Following my previous postings, most of you on the Seiko forum have probably come to know my postive impression and ownership satisfaction with the Seiko Prospex Marinemaster 300m. In my last review of the Doxa Sub vs the Seiko Marinemaster just a few weeks ago I stated ¡§I cannot say enough about the quality and value of this high-end Seiko Prospex diver. Its quality and finish is unrivalled in its price category of under $2000 and more so could easily go toe-to-toe with many of the more expensive high-end divers from the bigger names.¡¨
So on the weekend (with all due respect to the Doxa Sub), it was time to put those words to the sword when I met up with my brother-in-law for lunch who so happened to be wearing his Rolex 50th Anniversary Submariner (116610V) for a one-on-one match-up.
Today among the general community, the Rolex brand is unarguably the most synonymous image of high-end luxurious Swiss mechanical watches steep in history and tradition. The brand is by far the most recognizable luxury name in the word. Seiko on the other hand are also widely recognised but more so for their offering of inexpensive quartz watches than for their quality or craftsmanship of mechanical watches. So in a show-down with the so-called king of divers that has a deep history of working alongside Comex and other professional diver to develop, how would the less touted Japanese domestic market Seiko MM hold-up against a giant from Switzerland like the anniversary edition green Submariner 116610V that has a market value over $6000 today. Of course a comparison with the similar standard 116610 Submariner (valued just over $4000) would be just the same as to my understanding the only difference between the standard Submariner and the anniversary edition beside the production number and green bezel insert is the maxi-dial found on the anniversary edition. The comparison for me is also interesting as it pits two truly in-house manufactured diver watches whose image are as polar apart as their origin.
Like before, I must state that my technical expertise for movement is pretty much minimal. This review is just my personal opinion base on my ownership experience of one and seeing and handling the other at close quarter.
So here are the details of both watches with photo illustrations.
The Rolex Oyster Submariner case has been around for well over 50 years (first introduced in 1953) and remains relatively unchanged over time other than improvement in the depth rating and replacement of the plexi-glass crystal to the current sapphire crystal in 1979. The Oyster Submariner is without a doubt the most recognizable and classic diver watch in the world where its simple and proven design has been copied over and over by many other manufacturers. The case of the Submariner measures 40mm x 12.8mm, with screw caseback, trip-lock screw-in crown and a water resistant rating of 300m.
The MM case is a unique monocoque design with an internal L-shaped gasket design structure that makes this a helium gas diver watch. The movement of the MM can only be accessed through the front. It measures 42mm x 14.6mm so it is a relatively larger and significantly thicker watch compared to the Submariner in person.
Upon handling both watches, the first thing that comes to the forefront is the weight difference of the 2 watches. The MM (official weight 209g) is just a much heavier watch than the Submariner (official weight 137g). With or without the bracelet (we will discuss more on the bracelet later), the case of the MM is by far heavier to the point where if one were to close their eyes to handle both watches ¡V one could mistaken the MM case as constructed from gold.
Secondly, I have to say I find the edges and lugs of the Rolex Submariner much too sharp for by liking. If this was any other watch brand, I would almost conclude that the factory has gotten the sharpness of the case absolutely wrong instead of it been a sign of the factory¡¦s precision tooling and design. I asked my brother-in-law whether he finds the Submariner uncomfortable to wear with all the sharpness. He remarked that because of the raised caseback, there¡¦s actually little contact between the wrist and the case sharpness to cause any discomfort. But he did added that with the value of the watch and the sharpness of the edges and corners, he did baby the watch extensively at the beginning of ownership (much like me with my MM I guess). But after the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th scratches and dings after a few months, over the past year the Submariner has become his daily wearer. His take is that as long as the scratches aren¡¦t too deep he is no longer concern about the scratches.
This brings me to an interesting point and perception I always held for Rolex steel as more resilient and harder to scratch. As the Submariner like all the Rolex stainless steel models are made from a higher grade 904L stainless steel as specified by Rolex, it seems the 904L grade steel is not as resilient to scratches or dings from daily wear as the factory would like us to think. The condition of my brother-in-law¡¦s Submariner after 18 months of desk diving is no better than any steel watches I have seen. There are heaps of scratches and scruff marks on the case and bracelet but not captured as prominently in the photos. To be completely honest, I have high hopes my MM would hold up much better after 18 months (albeit I won¡¦t be wearing the MM daily). I guess my point is the advertised more expensive, more resistant to corrosion and harder to scratch 904L steel of the Rolex that is better than normal 316L steel, is of small significance when the general accidental force generated that causes everyday scratches exceeds that ¡§more scratch-resistant¡¨ threshold. I also read that the 904L steel has a higher level of nickel content so it is not as suitable if you¡¦re allergic to nickel. Note at this moment I still have no information on the steel grade used for the MM.
