I think in 2016 or 2017 Seiko suddenly started releasing a torrent of limited editions with special dials. Since then, the Japanese watchmaker hasn’t relented, continuing its stream of impressive dials in striking cases, while playing fast and loose with the word “limited.” One of the defining elements of Seiko’s dial design is the use of Japan’s cultural, historical and natural landscapes. From white dials borrowed from a mountaintop to mosaic dials reminiscent of the paving stones of Tokyo, Seiko’s sources of inspiration sometimes strain credibility; Is it possible—heaven forbid—that Seiko simply designed beautiful dials and inspired the latter? Perhaps more importantly, even if it is, does it matter as long as the results are beautiful? They’re almost universally beautiful, including the latest additions of the two Presage models to the line’s sharp-edged series inspired by Japanese Kabuki theater.
To be clear, these new models aren’t all-new, but limited-edition colorways of existing Presage Sharp-Edge models. The sharp-edged series included GMT, three-hand and calendar/power reserve models, the latter two of which were used for the SPB329 and SPB331 Kabuki models respectively. The Sharp-Edged series is defined by the Japanese asanoha (hemp leaf) dial pattern in traditional Japanese colors and the use of sharp edges and angles on the hands, markers and case. To bring the rich history and tradition of Japanese Kabuki theater to the collection, Seiko collaborated with renowned Kabuki actor Ebizo Ichikawa. For those who don’t know (I’m guessing that’s almost everyone), Ebizō is part of a family of kabuki actors dating back to 1660 that traces its roots back to Ichikawa Danjaro I, one of the most famous and influential kabuki actors. At all times. Ebizo Ichikawa carried on that family legacy, and he approached the project with that emphasis.
The main attraction of these two new models is the dial. The gloss dial features a gradient starting with a deep date palm center (referred to by its Japanese name kokiiro), which has been used by the Ichikawa family for generations. At the edge of the dial the gradient becomes darker and the shifting palette is sharp-edged with a series of ‘hemp leaf motif patterns. While the Asanoha pattern is already part of the series, it has been used in Kabuki costumes for centuries. Sharp hands and angular applied markers are rendered in gold tone and both feature applications of Seiko’s exceptional LumiBrite lume. As mentioned, two dial configurations are available. Unobstructed save for the three-hand SPB331 gold-tone framed 3 o’clock date window. The SPB229, on the other hand, has a much busier dial, with recessed day and date subdials and a recessed retrograde power reserve indicator at 9 o’clock, all in the same kokiro shade of red. Somewhat oddly, the subdial hands are silver-toned, which I’d argue is not the case. A lot work
The case of the new SPB329 and SPB331 has the same overall design—an angular, black-coated stainless steel case—with slightly different dimensions. The three-hand SPB331 measures 39.3mm-wide, 11mm-thick and 47mm lug-to-lug; The SPB329 is large for its movement, measuring 40.2mm-wide, 13.7mm-thick and 47.37mm lug-to-lug. For my money, the added dial displays aren’t worth the extra 2mm of thickness, but you know your own wrist better. Most sharp-edged models are straight stainless steel, but the black coating makes sense here; This allows the dial to pop and not create a two-tone metal situation with the hands (although the SPB329 has subdials). The cases feature a combination of finishes, with a brushed and polished bezel on the lugs, a caseband and a chamfered caseband. The look of the case is classic Seiko, with sharp edges, well-defined angles and a gentle curve to the overall profile. They both have flat sapphire crystals and are water resistant to 100m. Both watches are fitted to leather straps with folding clasps, which feature a black top and dial-matched Kokiro backing with matching stitching.
Judging by their sapphire casebacks, the new models both use Seikos 6R series movements. The three-hand SPB331 utilizes one of Seiko’s newest movements, the 6R35, which was released in 2019 as an update to the 6R15. The 6R35 features 24 jewels, a beat rate of 21,600 vph and an extended power reserve of 70 hours—one jewel and 20 hours longer than its predecessor. The more complex SPB329 is equipped with the 6R21, which is slightly larger, but slightly older, released in 2009 (the third release of the 6R family). It has 29 jewels for added complications, with a fast beat rate of 28,800 vph and subsequently a low power reserve of 45 hours. If you’re torn between the two, I don’t think the two movements need to be scoffed at, although the three-day vs. two-day power reserve is something to consider.
Seiko has a long history of special and limited editions that have been increasing in frequency over the past few years. Most of them are in-house special editions—they don’t work with an outside firm, just a Seiko designer looking through the window and looking pretty. When a brand connects with an external person or group, the result often pushes the envelope a little further than its own. That’s part of the beauty of watch collaborations, and that’s what happened here with Saiko’s partnership with acclaimed Kabuki actor Ebizo Ichikawa. Seiko Presage Sharp Edged SPB331 Price $1,050 USD and SPB 329 price $1,200 USDBoth models are limited to 2000 pieces. For more information, please visit Brand’s website.