I’ver never been on the fence about a watch for so long as I have with the Seiko Marine Master 300m Quartz, a watch affectionately referred to as the “Tuna Can” owing to the shape of its case. When I first saw it, I hated it even more than I hated the Orange Monster. I just couldn’t believe anyone would pay–quite a lot for a quartz watch, actually–to strap that thing to their wrist. Then one day, for no good reason I can remember, I saw it and I reconsidered. It wasn’t so bad.
That day was around three years ago. Since then, I read reviews and ogled at pictures but still determined it wasn’t a watch for me although I had begun to increasingly appreciate its unique looks and history. It’s too big. It’s quartz (Seiko does offer automatic variants but they’re even larger). It’s too distinct, so I’d never find the right occasion to wear it. Seiko’s OEM bracelets and straps are usually winners aesthetically but can be hit or miss when it comes to wearability, so what if it’s not comfortable and I have to embark on a journey to find an aftermarket strap? I had a lot of reasons not to buy a Tuna.
But I also had a lot of reasons to buy one. It’s distinct; only Seiko could make a watch like this. The watch is historically important. Seiko first introduced a shrouded diver in 1975, reference 6159-022. It was a 600m diver’s watch with a titanium anti-magnetic case that helium couldn’t penetrate, making it suitable for saturation diving. Three years later, Seiko introduced the quartz version of this shrouded diver from which the modern 300m Quartz Tunas originate. This watch means business in a way that most other divers could only dream of.
At BaselWorld 2015, Seiko introduced upgrades to their Marine Master lineup, including new hands and a stronger, greener luminous compound. Some models now have their surfaces treated with Diashield to further resist scratching and corrosion. They also introduced a whole new variant to the collection, reference SBBN035, which is the star of today’s review.
Seiko Marine Master 300m Quartz Tuna (SBBN035)
This Tuna Can model has already earned the nickname, “Ninja Tuna,” for its stealthy appearance. While this particular model is a new release for Seiko in 2015, it’s not an entirely new concept for Seiko to have a Tuna Can with a PVD-coated case. Seiko manufactured the SBBN013, dubbed the “Darth Tuna,” which is now replaced by SBBN025. From a conceptual point of view, it’s fair to look at the SBBN035 as the Darth Tuna’s little brother: same case silhouette, movement, dial design and strap. But the case diameter is reduced slightly from 49.5mm to 48mm, and the little brother also features a slightly slimmer case at 14.5mm. Despite what may seem like intimidating measurements–and this is a common theme with Quartz Tunas because looks deceive–the piece weighs in at only 125 grams with the silicon strap included and is suitable for a range of wrist sizes.
Seiko Tunas are regarded as tool watches at their cores, but there are moments of gloss and luxury that desk divers can appreciate, namely the polished unidirectional bezel but also the Hardlex crystal because it’s so reflective, which is something I’m not too thrilled with. The classic shroud, which protects the bezel and exposes it only at the upper right and bottom left positions for easy gripping, is brushed, setting the overall tone of the watch as an instrument first and foremost. The hex screws that hold the shroud in place have polished edges that you might not notice on first glance.
The crown is likely the most controversial aspect of the new Marine Masters. Whereas older models like the SBBN013 and SBBN017 had crowns signed with the deeply engraved Seiko “S,” newer models now bear the shallow etched “X” from the Prospex logo (fun fact: if you look closely, the X is formed by an S and a P woven together). While I can understand the heartache here, and squabbles over minor details is what separates serious collectors from casual buyers, it’s a non-issue on the Ninja. You’ve got to try really hard to see it. It might as well be unsigned.
The dial’s functional ambitions result in a design that’s not unlike many Seiko favorites including the SKX007, the Monster or the SBDB009 Spring Drive Tuna. Even if the dial were missing the polished and applied SEIKO logo (a welcome compensation for such an expensive quartz watch), you’d know who made the watch.
