Seiko Prospex LX Sky Limited Edition Watch Review - SNR049J1 (SBDB041)
In my recent post on ABTW, I discussed the merits of the true GMT vs. traveler's GMT. I tried to stay neural, but those who also read my very old post about the Perrelet Seacraft GMT knows that I'm mainly interested in GMT watches with a jumping 12hr hand.
Watches with that feature are difficult to find, especially at an affordable price. I had been focusing on getting another GMT into my collection when the pandemic hit, and halted my previously frequent flying. Prior to that, some kind of Seiko GMT had been very appealing to me.
I'm starting to travel a bit more now, and as luck would have it, Seiko Prospex LX came my way at a price that I couldn't pass up. This would check a number of boxes that I had been looking to fill. I'll be able to experience a Spring Drive and add a GMT back into the rotation.
More importantly, after reviewing the Seiko SBDC101/SPB143, I had learned about what exists a few rungs up the Seiko ladder from the SKX watches that got many of us into the hobby. This had the effect of making me increasling curious of what happens when you move further up said ladder. At $5,500 MSRP, we would be skipping over quite a few rungs, but I didn't think you readers would mind.
The Seiko Prospex LX Line
Released at BaselWorld 2019, the Seiko Prospex LX line provided near-Grand Seiko quality in a series of premium tool watches. Designed to be worn at sea (diver), on land (field), and in the sky (GMT), six models total were released in titanium with and without black coatings. The sky series included the Snr033 with a titanium bracelet to match the case, a blue dial, and a "batman" style black and blue roating 24 hr bezel. Some people were a bit confused by the release, as these models were priced at nearly Grand Seiko levels, but the watches looked exciting nonetheless.
The SNR049 featured in this review is a limited edition version released in late 2020. It looks very similar to the SNR033, but has a few subtle changes that make it an even more compelling option.
First, the GMT hand and GMT dial text is light blue instead of red. Second the bezel, although still blue and black, features a different finish. The bottom blue section is a brighter, solid blue, rather than one that fades to black in shadows on the 033. The black half is now where the magic happens, changing to silver in bright light.
The most noticeable difference, however is the dial. Designed to depict the view of earth's atmosphere from space, the dial fades from a black that is between satin and gloss, to a sunburst blue on the bottom half (think of a Rolex "James Cameron" DSSD reversed). Compared to the 033, the date disc is also inverted to better match the black side of the dial.
Watch reviews tend to overuse the term "wrist presence" and apply it to any watch that is either big, or shiny. Well the Prospex LX is certainly both of those things, and you'll never forget that it is present on your wrist. Its combination of reflective sapphire bezel insert, polished indices, and various case finishes mean that it really "plays with the light" (another favorite cliché of us watch bloggers).
It's flashy, but also gives the appearance of being something of high quality.
The SNR049 is one of those watches that I wore for the first day or so, and realized that I wasn't aware of its legibility because I hadn't checked the time on it. There are so many details on it to observe, that its easy to get sucked in to admiring it.
As mentioned, the upper black half of sapphire bezel performs a dramatic color shift in different lighting. When reflecting light, it turns a bright silver color. It tends to wash out the numerals, but it adds a dramatic effect to the watch. The numerals underneath are also lumed.
The bezel itself is easy to grip as it has large grooves and sits slightly proud of the inward sloped case. Interestingly, the bi-directional 24hr bezel is held in place by friction only, and has no "clicks." I found this slightly disappointing, as I love a good quality bezel click. The bezel rotation is at least very smooth and well-damped, and is completely free of play. Seiko created the perfect amount of friction to make it easy to spin, without tuning it by accident. Perhaps this is Seiko's cheat to avoid bezel alignment issues, but I would still prefer 24 distinct clicks.
The dial is also nicely executed. In addition to the attractive sky motif, all indices, the Seiko logo, date surround and power reserve scale are in applied metal. The indices appear to the naked eye to be fully polished, but upon inspection with a macro lens, you can see a subtle machined texture in the centers that allows them to better reflect different kinds of light.
The date surround also has a mix of polished and matte surfaces, and the power reserve scale is matte.