Personally I must say I find the overall balance of precision and smoothness of the line and edges of the MM case more attractive. To me the slight rounding of edges and corners while still retaining an aesthetic crispness of form as found on the MM means a higher level of finish and individual emphasis has been placed into the MM case design and finish as compared to the Submariner. The fact that the Submariner case is mass produced in the tens of thousand per year (not just for this anniversary edition model but for the other Submariner models as well) compared to the lower production number of the MM just makes the MM case better and more unique all round for me.
The Rolex crown positioned in the traditional 3 o¡¦clock position is protected by a heavy crown guard. As indicated by the 3 dots below the Rolex patented crown logo on the crown, the Submariner has a trip-lock crown system. The trip-lock system is a patent of Rolex and the function is it improves the water resistant of the case especially the crown which is the most vulnerable to moisture, dirt or water penetration. The trip-lock system basically employs 3 separate gaskets through the crown to seal off water or debris. The unsigned MM crown is definitely not as nice as the Rolex crown, which actually IMO is the best in the business hands down. The Rolex screw thread is smooth and easy to engage whether you¡¦re screwing it in or out. The push spring of the crown to engage the lock also has a stronger and nicer response. Upon viewing the screw thread close-up, I did notice the visible thread on the Submariner is wider and shorter compared to the MM, which was much finer and longer (consequently require more turns and engagement). This may be the key reason why the MM thread just requires more care and touch to engage the screw-in. Certainly Rolex crown system is the best.
Both watches have a unidirectional rotating bezel however that¡¦s about where the similarity ends. The Submariner has a very simple design in this case green bezel insert with 1 minute gradient marks only for the 1st 15 minutes and the rest in 5 minutes interval. The bezel ratchets firmly and securely in half minute gradients. The MM bezel on the other hand is 60 very smooth (but relatively loose) unidirectional engine clicks with 60 minutes marker all the way round the insert. The ceramic-like polish of the MM bezel is characteristic of the MM looking sharper and nicer. Although the MM bezel rotates smoothly, personally it would be better off being a little tighter and secure much like the Submariner to ensure the bezel does not move from accidental touch or knocks. The Submariner has a sharper teeth grip for its bezel also as the teeth on the MM tend to be more polish and rounded like the rest of the case. IMO a combination of the 2 would actually give me my perfect bezel. That is, the look and design of the MM bezel and the secure ratcheting and grip of the Submariner.
The Submariner uses a flat sapphire crystal but lacks any antireflective coating so there is quite a bit of unwanted glare (as seen in some of my pics). Of course one of the traits of Rolex date window is the Cyclops lens. This is either a hit or a miss with everyone. I must say I used to like this feature but the more I see it these days (annoying when trying to take pics), the less I like it as it intrude too much on the rest of the watch dial. The crystal of the Submariner also protrudes above the bezel. The MM on the other hand uses Seiko¡¦s own in-house dual curved non-reflective upper coated hardlex crystal. The crystal of the MM sits below the bezel.
Much has been discussed that Seiko should employ sapphire crystal for the MM that is more scratch-proof. Personally I feel the current hardlex crystal doesn¡¦t do too bad a job and definitely should not be a deal breaker at all if this is the reason you¡¦re hesitant with the MM. To date, I still don¡¦t have any scratches on my MM crystal (touch wood) from regular wear. But I must say the sapphire crystal on my brother-in-law¡¦s Submariner seems to hold up very well compared to the scratches and marks found on the rest of the watch case and bracelet.
As mentioned earlier, one of the differences between the anniversary Submariner and the standard Submariner is the maxi-dial found on the anniversary edition. The Submariner¡¦s dial is simple with round whitish luminous hour markers all the way round except the 3, 6, 9 and 12 position. The Cyclops date lens does take up a prominent position of an otherwise simple diver watch dial with clear legibility. The polished hands and borders of the hour indices are as I¡¦m informed white gold which doesn¡¦t glare in light as much as steel.
