The Seiko Alpinist
Seiko introduced the Alpinist wristwatch in 1961 with the intention of it becoming a reliable timepiece for Japanese mountain climbers and other sports enthusiasts alike. The production of this watch was important because it was the first real attempt at making a sports watch by Seiko. Seiko Alpinist watches started being produced in 1961 and were inspired by Yama-otoko which is Japanese for mountain men. Mountains cover much of the Japanese landscape and the mountain men that worked or spent time in the mountains during their free time were supposedly the inspiration of this line of Seiko watches. These men required excellent gear that could handle the rugged terrain and that they could depend on for accuracy. The Laurel Alpinist was the first of seven generations which was followed by the second generation known as the Champion 850 series, partly named for the 850 movement used.
There was a 30-year span before the Alpinist name was used again by Seiko but in 1995 a third generation model with an automatic hand-winding 4S15 calibre version was introduced, and popularly called the “Red Alpinist”. The fourth generation Alpinist of 2003 is also known as the GMT, and is titanium cased, having a perpetual calendar and a quartz face; all of which had never been used in the Alpinist line before. The Seiko Alpinist GMT Titanium Prospex HAQ Quartz is exceptionally rare and used the 8F56 movement. It also has Alpinist in red on the dial. In 2006 the fifth generation Alpinist watches incorporated many features from previous generations with exception to the fourth generation. These watches all use the 6R15 movement which is an in-house movement created by Seiko. The SARB013 (Cream Dial), SARB015 (Black Dial) and SARB017 (Green Dial) immediately became popular and are still sought after by collectors. Out of the three models, the Green Dialed Alpinist is the most popular because of its unique colour. The sixth generation model of the Alpinist also used the 6R15B movement, and was introduced in August 2009. The case shape changed from earlier models, and is a variant of the SKX-series divers watch with the protected crown at the 4 o’clock position. Seiko Alpinist watches are exceptional for several reasons but most notably their craftsmanship and the rich history that goes along with the Alpinist line.
History of the Seiko Alpinist
When it comes to the creme de la creme of Seiko, there is little debate over which is the summit of Seiko branding. The Laurel sub brand is the oldest of the Seiko sub brands, and the 1913 Laurel watch did not even feature the word Seiko. The Alpinist is the second oldest Seiko sub brand.
Series introduction: Laurel Alpinist
The watch that started it all is known as the “Laurel Alpinist,” which operated on a 17 jewel hand wound movement and came in two colours, black and cream. The Laurel also came with a sturdy leather strap, these straps are hard to come by because of the wear and tear that owners put them through. Other than the two dial colours, there is no difference between the two. Introduced in 1961 the Alpinist Laurel is the very first Seiko to bear the name Alpinist, and the distinctive type face has been used on all Alpinist models. The Laurel Alpinist has sturdy stainless steel case topped with an acrylic crystal. The Laurel Alpinist comes in a guise of a rather non-sporty watch, and anyone familiar with the Laurel watches will immediately see the strong resemblance to the Laurel brand, yet there is something quite distinctive about this Alpinist. The circular 3-piece case has a waterproof screw-back with plain engravings. The case has a decent size of 35 mm, most of which is taken by the dial as the bezel around it is narrow. The dial comes in two 2 different colour schemes, black and cream, complemented by the minute markers in an unusual alternating pattern that forms an inner ring on the dial. The index markers at 3,6,9 and 12 are detailed, and were perhaps intended to reflect mountains. The dial is marked Diashock 17J. The movement is marked Seikosha 17 Jewels and beats at a relaxed 18,000 bph, shock protected and complemented with the normal loud Seiko rattle as the wheels wind. The Dauphine style hands and hour markers are inserted with lume. The legibility of this watch is excellent, thanks to the luminous large hour indexes that appear to be embossed rather than applied, but due to the passage of time its efficacy has diminished more than somewhat. The case back is engraved SEIKO LAUREL ALPINIST 14041 STAINLESS STEEL. The Seiko Marvel of the time had an almost identical 14041 case and movement.
Laurel Alpinist , 14041
The second Alpinist model after the Laurel Alpinist was created under the Champion Series two years later, in 1963. This move is presumed, by collectors, to have been made in order to make the Champion model more competitive. There is a simple “Alpinist” engraving on the back of the case accompanied by “RAINPROOF” which made it appropriate for any mountain climber. The first Champion version sported a stainless steel case, and had a very unique face; the dial had a spun of silver-satin finish, with the hour markers embedded on a thick black radial ring around the minute chapter while the minute markers were pushed to the outer periphery of the dial. The 12 o'clock marker was the numeral 4 in style. Despite its fancy looking dial, this watch came with a plain case back stamped print as “RAIN PROOF”, and model number J13033. The movement was the 17J Seikosha movement used in the original Laurel Alpinist, and the dial is still marked Diashock 17J beneath the word Alpinist. The second hand has a D shaped lollipop tip.