My one complaint about the otherwise beautiful dial is that the odd numbered GMT scale makes the dial look a bit too busy. It would look much cleaner and still allow for tracking of a third time zone if those numbers were moved to the chapter ring as they are on other Seiko GMT models.
Legibility is excellent, but I was a bit let down by the finishing of the hour and minute hands. The seconds hand is beautifully polished to a smooth shape, even with a polished cap. The main hands on the other hand, appear to be stamped from flat steel with brushed top surfaces. While this helps them to be visible in different light conditions, it looks less finished compared to the rest of the watch. I would have preferred something like the hands on the SBDC101, which are three-dimensional, and are half polished and half brushed.
One thing that is not a disappointment is the lume. As Seiko owners have come to expect, Seiko's Lumibrite is strong on the Prospex LX. The mixture used on the Sky edition is pure white during the day, and at light green at night., and not quite as intense as the off-white/pure green compound used on Seiko's divers, but it is still quite legible, and lasts through the night.
The lume on the bezel is slightly less bright, but still adequate, and I typically don't need to check home time in the dark.
Prior to the SNR, the Sinn U1 S held the crown for the best anti-reflective coating on a watch crystal that I had reviewied. Seiko is now the champ however, as the crystal on the Prospex LX appears not to exist. It also picks up fewer fingerprints than the Sinn's crystal.
The case and bracelet, on the other hand, do pick up a lot of fingerprints on both the polished and brushed surfaces. The combination of titanium and Seiko's Dia-Shield coating make it especially susceptible.
Another trait that I think is related to the coating is that the beautiful Zaratsu polishing on the case has a textured appearance like orange peel on paint. On the wrist, it has a perfect mirror finish, but the texture is visible when held closer to your eyes. Based on the reputation of Zaratsu being mirror-like, the coating is the only answer that I can think of. Otherwise, the case finishing is excellent. It has an attractive mix of polished and brushed surfaces with very sharp transitions.
Surprisingly, as with lower-end Prospex watches, the crown is not signed. It is, however large and very easy to grip. It also has a red ring on the crown stem to visually indicate when it is not screwed down.
The bracelet links are brushed with asymmetrical shapes, and the downward-facing internal surfaces being polished. The end links feature a "male" center link. Normally this can make the lug to lug distance appear longer, but this link drops almost straight down.
Strangely, a small circle is present on the end of the links. This appears to be related to how the 3 piece links are pressed together. It gives it a slightly less finished look.
Wearing the Prospex LX
Often I'll read the measurements of a watch brand's website, and then head to someone's review hoping to read "but it wears much smaller than the numbers indicate." That's not the case here, as the SNR049 looks every bit of 44.8mm wide and 14.8mm thick on the wrist.
If you're alright with a watch looking big, but are worried about comfort I can tell you that the LX wears very well for its size. The combination of lightweight titanium, lugs mounted low on the case, and a thin caseback mean that you won't feel a big chunk of metal flopping around on your wrist. My preference would still be a reduction of 2-3 mm in every dimension, but it doesn't overhang my 7 inch wrist.
The bracelet is also quite comfortable, and the clasp is compact despite having an internal quick adjustment "Smart Adjuster function" as Seiko calls it. It uses the existing clasp release buttons to also adjust the length of the bracelet, which is a much cleaner method than the complicated and bulky clasp used on the MM300 and Prospex LX divers.
We watch lovers have been begging for something like this from Seiko, but it actually might be too compact, as the adjustment is not enough to cover the full range of one bracelet link. The result is that I have to either wear the watch slightly too loose or too tight. One to two more adjustment positions, and/or a half link would help immensely in this area.
Luckily, I have a lot of attractive 22mm strap options available at StrapHabit.com that will fit, so I'll likely swap it back and forth between the bracelet and straps.
The Spring Drive Movement
You're still reading, so that means you didn't throw down your device after reading the words "Seiko" and "$5,500." If that number seems sensible to you, you're likely familiar with the innovative Spring Drive technology in the Prospex LX and I'll save you from yet again reading a technical description (if not, this link has great information about it). I'll just say that if you haven't seen one operate in person, the completely smooth glide of the seconds hand has a calming effect that doesn't not come across in videos.
