You are currently viewing The New Seiko Alpinist? SARB017 vs SBDC091 (SPB121)

The Seiko Alpinist (SARB017) is such a unique and gorgeous timepiece, many hearts were broken when its discontinuation was announced in 2018.  Fortunately, Seiko went back to the drawing board and was able to release the Alpinist's successor, the SBDC091/SPB121, in early 2020.

While many collectors were quick to rejoice to the SBDC091/SPB121's announcement, some people were left unimpressed with the modifications that were made. Did Seiko manage to build upon the SARB017's success while keeping its essence? Or is the SBDC091/SPB121 blasphemous? Let's find out what changed!

What are the biggest changes?

1. New Sapphire Crystal

The first thing you will notice straight away is the new crystal. Indeed, the SBDC091/SPB121's crystal now has a cyclops lens over the 3 o'clock date display. Personally, this is a change that I'm not happy at all with.

Seiko SARB017 vs SBDC091 side to side

With so many Submariner homages floating around, I think it's important for Seiko to stay true to their original designs. I know that cyclops lenses are not exclusive to the Rolex Sub, but I think the SBDC091/SPB121 would've been better off without it.

However, not everything is disappointing about this new crystal. Seiko now applies anti-reflective coating to the inside of the glass. This greatly reduces reflectivity, whilst keeping the crystal as scratch-resistant (no outer coating to get scratched)

2. 6r35 Movement

Now here's an improvement no one can complain about. Seiko finally replaced the 14-year old 6r15 caliber for the new and improved 6r35 caliber. At its core, the 6r35 remains very similar to the 6r15, with one exception: the large 70 hours power reserve (20 hours increase).

Seiko 6r35 caliber

The accuracy rating (-15 to +25 secs/day), frequency (21,600 bph), thickness (5,25mm), and hacking & hand-winding features all remain the same.  However, the number of jewels is bumped up from 23 on the SARB017 to 24 on the SBDC091/SPB121.

3. Exhibition Case Back

The SARB017 had a regular stainless steel back, but that's not the case for the SBDC091. For this new model, Seiko uses an exhibition window which lets you peek through the 6r15 caliber. I guess this will please some people, but it's really no big deal to me.

Seiko SPB121 case back

If you're acquainted with Seiko, you probably know that their movements are renowned for reliability much more than styling. Indeed, the 6r35 is a workhorse movement, but it's nothing special to look at. To me, an exhibition case back is great when you have a gorgeous movement such as an Omega Calibre 8800, but the SBDC091's window leaves me unfazed.

4. Higher MSRP

The Seiko SARB017 was originally released in 2007 with a $550 MSRP.  The new Seiko SBDC091/SPB121 has been announced in January 2020 with a $700 MSRP. 

While the $150 premium might seem steep at first, it's a pretty reasonable price increase. Indeed, the 27,25% price increase over the SARB017 represents a 1,87% compounded annual increase. This figure is a bit below the estimated annual inflation for the U.S, so Seiko isn't greedy at all.

5. New Prospex Logo

The release of the SBDC091/SPB121 marks the end of an era. The SARB017 was part of Seiko's Alpinist collection, which has a deep history

Seiko SPB121 macro

In an effort to consolidate its brands, Seiko released the SBDC091/SPB121 as part of its large Prospex collection. This isn't that big of a deal to most people, but I think Seiko went a bit too far by placing a Prospex logo on the dial. 

In my opinion, this logo removes the last bit of dressiness that the SARB017 had, making the SBDC091/SPB121 even less versatile than before.

What remains unchanged?

1. Compass & 2-crown layout

There are many aspects of the SARB017 that made it such a distinctive watch. One of them is the inner rotating bezel (used as a compass) operated by a second crown at the 4 o'clock position.

Seiko SBDC091 two-crown layout

Fortunately, Seiko kept this peculiar 2-crown layout and inner compass bezel that's both useful (for outdoors enthusiasts) and helps the SBDC091/SPB121 stand out from the lot.

2. Hands, Numerals, Dial

If it ain't broke, don't fix it! Seiko perfectly understands this idiom, and it's why they left most of the new Alpinist's styling untouched. Indeed, the gorgeous sunburst green dial and gold-plated hands & indices are what made the SARB017 so famous in the first place.

While it's not the most versatile color scheme out there, it's a design that's certain to get you tons of compliments if you find the right outfit to pair with.

3. Case Size

Part of what made the SARB017 so attractive was its perfect 39,5mm case diameter. This dimension makes the watch small enough for us slender-wristed folks, but just big enough not to look underwhelming on big wrists.

