The unromantic image of a Seiko dive watch is that of a capable, affordable instrument. It ain't particularly pretty, but somehow, this seemingly basic tool has charmed the world and even snooty watch collectors. And if any watch in Seiko's current catalog best embodies that spirit, it's the famous "Turtle."
Admittedly, there was a time when I just didn't get it. All the fanboy excitement was a bit tiresome but made me curious, and when I first saw the Turtle in person, I still wasn't convinced: it looked too big and had a quirky, almost ugly design — not handsome like a Rolex Submariner, or something.
But then, I put it on my wrist and a complete transformation occurred: I got it. The comfort, the character, the value and the charm smacked me in the face and turned my perceptions upside down. My appreciation of these qualities has only grown as I've worn it — and I've become one of those annoying people that just won't shut up about Seiko dive watches.
And, to me, the Turtle sums up exactly what makes Seiko unique in the watch world.
At a Glance: The Seiko Prospex "Turtle"
Case Diameter: 45mm
Case Depth: 13mm
Water Resistance: 200m
Movement: Seiko 4R36 automatic
Even if you're already familiar with the Turtle, as many people are, here's some background.
Seiko doesn't officially use the name "Turtle." Fans began calling it that based on its curvaceous, chelonian shape, obviously. It was a case shape (sometimes called "cushion-shaped") not unknown to the watch world when the original Turtle was launched in Japan under the name 6306 in 1976 (a 6309 international version soon followed). Like other famous dive watches, it was a product of the 1970s and the era of diving with watches as critical tools.
Having faded from production in favor of watches like the also legendary SKX, it returned in 2016 as a reissued, fully modern Seiko. This means branding and positioning within the sport-oriented Prospex collection, an upgraded automatic movement, increased water resistance (from 150m to 200m) and other little tweaks. Today, it represents the essence of Seiko's dive watches and Prospex collection.
Having worn a Seiko Prospex Turtle for years now, here's what I've found.
What's Good About the Seiko Turtle?
It's eminently unpretentious
As much as I enjoy "nice" watches, there's a psychological weight to expensive ones. Maybe I've got issues, but high-end watches can come off like you're trying too hard. They further feel a bit weird in a world rife with inequality, and you've got to worry about damaging this precious thing as you swing your wrist around. And finally, at least where I'm from, it can even be a security concern.
Watches like the Seiko Turtle have none of that baggage. A few hundred bucks ain't nothing, but if you scratch it or ding it or even break it (not easy to do), you won't be out a family heirloom. There's a lot of value to a carefree-wearing experience. No, the Turtle isn't so much a "flex," but it's got a badass look and will get noticed in the right way by those who know and appreciate watches in general.
It's surprisingly comfortable and ergonomic
A diameter of 45mm sounds big, but watches like the Turtle are case studies in how measurements don't tell the whole story. I remember seeing the watch before trying it on and thinking it looked huge, only to be shocked at how it fit and formed to my wrist when I put it on. Part of that surely has to do with its soft curves and relatively short lug-to-lug distance.
It's also worth mentioning the great Seiko silicone strap it comes on. You can get it on a steel bracelet, and that's usually my preference in watches, but in this case the Prospex silicone strap is recommended. It's a style of strap that's iconic and particularly associated with Seiko divers, and touches like nicely finished Seiko-branded hardware and the embossed Prospex logo at the end give it a premium feel.
The value is just incredible
Watch enthusiasts often use terms like "build quality" or "fit and finish." These describe qualities of a watch that are hard to quantify, but somehow palpable. You recognize quality when you hold it in your hands, and that's what pictures or words about the watches like the Seiko Turtle struggle to convey.
The feeling is something like that of solid military gear — something without pretense that you could truly beat the shit out of and continue to rely on. The design has a similar pragmatism, but also some touches that go beyond a soldier's needs and offer little hints of visual pleasure — like the contrasting finishing of the brushed top surface of the case and polished, inward curving sides underneath. When you find watches like the Turtle for below retail on sites like Amazon and Macy's, the value's even more striking.
It's packed with personality
The Turtle's design has become so familiar and iconic, you might forget that it's pretty damn quirky. An element of ugly-cool in Seiko dive watches makes them distinctive and provokes an emotional response.
Those hands and indices have some weird shapes, and the crown is placed asymmetrically around 3:45. That day and date display? Definitely not there for aesthetics. The seconds hand's lollypop counterbalance is inordinately long, too.
But an initial what-the-hell reaction can turn into endearment as the watch proves its worth on the wrist with durability, reliability and legibility. Go ahead and beat it up: it'll only add to its character.
What's Not as Ideal About the Seiko Turtle?
It simply can't do formal duty
People sometimes call watches jewelry, but it'd be hard to call the Seiko Turtle that. This is a pure, pragmatic tool. I've often said that this is a watch you could wear everyday for years, but that won't be true on the days you have to dress up. I also waxed about its proportions, wearability and comfy silicone strap — but it remains a largish watch with bulk added by the strap that won't fit well under a cuff. If not paired to a wetsuit, the Turtle is best with short sleeves.
It's almost too popular for its own good
Seiko is a superstar, and this is one of its most popular watches. Consequently, there's a good chance you'll see it from time to time on wrists about town. If you're desperate to be "different," this might not be the watch for you — or you might try one of its various versions that mix up dial and bezel colors. Further, just as there are Seiko fanboys there'll inevitably be Seiko haters who roll their eyes at your awesome dive watch. Can't please everyone ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The Seiko Prospex Turtle: The Verdict
In many ways, the Turtle represents the core of the Seiko dive watch concept. If you like that concept it's a great option, but for some it might also be too big or lacking in premium features. Alternatives that still display much of the same charm can be found within the Seiko lineup itself.
While the Turtle might be best in its most basic form, you can also get it with a sapphire crystal and other upgrades in the still high-bang-for-buck "King Turtle" ($595–$625). A watch with a similar shape but smaller diameter and more premium features can be found in the 2022 series that includes the SPB317J1 ($900). Of course, it's also worth checking out the vast and ever evolving collection of various Seiko dive watches.
The Seiko Turtle isn't for everyone, but if you're attracted by its looks, character or even the hype it's an easy recommendation. If you're not sure, go try one on. I'll keep evangelizing what I see as one of the most fun and satisfying watches I know of, period.