Champion Alpinist , J13033
A rare “RAIN PROOF” Champion Alpinist with trapezoidal lumed indexes was also produced at this time.
Rare Champion Alpinists , J13033
The next Alpinist also came under the Champion series. In quick succession there were three Stainless Steel model types, the J13043, the J13049 and the J13079, all marked WATERPROOF on the dial, and case back. The case back has the now iconic mountain symbol with Alpinist engraved beneath for the J13043 and J13049 models and Alpinist 850 engraved beneath for the J13049 model. The 17J Seikosha movement continued in the J13043 and J13049 models, but an automatic caliber 850 and later 851 rated at 18,000bph with Diashock protection was used in the J13079 model. Commonly all 3 models are called Champion 850 Alpinists.
Champion Alpinist, J13043
Seiko Champion Alpinist, J13049
One key feature was the continued use of the iconic dauphine hands which were used in all watches in the Champion series. Not only did the Champion series provide watch wearers and collectors a number of variations but the iconic mountain symbol on the back of the case originated here. From this point on, the vast majority of Alpinist watches have the mountain logo on the case ensuring authenticity.
From page 54 of "Museum of Japanese made watches" shows an Alpinist Champion 850 with caliber 850/851
The J13079 Champion 850 Alpinist had 14,16,18,20 and 22 hour markers on the inside of the chapter ring, and 850 beneath Seiko Champion on the dial. The case back is engraved Alpinist 850, and the inside of the case back is stamped CH85. The chronology of release of the variants is a blur so it assumed that the latest version is the one that is almost identical to the first version, only with these 24 hr markings in side of the minute chapter.
Champion 850 Alpinist, J13079
A rare Stainless Steel version similar to the 85899 model below also existed, with a J13079 case back.
Stainless Steel Champion 850 Alpinist, J13079
And below is a chrome plate version.
Caliber 851. Case back reads STP 858990
A gold version similar to the above was released in 1964 and used the 851 movement and is also known as the “85899” because Seiko used the older 5-digit numbering system; this is in fact the model number of the Champion 850s. The third release comes in a special gold-plated case with a relatively different dial. This variant inherited the traditional look of the related non-alpinist Champion models. The dial is plain cream with gold-plated indexes and gold-plated lumed hands. Rare black and grey dial versions exist. On top of the indexes are tiny lumed spheres that give a better legibility under low light conditions. This version used an etched case back, marked EGP or Electro Gold Plated inside and outside. As shown above, chrome plated rather than gold-plated 85899 models also exist, with the etched case back marked STP both inside and outside.
1964 third release Alpinist Champion 850, 85899, gold (EGP) and chrome plated (STP) (bottom right).
The sword-style hands inserted with lume continued to be present on all the variants to keep the theme of the previous Alpinist generation.
A rare black dialed 85899
Seiko Red Alpinist
The next Alpinist was produced 30 years later under the Prospex line, which used the 4S15 caliber. This watch had a Sapplex crystal with a Cyclops date window magnification lens. There were also two more distinct new features of the 1995 Prospex Alpinist, specifically the four o’clock crown and a unique inner bezel compass. These two new features were so popular they have been used from that point on in all Alpinist watches. Prospex Alpinists were only manufactured for two years but the popularity has only increased over the years and remains one of the “must haves” for collectors. They are commonly called the “Red Alpinist” because of the red wording on the dial. The 4S15 movement is "Hi-Beat" at 28,800 bph (8 bps). It is hackable and also supports handwinding. This model was released with three choices of dial color – black, cream and emerald green. The signed crown at 3 is used for setting time and date. The crown at 4 is used to rotate the compass ring. There’s a mountain picture with the word "Alpinist" on the back case. Model numbers are SCVF005 Black SCVF007 Cream and SCVF009 Green.
