of its watches. We’ve seen this with the 62MAS modern interpretations, and so does this 6105-inspired model. The case measures 42.8mm in diameter, but mostly, it is 46.6mm lug-to-lug. Also, the lug width is only 20mm, making the case/strap balance a bit odd, and thus charming. The watch is equipped with a 120-click unidirectional bezel, with a notched profile that recalls that of the 6105. The insert, here in olive green, is made of matte anodized aluminium with a grained surface. Finally, a bevelled sapphire crystal protects the dial.

While the black model certainly feels more relevant, Seiko added a green version to this small sub-collection… Why? No idea exactly. Apart from the cool factor, the fact that green is trendy and it might recall the military past of the watch? Other than this colour, Seiko once again relies on the 6105 as a base for the design. The rectangular hour markers, the shovel-like seconds hand, the straight hours and minutes hands, the date-only display, the double marker at 12 o’clock… Everything is there but has been slightly updated. The base of the dial is sunray brushed, adding a nice sense of depth and some lively reflections.

Under the screwed caseback, Seiko relies on its calibre 6R35 – Seiko’s mid-range automatic movement, found in both Presage and Prospex models. It beats at 3Hz and offers a robust power reserve of 70 hours when fully wound. I haven’t measured the accuracy of the watch, but it appears to be within -10/-5 seconds a day, which feels pretty solid for a watch of this range.

Why Do I love the ‘Captain Willard’ reissue?

Quick background on my preferences. Most of my personal watches fall into two categories: pilot’s chronographs and dive watches. Not that I’m a pilot or a diver myself, but I like the concept, the design, the function of both styles. Also, I don’t own many vintage watches myself, since they require special care that I usually don’t have when wearing watches. However, I have a soft spot for vintage designs. And, to be even more precise, I’ve always enjoyed these accessible, rugged and utilitarian Seiko diver’s watches from the 1960s-70s. These are cool, robust, with a no-nonsense instrumental spirit. The true essence of Seiko, in my opinion.

As you can imagine, when Seiko introduced the SPB151 and SPB153, it immediately caught my attention. Having already some SRP Turtle and Samurai watches, I know how great these very accessible watches can be. For less than 500 euros, they’ll bring you immense pleasure. But these are large and heavy watches, with a quality that is certainly above suspicion considering the price, but not on par with so-called Swiss luxury watches – please bear with me, the SRP watches are some of the best watches in this price range, but simply can’t compete with an IWC or an Omega.

An example of an SRP Turtle watch… Note the difference in size with the Captain Willard.

What made me fall in love with the Captain Willard reissue, and specifically this olive-green SPB153? Many things, actually. First, as mentioned, I have a soft spot for vintage-inspired Seiko diver’s watches. So, clearly, I’m biased. Second, I’ve been looking at the SLA033 for several months, but I never made the final step, mostly because of its price. Yet, the idea of having a watch inspired by the original 6105 stuck in my mind, and I even thought about buying a vintage model at a certain point. Yet, finding an example in pristine condition isn’t the easiest task. As such, you can imagine my reaction when we received the news of this Captain Willard reissue… I was hooked.

Then I got to test the watch in our hands-on session of June this year. Having the opportunity to see the watch in the metal only reinforced my feelings towards it. I discovered that the watch was perfectly proportioned, with some presence but it was far more compact than I imagined, even on my small 16.5cm wrist. Despite the 42.8mm dimension (from 3 to 9 o’clock), the watch measures less than 47mm lug-to-lug – a measurement that you’ll usually find on 40mm watches with a classic round case and protruding lugs.

While the black version would have been a reasonable, historically relevant choice, I decided to go for the green model. First of all, I think the colour is ultra-cool. It’s different, lively, warm and adds this military touch that, without making real sense in the 6105 context, is simply fun and desirable. A good point too was the use of anodized aluminium for the bezel, a material that I prefer in terms of look and feel for vintage-inspired watches. Ceramic certainly is a great option, but I tend to prefer matte surfaces to glossy ceramic.

Finally, there’s the quality of the watch itself. The case might be rather simple, but the bezel, the dial, the hands are all very detailed and impressively executed for a watch in this price range. Same goes for the bevelled sapphire crystal, which is a very nice addition to the watch and really contributes to the overall perceived quality. The movement, with its extended power reserve of 3 days, it also something that stands out from the crowd of ETA, Sellita and Miyota watches, with about 2 days of power reserve. It might seem like a detail, but on a daily basis, it makes the watch more comfortable to use.

Finally, I changed the original strap for something more personal… Nothing wrong with the black silicon strap offered by Seiko, but I wanted to give this piece an even more military look, and also more comfort with something light and thin. Hence this 2-piece NATO in green (cheap and not really of high quality, though… I’m now looking for something more suitable). Really, looking at the photos while writing this article (and looking at my wrist too, as I’m wearing the watch while I type on my keyboard), I genuinely think this SPB153 Captain Willard Reissue is the best, most attractive, coolest Seiko of the year.

Of course, this statement is subjective and personal. What is your favourite Seiko of the year, and why? Please share with us in the comment box below.

What do you think?

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