Monday, March 3, 2014

Seiko SNZG15J1 Review by Andrew

Editor's Note: First, I won't be interrupting this review as often as I did Ben's first review, as a nod to the feedback in the comments.  Second, Andrew and I have been going back and forth about a 20 point scale for watches and this is, as he writes, a beta.  Please drop some input on the effectiveness of the scale here in the comments.

The Seiko 5 Sports SNZG15J1 represents a good balance of real quality and reasonable price (“SNZG15” for short in this article). It is a simple three-handed watch, with a day and date complication. These functions are powered by Seiko’s in-house 7S36 automatic movement, which is a reliable but unremarkable automatic movement. The unpretentious military field watch design is a great EDC choice, with easily readable hourly Arabic markers on the dial.

Here is Crown & Buckle’s video review of this watch on a bracelet (Model designation SNZG13).  Here is their written review. Here is my video review of this watch on a nylon strap (SNZG15, J1 version which is made in Japan).  Here is the watch itself:


Because the wristwatch has many complications, or secondary levels of instrumentality, developing a scoring system which encompasses all watches risks inadequacy. Consider the scoring in this watch review as beta testing for now.

Design: 2

The field watch design featured in the Seiko SNZG15 came into prominence during the 20th century world wars. Simple timekeeping and reliability are the purpose of the field watch, with rugged movements and instrument-like dial design. The SNZG15 makes no innovations on this concept but executes it well in a modern size (42mm case, 12mm thickness, 22mm lug width). For the simple watch it is, it does what it does well.

Provenance: 1

This category is admittedly problematic, as provenance can refer to the history of a specific watch (ex. this Daytona was owned by Eric Clapton, etc.). For our purposes, this category will encompass the legacy of the model or family of the watch generally speaking.  The SNZG15 is part of the Seiko 5 family.  Here is a great overview from Seiko on their “5” family of watches, and here is Gear Patrol’s article on Seiko 5.

The SNZG15 embodies the daily-wear, sports-watch approach of the 5 Sports family. The Seiko 5 family has been around for decades and while there is a huge variety in the line, the core concepts of a reliable movement, durable case, and useful day/date complication (and price as discussed below) are the reasons for their sustained popularity. The set of features of the 5 family has long been recognized in the watch community. On the other hand, it is not historic in the way an Omega Speedmaster Professional (for example) is indisputably considered. 

Fit and Finish (Case/Dial): 2

The 42mm case and crown is bead-blasted which makes the watch appear smaller and follows the military-themed design. The bezel is fixed and is part of the case. The crown seats well in its small indentation in the case. That said, it appears somewhat small given the proportions of the case. The threaded display caseback is more of a novelty for first-time mechanical watch owners as the movement shown is very plain with just the watch’s technical information stamped on the movement.

The dial, chapter ring and day/date wheels are printed flawlessly with crisp typography and good details (military time, minute/seconds indices) for a watch in this price range. The applied “5” Shield is attractive to my eyes. Seiko’s proprietary Lumbrite lume is an industry standard, but on this model it is just applied to the hands and prominent chapter ring surrounding the dial. The lume application is applied evenly on the watch reviewed. The Hardlex crystal is better quality than comparable mineral crystals. Fit and finish overall are easily as good as many $500 Swiss field watches. Some collectors maintain that Japanese Seikos (as is the watch in this review, indicated by the J1 designation) are better than those made in Malaysia and China. I have failed to see a difference when comparing entry-level Seikos. 

Fit and Finish (Strap/Bracelet): 1

Frankly, the SNZG15’s nylon strap is pretty uncomfortable until it is broken in and is probably too thin for the watch. The strap holes are reinforced with a stitched vinyl piece. The buckle is stainless steel and is bead-blasted to match the case. It does fit my 7” wrist without any issues. Fortunately there are many aftermarket options given the watch’s 22mm lug size.

Movement: 1

The automatic 23 jewel Seiko 7s26c has a beat rate of 21600 BPH, which means that the seconds hand has a nice but not entirely fluid sweeping motion and lacks the distinct ticking of a quartz watch. The power reserve is about 40 hours IRL, and the accuracy of the 7s26 is not great at -20 seconds a day/+ 40 seconds a day.


The movement can be tuned to be more accurate of course. The timekeeping is likely the result of mechanized assembly and broad tolerances; the movement is completely lacking ornamentation. This is a fairly rare example of a mechanical movement which may never need service (although regularly maintaining it is always recommended). Lore abounds on the internet as for this last claim.