A catalogue showing the dial variations of the "Red Alpinist"
In 2003, a new Alpinist hit the market sporting the classic black and cream colored face and used the same inner bezel compass as the 1995 Prospex. The 2003 Alpinist is more commonly known as the 8F56. In fact, the Seiko Alpinist GMT Titanium Prospex HAQ Quartz SBCJ019 is one of the rarest models ever made. If you have the opportunity to buy this watch and you have the budget, do not hesitate because you will not be disappointed. It is a discontinued model and uses a highly revered 8F56 super accurate quartz movement. The GMT, as it is also known by, has the ability adjust from one time zone to another by way of the hour hand that moves separately from the other hands. Other features include a 10 Year lithium battery, a dual direction rotating inner bezel compass, perpetual calendar and 10 bar water resistance. The GMT is not only a collector’s item; it is a more affordable watch in comparison to other Seiko collectibles which increases its popularity. Model numbers include, SBCJ019, SBCJ021, and SBCJ031. There are four different Alpinist-models which feature the cal.8F56: - There is a cream dial version with numeral dial that comes on a brown leather strap, the hands and markers are in gold colour covered with lume (ref. SBCJ031). - Or you can have two models on the titanium bracelet, one with cream dial that is completely covered with lume and has black hands and stick/triangle markers (ref. SBCJ021). Or one with black dial and silver hands and sitck/triangle markers covered with lume (ref. SBCJ019). - There is also a limited edition Alpinist with a blue-ish dial, especially made for the SSASS (ref. SBCJ023) and limited to 500 pieces.
SSASS Limited edition Alpinist
There was a special edition released called the SSASS and there were only 500 of them made. This watch was created to pay tribute to Japanese-American mountaineer Ken Noguchi and the foundation he created known as Seven Summits Actions for Sustainable Society. Noguchi created this project in order to raise awareness of the growing heaps of garbage that were being accumulated on the mountains that professional climbers and their teams were leaving behind. Since Noguchi and his team had climbed the seven highest peaks in the world, the foundation was well respected and an estimated 7-8 tons of garbage were collected from Mt. Everest and properly disposed of. This was a major breakthrough and continues to provide much needed help in this growing problem. More recently, Noguchi donated 100,000 dollars to the families of the Sherpas whom were killed in avalanches or other accidents that happened on Everest. It is no wonder why the SSASS Alpinist is so highly revered among collectors; it is both wonderfully crafted and reminds people of the respect and admiration that is involved in mountaineering. Probably the most noticeable aspect of the SSASS is the aqua shade of blue used, which represents both the sea and the sky. Both the traditional 8F56 and the SSASS have the Alpinist mountain logo on the back of the case but the SSASS uses a limited edition numbering system.
Special edition Alpinist Prospex made for SSASS
A few years later, in 2006, the SARB013, SARB015 and SARB017 were introduced and became an instant success; especially the SARB017. Each identification number represents a different colour, cream, black and green. The SARB017 (green) model became by far the most popular because it is unique and can be worn in literally any situation, business or casual. The other two variations (especially the creme SARB013) are now much harder to find, possibly making them more valuable today. All of the 2006 models use an 6R15 Automatic Diashock 23 Jewel movement, provide 20 Bar water resistance and have gold plated hands and numbers. These three models are the longest running models and continue to gain popularity because of their elegance and versatility. There are only a few subtle differences between the three watches. For example, both the cream and green versions use a more traditional hand system while the black version uses a more modern look which compliments the intense coloring.
The most recent collectibles were introduced in 2009 and are known as the SARB059 (silver dial) and SARB061(black dial). Although they have several classic looking characteristics, they have a slightly bigger watch face with a compass dial, sword style hands, and a new variation of emergency symbols located on the dial. On these two variations, there is no “Alpinist” logo on the watch face, however the classic mountain stamp on the rear of the case. Instead the two watches are labelled with Automatic, 23 Jewel, 20 Bar and use the 6R15 caliber movement.
The SARB063 is another model introduced in July 2009. This was the all black Seiko Alpinist Takeshi Mizukoshi 500 limited model (named after the famous photographer) , and the model below is numbered 280/500. It has Alpinist on the case back, but not the dial. PVD finish.
This watch uses the same case as the SKX007, 009, 011 and other variants, collectively known as the SKX divers. The Alpinist is powered by the 6R15 movement whereas the SKX divers are powered by the 7S26 movement.
This section will provide readers with an intensely detailed description of four Alpinist watches that vary in generation, rarity, condition and price. There will be a must have watch, extremely rare, vintage and the holy grail. There are some things that you need to keep in mind like price points that may vary depending on the condition of the watch and that prices may differ depending on the seller.
