Seiko represents many things to different collectors, from reliability to style, but today’s review concerns its track record of innovation and rich history in dive watches. From launching the world’s first quartz wrist watch in 1969, to its Solar and Kinetic movements, to its prestigious Spring Drive calibers, and finally to its recent GPS-enabled Astron, it is an undisputed leader in quartz timekeeping. Robust and reasonably priced professional dive watches are a key part of Seiko’s repertoire since 1965 and continue to be enjoyed at all price ranges not only because they’re priced fairly and durable but also because they look good. Let’s be honest: no one does divers like Seiko. They’re as aesthetically distinct as a Rolex, and you can often spot a Seiko diver on the wrist from many feet away.
Seiko has a long history with solar power having created its first solar-powered watch in 1977, but its Solar lineup has never been as prevalent in the US as Citizen’s Eco-Drive models. Its first Solar watch had light-absorbing panels around the hour markers, and they’ve continued to improve the technology and the look over time, adding hand-winding to jumpstart a dead cell with a charge and radio wave controlled watches to ensure accurate time regardless of the wearer’s location. Seiko also considerably improved the look. One area that Seiko made tremendous progress in over its competitors was the quality of the dials. Solar-powered quartz watches need a light source to hit the rechargeable cell, and that light needs to pass through the dial in order to do so. Early Solar dials were translucent and looked like they were made of cheap plastic, but today’s models have normal, solid and matte-finished dials that resemble what you see on regular quartz or mechanical watches.
The Solar Chronograph Diver that we’re looking at today both demonstrates Seiko’s quartz prowess and writes another chapter in its collection of irresistible dive watches with a light-powered watch that is impossible to mistake for any other brand but Seiko. We hardly cover quartz watches, but this one is too hard to pass up. It’s a hassle-free timepiece only Seiko knows how to make, so full of such Seiko character that when you see the hands and hour markers you don’t even need to look at the logo on the dial to know who made the watch. Best of all, it’s easy to buy and a thrill to own.
Case & Dial
In size and design, the Solar Chronograph Diver avoids being either subtle or boisterous, artfully toeing the line somewhere between bold and obnoxious. With a 44mm case width and 51mm height, the stainless steel case first and foremost carries a tool presence, but its 14mm thickness brings the size back down to earth. A couple aspects of the watch make it seem larger than its measurements, however. First are the screwdown and coated crown and pushers. Even with slight crown guards, the 4mm crown does protrude and the yellow stripe makes its presence more noticeable. Second, the 20mm lug width makes the case appear large relative to its strap. Often, a dive watch 42mm or greater will pair with 22mm lugs, but pairing even 44mm cases with 20mm lugs is something Seiko is known to do. It emphasizes the case and, as long as the watch itself isn’t too top-heavy, then it can be a more comfortable design as less surface area of the strap makes contact with the wrist.
Finishing on the case, lugs and bezel meets expectations for a Seiko in this price range. The front of the lugs are brushed while the sides of the lugs and case are polished. This model is ISO 6425-certified for diving, and ion plating the unidirectional bezel, crown and pushers increases the cosmetic lifespan of the extremities of the watch that will suffer the most abuse above or below sea level.
The case is well constructed and ready for adventure, but the dial is the reason you buy this watch. Its depth, legibility, colorful accents and lume are quintessentially Seiko, and although it’s fully featured the dial doesn’t feel crowded. Coated in LumiBrite, the large applied hour markers circling the black dial look like pearls and sit on an elevated stage just inside the chapter ring that slopes steeply downward from the inside of the bezel. Tucked away between the 4 and 5 o’clock markers is a small date window with a black wheel and white text. If you require the date and don’t have the best eyesight, this could be a tough read.
The watch’s running seconds hand sits at the 9 o’clock position, uniquely shaped with a spot of lume on the opposite end of its pointer not unlike the second hand of Seiko’s classic SKX007. A subdial for the 24-hour indicator occupies the 3 o’clock position. This hand is not independently adjustable, so unfortunately it can’t be used to display a second timezone. At 6 o’clock is the third subdial, the minute totalizer for the chronograph, which features a yellow hand that coordinates with the central stopwatch seconds hand. Using color to make it clear what functions the various hands on the dial serve is a logical visual treatment that also aids in teaching you how to use the watch.
Of course, in a dive watch, reading the time and distinguishing the hours and minutes hands from one another is critical underwater. Both hands, painted white and filled with LumiBrite, couldn’t contrast more against the dark dial, and the fat arrow on the end of the minutes hand is, in both size and shape, vastly different from the more stout hours hand. While it goes without saying, I will reiterate that Seiko’s luminous material is superior, needing only the slightest charge before providing thirty to forty-five minutes of visibility under low light conditions.
The SSC021 uses caliber V175, a solar-powered analog chronograph movement that can measure up to 60 minutes in 1/5-second increments. On a full charge, expect to receive up to 6 months of continuous use, and when you are running low on power the seconds hand will tick in two-second intervals to let you know you need to charge the watch. It’s a robust and accurate movement as any quartz, with far less hassle. While you should still service the watch every five years or so, you can skip the battery change every year or two. The V175 inside this watch is a big reason to buy it if you’re looking for a watch that is always ready to go.
Style & Comfort
Seiko divers normally feature a polarizing look. Full of character and funk, the design won’t go unnoticed and you either love or hate it. The Solar Chronograph Diver is no exception. Its quirky hands, ultra legible and bold presence make it a hard one to dress up, but a fun watch to play with.
The default Seiko strap is the same polyurethane strap that you’ve seen for years. Out of the box, it’s stiff and, on my 6.75″ wrist, too long. The free end of the strap sticks way out and makes the watch appear zip tied to my wrist. However, aftermarket options are plentiful, and the SSC021 absolutely kills on a tropical style leather strap or striped NATO/ZULU. I personally opted for the latter as I wanted to use a nylon strap to bring more attention to the yellow accents with its bright yellow stripe, but tropical and rally straps with yellow stitching would complement the dial as well.
The Final Word
Like the Orange Monster, the Solar Chronograph Diver overflows with Seiko DNA. The default strap needs to go for the sake of both style and comfort, but a plethora of alternatives exist at affordable prices. This Seiko retails for $375, but you should never have to pay that. They’re available on Amazon.com and other online retailers for $220 or so, and at that price, it’s hard to say to no such an attractive and durable piece. As a beater or even a more respected member of your watch collection, the SSC021 is a watch you can have a lot of fun with. seikousa.com
- Model: Seiko Solar Chronograph Diver (SSC021)
- Dimensions: 44mm x 51mm x 14mm
- Case: 44mm stainless steel
- Dial: Black
- Bezel: Unidirectional stainless steel w/ion plating
- Crystal: Hardlex
- Case back: Screwdown steel caseback
- Lug Width: 20mm
- Strap: Black polyurethane
- Movement: Caliber V175 solar-powered chronograph movement
- Water Resistance: 200m; ISO-6425 certified
- Retail Price: $375