As rabid demand for Rolex sports watches continues to increase, many are left disillusioned and disappointed. A Rolex was once something that one would work towards, a reward to be purchased upon reaching a milestone or life event. Now, buyers are met with a long waiting list, or shocking prices on the secondary market.
This has lead many people to explore other brands, one of which is Grand Seiko. The brand offers watches that are analogs to certain Rolex models such as the Datejust, Explorer II, and Milgauss. If you’re specifically looking for a Rolex GMT Master II BLNR in the blue and black colorway (a.k.a the “Batman”), Grand Seiko doesn’t really have anything though.
Luckily, Seiko’s Proxpex LX line is built nearly to Grand-Seiko quality levels, and there are two watches in the catalog with Batman colors. This includes my SNR041 (if you'd like a more in-depth look, you can read the full review of it here).
I recently had a few minutes with a friend’s Rolex Batman, so I thought that it was an interesting opportunity to compare it to Seiko’s Batman (apologies the quick and dirty photos). Keep reading to find out what I thought.
You'll find a theme throughout this review. Rolex’s strategy is simplicity executed perfectly, while Seiko's Prospex LX takes a more intricate, albeit busier design philosophy. This is best observed when comparing the cases of both watches.
Rolex uses straight sides which are beautifully polished, and brushed top surfaces for its case. The watch is made from traditional stainless steel (higher quality 904L "Oystersteel" in the case of Rolex). Its 40mm x 12mm case dimensions are also right in the sweet spot of most wrists.
The larger 44.8mm x 14.7mm Seiko features much more intricate finishing. Brushed sides interact sharply with Seiko’s famous zaratsu polished facets on the top and bottom edges of the lugs and case sides. Additionally, the case is rendered in titanium, giving it a slightly darker look. It then has Seiko’s Diashield hard coating to reduce the chances of scratching it.
Despite being much larger, the 146g titanium Seiko is actually a fraction lighter than the 152g Rolex.
Mounting the Seiko on a strap does reveal the fact that the area between the lugs is not as well-finished as the rest of the watch. No doubt a measure to cut cost in an area users who never remove the factory bracelet would never see.
Moving to the casebacks, again Rolex uses its traditional brushing with no other decoration. Unlike the Seiko, which is covered in text and logos, the Rolex could be engraved as a memento of an important date or person. If you’re not buying the watch for a special occasion though, the Seiko’s back is a bit more interesting to look at, and it’s nice to be able to see it’s place in the 400 watch limited run.
Both watches offer the same 100m water resistance. Plenty for a travel watch, but reduced in both cases from their diver twins, the Submariner, and the divers in the Prospex LX line.
Again, Rolex’s strategy is traditional with excellent execution. Its dual-color ceramic Cerachrom bezel looks a bit more reflective than a traditional anodized metal insert, but it maintains a classic aesthetic. Platinum-filled and matte finished numbers ensure great legibility of its second time zone, and will never wash out in bright light like the Seiko's will.
Seiko, on the other hand uses a sapphire insert that is specifically designed to reflect light in the most interesting way possible. Its top black surface changes color to silver when light is reflected off of it at the right angle, and the whole thing looks more modern in bright light (and in the dark, where the markings start glowing bright green).
The Rolex bezel also slopes downward, giving the watch the appearance of being thinner than it actually is. Seiko’s bezel makes an already thick watch look even thicker by protruding straight out to the very extremes of the case.
The GMT Master’s bezel uses crisp and precise clicks. It was easy enough to turn, but I suspect that it would be unlikely to be turned by accident. This is in contrast to Seiko’s friction bezel that I complained about in my review. I have discovered it to be turned unintentionally more than once (usually after playing with my young son, so I’ve given it a pass), and would prefer if it had clicks like the Rolex.
Dials and Hands
Rolex uses a simple matte black dial. Despite having more text than the Seiko, its dial looks cleaner. Polished white gold markers and hands are used, both featuring attractive contours.
I covered the Seiko’s dial in detail in my previous review, and a number of months later, I still can’t stop staring at it. The way it interacts with light is a joy to look at every time. Its markers are not white gold, but feature more intricate finishing than the Rolex, with polished sides, and tiny grooves on the top surfaces. These can't quite be seen with the naked eye, but affect the way that they reflect light.