The Alpinist Laurel
Most watch enthusiasts that collect Alpinists are purists, meaning they always go back to the watch that started it all. With that being said, the Laurel Alpinist was the same exact design as the Seiko Laurel watches being produced during the same year except it was the first watch that was labeled with Alpinist logos that came with a special bund strap. These straps are rarely fully intact because of the number of years they have been used. It came in black and cream dials and used a simple 17 jewel hand wind movement and would easily be mistaken as a normal Laurel if it wasn’t for the Alpinist logo on the front of the dial.
Since this is the first Alpinist it is regarded as the holy grail of this line however, that term is rather subjective and a matter of opinion. The condition of these watches can be low grade considering they were manufactured in the early 60’s but they are dependable and still keep good time. Some of the more common models if fair condition can cost around 150-250 dollars whilet models in mint condtion can fetch around 500 dollars.
The Alpinist Champion 850
This watch would fall under the vintage label of recommendations because it is by far the most famous and well known of all Alpinist watches. It came with a 35mm gold or silver case and used an original Seikosha 17 jewel manual wind 850 movement. It is covered by plastic crystal and has a brilliant silver dial with shiny gold hands and features. The two colors complement each other very well. This model came with a GP back case with the Alpinist logo and serial number. It is important to keep in mind that from 1962 and 1963 a few different Champion Alpinist watches were created and had subtle differences. There were 17 jewel and 19 jewel models and also 850 or 851 movements used. This particular model uses the 17 jewel and 850 movement which indicates that it is one of the, if not the, earliest Champion Alpinist models.
Obviously these watches are rather rare and have to be purchased used, which is why it is extremely important to verify all of the information to ensure the quality and condition of the watch. Ask the previous owner for plenty of pictures and ask if it has been graded by a dealer. Minor condition issues will be present but this is what builds character. Minor scratching on the crystal should be present but make sure there is no major damage to the crystal. The gold case will most likely be faded with minor scratches but in some rare cases you can find mint condition cases. The sword hands should be slightly worn yet functional. Make sure that it keeps accurate time and that it is rated by a professional. If you see one of these watches for sale, you can get them for fairly cheap however, if the condition of the watch is pristine, be prepared to pay up to 500 dollars for it. The average price however is about 150 to 300 dollars because these watches are never seen in mint condition.
Alpinist "Red Alpinist"
After a 30-year hiatus, the Alpinist was revived in 1995. This incarnation is the Alpinist 4S15-6000 or what is popularly known as the “Red Alpinist” because of the colour of the wording on the dial.. Despite being a sought after watch, it remained in production for only 2 years. This particular generation is powered by a chronometer-grade Cal. 4S15, an integrating auto-winding movement, hackable and with a manual winding mechanism. The 4S15 calibre is a redesignated 52 calibre, the 5246 previously used in the 1971 King Seiko chronometer produced in the Daini Seikosha factory. It was redesignated in 1992 when a renaissance in mechanical watches commenced. The 4S15-6000 has a 38mm stainless steel case with a bulky case protector which adds a reasonably hefty look to the watch. Seiko brought a contemporary look to the new Alpinist, leaving the vintage face behind. The dial comes in three color variations, the SCVF005 with a black dial, the SCVF007 in cream, and the SCVF009 in green.
The first thing that catches your eye is the red “Alpinist” marking on the dial. The second is the cyclops magnification lens used on the date display, and the third is the luminous Mercedes hands which are only present in this generation. The hour markers in numerals and triangles are always neatly executed in the Seiko tradition. On top of the hour markers are luminous spheres, in this case, the dial legible is under all light conditions. The crown is recessed at 3 o’clock while the crown for the inner compass rests at 4 o’clock, in a similar fashion to the two succeeding generations. The rear of the case is imprinted with the Alpinist logo and declares a 200m water resistance.
4S15 Sports 200 version, from 1996. This version is identical bar the word 'Alpinist' on the dial and has a Seiko Tsunami case back. It was produced for South East Asian markets in the mid 1990's and is rarer than the Alpinist version.
This is one of the most desirable Alpinist watches. It has all bells and whistles and has a sophisticated but elegant look to it that makes it a versatile watch that can be worn on any occasion. Combine all of this to its rarity and you have a collector’s dream which comes at a price. The case and double lock bracelet are titanium that uses the rare 8F56 caliber movement. The case dimensions consist of a 38.5mm width and a 11.5mm thickness. The GMT is water resistant, has a lithium battery with a 10-year longevity and a crystal oscillator. Make sure that the watch comes with its original box, leather strap, manuals and tags. This watch is rarely seen on the market so if you get the chance to buy this watch and all of the parts are functioning buy it. The only downfall to this model is that it can cost you a pretty penny. This watch can fetch at least 1000 dollars.