Seiko SPB121 on wrist

However, the introduction of a new exhibition case back makes the SBDC091/SPB121 slightly thicker than the SARB017, but it's not that significant.

4. Most Specs

With the higher MSRP, it would be disappointing to find out that some specs were downgraded from the SARB017. It's not that far-fetched to imagine such as scenario since Seiko released the SKX's successor with a higher MSRP and lower water resistance.

However, the new SBDC091/SPB121 keeps the original specs such as the 200m water resistance, Lumibrite formula, sapphire crystal, etc..

Why are there 2 different model numbers?

There seems to be a lot of confusion around the SARB017 replacement's reference #. The two references you will encounter are either Seiko SBDC091 or Seiko SPB121.

Those two reference numbers are used for the same watch. In fact, SBDC091 is the original reference number that's used by Seiko in Japan. On the other hand, SPB121 is used by Seiko for the rest of the world (including the U.S).

However, this doesn't mean that an SPB121 model can't be manufactured in Japan. As usual, you will need to look at the suffix (J1 or K1) to know where your piece comes from.

Is the SBDC091/SPB121 worth it?

The answer to this question is completely dependant on what you look for in a watch. To me, the changes Seiko made on the SBDC091/SPB121 degraded the iconic look of the SARB017, but that's a completely personal opinion.

If you're strictly talking about price/quality ratio, the inflation-adjusted price is the same, and the movement has a much larger power reserve, so I must admit that it has gotten better.

Let me know in the comments below if you think that the new Alpinist is better than the SARB017 or if they should've left the styling unchanged!

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Agreed with the review above:
    – the exhibition case back is nice but not a deal breaker
    – the additional Prospex logo is somewhat unnecessary. We can judge perfectly well on the watch quality without it
    – the date magnifier: aesthetically not pleasing but for older people with presbyopia like myself it is a valuable addition – I won’t complain

  2. Aprameya Kar

    The darker shade of the green sunburst dial on the new one is more preferable to the old version. However, the Cyclops is catering to a very small demographic and may be unwarranted although not necessarily a deal breaker. The older version had diashock written under automatic on the dial and I think the new one now with the X and the text below appear more concise visually so preferable. A reduction in the price by removing the exhibition caseback would have been more preferable as well as the 6r35 is not the type of movement that is enjoyable to look at as it’s devoid of any decorations.

  3. Dick Cannon

    I like the new ones just fine; I just bought one. The essence of the watch has not changed at all. Yes, some details have changed. if you are a purist, maybe you won’t like it. It is a unique and fantastic watch; its presence cannot be ignored.

  4. Dick Cannon

    P.S. Thank you for the article. It is very nice when someone puts out the time and effort to do an article such as this one.

  5. Mu009

    Excellent post. Highly informative and well laid out.
    Thanks for contributing such clean signal with your meaningful content to the disproportionately large amount of noise (from pure BS & glorified ads) on the Internet.

  6. Csibu89

    I don’t agree with the first point at all. You say it doesn’t fit with the original design? The original first green dial alpinist with this dual crown layout was the SVCF009 that had a cyclops on it. It helps legibility of the date, and it is a sporty watch already, I actually prefer it this way. The shade of green on the dial is also a darker color which again, i prefer. I get that many dislike the prospex X, I do not mind it at all, again, it is a sporty watch afterall. The strap remains the same throwaway category, but the power reserve is well increased.
    I was originally looking for a SARB017, but I could find a mint used SPB121J1 with box and papers for much less than what a mint SARB017 costs these days… Mental, innit?

  7. Squid

    I’ve recently purchased the new 6r35 model with the gold case which I like, and it came with a dark brown rubber strap which is comfortable and doesn’t affect my skin like some others.
    As for the presentation, the Cyclops lens is a bit annoying, it was cleaner with the original. Otherwise no complaints.
    Out-of-the box accuracy is about -12 seconds a day, I may run it over a demagnetiser though

  8. Kratsmoose

    Just a couple of other observations:
    •The cyclops can be removed
    •The original has the traditional mountain engraving on the back (it is a mountaneering watch)
    •The original has a signed crown vs plain
    •The original has a black date wheel that blends much better with the dial

  9. Kratsmoose

    Just a couple of other observations:
    •The cyclops can be removed
    •The original has the traditional mountain engraving on the back (it is a mountaneering watch)
    •The original has a signed crown vs plain
    •The original has a black date wheel that blends much better with the dial

  10. will

    Is this a kinetic watch?

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