Earlier this month when Seiko President Akio Naito somewhat radically stated that the brand needs to get back to its roots, I completely understood where he was coming from, I just didn't think it would happen so soon. Today, Seiko released three new Prospex "Ice Diver" models, their line of durable watches for divers in icy conditions. According to Seiko, the dials are inspired by the "hues and texture when light reflects off the majestic glacial ice formations." Cut through the abstract marketing copy and you have one of Seiko's best releases in recent history. But I have some bad news – it's another US exclusive, just like the turtle-inspired turtles.
It all started with the April 2020 release of the SPB151 and SPB153, a fantastic rebirth of the 6105-8110 that's often referred to as the "new Willard," even though I think that nickname is selling the watch short. And in almost no time at all, Seiko turned that watch into a platform, releasing the blue-dialed SPB183 (a limited edition) and then the fauxtina-themed SPB237 last May. And the US-exclusive "Ice Diver" trio might be the most interesting of the bunch yet. In this small family of 6105-inspired remakes in the SPB line-up (not the SLA line-up), the Ice Divers sit at the top. All three of the new divers come on a bracelet and are priced at $1,400, and the $300 dollar premium over the SPB153 comes from the inclusion of a bracelet and of course a small bump for the limited-edition clout.
On the technical side, it's important to note that all of the watches covered in this post, Ice Divers and the previous models, have equal specs. They all use the 6R35, they all have Seiko's super-hard coating applied on the case and bracelet, and they all have an aluminum bezel insert. It's simply a matter of aesthetics and bracelet/strap options that allow for differentiation among the range.
There is one particular difference to be aware of. Starting with the SPB237, Seiko includes the "chopped" marker at three o'clock in an effort to comply with modern ISO standards to be considered a dive watch. Not that it's a huge deal in terms of completely throwing off the balance of the dial, but I have a feeling that in a few years it will become a strong point for collectors. Seiko hasn't addressed this design change directly in any communications, but the chopped marker at three has appeared in numerous watches throughout the Prospex range. The Ice Divers also have it, and presumably, all Seiko divers will going forward.
I've worn the SPB153 for well over a year and love how the case wears. Visually, it looks like a 6105, but the footprint of the case on the wrist feels much closer to a slightly trimmed-up modern turtle. These Ice Divers wear the same as the SPB153, which is to say they wear great on a 7.25-7.5 inch wrist. As with most Seikos in this segment, the bracelet is the weak point, but there are limitless options when it comes to correcting that. These would work well on any of the reproduction waffle, tire tread, or chocolate bar straps. I say that because these Ice Divers, to me, have more in common with the original 6105 era of design than any of the other releases (except your standard black dial SPB1510, of course).
In the '70s Seiko brought the funk. Loud and visually strange dials were commonplace. Dozens of models like the "Sushi Roll," and the "UFO" filled Seiko catalogs (for an excellent round-up of these models, check out this Fratello piece), and there was even the groovy range inside the Seiko 5 Actus line with fumé dials. Seiko of the ‘70s wasn't afraid to let the trendy aesthetics of their time be incorporated into dial design, even though the traditional set of professional divers that we know from the brand were relatively reserved – the 62MAS, the 6159, the 6105, 6309, etc. Legibility and pure functionality probably dictated a lot of that, and that's also why we all love those old tool watches. They were actually used in the field, day in and day out.
The SPB265 is a blueish-green with a textured dial – but the fumé fade isn't nearly as noticeable in person. Instead, the fade is much more present in the SPB263 and SPB261, which also have an "ice" texture on the dials. Visually, they feel straight out of the '70s.
But what if Seiko had taken some liberties with the 6105 design back in the '60s and '70s? I think you'd get a watch a lot like these new Ice Divers. They're very much in line with '70s design, they just came out almost half a century later. Imagine if the product manager for the Seiko 5 Actus line or any of the other sport diver models gave input on the future design direction of the 6105. I think it would end up looking like this.
It's wonderful that Seiko has revisited this specific chapter of its history and re-interpreted the 6105 into something relatively accessible with the whole SPB range. Production of the 6105 stopped in 1977, but if it had continued I'd bet that it would follow the same path as the 6309 did, and by that I mean adding more color and personality to the models later in the production cycle. Have a look at the 6309-729B and you'll see what I mean. Now imagine if Seiko pushed the design of the 6105 had the production cycle continued after '77.
It's like Seiko went back in time and took a different path, but ended up in the same place with these new Ice Dive