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Prospex SBDX014 and SBDX016 Review

Today we look at two new Prospexes, the SBDX014 and SBDX016, part of Seiko's commemoration of their very first dive watch 50 years ago. There's more going on here than at first appears, thanks to a new material in the shroud of the SBDX016, the interesting bezel inserts on both and, most obviously, the gold accents throughout. Each is powered by a Grand Seiko-derived 8L35 automatic and is rated for 1000 meters, so these watches are very well rounded. Read on to learn more about what makes these watches so interesting.

The Video

Check out our high-definition video of the SBDX014 here and the SBDX016 here.

The Introduction

CASE: Titanium with rose-gold color and black hard coating and ceramic
BAND: Silicone
GLASS MATERIAL: Sapphire Crystal with Anti-Reflective Coating
FEATURES: Power reserve approximately 50 hours

Limited Edition of 700
CASE: Titanium with Cermet shroud
BAND: Silicone
GLASS MATERIAL: Sapphire Crystal with Anti-Reflective Coating
FEATURES: Power reserve approximately 50 hours

The SBDX014 and SBDX016 are quite interesting to compare because they're nearly the inverse of each other. It's as if Seiko just inverted the colors and called it a day, but that doesn't really tell the whole story. There are lots of subtle differences between these two.

The SBDX016 is probably the more unique of the two. It has a new material for the shroud, Cermet, a sort of metallic/ceramic hybrid. The dial is actually a dark brown that closely resembles chocolate and the strap is colored to match. It actually has a surprise in the lume category as well.

Aside from sticking with a more traditional black dial and black strap, as well as the black and gold accents on the case having been reversed, the SBDX014 is extremely similar to the SBDX016. They both feature the same high-end Grand Seiko 9S55-derived movement, the 8L35, the same 1000 meter water resistance, and the same extra-large size. For those who would prefer a quartz version with less gold, Seiko also offers the SBBN029. It also uses the new Cermet material for the shroud, but this time it looks like steel, with a white strap and black accents throughout.

The Dial

For only a small handful of differences the watches come off looking quite distinctive when put next to each other.

Starting with the more conventional SBDX014 we find a nice black dial with intense, high-contrast markers and hands, just as you'd expect to find on a Seiko diver.

The SBDX014 has an extremely rugged look and the dial is quite deep. For whatever reason, it seems like there is slightly less glare on the SBDX014's crystal than the SBDX016s which I assume must have something to do with the matte black color of the dial, although this is the opposite of what I would have expected.

There's a very slight concave curve to the dial. It's extremely subtle on this SBDX014, but it's fairly obvious on the brown dial of the SBDX016. You can just barely detect it with the shape of the hour markers at an angle like this. In this photo, you can see the curve in the 9:00 marker.

The hands are identical between the SBDX014 and SBDX016, both being gold colored (I'm not sure of their actual composition) with huge doses of lume. As is often the case with Seiko divers, a lollipop seconds hand is used. This is a very practical design because it ensures that none of the hands resemble each other even in the dark.

I will say that the hands are slightly more visible on the SBDX014's black dial as opposed to the brown dial. The gold shows up better, but in either watch, the lume offers more than enough contrast to make it very legible.

The lume, of course, is top notch. This is a Seiko diver, after all. The luminescent index on the bezel is especially impressive as this feature is usually substantially less brilliant on most divers.

The SBDX016's dial is very similar, but the color is a dark brown. It's got a slightly rough texture to it and it gives it an almost vintage flair. This is a good opportunity to point out the slightly green coloration of the sapphire crystal.

The hour markers are identical between the two models. They're all painted, but extremely precisely. Every circle is perfect and flat and every straight line is sharp.

I think Seiko was going for a bit of a "target" look, with alternating black and gold bands for each watch. To acquire that, Seiko couldn't use the same black dial here, so they went with with the brown to compliment the gold alternation.

