quietly despairing with Seiko's SARB 033

m. werneburg, 2017

a review

Quietly despairing your lot in life? Interested in high-end Japanese watches but you can't afford one? Seiko's got you covered with the SARB line. The corners may have been cut, but you can still pretend with the SARB033.

Seiko's SARB033 is an "automatic" sport wrist-watch that hits a nice note of legibility, form, weight, and accuracy. I'm by no means a watch expertnote 1, but I think I've got this one figured out.



The 6R15 movement in this watch is automatic, meaning it is spring-driven and will self-wind to a degree due to a weighted mechanism that shifts when you move. It's pretty clever, and capable of being accurate to within a few seconds a day. I've finally got mine tuned to the point where I don't have to adjust the time by more than a minute, more than once every week or two, but that took three visits to a watchmaker. I do expect this movement to last for many years, and to retain its accuracy with the odd tune-up. Of course, your mileage may vary.note 2

detail on face of SARB033
A blurry attempt at the dial of SARB033. Shot with
reverse-mounted lens for very shallow depth of field.

The materials and construction are what you'd expect from a Seiko watch in the hundreds of dollars. After three years of regular wear, the sapphire crystal has yet to have a single blemish. The steel case, while slightly burnished in a couple of places, otherwise looks great and needs only some occasional gentle cleaning.


I fell in love with this watch online, as it's not available in stores in North America. My wife picked up my copy while on a trip to her native Japan for my 43rd birthday — a great way of saving some money while retaining Seiko's global warranty. The drawbacks from this however were: I hadn't realized how small the date window is; and the bracelet isn't as substantial or attractive "in the steel"; and the sapphire lacks an anti-reflective glare.

The former became a problem for me about two years into my ownership of the watch. The lenses in my eyes began to ossify (along with my political opinions) and I began to find it hard to see the window date. It's now impossible without reading glasses. That's not the case for similar watches I've looked at, and it's not a problem with my inexpensive diver. The window date on the SARB033 is small, crowded with an unnecessary steel trim and recessed deep into the dial.

As for the bracelet, I've encountered two issues. First, I've never found a comfortable fit. The thing allows only one small adjustment, and neither of the immediately adjacent offerings worked for me. Secondly, I've found that the weight of the case and its contents tends to pull the watch around my wrist, especially in the winter (our bodies are more slender in the winter for some reason). I have to assume that some of the links are folded rather than solid, perhaps as a cost-cutting mechanism. Aesthetically, the bracelet doesn't match the case. The links have none of the design elements from the case and dial. I first replaced my bracelet with a black "crocodile" patterned leather strap. Black and silver work very well IMHO.

Seiko SARB033 on a faux crocodile black band
Seiko SARB033 on a faux crocodile black band

Then I switched to plainer straps that I think better offset the watch's lines and style—as noted in the first photo on this page. My current strap (as of late 2018) is the following:

SARB033 on an inexpensive tan strap
SARB033 on an inexpensive tan strap

As the photo above ably demonstrates, there's a good deal of glare on this watch. In possibly another cost-cutting effort, the sapphire seems to lack an anti-reflective treatment. Even my $50 "beater" watch—a Casio MDV-106—has a crystal with a much more limpid look.

Seiko SARB033 – the obligatory on-wrist shot
The obligatory on-wrist shot. My wrist is 7⅞" or 200mm around.

But, you get what you pay for, and the band and anti-glare "issues" I'm citing are likely purposeful to distinguish the SARB033 from watches like SDGM003 or SARX035, which cost twice as much (or more). At $600-$900, I wouldn't have bought either, so I'll live with the glare.


Size:I find that today's 40mm++ watches remind me of Flavor Flav: self-consciously absurd. Men's dress watches were never HUGE like they are today, and I'm a fan of the old ways. I've got nearly 20cm wrists — about 7 7/8". On me, the 38mm SARB case suits the width of my wrists and lets me wear the watch under the cuffs of my office shirts. That 11mm height becomes a problem with some of my dandy French cuffs unfortunately, but as I've been trying to convince my wife, that's why we have slim dress watches.

Design: This watch has a strong Japanese vibe, which is why I don't think it was released internationally. It blends a conservative middle-management utilitarianism and "price point" while striking the quiet sophistication that 95% of Japanese adults seem to understand is their duty. But if you peruse the Seiko line-up you'll note very similar designs way up in the stratosphere, among the Grand Seikos. note 3 I therefor suspect that the '33 is a designed for the Japanese domestic market to fill an aspirant's niche — e.g. if you're that Japanese middle-management type you're likely well aware of the Grand Seikos and this is your "me too".

That's pure speculation, but I like the looks of the thing regardless. Rather than to go into great detail, some photos should suffice: it's a three hand watch with a date window and a black dial, "Dauphin" hands, a beveled chapter ring, a sapphire crystal, and a stainless steel case and bracelet. Thanks to that clever 6R15 movement, the case stands at a middling height on the wrist at 11mm. The case avoids falling into any particular time period with a one-tone stainless steel construction, a minimal bezel, sleek raised matte portions that swerve around the bezel and lie out the length of the lugs. On the dial, everything matches the stainless case in color and the hour markers have linear incisions that match the incisions on the case.

Back to Japan: I'm convinced that this watch and its various siblings are a steady sellers in their home country. From my five years in middle management in that country, I'm sure that this watch meets the cost-conscious and understated taste that sells to the Japanese salaryman (or rather, the wives that hold the purse-strings). This is a land of consensus, and not one of ostentatious displays of status. A domestic model such as this, with its office-friendly looks and reasonable price, is exactly what would appeal.

Of course, there's an attitude of quiet desperation about the middle rungs of the corporate world, and I'm still sadly toodling along in the thick of it at 46. Hell, I probably will be for life. And so, my SARB033 with its smart refinement and its cut corners will be there with me, timeless and enduring, telling me the time and pleasing me with its subtle good looks.


1. You should see what people have to say about my review of a typical "branded" no-frills quartz cheapie. back

2. And even if it does, there are tricks to keeping your watch healthy. back

3. Though those tend to have white dials like the SARB035 sister to the SARB033. back

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My tale of woe regarding a "Canadian made" wrist watch.

my fishing watch – the Casio MDV-106


I bought a beater Casio that turned out to be a fine watch –with a few warts.

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