For the average punter, this Willard reinterpretation is a viable proposition for a few reasons: the nerd cred, a complementary piece in a Diver’s 200m themed collection or maybe just a casual ticking of a box - another notch on the proverbial vulcanised strap.
But why is it important for Seiko, and why should that matter to the average punter?
Let’s address the elephant in the room. No, I don’t think it’s just a cynical cashing-in on the past. Perhaps we hold Seiko to a higher moral standard than we do other brands. I don’t know, maybe it’s what we do to those we love.
Consider this: in 2022, the highest selling Tudors, Longines and IWCs are the results of these companies looking backwards for their design language, rather than forward.
Consider as well, the microbrand landscape, where the MO seems to be to take other brands’ family portraits and change the furniture, silverware and carpets in a way the OG brands can’t themselves, for that would be playing with the DNA just a bit too much. Baltic, Lorier and Halios are masters at this.
Then there are those phoenix brands. Once eaten up by the quartz crisis, they now source from past catalogues that we all assumed were closed forever. Think Benrus, Tornek-Rayville, Le Jour and Ollech & Wajs.
Let’s be clear, the “Willard” is much more than Apocalypse Now.
Just remember that Martin Sheen wore it because real GIs did, and not the other way round. Seiko, a very consciously Japanese watchmaker, has taken some subtle steps to attach the model’s identity to another story. That of Naomi Uemura, the real life Japanese explorer whose USP was conquering vast wildernesses alone. That is how he died, alone, on his descent from a record breaking mountain climb, possibly wearing his 6105-8110, a watch he bought with his own money.
Before moving on, have a look at these:
- 1965: 6217-8000 “The 62MAS“ (autoMAtic Selfdater)
- 1967: 6215-7000 “Marinemaster 300”
- 1968: 6105-8000 “The Slim Turtle”
- 1970: 6105-8110 “The Willard”
- 1975: 6159-7010 “The Tuna” (Grandfather / Ninja and Golden Tuna images below - find online)
As you can see, the 6105-8110 wasn’t the first Seiko diver on the block. The 62MAS was. But objectively, though it was important for Seiko’s own identity, and the democratisation of diving in Asia, it wasn’t an entirely genre bending watch.
But it did spur them on, and in one decade Seiko would have the five prized studs that launched a hundred lines and colour ways, with the 6105-8110 being the most “Seiko” Seiko of them all.
I’ll be honest, I was into the SBDC109 for no more than five minutes when it came out in 2019.
For me, the 62MAS inspired SPB143J was it! It was classy. The anthracite dial said “Yes, I wear an automatic, and yes, I know it looks like John Hamm in a winter coat smoking a Lucky Strike”. There were no bulging sides. No crown guards and no asymmetry. In short, it was nipped and tucked and very capable. It was, and is, the perfect desk-diver watch: a monument to postmodernism.
When this SBDC109 came in for review it took a while to win me over. For those first few hours I expected the chunky watch head to flop around on its hollow end-linked bracelet. It didn’t. It felt smooth and considered.
Intrigued, I tried it on my squadron of Natos. I expected the double-pass ones to add undue height, but you know what? It felt acceptable. A chunky single pass made things better still. But I think you know that the natural, historical and logical home for this watch is a rubber strap. The look, and feel, is off the charts cool. And if you feel like giving the world a couple of YOLO deuces, you could give it some stitched leather shoes. They all work.
The strap change pit stops took seconds because it has drilled lug holes, which equals no bruised inner lugs, or Band Aids round your fingers.
This isn't a luxury watch, and because of that, you'll chuck it around.
The Diashield coated case with satin uppers and polished undersides exude a quiet confidence. As you get tactile and turn the bezel you hear that dampened, legendary Seiko click. That’s DNA in audible form. it reminds you of the SKX you modded, the Arnie you sold, and, well, home.
Also, I don’t know how to break it to you, but the bezel aligns. Even if you don’t buy this watch, print the photo and hang it above your bed. This is your new grail situation.
We move further inboard for the main event.
Imagine your hands on the steering wheel and the SBDC109 on your wrist. You want a quick glance at the time. The dial gets to work. Those highly polished and exquisitely bevelled hands combine with the applied indices to pull a little hologram act off the inky black dial.
Except it’s not an inky black dial. And neither is it matte. It’s composed, ready to put on a sombre face on a grey Kiwi July morning. When the sun is out it’ll almost appear more textured than it is.
It invites you to gaze in, to take it off the wrist and hold it close, to move it around so you can watch the light sit on the aluminium bezel before it’s off again. You look at the traffic stop seconds hand and the bevelled edge on the domed sapphire and the reflection it creates of the minute markings and remember something about it being exactly like this on the original. You’d be right. It was, and Seiko somewhat mystifyingly left it off the far more expensive and limited SLA033.
The date wheel isn't colour matched, and I don’t like it. But not because it’s there or not colour matched. This is what I think: If you're going to have a white, uber-visible date wheel, put a damned frame around it so I can fool myself into thinking that's an index. That is something the SLA033 does get.
The lume is Lumibrite, which is ever-alert. The movement is a 6R35 with 70 hours in the tank. But you knew that from those 17 YouTube videos of this, and every other variation of this watch that you’ve seen since 2019.
And this is why you should care. Sure, you’re paying a bit, but you’re not paying entirely for the stuff. The stuff is all there, and it’s all good. It’s no-need-think-twice good. What you’re actually paying for is a rather faithfully CNC machined nostalgia that you can, really, actually, bash on a rock, or an engine bay, and still not have to worry.
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Special thanks to Fahmi Ebrahim for providing an excellent Seiko SBDC109 review.