The MM is more your traditional diver with a slate black dial with even larger round luminous hour indices (except at the 3, 6, 9 and 12 position). Like the Submariner, the hour indices on the MM are bordered (steel?) with the whitish luminous filled inside. With the duale curved hardlex crystal, the MM dial looks much deeper and more interesting IMO. The date aperture for the MM is also detailed with a brushed steel background on black fonts.
In terms of the font prints on the dial, it must be said the print on the Submariner is smaller but sharper. Both watches also have minute markers running in the outer ring of the dial (printed on the actual dial for the Submariner while on a separate chapter ring for the MM). The minute markers are more prominent on the MM as it is bolder. I guess if the Submariner dial is described as the maxi-dial, the MM version could be called the Maxi-plus as it is just bigger in most way.
Note, one rather interest point I also notice in comparing the 2 dials is the feeling of emptiness with the Submariner with regards to the outer ring space inbetween the crystal and dial. The space here on the Submariner is occupied by a semi-polished steel ring (in my Rolex search I find some of the new model now have a ring marked repeatedly with ¡§Rolex¡¨). On the MM, there is no such emptiness as the effect of the minute chapter ring and the effect of the dual curve crystal make this space disappear or much more interesting.
As I have been told, the Rolex hands and border of the hour marker is white gold. There is no doubt that they¡¦re nice. However, in terms of detailed finishing, the MM hands are just spectacular and reminiscent of Grand Seiko hands. With beveled edges and combination of brushed and polished steel, the hands on the MM really stands out and works for me. I also must admit I have never been much of a fan of the Submariner¡¦s Mercedes hour hand and rather thin minute sword hand. The finish of the hands is nice but the long standing Mercedes hour hand design on the Submariner is a miss for me.
I did not have the chance to compare the lume of both watches. However by looking at the lume of the Submariner, I do like the fact that it is more whitish than greenish as a lot of other diver watches tends to look when the lume is not lit up. The lume on the Submariner also looks to be applied quite even whereas the MM lume as I describe previously appear ¡§mouldy¡¨ textured and uneven (which btw actually isn¡¦t a bad thing for me and one reason why I really enjoy looking at old vintage divers like 6105/6309 with original lume work).
This is one of the most disappointing and negative part of the Submariner when I handled the watch. I have heard there has been a number of incremental improvement done over the years for the Submariner¡¦s bracelet (and for the other sports models in the Rolex stable such as the Explorer II, GMT Master II, SeaDweller, YatchMaster and Daytona). But really for any one of those watches that cost in excess of $4000, surely a manufacturer as big as Rolex can come up with something much much better than the current offering. The Submariner bracelet is light weight and has a definite clunky or cheap feel to it. The clasp is stamp hollow and the diver extension requires a pin or adjustment tool to release. The one positive is that it does use a rather strong screw pin for the links.
The MM 3-link bracelet is a cross between the Rolex oyster and the Omega Seamaster style bracelet. While aesthetically it looks pretty standard, the greatest feature of the MM bracelet has to be the unique ratcheting diver extension clasp. The lock-jaw extension is easy to use by simply putting a little backward pressure on the flip-lock safety clasp. It makes diver extension sizing a breeze and so convenient with no tools required.
My previous knock on the MM bracelet is that like many Seiko steel bracelet, it tends to pick up scratches easily. But having view the Submariner¡¦s bracelet, I really can¡¦t complain too much now seeing the 904L steel is not as resilient to desk diving scratches as I first thought. The other negative of the MM bracelet is the pin-collar system of the links which is a real pain in the butt when making the initial bracelet sizing on the MM.
No rubber strap available for the Submariner so we¡¦ll just skip this.
Both the Submariner and MM has a lug size of 20mm (I¡¦m guessing from viewing the watches side-by-side and they look the same). I did not carry a bracelet removal tool with me so I wasn¡¦t able to view the lug ends or spring bars of the Submariner. However, from my memory in a previous experience with a standard Submariner (could be an older model not sure); I believe the bracelet lug end is 2 pieces and not solid (not attached to the bracelet). Not sure if the anniversary edition is different or has been improved upon. My brother-in-law don¡¦t know either as his watch was sized behind ¡§close curtain¡¨ at the AD when he bought it and he¡¦s not one to play around with alternative straps for his watch.