Functionality: 1

Functionality refers to how this watch achieves its intended design objectives. It is a simple timekeeping watch and it does this well. It has decent water resistance and could probably be worn swimming but no more than that. As the lack of a handwinding option and the average power reserve in the movement suggests, it is meant for regular wear. If it is not regularly worn, it will need to be stored on a watch winder or it will need to be reset when worn again. This may be considered an imperfection from a collector’s perspective as the inevitable resetting can be pretty uninspiring.

Wearabilty: 1

The watch wears smaller than many 42mm watches thanks to the rounded fixed bezel and well-proportioned lug width.


The caseback protrudes from the back of the case. This coupled with the thin nylon strap causes the watch to flop a bit on my 7” flat-topped wrists, but not more than a dive watch in this size. It is a casual watch and is too big in my opinion for formal wear.

Durability: 2

The SNZG15 is probably as durable as any mechanical watch on the market. There are many stories on forums of Seiko 5 watches of similar configuration being worn in military conflicts and for many decades without any attention to servicing the watch. It does lack extreme water resistance, a threaded crown, or magnetic shielding, all features found on higher-end sports watches. 

Purpose: 1

This scoring category is included because some of the watches which I will be reviewing will be highly multifunctional. From an EDC perspective, I want some way to give extra points to watches that are highly multifunctional. Watches like this will establish a baseline.

Appearance: 2

Another category possibly bordering on the subjective, this watch has no egregious aesthetic flaws and is a handsome if somewhat plain watch.


It could easily be mistaken by a non-watch person as a Timex, but the field watch design is venerable to collectors.

Overall Score: 14 out of 20

The SNZG15 is an understated and well-executed entry-level automatic watch. The movement is unrefined and it can only serve simple timekeeping-related purposes, but does so adequately. The handsome overall appearance and wearable size means that it won’t be totally forgotten amidst the higher level watches which inevitably will land on your doorstep as your interest grows in mechanical timepieces. Seiko is a well-regarded watch manufacture and this is a very solid choice in this price range. Few watches indeed would score above a 10/20 at a $100 price point.


  1. Not sure I share the sentiment in the introduction. An automatic movement that survives for decades without servicing is not "unremarkable"; it is legendary.

    When Tony called for a 20 point scale I thought about it and decided it does not work for watches. A three hand watch is fundamentally different from a chronograph, which is very different from an annual calendar, let alone a perpetual one (unlikely to be EDC for mechanical due to price, could easily be for quartz!). Also are you considering quartz or mechanical? A cheap quartz watch will match for accuracy an expensive mechanical one.

    Linked to the above, I also do not agree with the "I like my watches to be multifunctional" aspect of the scale. A watch with 20 functions will have a dial so busy as to be unreadable (as some G-shock watches do). And if you give a 2 for functionality to the Breitling search and rescue beacon watch, what will you give to others? And I will not even go into mechanical complications like minute repeaters as they are unlikely to be EDC. At this point, let me note in terms of complications the 5 calibre scores above the vast majority of three handers/three hands+date in that it has a day indication (in two languages!).

    I am sorry to be so critical of the review. I am not saying that the Seiko 5 is the best watch ever - my personal niggle is that most 5s with the crown at 4 o'clock are "water resistant" and I would not take them swimming; but I do say that for an automatic, mass produced movement, at this price point, there are versions with a dial of such clarity that are models for readability and elegance at any price point, with useful complications and legendary reliability, that a Seiko 5 is probably the best choice you can have for a mechanical movement with a budget of $100 or below - in fact I do not know of any others, possibly apart from the mechanical Swatches.

    It is an accurate review as far as it goes, but maybe the idea of the scale does not work well. At the end of the day, you have to decide whether you want a watch to be as simple as a knife ( at their hearts, the latter is a tool for cutting, the former a tool for telling the time) or whether you want more attributes (jewelry, telling elapsed time, altitude, geolocation, thermometer, heart rate monitor, telephone etc.).

    (full disclosure: I wear an omega coaxial seamaster for edc, Seiko 5 for when it goes to service!)

  2. I think that's a very good point. I know that Tony strives to keep his reviews as objective as possible, and the scale certainly aids in that goal. However, I don't believe that a watch can be scored in the same way.

    Some watches are tools, and perhaps could be scored on a scale. Others are more like clothing accessories, whose purpose is to subjectively look good. There is such a broad swath of uses, purposes, and styles of watches that one scale couldn't encompass them all. Moreover, creating a scale for each type of watch would be extremely cumbersome.

    Perhaps a better system might be to give all watches a 20, and then deduct points for clear problems? This would obviously invite subjectivity, but it might for example allow for a dressy watch with a busy dial to lose a point while a multifunctional G-Shock with a necessarily busy dial would not (as the former deviates from its purpose while the latter does not).