The date is, as you'd expect, identical between these two watches, black with white writing. Seiko has placed the date between 4:00 and 5:00, a common tactic for divers and I presume this is to maximize the amount of lume on the watch (as opposed to the date cutting into the 3:00 marker).

The lume, interestingly, is not identical. The dial hands are, but the bezel is quite a bit cooler. Now all the markers through 20 are lumed. More on that in the case section.

Of course, no review of two watches would be complete without a lume comparison. Here the SBDX016 slightly edges out the SBDX014 thanks to its more impressive bezel.

So which dial do I like more? It's close, but I think I like the SBDX014's a little more. The brown does look very good on the SBDX016, but I think that, on the whole, the black dial contributes more to the overall design of the watch than the brown dial.

The Case

The case is where the story really begins for these watches. That's true for a few reasons, namely that cases tend to be more complex in divers generally, that these cases are among the most complex out there, and while both use innovative materials, the SBDX016 uses a weird ceramic/metallic hybrid.

Before we get into the case, however, I want to discuss the very unique bezel inserts. At first glance, they appear to be simply black with white writing on them, but it's far more interesting than that. Looking closely and at a sharp angle, you can see that the inserts are actually clear with tall white markers inside. Very cool.

The bezel has kind of a matte finish, despite being clear. Actually, the sort of depth the bezel insert gives to the numerals may be my favorite part of the whole watch.

Of course, the coolest thing about the bezel is the lume. On close examination you can see that the white writing is slightly green even in daylight, but from the wrist they look uniform. The SBDX016 is clearly the winner here as it has lume through the 20 marker.

The feel of the bezel is typical Seiko. It's very solid and tough feeling, but I would say the most characteristic impression you get is how smooth it is. It's not a rough journey from stop to stop, but instead it's a pleasant slide. If you were hoping for the loud bank vault sort of feeling you get from something like the Pelagos, you won't find it here, but it has its own charm and feels no less high quality.

We must, however, discuss the "elephant" in the room. These watches are large...52.4mm large, in fact. I've seen many sources claim that these watches are substantially smaller but I think this may have been based on erroneous information from their release.

At least according to my ultra-precise ruler measurements, they are indeed over 50mm.

Still, it's not nearly the deal-killer you might suspect due to its lugless design. It actually wears very comfortable on my average sized wrist.

The case backs are, sans small special edition writing, identical black coated titanium.

These watches have a shroud which basically amounts to a protective secondary case. This is where the watches get the most interesting and also the part where they differ the most.

From a materials point of view, the SBDX014 is quite interesting and represents some really good engineering choices. The actual watch is composed of lightweight titanium, which, while a great material, is very easy to scratch.

Choosing ceramic for the protective shroud, then, was an easy choice, as it's one of the hardest materials in watchmaking, many times more scratch resistant than steel.

Even the titanium is interesting on the SBDX014. It's rose gold colored and it's a very convincing effect, apparently the result of titanium ion plating. Because the surface of the gold is so well protected by the shroud it should hold up very well too.

The gold accents continue onto the signed crown, another differentiating element between this and the SBDX016.

It creates a very nice effect of alternating black and gold rings and accents.

The difference in coloration for the SBDX016 isn't just for looks, it's actually the result of some novel approaches to material science.

The shroud here is also rose gold colored, but it's actually the result of remarkable fusion of of ceramic and metal called Cermet. It's an unfortunate name which, in my head at least, is pronounced "sir met" (the alternative would be to call it Kermit, which seems unacceptable), which I favor because the word is ostensibly a portmanteau of ceramic and metal.

I'm not sure of what the precise composition of Cermet is, namely what metal is utilized, but the goal is very understandable. Ceramics may be incredibly difficult to scratch, but they are relatively vulnerable to fracturing or chipping on a very significant impact. Metal, conversely, tends to dent or deform under comparable stress, which, while not ideal, is preferable to cracking.

