It seems that few watches are as fondly regarded as the humble Seiko 5 SNK809. Many watch enthusiasts can claim the SNK809 as their first mechanical watch. Often, it’s the watch that started them in the hobby of watch collecting. Owning this little Seiko 5 almost seems like a rite of passage, of sorts.
A lot has changed since the SNK809 was first released in the early 2000s, however. So is the Seiko 5 SNK809 still worth buying in 2022?
Is the Seiko 5 SNK809 a good watch?
Yes, the Seiko 5 SNK809 is a good watch—for the right buyer. There are definite reasons that so many people select a Seiko 5 as their first mechanical watch. Or even as their only watch. And why so many people continue to add them as inexpensive additions to a larger watch collection.
As a Seiko, the SNK809 carries on a long, rich heritage in watchmaking that stretches back to 1881. That’s a longer history than many popular Swiss watchmakers. Seiko started the Seiko 5 line in 1963 to offer capable yet affordable automatic watches. And as perhaps the most iconic and recognizable Seiko 5 watch, the SNK809 carries on that tradition.
Regardless of whether history and heritage are important to you, there are plenty of factors that make the SNK809 a good watch that can serve you well today.
The most affordable of affordable watches
The Seiko 5 SNK809, and in fact nearly all the SNK watches, are perhaps the epitome of affordable mechanical watches. In 2022, a new one will only cost somewhere between $80 and $120, with the average price around $95 to $100.
Price and availability are definitely attractive features of the Seiko 5 SNK809. In fact, with so many relatively affordable mechanical watches available these days from both microbrands and longer-established brands, price and availability are probably THE primary strengths of the Seiko 5 SNK line.
Are there reasons to buy the SNK809 besides price? Yes, I’d say there are.
Fit and comfort: a watch size that works
The Seiko 5 SNK809 wears comfortably, with dimensions that will fit many-sized wrists. The case is 37mm wide with a 43mm lug-to-lug length. The watch is 11mm thick and has 18mm lugs. It’s not a large watch, but it falls within the sweet spot for many watch wearers. And with 18mm lugs, it’s easy to find straps in just about any style or material to replace the stiff canvas strap or jangly bracelet that comes with it.
For many, these measurements add up to a watch that’s very wearable. It’s a watch size that looks good on the wrist while staying out of the way and tucking neatly under a shirt or jacket sleeve. And for those with a preference for larger watches, Seiko also offers the Seiko 5 SNZ line. Those are 41mm watches that fill many of the same niches as the SNK varieties. But the prices are usually a bit higher than the smaller-cased models.
Seiko 5 SNK809 quality and style
The SNK809 is a light and comfortable watch with military-inspired styling, blending elements of classic field and pilots watches. The case is solid, the design is simple, and the bead-blasted matte finish is utilitarian. This all perfectly fits the military-field-pilot watch style. It’s well-built and doesn’t feel at all cheap in hand.
The dial of the SNK809 is black, but you can also get this Seiko 5 in other dial colors: the blue dial SNK807, green dial SNK805, or beige dial SNK803. The minutes and seconds are marked with Arabic numerals in 5-minute increments around the outer ring. And an inner 12-hour ring marks the hours. It makes the dial slightly busy but not at all hard to read. And the classic, vintage-designed hands are white and filled with lume, making the SNK809 quick and easy to read. And the day and date display make it all the more functional as a daily-wear watch.
The SNK809 is a tool watch and a very informal watch. What struck me about it at first was that it had a sort of youthful feel. I think part of that is due to the matte grey finish of the steel case. And there is something almost playful about the design of the numbered dial and white hands. Of course, this isn’t a watch to wear with formal attire. But for most daily activities, it should do just fine.
One last design point that’s worth mentioning is the display caseback. For many people, particularly those who are just getting started in mechanical watches, being able to turn the watch over and see the movement beating away inside is a nice feature and an added bonus.
At around $100 for a mechanical watch, let’s face it, there will be tradeoffs and compromises. The Seiko 5 SNK809 has a few areas where compromises have been made, either by design or to keep the price so low.
First is the movement. The SNK809 runs on the same Seiko 7s26 automatic movement that powers the famous SXK007—along with the rest of the SXK, SNK, SNZ, and Recraft models. This is Seiko’s basic in-house workhorse movement, which has proven to be reliable over the years.
But the 7s26 is also a movement that’s a bit dated by today’s standards, lacking seconds hacking and hand winding. That means you can’t stop the second hand with the crown, which is a tremendous help in accurately setting the watch. And you can’t use the crown to wind the watch and give it power. Thankfully, the 7s26 movement usually only takes a quick shake to get it moving. And once wound, it has a power reserve of around 40 hours, so it will keep ticking for more than a day once off the wrist.
The SNK809 also lacks much in the way of water protection, with a water resistance of only 30 meters, or 3ATM. Technically, that means you can get it wet with light splashes or rain but shouldn’t submerge it, shower with it, or swim with it. Of course, there are people who claim to get 30M WR watches wet all the time, even swim with them. But as a general rule, the SNK809 isn’t designed for use in water.
The Seiko 5 SNK809 has a Hardlex hardened mineral crystal. Hardlex is more rugged than an acrylic crystal, which is what you might expect to find on a watch of this price. And while many people prefer sapphire crystals these days, Seiko’s proprietary Hardlex is a decent budget alternative. It’s less scratch-resistant than sapphire but also a bit more shatterproof. However, it’s generally not going to be as durable as sapphire in many situations.
The straps that come with inexpensive watches are often very basic and not all that comfortable. The thick, stiff canvas strap of the SNK809 is no exception. And if you opt for the version on a bracelet, you may find that it’s a bit jangly and somewhat difficult to size. Luckily, the 18mm lug width is a standard size, so there are many aftermarket straps from which to choose. And the watch looks good on a wide range of colors and styles, from nylon or canvas to rubber or leather.
The last weak point of the SNK809 is the finishing details and quality control. In most cases, you’ll get a perfectly good copy. But, with huge production numbers, the low cost of the watch, and Seiko’s notorious occasional quality control oversights, you probably have a better chance of getting one with slight imperfections than you would with a more expensive watch.
Conclusion: Yes, the Seiko 5 SNK809 is worth buying
The Seiko 5 SNK809 is a watch that’s still worth buying in 2022. And it will likely be worth buying in well into the year to come.
This is due almost entirely to the price. A good-looking, solidly built mechanical watch that can be had for around $100—or often less—is a very attractive value proposition. And one that looks as good and is as versatile as the SNK809 makes it even more of a bargain. The fact that it’s a Seiko, a brand with such a rich heritage, is an added bonus.
The other thing that makes the SNK809 worth buying is its size. While watches are slowly coming down in size, and there are more and more sub-40mm offerings available all the time, there are still not as many to be found in the 36-37mm range. For those with smaller wrists or those who prefer smaller or mid-sized watches, the SNK series fits the bill.
So yes, the Seiko 5 SNK809 is worth buying. It makes a good everyday wearer for someone who wants a mechanical watch but who doesn’t want to spend a lot. It’s a great size for people with smaller wrists or even for a young person trying out mechanical watches. And due to its low price, the SNK809 is a good beater watch or one to start off a budding collection.
As long as you are fine with the tradeoffs and compromises of the Seiko 5 SNK809, it’s still a watch that’s worth picking up in 2022. And reports are that Seiko has discontinued the SNK809. Right now, stock still seems readily available. But if you’re thinking about picking up this legend of watch values, I wouldn’t wait too long.