The specific Spring Drive calibre in the SNR049 is Seiko's 5R66. It features 72 hours of power reserve, 30 jewels, a 24 hour hand, and "true" GMT function. that allows you to adjust the 12 hour hand (and date) forwards and backwards with the crown.
The accuracy is rated at +/- 15 seconds per month, which is better than the daily accuracy of many mechanical watches. Mine has been operating well within that range. Based on the power reserve indicator, it also seems to self wind quite efficiently.
Why not just buy a Grand Seiko?
The Prospex LX lives in a strange area between the regular Seiko lineup, and Grand Seiko. While it is $700 - 1,000 less expensive at MSRP than most similar GS models, prices on the used market are much closer. Additionally, its closest competitor in the GS lineup, the also 44mm SBGE201 is only about $300 more. That watch has a version of the same movement with finer finishing, and a similar lumed sapphire bezel. The 40.5mm SBGE25x series is also worth consideration, but these models don't have rotating bezels, which is a deal-breaker for some travelers.
What you'll get with the SBGE49 over those models is the lightweight titanium case, nicer bracelet clasp, and a more versatile tool aesthetic. Considering that you can't see the movement finishing in any of those watches, the Prospex LX is the better value in my mind, assuming that you aren't hung up on having the "Grand" badge.
Even if you are like me, and are not bothered by the "Seiko at a Grand Seiko price" aspect of the Prospex LX, the SNR049 is difficult to categorize. Prospex stands for "Professional Specifications" which means that Prospex watches are tool watches. On paper this watch fits into that category. In the metal however, it's not a watch that made me feel like I would bang it around without care like I would other tool watches. I'm sure that it would hold up to anything that I would throw at it, but the brilliantly polished surfaces make me constantly aware of it being on my wrist.
This does make it more versatile, however. It's a watch that can be worn in slightly dressier situations, and one that has a bit of a swagger to it.
For me, it's almost the perfect GMT watch. I love the color of the dial and bezel, and I find the power reserve complication useful and fun. These make it a watch that would always be exciting to strap on and admire. The rotating bezel also makes it great for travelling. It might sound silly, but having just the right watch strapped to my wrist makes long air journeys and the time away from home more bearable.
So why do I say it's "almost" perfect? I mentioned a few minor complaints in the review, but those are superficial things that don't really bother me. The main aspect that I would prefer to change about the SNR049 is the size. If it were 2-3mm smaller in width, height, and thickness, I would enjoy it that much more. A slightly smaller size combined with the lightweight of titanium would make it the ideal travel watch. It would also make it a bit less flashy, making it more versatile for travelling to all kinds of places.
That being said, it is still a fantastic watch, and it is still my favorite GMT watch without going up quite a bit in price. It is not inexpensive, but you're getting a huge amount of watch (literally and figuratively) for the price. Try finding another $5,500 watch with multiple complications and finishing and accuracy that match the Prospex LX. It is one that you should absolutely consider if you need an amazing GMT and are okay with larger sizes.
+ Beautiful to look at
+ True GMT
+ It's a Spring Drive
+ Finally a Seiko with a compact and quick-adjust clasp
- Reviewer would prefer it to be a few mm smaller and thinner
- Quick adjust needs wider range of adjustment, or a half link.
- Friction bezel
What are your thoughts on the Seiko Prospex LX SNR049J1? Do you have a favorite GMT watch? We'd love to hear from you in the comments!
Name: Seiko Prospex LX Sky Limited Edition
Reference Number: SNR049J1 (a.k.a. SBDB041)
Dimensions: 44.8mm diameter, 50.9mm lug-to-lug, 14.7mm thick, 22mm lug width
Movement: Seiko Spring Drive Calibre 5R66
Water Resistance: 100m
Crystal: Sapphire with Super-clear coating
Bezel: Bi-Directional friction bezel with sapphire insert and luminous numerals
Strap/Bracelet: Titanium bracelet with Smart Adjuster clasp