    Alternatively, perhaps Tony could use multiple reviewers, each with a clearly defined preference for a particular style of watch, who each review watches within that style. That way, what I believe to be the necessary subjectivity would be brought to the forefront, allowing readers to adjust any score for themselves depending on whether they share the reviewer's preferences or not.

  3. Andrew @ 555 GearMarch 4, 2014 at 3:58 PM

    Hi Guys,

    Great comments. I could easily imagine adjusting the score after long term use, as we often see Tony doing on long-term gear updates. I could see for example adding a point to the movement if this example proves to be as reliable as is generally regarded. I've had a number of watches with this movement, the flipside of broad tolerances is that the reliability isn't super consistent in my experience.

    As for the multifunction rating, I agree it's one of those categories which is problematic because watches do so many different things. So that's valid; I'm open to suggestions for sure. Are simple timekeeping watches and multifunctional watches (mechanical or otherwise) really incommensurate?


    1. I'm not sure if I'd say they're incommensurate in every category. However, is a simple timekeeping watch had a needlessly busy dial that made it hard to read, it would certainly deserve a knock for that. If a multifunctional watch has a busy dial (within reason), it is merely a side-effect of its increased functionality and would not deserve a lower score.

    2. the problem is that if you are valuing sheer functionality, it's hard to justify ever spending more than, like $10 on a casio digital. But the gear world tends to emphasize functionality. And if you're emphasizing value, then you can't ever justify spending $100 or $10,000 on a watch when the $10 does it with more accuracy.

      The emphasis on value in the gear world in general, but particularly in the precedent that Tony has set on this site, is pretty incongruous with the general expense of quality (luxury) watches. So you have to go into watch reviews knowing that there's a very different value system than we tend to adhere to in the EDC world.

      However, I do think we owe it to this community to keep things a little realistic. I think the score system is flawed if you don't think something costing $100 could easily score above 10/20. $100 is a pretty average cost for gear that's reviewed on this site, and 10/20 is a hugely below-average score.

      FWIW: I wear this exact watch every single day. I also own a solar/atomic GShock that cost about the same amount. I think there's tremendous aesthetic and functional value to be found at $100 and the score should reflect that. 14/20 seems unfair when the biggest issue seems to be in comparison to gear that costs 10 or 20 or 50 times as much.

    3. Andrew @ 555 GearMarch 8, 2014 at 12:35 AM

      Thank You Josh:

      I agree with you about the value comments in general, but there are plenty of EDC'ers who understand that a "good value" watch may be 1k or even 2k compared to 10k watches more widely chosen (for example, a Sinn diver vs. a Submariner). The cost range is simply different with watches than with knives or flashlights...A better scale of cost comparison with watches are firearms...a handsome, functional $100 pistol is rare indeed.

      Again, per my comment about $100 watches, it is hard to believe, but a $100 mechanical watch is maybe the equivalent to a $15 knife in the eyes of the watch collector's community. Are there really that many great 19/20 $15 knives out there? Nope. Solid mechanical watches at an equivalent price point? Even more rare. Hopefully when I get some more reviews posted with higher scoring watches, my overall score for this watch (which I like a lot and recommend!) will make more sense.


    4. I guess it's just hard to wrap my head around the huge price disparity in watches. Tony doesn't review handguns (or, until now, watches) so I'm just not used to the price scale changing so much. And there's so much argument to be made that a category like Provenance is basically a measure of how expensive a watch is because of the fact that so many brands are considered luxury items (or have gained a luxury reputation) simply by being expensive. It might be worth, as you review more and more watches (because I think this site deserves a watch section! Watches are my most-used EDC item) to factor in the performance compared to similar-priced watches. For $100 automatic watches, I think this Seiko is among the best options you have. It could lose points in a category like Provenance as a side effect of how inexpensive or non-luxury it is but that disparity shouldn't bring it down so much across the board.

      But anyways, regarding the watch itself: I know it's rated at +20/-40 seconds per day but I've found over six months or so that mine varies at most by 5s/day. It regulates well!

      Regarding the design, I have a minor qualm with the dash marks on the outside of the arabic numerals, which is that during the day those become pretty wasted real estate. The inner dial face, with the numerals, is 99% all I need, but a lot of circumference is added with the outer lume chapter marks, making the useful, readable face a lot smaller than the 42mm of the overall dial. This might add to why it wears smaller than it is but sometimes bugs me.