Ref. SBCJ019 with black dial, Ref. SBCJ031 with luminous cream dial, Ref. SBCJ023 with blue dial limited edition made for SASS and Ref. SBCJ031 with cream dial
The Seiko Alpinist 6R15-00E0, released in 2006, is a men's automatic watch with a 38mm by 11mm stainless steel case that also proclaims water resistance to 200m depth. It is protected by a sapphire crystal that will look pristine years down the line when the rest of the watch may be showing its age. The watch wears bigger than its actual size, thanks to its relative thickness and protruding crown protector. It features a screw-down crown with a deeply machined "S" marks the main crown, and a pressed-in intrusion marks the compass crown at the bottom, which smoothly operates the internal chapter ring. Ticking away inside is the 6R15 caliber self-winding mechanical movement that can be manually wound and hacked and ticks 6 times per second which gives the second hand a smoother movement. The watch carries a solid case back with the mountain Alpinist logo machined into it. In particular, the brushed finished on the rear of the case contrasts with the polished screw-in case back. The 6R15-00E0 was an instant hit upon its release, owing it to its classic elegance. Amongst the three variants, the SARB017 possesses the most striking feature. It is important to note that the SARB013 has almost identical features with the SARB017, but what sets these two variants apart is the iridescent sunburst green dial on the SARB017; the shade of the dial changes subtly as the light catches it, coupled with its similarly reflective applied gold numerals and triangles. In addition, on top of each numeral is a highly luminous sphere of quality Seiko lume, making the watch readable under low light and pitch black conditions. One of the distinguishing traits of the SARB017, similar to the SARB013, is the luminous cathedral hands which suite the dial watch well and contributes to the overall old-world-explorer look to it.
The SARB015 had a very short production run making it quite rare compared to other Seiko watches of this era. This variation has a black dial with the date window seated at 4 o’clock, in contrast to the 3 o’clock date placement of the other two watches giving it a very distinctive character. Much less, this watch has inherited traits from the earlier Alpinist models. Namely the dauphine hands together with its triangle markers. As can be seen, the SARB015 gives off an elegant look enough to accompany you to most casual occasions whilst retaining its sporty nature.
The Alpinist brand possesses a history. It has been developed over the years and throughout has retained its identity without straying too far from the first iterations to mid 2000s. However, in 2009, Seiko decided to more vividly differentiate its newest innovations from the previous ones, and as a result: SARB059, SARB061 and SARB063 were added to the Alpinist realm. The watch is powered by the 6R15 housed inside a 42mm case which is said to be the same of the iconic SKX007, thus giving the watch a durable look. The case is finely polished on all sides, rated at 200m water resistance, and has a robust case back. The dial elements of the watch do not have reflective properties present on the 2006 models. However, the black matte base has an attractive emerald undertone as the light strikes it. The bezel is also dissimilar from the traditional Alpinist, as it features beveled edges giving the watch two scale rings: the flat top of the bezel insert is embossed with an elapsed-time scale, and on the banks is a smaller compass scale. To complete the overall hybrid nature, it features a chapter ring on the dial which is quite unobtrusive as it is printed with very small ground to air emergency codes. The three variants have identical components; the silver-outlined hands, minute bars, and black-framed hands, all of which are luminous.
If you are buying it used, there is no reason to purchase anything other than a mint condition watch because there are plenty out there on the market. The 6R15-00E models should cost around 350 to 450 dollars depending on condition and the year that it was crafted. Also keep in mind that you should locate a nearby watch service to make repairs and provide routine maintenance, unless you are capable of doing this yourself.
|Movement||Cal. 851||Cal. 6R15B||Cal. 8F56A||Cal. 4S15A|
|Production Run||1961-1963||1963- mid 60s||1995|
|Casing Diameter||27 mm||26.4 mm||25.6 mm|
|Maximum Height||5.25 mm||4.8 mm||4.17 mm|
|No. of Functional Jewels||17 jewels||17 jewels||23 jewels||4 jewels||25 jewels|
|Vibrations per hour||18, 000 bph||18, 000 bph||21, 600 bph||28, 800 bph|
|SEIKO TIME CORP. 6R15B
|Instant setting for day & date||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Bilingual for day of week||No||No|
The great thing about the Alpinist brand is that there is something for every collector. There are seven generations that all look very different from one another but have similar features. These watches can be used by adventurers and businessmen alike and can be worn to casual or professional outings. Be warned that the moment you purchase your first Alpinist, you may find yourself looking for the next Alpinist to add to your collection.
From The Spring Bar Store:
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