Cermet, then, attempts to balance the favorable attributes of both metal and ceramic: a high degree of scratch resistance with a high degree of impact resistance.

The crown, which I presume to also be titanium, continues the alternating color scheme of the SBDX014, in this case receiving the same black coating as the other titanium components of the case. In either the SBDX014 or SBDX016 they are rated for 1000 meters and have been tested to significantly greater. Suffice it to say that water resistance will literally never be a problem with these watches.

You may have noticed that unlike virtually all other diving watches with extremely high water resistance ratings there is no helium escape valve. This is due to Seiko's L-shaped gaskets which elegantly eliminate the need for these valves.

In a sense you're getting two cases for the price of one with a Tuna, and in either instance, something really scratch resistant yet a watch that's fairly light for its size. It's not a light watch, but it's not as heavy as a watch of this size would otherwise be.

The Movement

Unfortunately I have no photos the movement to show you, but I do think it warrants a brief mention. Inside the SBDX014 and SBDX016 is an 8L35, better known as a version of the Grand Seiko 9S55. The 9S55 was the first modern Grand Seiko automatic movement and is by many standards still fairly young, having been released in 1998. The 9S55 is quite similar to our current generation movement, the 9S65, with a few notable differences. The most important of these are that it had a large, but ultimately shorter, 50 hour power reserve and that it had a different automatic winding system.

The 9S5X was actually the last magic lever automatic winding system that Grand Seiko employed on a mechanical. Now the 9S6X and 9S8X have taken over and they use a more conventional, and ultimately more complex, Swiss solution. I've always preferred the magic lever myself. It's a simple, elegant solution to the problem of bidirectional winding. The 8L35 in these Prospexes is mechanically identical to the 9S55 and you could take any component right off of the older Grand Seiko movement and install it into this movement if you preferred. The primary differences are adjustment and decoration. The latter is largely irrelevant since you can't see the movement. The former refers to the precision and stability that a watch has achieved. The 8L35, being unadjusted, is unlikely to achieve the same accuracy that Grand Seiko is so famous for, but the high-end engineering and design that goes into a 9S calibre is entirely present in these Prospexes. It has, therefore, great pedigree and a proven track record.

The Conclusion

The SBDX014 and SBDX016 are serious divers for serious Seiko fans. They're large, they're in your face and they are ready for just about anything.

The SBDX014 is the more conventional of the two although it does stand out pretty well thanks to its two tone nature. Few would guess that those two tones are actually titanium and ceramic.

The SBDX016 is more provocative, however, and frankly just looks higher end because its shroud not only appears to be gold but it's highly polished. This is one of the better brown dials out there as well. It definitely fits with the overall theme of the watch.

Choosing between these two watches is tough. On the one hand, I really like the idea of Cermet in the SBDX016 and I definitely prefer the more extensive use of lume in the bezel.

But I prefer the matte black ceramic shroud on the outside with a more minimal use of rose gold on the inside on the SBDX014. As good as the brown dial looks in the SBDX016, I think I still prefer the plainer, all-business black dial of the 14.

So surprisingly, I find myself slightly favoring the full production version. I'm roughly equally happy with both but if I had to pick, the SBDX014 would be it. I like that Seiko is offering a lot of higher-end dive watches that are allowed to be a little more fun than the all-business Grand Seiko divers. It's even got a Grand Seiko-derived movement inside, so the divide between a top shelf Prospex and a Grand Seiko is decreasing, particularly when you can get a Hi-Beat SBEX001 or various spring drive Prospexes. These two models make a great addition for those looking for a hardcore dive watch that doesn't take itself too seriously and that has some very significant movement and material technology behind it.

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Discussion Starter #5
Some additional shots for you guys:

You can really see the green crystal on this 16.

It's a big watch, but the lugless design helps manage it.

Another shot of the green crystal.

Not many people have mentioned the green crystal on the SBDX014, but I can confirm it's there (although harder to see).

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