As I mentioned earlier, I¡¦m no technical expert when it comes to the mechanical intricacy of watch movements. The following are just a summary of the movement specifications I have found for the 2 watches. The Submariner uses one of Rolex in-house workhorse the calibre 3135 a 31 jewel self-winding movement. It is a bi-directional winding automatic, with manual wind and hacking second mechanisms, 28¡¦800 vph, 50 hours power reserves, Glucydur balance and Nivarox hairspring. It is adjusted to 5 positions and tested in 3 temperatures for a COSC rating. All visible parts of the bridges are finished with a colimaconnage pattern. The surfaces of the bridges are rhodium plated, edges are beveled and the screws are finished to a high level. The calibre 3135 is by no mean finished to the extent of a Patek Philippe or Grand Seiko movement, but it is a marvel of engineering, construction and design. This movement is designed to withstand rough use according to military specifications and have proven over time to be one of the best chronometers that combines accuracy, long term stability and robustness into one movement.
The MM uses a Seiko in-house 26 jewel calibre 8L35 self-winding movement that is the base movement or variants for the higher end 9S55 calibre Grand Seiko. With manual wind and hacking second mechanisms, 28¡¦800 vph, 50 hours power reserves, it is unadjusted, rhodium plated and has an accuracy rating by Seiko of +15 ~ -10 seconds per day.
In terms of the feel of the hand winding, the MM actually compares very well if not even a little smoother than the Submariner. I really don¡¦t know if this is due to the fact that my MM is less than 3 months old while the Submariner has been almost like a daily wearer for the past 18 months but it was definitely a welcoming surprise for me to find the MM was even comparable to the King as I so much expected this was where the Submariner would be streets ahead. The MM hand wind with an almost auto forward motion (it kinds of push you along when the winding is in motion is the best way I can describe it). The Submariner also feels very solid and smooth when you wind it as to be expected. The crown and stem system on the Submariner does feels sturdier as it is thicker and doesn¡¦t protrude out as much as the MM.
Much still is not known about the MM movement as not a lot of English or Japanese language review has been done other than scrapping the surface of the watch. I do wish someone with the technical knowledge would take this challenge someday. Base on my experience of the MM, it runs on average about +7 seconds per day (though I do believe it can achieve much better accuracy if worn on a more regular and consistent basis). The Submariner according to my brother-in-law runs about an average of +2 seconds consistently early in it¡¦s hey day when he cared to time his watch. I do not doubt at all the accuracy and durability of the Rolex movement as I strongly believe that is what makes the company what it is today. Without continuing good performance, it would be hard to achieve its status as the leader of Swiss mechanical watches even with all the hype among the giants like Patek Philippe, JLC, Breguet and Vacheron Constantin and so on. I also admire and applaud Rolex for its continuing endeavour to maintain all the primary production and parts in-house so that no compromise has to be made in design or function.
Price & Value
Like my theory before when I compared the MM with the Doxa, the price and value of the watch is very much in the eye of the beholder. The MM retail price is 250¡¦000 Yen ($2¡¦030). I purchased mine from Higuchi at net price 188¡¦000 Yen ($1¡¦530). In many ways I view the MM as the best bang for your buck diver and highly undervalued.
Rolex is one of the most heavy-handed and controlled brands with regards to its price structure, availability and discount. With the strongest second hand market and strong price policy among retailers, sports models and especially the highly exclusive models like the anniversary Submariner and steel Daytona are driven well above its dealer recommended retail price and asking for a premium. So is an anniversary Submariner really worth $6000? Or even a standard Submariner for $4000? Product and function wise I can honestly say that there is no way that the Submariner is 4 times more of a watch than the MM. It may not even be a 1 time better watch than the MM (if you catch my drift).
But as my brother-in-law remarked, this was the best $6000 he spent because every WIS or brand conscious guy on the street know what a green Submariner is valued and the difficulty of getting one. It gets plenty of look and complimentary everywhere he goes whether from work or after-work. Hey even the chicks dig it and happily for him it¡¦s become a chick magnet much like a red Ferrari would. The name and game of luxury and exclusivity is I guess why guys are prepared to drop the price of a house deposit for a watch. And if he ever decides to flip the Submariner, well the resale value isn¡¦t too shabby. So who can blame him or argue that the Submariner is over priced for all the extra benefits he derives from it. For me, well I¡¦m just a low key kind of guy, married, 1 kid and 1 mortgage, so I¡¦ll just stick with my MM and be proud that it just went 10 rounds with the king and came out looking more than OK.