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Seiko Should Bring Back its Classic, Affordable Field Watch

Dirt-cheap but simply awesome, the Seiko 5 SNK is ripe for a return.

seiko snk field watch with plant shadows
Hunter Kelley

Seiko's sub-$100 automatic field watch is an unlikely icon. The Seiko 5 SNK, in all its color variations, is smallish and unflashy, with a military-inspired design and a very basic mechanical movement. But its ubiquity, quality, cool look and laughably low price have made it the starter mechanical watch for many an eventual collector, and a cult classic. Problem is, it's not part of Seiko's current collection.

As Seiko rereleases and reimaginines popular watches from decades past, why not bring the humble SNK back next?

Currently, the SNK line exists in a weird kind of limbo state. While still easily purchased online along with other inexpensive Seiko watches of recent decades, it appears that the collection is no longer produced. That would make sense as Seiko has made efforts to refine its image and move upmarket, but it also represents an opportunity.

It's kind of hard to overstate this little watch's outsized cultural presence: it's loved and respected, but is also endlessly the subject of ironic memes. In many ways, it represents the extreme end of Seiko's reputation from past decades for solidly built, high-bang-for-buck watches anyone could afford. The SNK is a core part of Seiko's identity which should be embraced, and there's a place for it in the modern brand's lineup.

As Seiko began moving significantly upmarket in recent years, some fans worried the brand was straying from the everyman persona they'd fallen in love with. The recently relaunched Seiko 5 Sport line, however, is a model for Seiko to continue to make excellent, inexpensive automatic watches. It's also an example for how the company can transform popular lines of the past — in this case, the Seiko 5 Sports collection and the classic SKX dive watch — into modern products that better fit the brand's now more polished image.

A modern SNK wouldn't be the first Seiko watch with a reputation as an inexpensive beater to be relaunched to enthusiasts' delight. Seiko is actually good at listening to what its fans want and, like the rest of the industry, they've been resurrecting vintage watches left and right — many of them less well known than the SNK. The familiarity and existing buzz around the watch are surely enough to make an updated model land with a splash.

The challenge, as with any reissue, is keeping it recognizable and true to the original while upgrading enough to justify its existence. Seiko's modern movements such as the 4R36 (which is found in the new Seiko 5 Sports) are a great place to start. Hand-winding and hacking make the 4R36 feel instantly more modern. Stick close to the awesome dial and handset design, keep the matte-finished case in a size around the original's 37mm diameter, give it a slightly bigger 4 o'clock crown, throw it on a NATO strap — and you've got a winner.

The SNK is simply a classic that shouldn't be out of production. An affordable new field watch-style beater couldn't be priced quite as dirt-cheap as the original, and Seiko might need to wait for the current stock of SNKs to start disappearing from Amazon and the like. But around $250 for full MSRP? That sounds plausible, and I'd be the first customer.

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