As the Prospex line expands, Seiko is manufacturing more shrouded divers that look like Tunas but, if you’re nitpicking (and collectors often are), aren’t exactly Tunas. All Tunas are shrouded divers; not all shrouded divers are Tunas. Even the Seiko Monster has a shrouded bezel, but it’s not a Tuna Can. Seiko added a couple of references featuring shrouded divers to their Prospex line that house a 4R36 automatic movement (SRP655K1 and SRP653K1), but they aren’t Tunas. The litmus test? Look for the “MARINEMASTER PROFESSIONAL” signature on the dial. These are the real deal.
Seiko’s new Marine Masters sport a new set of hour and minute hands. The new hour hand is a bold arrow like that of the Spring Drive Tuna while the minute hand resembles that on the Monster lineup. The newer, (very) greener lume, somehow, burns brighter than the luminous compound of former models; in the day time, it lends a greenish appearance to the hour markers that used to appear more white, and I attribute that to the nearly radioactive intensity of the new lume. It’s always burning bright, even in the daytime. Finally, the black day and date wheels are a winning characteristic of the dial.
Inside the Tuna is a rugged 7-jewel quartz movement created by Seiko specifically for the Tuna. That’s one of the reasons collectors adore it in spite of it being quartz–its sole purpose for existence is to power a single watch. It’s rated to keep time within 15 seconds a month, which is great but short of incredible by quartz standards. Expect a five-year battery life on a fresh cell and you’ll get an End-of-Life indicator where the seconds hand will advance in two-second increments to warn you the battery is low. On this particular instance of the watch, the seconds hand hits every mark, often a critical consideration for expensive quartz watches.
Comfort & Wearability
With a 48mm case diameter, the first question on most minds is wearability. Can most wrists pull this off? The answer is yes. I have a 6.75-inch wrist and I have a maximum tolerance for 50mm lug-to-lug distances. Anything over that and the watch extends past both sides of my wrist, which doesn’t look tasteful. Tunas have miniature lugs that extend from underneath the case and barely, if at all, protrude from the case so your lug-to-lug measurements winds up at effectively 48mm. And a 14.5mm thickness isn’t bad at all for a dive watch, so despite the measurements the Tuna is deceivingly wearable for most adult male wrists.
This is the most comfortable watch I’ve worn in a long time owing in large part to a fantastic silicon strap. Seiko’s rubber straps are notoriously stiff and often the loose ends of their straps are long and unwieldy for folks with smaller wrists. That is not the case here. It looks like Seiko took the same silicon strap from the Spring Drive Tuna and used it for the SBBN035, resulting in a perfect fit and a elegantly finished but durable titanium floating keeper. The best part for me, given my smaller wrist size, is that the floating keeper moves far enough up the strap that it can keep the loose end of the strap close to my wrist, so I don’t have a rogue piece of rubber jutting out from my arm. And it stays in place all day without adjustment.
With a 14.5mm case thickness, the SBBN035 fits beneath most shirt sleeves without any fuss. While the Tuna can handle anything you can throw at it, it’s not the most versatile of watches, especially this blacked-out Ninja version. It’s a sporty watch way more appropriate for the beach than the boardroom, but if you don’t wear a suit or something similar to work then you can probably get away with enjoying this one as a daily wearer.
Price & Availability
The SBBN035 retails for $1,100 in the United States, but you can pick this up for much less (about $800 at the time of this writing) if you buy online from trusted sellers like SeiyaJapan.com. On a recent trip to the Seiko Boutique in New York City, they seemed to have all the Tunas available on display except for this one, and I even took a look through the catalog with the salesperson but we didn’t see the SBBN035, so it’s possible that if you’re looking for this particular version you’ll need to buy it online from Japan.
It’s pricey for a quartz watch. There’s no doubt about that. If you have strong preferences for mechanicals or have hard limits on what you’ll spend for a quartz piece, the SBBN035 is hard to swallow. Even if the movement isn’t a concern, the design is polarizing. It’s weird and big, but it’s attractive and comfortable. It’s an important watch, a serious tool for scuba divers, but also a fun piece for folks who never even go to the beach. You can dislike the watch, but eventually you may find that hating it is just the first step of falling in love with it. It’s the kind of watch that, once you do find yourself attracted to it, grows on you like a sickness–and those are my favorite kinds of watches.