Review: Seiko Presage "Chocodial" SARW019

After a recent trip to Tokyo, I purchased a Seiko watch that was a Japanese domestic-only model - the Seiko Presage SARW019.

The Seiko SARW019 has earned itself the nickname "Chocodial" in some circles because of the colour of its sunburst dial, which varies from a restrained brown to anthracite and even bronze. It was love at first sight when I saw the SARW019. The combination of the chocolate brown calf-leather strap and beautiful iridescent dial caught my eye, and when I turned it around and saw the Seiko 6R21 movement, I was sold. And with this I'll dive right into the review!


Watch specifications

  • Movement: Seiko 6R21 29-jewel automatic
  • 28,800 bph
  • 45+ hour power reserve
  • Daily rate: +25 / -15 seconds per day (between 5°C and 35°C)
  • Manual-winding compatible
  • Hacking seconds
  • Case material: Stainless steel
  • Crystal: Sapphire (front), Hardlex mineral (exhibition caseback)
  • Day display complication (sub-dial) in English 
  • Date display complication (sub-dial)
  • Power reserve indicator (sub-dial)
  • Case diameter: 40 mm (35 mm face)
  • Case thickness: 13 mm
  • Lug width: 20 mm
  • Lug-to-lug: 47 mm
  • Water resistance: 10 bar (100 m)

The design

The handsome look of the SARW019 were what drew me to it, so I'll spend some time doing an in-depth review of this timepiece's design.

The case

At first sight, the SARW019 looks like a robust field watch that could double up as an elegant dress watch. The idea of a field watch seems antithetical to a dress watch, so let's analyse how the SARW019 manages to pull off this feat. The watch case has a 40mm diameter (with a 35mm diameter face), and it is 47mm wide lug-to-lug. This is a versatile and contemporary size - it looks great on my small 14.5 cm (~5.7 inch) wrists, but would not look out of place on much larger wrists.

A major contributor to the look of the SARW019 is its case polishing. The bezel ring is mirror-polished to a tee - it's reflective with only very minor distortion due to the curvature of the bezel. The sides of the bezel (which has two machined edges) are brushed, giving it a slight pearlescence that matches the case lugs. The lugs are themselves beveled, giving the case a stunning fluidity that doesn't detract from its robust aesthetic. There are three distinct "facets" on the outward facing side of the lugs, which alternate between brushed and mirror polishing. 

Overall, the case shape, together with the alternations between mirror and brushed finishing, give the case a sleek look that maintains its heftiness.


The crystal

The flat crystal on the SARW019's face is made of sapphire, a very hard material, so won't get scratched easily. It has Seiko's effective anti-reflective (AR) coating on the underside. The AR coating does a great job of preventing rays of light from reflecting into your eyes, so that the watch face is clear regardless of the angle you're looking at it.

You can see from the photos that even under a strong beam of sunlight the dial remains clearly visible. It's almost as if the dial were completely exposed. Because there's no AR coating on the surface of the crystal, accidentally knocking it around won't cause unsightly scratches. This is pretty much the ideal crystal.

The watch also features an exhibition caseback that uses Seiko's Hardlex mineral crystal. It's harder than ordinary mineral crystal or glass, though it isn't quite as scratch proof as sapphire.


The crown

The SARW019 has a simple, moderately-sized crown. It's signed with Seiko's "S" logo in its serif font, and has fine, yet not sharp, notches along it's circumference - for comfortable watch-winding and adjustment. The lugs on the right side are beveled and extend across the crown, acting as crown guards. It's a sleek design.


The dial

Now, on to the dial, which is perhaps my favourite aspect of the watch (on par with my love for the movement, which I'll delve into in a moment). I've tried my best to capture the unique colour and texture of the dial in my photos, yet the photos still fail to give justice to just how resplendent the watch dial is.