One of my previous complaints about the Seiko was that the finishing on its hands was a bit “low rent” for this price range of watch. I stick by this statement, but I will say that they are less likely to disappear into the dial than the fully polished Rolex hands. The Seiko also features an attractive polished pinion cap which nicely finishes everything off. I would still have liked to see something a bit more refined from Seiko, perhaps like it uses on the Marinemaster hands.
Over a short period, Seiko’s bright green Lumibrite was brighter than Rolex’s blue Chromalight. I was not able to do a long term test, but based on the blue lume on my Tudor, I suspect that both would last through the night, but that Seiko would take the overall win.
Seiko’s crystal lacks a magnifier, but its font and the date window itself are larger. This should make it easy to read for most. Additional, the Seiko’s crystal is coated with the best anti-reflective treatment that I have ever seen on a watch. Rolex (and Tudor, as I mentioned in my North Flag review) doesn’t apply any coating to its crystals. These photos reflect the results (pun intended).
Bracelets (and Straps):
I wasn’t able to photograph or evaluate the Rolex on its bracelet, but I can say that modern Rolex bracelets are some of the best in the business. The clasps and links are built at very tight tolerances, meaning that there is very little play. The clasps, despite being slim, pack hidden micro-adjust holes as well as quick adjust features that blow away the three-position sliding clasp that I complained about in my original review of the Prospex LX for not having enough range of adjustment.
The Rolex was on a $235 Everest rubber strap, so sticking with the theme of “budget alternatives,” I mounted the Seiko on one of our $24 StrapHabit Ridge Rubber Quick Release Watch Straps.
Comparing the two, the Everest rubber is ever so slightly softer, and is more textured. Its center ridge is also smoother, with the StrapHabit having a sharper transition from the sides to the center. The Everest strap is fitted to the Rolex case, while the StrapHabit is a universal straight fit. Our strap also has quick-release spring bars, unlike the Everest.
If you’re looking for a more factory integrated look, the Everest is hard to beat. If you’re someone who wants to frequently swap straps though, the FKM rubber StrapHabit is a compelling alternative, especially if you want to have mupltiple colors. I have had a few Everest owners tell us that the StrapHabit strap they bought feels just as nice.
Functionally, the movements in both Batmen (Batmans?) are very similar. Both feature a "true GMT" complication, which allows the 12hr local time display to be quickly adjusted via the crown, and displays a second time zone via a light blue 24 hr hand. Both are also some of the most accurate watches available that are powered by a mainspring. The date on the Rolex jumps instantly, while the Seiko's moves slightly roughly a half hour before it jumps. Seiko counters with a power reserve complication on its dial.
Moving past the basic functions, however, the movements are very different.
Rolex’s Calibre 3186 is a traditional mechanical movement, regulated by a balance wheel oscillating at 4hz (28,800 vph). It feature's Rolex's blue Parachrom hairspring which, according to Rolex, is "crafted from a paramagnetic alloy, it is unaffected by magnetic fields and up to 10 times more resistant to shocks."
The Prospex LX packs Seiko’s hybrid Spring Drive movement. It is still mechanically driven, but is electronically regulated. In additional to moving the completely smoothly sweeping seconds hand, the unwinding of the mainspring provides a small amount of power to a quartz oscillator. It then uses magnetic resistance to regulate the speed of rotation of its glide wheel. I expect its accuracy should be unaffected by position or state of wind, unlike a fully mechanical movement.
It also bests the Rolex in accuracy (+/- 1 vs. 2 seconds per day) and power reserve (72 vs 50 hours). Newer versions of the GMT Master II do feature the newer Rolex Calibre 3285 which ups the power reserve to an essentially equivalent 70 hours.
I haven’t seen the movement on the Proxpex LX, but I’m sure that the finishing does not stack up to the Rolex. One would have to step up to a Grand Seiko to compete with the crown in movement finishing.
The term “wrist presence” is easy to overuse, but in this case it is worth exploring. If you were to remove brand names from the dials, the Seiko would dominate this area. The dimensions alone support this argument. Despite being lightweight and comfortable, the Seiko stands above your wrist, while the Rolex feels and looks as if it is a part of your body. In addition, the Seiko has a lot more going on visually. Its sapphire bezel insert reflects light, and shifts color much more than the GMT’s ceramic (plus it glows at night).
