Turn over your Seiko Orange Monster or SKX007 and you’ll find the usual solid case back design with a wave-like image in the center. Seiko is a Japanese watch, so if there is a wave on the back then it might be a tsunami, right? Often folks in the forums and in casual discussion assume the meaning of the symbol that adorns so many Seiko case backs. It’s not a tsunami. It’s a marking Seiko uses to indicate the watch’s level of water resistance and it’s an image most likely inspired by one of the most recognizable Japanese works of art in the world, The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai.
The Great Wave off Kanagawa
This ukiyo-e print you’ve probably seen many times was published by Hokusai some time in the early 1830s. In order to produce the print, the artist paints the image onto paper or silk and then gives the painting to an engraver who can skillfully etch the painting into a wooden block. This wooden block can then be used to produce prints of the work. In the case of the The Great Wave, it’s speculated that about 5,000 prints were able to be produced with the original wood block.
Mount Fuji is sacred to Japanese culture. Works of art featuring the mountain would more often than not portray the peak in powerful and proud esteem, but Hokusai’s print offers a different view of a mountain that serves as a symbol to the nation’s identity. The viewer immediately feels the wave towering above them, threatening the boats believed to be conveying fish from the southern islands of Edo. In the distance, centered in the print and within the hollow of the wave’s crest, is Mount Fuji that, like the boats and the men in them, seems as if they’re waiting to be devoured by the massive wave about to break. It’s valued not only for the tense scene it depicts but also for its beauty.
Seiko’s Water Resistance Markings
On Seiko’s website, they provide information on water resistance of its watches and reference the following chart in explaining what resistance levels are suitable for withstanding water-related activities.
With increasing water resistance, the case back marking grows in detail, with the final 200/1,000 meter being the most detailed and the most reminiscent of The Great Wave.
To my knowledge (and someone please correct me if I’m wrong), this isn’t something Seiko has confirmed, but it makes a lot of sense. A watch is a product of both science and art, and like The Great Wave, Seiko watches are something for Japan to be proud of. Decorating the back of a watch with artwork that is very superficially applicable and simultaneously the country’s most famous and recognizable sends a message of pride not only in its product but in the country it comes from.