This is a detailed, hands-on review of the Seiko SNK809, one of the best affordable automatic watches you can buy.
If you’re like me, you can spend hours at a time browsing watch forums without a real idea of what you’re looking for.
More often than not, I end up focusing on a watch that I can’t afford or that is more expensive than it needs to be.
That’s not at all what we have here, and though I’ve passed over it on my watch searches many times, I can say now that I’d give it more than a second glance if I see it again.
The watch I’m talking about is the Seiko SNK809, and after a week with it on my wrist, I can confidently say that it’s not only the best watch under $100, it may be one of the better choices in the sub-$500 range.
Depending on where you buy it, the SNK809 can be had for as little as $65, but it’s even a steal at twice that. Seiko has a winner with the SNK809, and for the money, there’s nothing else on its level.
The company relied on its rich history and experience building accurate, excellent movements to construct a watch in the sub-$100 range that easily shames timepieces costing many times more.
A few small gripes pop up along the way, but they’re not enough to tarnish what is otherwise a great watch with a solid value proposition.
Let’s take a look at what makes the Seiko SNK809 so special.
It’s hard to look at the SNK809 and view it as anything other than a utilitarian timepiece. It’s not beautiful, fancy, flashy, or any of the other things that people look for in a nice watch.
The watch, with its matte aluminum finishing, clean dial, and compact 37mm case, is an exercise in simplicity.
The qualities that give it such a straightforward appearance are a nod to the watch’s military roots, but they’re also a great opportunity for Seiko to show off its ability to build an insanely high-quality watch and sell it for peanuts.
The SNK809 carries a military vibe overall that lands somewhere between a classic pilot’s watch and a rugged field watch, though the dial markings tilt further in the pilot direction.
At 11mm thick, it’s got the compact dimensions to make it wearable with suit and shirt cuffs, but there’s enough heft for it to stand up to significant abuse. Seiko opted for its own in-house Hardlex crystal instead of acrylic.
It’s not quite as hard or scratch resistant as sapphire, but it’s far more durable than mineral glass and looks better, too.
Seiko’s tradition of placing the crown at four o’clock continues here, but there are a few quirks that have to be noted at this price point. There is no manual-wind feature here, which means that the watch has to be shaken gently to engage the automatic winder in the movement.
That’s probably a good thing, as the crown is very small and somewhat hard to grip. There’s also no screw-down functionality here, which limits water resistance to only 30 meters, so the watch will be fine in the rain but should stay out of the pool.
Now, we come to the strap, which is easily the SNK809’s weakest point. It’s not surprising to see a cheap canvas strap at this price point, but it is surprising just how bad the strap actually is.
The black nylon material looks and feels cheap, which clashes with the mostly premium feel of the watch itself. It’s rough and uncomfortable out of the box, and can snag on clothing and other surfaces.
After a few days of wear, it becomes softer and more comfortable, but it’s worth looking at an affordable replacement. The good news is that the SNK809 looks great on a variety of straps, including rubber and leather watch straps.
We didn’t say all of that as a suggestion that Seiko should have fitted a bracelet to the SNK809. Budget watches can be great at many things, but bracelets at the lowest price point can feel like they’re made out of tweezers.
A bracelet also doesn’t fit the aesthetic here, but that’s another point.
The sharp hands are fully lumed, and the second hand is lumed on its counterweight with a flash of red on the pointer end.
Each hour marker is accented by a seconds counter that steps up by five for each hour, all the way to 60 seconds. That’s a classic pilot’s watch feature, and though it makes the SNK809’s dial much busier, it fits within the overall aesthetic.
The indices have lumed dots on their outer edge, and their placement on the outside of the dial means there’s room for the date window and a lume dot for better nighttime visibility.
A bonus for a watch in any price range is a day/date complication, and the SNK809 has it.
Depending on where the watch is purchased, at least two different languages are available for the day indication.
You can scour eBay and find hundreds of cheap watches with automatic movements, but they’re mostly cheap knockoffs that were made in mass quantities in a factory somewhere overseas.
The SNK809 has a mass-produced movement, but it’s Seiko’s in-house 7S26 automatic movement with 21 jewels and a 40-hour power reserve.
We mentioned earlier that the SNK809 doesn’t have a manual wind function, but that’s far from a complaint at this price point. Wearing the watch or gently shaking it briefly will get things ticking, and wearing it regularly will keep it running with the power reserve.
Seiko rates the movement at -20/+40 seconds a day, a number far from chronometer territory, but there’s not much to complain about for the price.
The SNK809 also features an exhibition caseback, also made of Hardlex, which lets the watch show off its stuff. It’s not a highly decorated, flashy mechanical movement, but it’s a nice touch that ups the Seiko’s visual appeal.
Align your expectations correctly, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the SNK809. There aren’t Rolex or Patek levels of case finishing, accuracy, or movement decoration, but that’s not the point here.
The SNK809 does exactly what it’s supposed to do, and nothing more: It’s accessible, affordable, and offers a more than solid entry point into the world of mechanical watches.
Beyond the strap, there’s not much to complain about, and the Seiko gives watches costing twice as much a run for their money.