The Skyline gradient dial of Prospect is also more colorful, and the dial overall is busier with its power reserve indictor and odd hour numerals. The Seiko’s case also has more complicated surfaces, adding yet more visual impact. The Seiko will simply be more likely to attract your attention. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on your taste in watches.
Despite the BLNR's smaller visual impact and physical size, simply displaying the Rolex name on the dial gives its significant presence alone. The owner shared numerous stories of watching someone’s eyes land on his watch, and their demeanor towards him changing throughout the remainder of a conversation.
Wearing a Rolex says things to other people about you in a way that most other watches can't. Typically it indicates that you're doing well financially, and that you have a level of good taste for the finer things. More recently, it also might indicate that you have connections with dealer. Unless you hang out with some really hardcore watch hobbyists, a Japanese watch simply won’t have that effect on people.
I’m skeptical that anyone who reads a Seiko vs. Rolex article is actually using the results of the article to choose between the two (if you are, please let me know in the comments!). In the case of these two watches especially, any number of factors are unlikely to eliminate one watch or the other from contention.
For many people, no matter how nice another watch is, there is no substitute for a Rolex. If you’re buying a watch in celebration of a significant milestone, to make a statement, nothing else will do the job quite like it. Rolex watches are also extremely well-built and comfortable. Decades of incremental refinements rather than reinvention of the brand every few years has allowed Rolex to essentially perfect its smaller line of watches (especially vs. Seiko's endlessly changing catalog). In this specific case, the physical size of the Seiko will also immediately eliminate it for some people.
A number of factors could also quickly eliminate the Rolex from contention for a lot of people, the most obvious being the cost. At its original MSRP, the $8,950 Rolex was already nearly double the cost of the $5,500 Seiko, but that doesn’t tell the actual story. Even though the 1/400 Seiko was produced in numbers a few significant digits fewer than the Rolex, intense demand for Rolex sports watches means that they are about impossible to buy new (my friend bought this one LNIB from another friend of mine a few years ago before prices had completely inflated).
Used GMT-Master IIs are much easier to find than the Seiko, but according to the current WatchCharts.com data, you'll be paying over $18,000 for a used one. The Seiko, on the other hand, is valued at slightly below its original MSRP.
Even if your budget allows it, there are other reasons that one might choose the Seiko over the Rolex. Some people prefer not to portray the image of wealth generated by wearing a Rolex. Other nonconformists might choose the Seiko simply because fewer people have them or because of its other unique traits. I can say that my watch collection seems to be trending a bit off the beaten path, which is part of the reason why I bought the Seiko over other alternatives.
Another factor needs to be considered if you tend to keep watches for years rather than months. I don't typically advocate buying watches as investments, but for many people it is important to consider residual value when spending this much money on a watch. The Seiko is much less expensive to buy initially, but its future value is difficult to predict. Rolex watches on the other hand, historically trend upward over the long term (or in recent years, even the short term).
Either way, it is a fun exercise to compare the two, and it was a treat to have the Rolex in my possession for a brief period. My final conclusion is that either watch is a great choice at its respective MSRP. With the Rolex, your paying for perfection, as well as a number of intangible things that come with the crown. As the budget alternative, the Seiko offers a number of compelling features, and I recommend at least trying one on if you're able to find a shop or friend that has one.
The value of these comparisons to me is to show people that there are a number of great alternatives out there. You should at least make yourself familiar with them before spending double retail on a Rolex (or any watch for that matter).
Do you think it’s possible to compete with Rolex? What is your favorite GMT watch? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.
|Model||GMT-Master II||Prospex LX Sky Limited Edition|
|Reference Number||116710BLNR||SNR049 (SBDB041)|
|Current Value (Jan 2022 - WatchCharts.com)||$18,060||$5,324|
|Case Material||Oystersteel||Titanium with Dia-Shield Coating|
|Accuracy Rating (s/day)||+2/-2||+1/-1 (+/- 15s/month)|
|Power Reserve (hr)||50||72|
|Water Resistance (m)||100||100|
|Crystal||Sapphire with Magnifier||Sapphire with Super-clear coating|