      And regarding the multifunctionality question... I guess I'm confused about the difference between Functionality and Purpose categories. I agree with using the functionality rating to ask if the watch effectively accomplishes what it sets out to do. This is a 3-hand, day-date watch, so this score could be a 1 or 0 if it has serious flaws in that design...being non-hacking might drop it down to a 1, or having the day and date be extremely hard to set or maintain... So I'm confused about the "purpose" rating compared to "functionality." Is "purpose" an excuse to drop the points because there's no diving bezel or chronograph or whatever? Maybe you could have a category for timekeeping and one for additional features.

      Anyways. Sorry to ramble. This is fun! I'm glad we're getting some watches on the site. Thanks!


    5. Necro comment replies! I've no idea if anyone I'm replying at will see this but oh well.
      @thank you josh: you said that 10/20 is a below-average score, but according to the scale a 1 IS an average score in any given category. So 10/20 may be a lower score than most things Tony reviews, but it is an average score. That said, I own a similar Seiko 5 to this one and I think the reviewer and the comments all agree this watch is, at that price, above average. So while a 14/20 knife would be an unfortunate score compared to a lot of knives that we see on this site, but I think it'll take a good chunk more money and subsequent quality to get a better score. And a more expensive watch may get like a 11 or 12 because at its price it's just average or slightly better. I might say the scale might need a little work to better address the price difference the way a $65 DF2 would get a better score than a triple-digit custom with a bad action and a poor design. For example, Andrew you mention the lack of hand winding as a negative "from a collector's perspective" then dock a point, but with respect, this isn't a watch collector site; it's EDC gear. Some EDC folks might have enough watches that it's an issue but many won't, and I think at this price point you're talking to mostly non-collectors, who won't expect to need a huge reserve or hand-winding to make up for it. That might be a good place not to have docked a point because for EDC and $100 this watch is as functional as it gets. I also don't quite understand the difference between Functionality and Purpose the way their described. I also don't know, to be honest, if Provenance is terribly relevant from an EDC perspective.
      If you guys ever decided to start the watch review back up, a scoring guide like the other types would be helpful. I do enjoy your YouTube reviews Andrew and I wouldn't mind more guest watch reviews on here, but I think it might help to get with Tony and see how it might be a bit more EDC-oriented, with less overlap with your own collector-oriented reviews. If I'm looking for something maybe $5-600 or less(my guess for an upper range for most EDCers for a watch) I'd come here, but if I wanted a review of a nicer watch from a collecting perspective I would probably like your more informal reviews on YouTube, and I think the respective text vs video formats are very fitting for the distinction I'm talking about.
      I may be way off on your intent for this review but it seems as if you guys wanted an EDC watch review and review scale, but it's not quite EDC enough. That said I still enjoyed the review in general, don't know how I managed to miss reading it before, and was trying to be constructive in the intrest of, at this late date, helping to shape a new set of reviews on this site.

  4. I enjoyed the review, but I'd like a bit more explaining of what some of this stuff means "multiple layers of instrumentality" is a bit confusing. Maybe when there's a revamped scoring system, you could do an explanation of terms as well?

    Also, I can't find the G15, just other (thinner band) variants on Amazon. Is something up with that?

    1. Andrew @ 555 GearMarch 8, 2014 at 12:38 AM

      I would be happy to do a post just opening up a discussion about watch jargon and things I had in mind when I compiled the scoring system, I bet there would be a good conversation about that!


  5. Nice information, many thanks to the author. It is incomprehensible to me now, but in general, the usefulness and significance is overwhelming. Thanks again and good luck!

  6. I have this watch, along with a Citizen eco and couple of OMEGA's. I have owned many watches and I still have my father's Seiko bellmatic, which works perfectly. The watch in question is nothing short of superb value for money. It is clear, straight-forward, well put together and yes, accurate. I just don't recognise the -+ 20-40 seconds per day. My example has gained 25 seconds over the course of 15 full days. It has held this degree of innacuracy for the last three months. I have owned high end and budget watches, this is unbelievable quality, not just at $100 (its £100 in the UK, Why is that?) but I would say it is as good as many much more expensive watches I have owned. On the water resistance front, I plough up and down a swimming pool every day! Believe me it's water-proof for most applications and swimming would be fine.Oh, and as a final positive point, It fell from four feet onto a stone floor. No issues, not even a scratch. Sometimes a different criteria needs to be adopted when looking at such watches at this price point. This watch is the real Mc Coy!

  7. I have seen this term in numerous reviews, "entry-level watch", which seems to be a term that is related to the retail price of the item in question. I find the concept amusing, if not a trifle pedantic. While I appreciate the intent, the reality is I doubt there really is an 'entry level' with the prospect of progressive achievements to be attained through the mere exercise of reading an analog device for the purpose of determining the local time.