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During my freshman year of college, I spent some of my parents’ money on lots of junk watches on eBay. When I say lots I mean that the timepieces were literally sold in large groups and that I ended up with a lot of junk timepieces. The bidding usually started at $0.01 and the items arrived as-pictured, usually not working, and often coated with dirt and grime.
Those early days were formative as I was forced to research the watches and also, with an extremely limited budget, ideate ways to eke out a profit. I estimate that I came to own thirty watches during my freshman year of college after spending less than $100. Most of them didn’t even have bracelets. Come to think of it, none of them were ready to wear. Today, some are packed into a sock in a shoebox in my parents’ house. I didn’t make a profit on any of them.
As soon as I got my first on-campus job during my sophomore year of college, I knew that I was going to spend my meager coinage on wristwatches. Trawling my favorite auction site, I gradually developed ideas of fair value for functional, mass-produced wristwatches, mainly Seikos. Over that year, I spent about $700 total on about five wristwatches. One was a loser, I sold two for more than 200% of what I paid for them, one is in my closet, and one is on my wrist right now.
The Seiko SKX031
The Seiko SKX031-0040 is perhaps one of the most overlooked watches in Seiko’s deep catalog. Produced from 1996 – 2008, it most closely resembles the Rolex Submariner, widely considered the quintessential diver watch. A common, even iconic, quirk of Seiko divers is the crown placement at 4-o’clock instead of 3-o’clock. This one has the crown at 3 and it’s easy to mistake for a Sub at a glance. Perhaps this is why it’s been called the Seiko Submariner.
I’ve come to appreciate many of the watches’ subtleties over the long while that I’ve owned it. One thing is that my SKX031 has a Seiko jubilee bracelet. Most versions that I’ve seen pictured include an uncomfortable hard rubber strap. I’ve owned other Seiko watches on rubber and I think it’s awful.
The bracelet presents a juxtaposition: Rolex only ships Submariners with the oyster bracelet. You find the jubilee only on dressier watches such as the GMT and Datejust. The plentiful links of the jubilee make it less performant under stress (“sporting” activities), but it makes up for this in comfort, breathability, and aesthetics. The more delicate links present more opportunities for breakage and the bracelet will develop more sag over time compared to an oyster-style bracelet.
A cheap old used watch usually isn’t something you’d rush to submerge. So, somewhat ironically, I’ve never exposed my diver to water. Sometimes it feels wrong, but it’s become such a mainstay of my collection that I’m too scared to risk it.
The face of the watch measures about 37 millimeters across, which makes it quite universal. My wrists are so small that 40mm+ with enough thickness can look silly, but I don’t think this watch is so small that it would look silly on a larger person’s wrist, thus why I proclaim it as universal.
What truly separates this watch from the pack is the bezel. Most bezels in this category are rounded. They have a slight bevel. This serves some utility in that the bezel is readable at more angles of view, especially underwater. The flat bezel on the SKX031 is definitely cheaper to produce and results in the face of the watch having a more sleek profile. However, my impression is that the watch has a more regal and refined wrist presence due to this, especially paired with the jubilee bracelet.
There have been months at a time where the only accessories on my wrist have been my Garmin and my Seiko SKX031. Though I spent most of my late teens and early twenties as a watch nerd, my satisfaction with this watch has stymied my desire to expand my collection, even as my income has grown. Sure, there are about five beautiful watches that I lust and can probably afford, but the evidence of this being a truly special watch is that I’ve never seriously considered replacing it.
Those looking to purchase a similar, modern incarnation of this watch should look to the Seiko SKX007J1.