It’s All High Fives for the Seiko 5 Sports Watch

It’s not easy to find consensus among watch collectors. However, whether they’re into modern or vintage, big cases or small, major brands or indies, one thing most collectors can agree on is the appeal of the Seiko 5 Sports. This stainless steel sports watch is now entering its seventh decade of production and is currently available in more than 60 variations, including a best-selling GMT. Thanks to several recent high-profile collaborations and endorsements from collectors of all kinds, it has never been more popular.

“What makes the Seiko 5 catalogue special is the fact that they’re still generally some of the most affordable automatic watches on the market,” says Kaz Mirza, whose Two Broke Watch Snobs podcast is one of many enthusiast-driven outlets that regularly sing the praises of the Seiko 5. “The convergence of quality, design, and affordability continues to ensure the Seiko 5 collection’s longevity in the world of watch collecting,” he adds. “The reality is that there is a high probability that a Seiko 5 was someone’s first automatic watch. Collectors generally tend to wax nostalgic for their first automatic watch purchase.”

Seiko × Rowing Blazers

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Seiko × Rowing Blazers

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Seiko × Rowing Blazers

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Seiko × Rowing Blazers

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Other Seiko 5 fans like Jack Carlson, the founder of NYC-based fashion brand Rowing Blazers, have gone ahead and designed their own. Until a few years ago, Carlson’s brand had a small but loyal following for colourful modern takes on prep staples like rugby jerseys and the label’s namesake regatta blazers. In 2021, however, Carlson became the toast of the watch world following a collaboration on a series of limited edition Seiko 5 Sports models — including a rally bezel, a nod to one of Carlson’s favourite pieces in Seiko’s archive; a zig-zag bezel; and a ’90s-style four colour “Simon Says” bezel, all of which are now trading online for more than double their original retail prices. The first Seiko × Rowing Blazers collab was followed by two, equally popular Seiko 5 capsules in 2022 and 2023. “The Seiko 5 is the perfect canvas for the Rowing Blazers collaborations,” says Carlson. “It would be difficult to find a better combination of quality, price point, wearability, and such a storied name in the history of watchmaking.”

The Seiko 5, it turns out, isn’t just a perfect canvas for Carlson’s jaunty prep palette. Other recent editions have lent themselves to a wide range of aesthetics. In 2020, the brand released a series of six new limited edition Seiko 5 models dedicated to characters from the classic arcade game Street Fighter. Other limited editions, including collaborations with Japanese skateboard brand Evisen, the retro Honda Cub motorcycle, and the popular manga series Naruto further established the Seiko 5 as a versatile and affordable collector’s piece.

Queen guitarist Brian May, who bought his first Seiko on a Japanese tour stop in the 1970s, successfully tried his hand at a collab in 2020 and again in 2022, creating a pair of moody red and black Seiko 5 models inspired by his favourite electric guitar. The response from collectors to these and other collaborations has been so positive that Seiko even allowed fans to create their own Seiko 5 styles using an online configurator and vote on their favourite design. The most popular creation, featuring a gold dial and a red and blue bezel, went into production as a limited edition in 2021.

But the story of the Seiko 5 Sports begins back in the 1960s, when Seiko was emerging as a leading manufacturer of waterproof sports watches. “The roots of this series can be traced back to the Seiko Sportsmatic 5, which was launched in 1963,” said former Seiko product designer Katsuhiro Kumagai during a Q&A at the Seiko Design Museum in Tokyo. The “5,” Kumagai explained, references the five core features of the Seiko 5 Sports’ design: an automatic movement, water resistance, an integrated day and date window at 3 o’clock, a crown at the 4 o’clock position, and a case and bracelet built for durability. “All of these elements, which now seem standard, were very advanced at the time,” Kumagai added. Five years after the launch, in 1968, the Seiko 5 Sports was born, and its combination of performance-driven design and bold colours remain cornerstones of the collection more than 50 years later.

Seiko 5 Sports 2023

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Seiko 5 Sports 2023

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Seiko 5 Sports 2023

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“I find, with the quality for the money, they’re just such great value,” says Josh Ellner, owner of Halifax Watch, one of Canada’s top independent retailers for Seiko. “There are very few mainstream brands that will put out a watch at the price point of the Seiko 5 with the level of finish that the Seiko 5 has, [and] with a focus on the little details. The watches stand the test of time.”

This year, Seiko celebrates the past, present, and future of the Seiko 5 Sports with four colourful new models that pay homage to the original 1960s collections. The most collectible of the bunch is the limited-edition SRPK17, which features the case shape, bracelet, bezel, and slightly smaller dimensions of the original Seiko 5 Sports in an edition of 15,555 pieces. Three other non-limited editions feature the Seiko 5’s modern 42.5 mm case; dials in either orange, black or silver; and several unique bezel details. Featuring Seiko’s tried-and-tested 4R36 automatic movement and priced at $425, these retro-inspired creations will likely have little trouble finding homes on the wrists of collectors. Sporty, durable, and accessible, the Seiko 5 remains one of the few things that watch enthusiasts of all kinds can agree on.