The dial colour

At first sight, the SARW019's dial appears to be grey, charcoal, or even anthracite in colour. But after gazing into it for a while, hints of brown and bronze glimmer into sight.

And that's just glancing at it head-on. When the light plays with the dial at various angles, boy, does that take us on a whole other journey. This amazing colour is what has earned this magnificent timepiece the nickname "Chocodial".

Study the dial closer and you begin to see that it has a very refined texture that gives it the "sunburst" effect. What this means is that the dial is finely textured with radiating lines.

The shallow depth of each these textured lines allow the dial to reflect and scatter light at various angles, creating an iridescent shimmer that's not too flashy. The effect is mesmerising, and I'm frequently caught simply staring at the dial, tilting the watch as the dial dances with the light.


The watch complications

Featured on the dial are three complications in recessed sub-dials at the 3, 6 and 9 o'clock positions. It almost looks like a chronograph layout. The power reserve indicator, which has a "pie"-shaped sub-dial, is at the 9 o'clock position.

The date subdial is at the 6 o'clock position and the day subdial is at the 3 o'clock position. Despite the lack of perfect symmetry between the power reserve indicator and the day sub-dial, the SARW019's face is well-balanced and doesn't feel garish. There's a certain refinement to the overall layout of the dial.

The indicator itself on the power reserve sub-dial is segmented into three parts. Each of these parts is labelled "0", "20" and "40" with a cream-coloured print to show how many hours of "power" is left left in the mainspring. Seiko's 6R21 calibre movement has a power reserve of more than 45 hours, so the 40-hour label is placed in the middle of the third segment.

While some may dislike Seiko's power reserve indicator "filling up" downwards (the "0" label is at the top and the "40" label is at the bottom), personally, it's not an issue and I find that it helps prevent confusion when reading the time because the time-keeping hands move in the opposite directions. Speaking of which, the hand in the power reserve sub-dial is painted white for extra legibility and is uniquely dart-shaped.

In addition to this, the power reserve hand is lumed as well, creating a useful complication that's easy to read. I've found it an absolute pleasure to wind the watch in the morning and watch the hand steadily swing till the mainspring is fully wound.

I love the date and day complications on the SARW019. The day sub-dial of the SARW019 features the first three letters of each day of the week in a simple san serif font, printed along the circumference of the sub-dial.

Upon closer inspection, you'll see that these cream-coloured letters are printed on a mini-rehaut within the sub-dial that's beveled and slopes upwards gently. This attention to detail is a really nice touch, and gives the dial a lot more texture and depth. As the light plays with the dial, you'll see this mini-rehaut glimmer in a different shade from the rest of the dial because of its angle. It's stunning aesthetically, but also makes it easier to read the day of the week.

This sub-dial uses a thin needled-hand, and has a tip that is painted white for better legibility. It's long enough to clearly indicate the day but thin enough so that it doesn't obstruct your view of the letters.

The date complication at 9 o'clock is a very nice touch. While most watches have a cutout window to display the date, the circular date complication here preserves the beauty of the dial - there is no gaping hole in the dial and instead, the numbers from 1 to 31 are displayed alternately around the mini-rehaut (which is also gently sloping like on the day sub-dial).

To indicate the even-numbered dates, a dot is used instead. The numbers and dots are printed in the same cream colour as the rest of the numbers and letters on the other sub-dials.

The date sub-dial also features the same needle hand as the day sub-dial. Although the printed dates are small, it easy enough to read off the date as long as it's not pitch black or in extremely dim lighting.

Overall, the complications of the watch make it both functional and handsome, and add on to the robust aesthetic of the watch.


The logo and text

The text and font of the SARW019 reveal Seiko's meticulous approach in its attention to detail, so it's worthwhile to delve into. On the face of the SARW019, the "SEIKO" logo is applied at the 12 o'clock position in a metallic cream colour. Against the anthracite/brown dial, it has a "3D pop" effect and looks great.

Printed underneath the logo is "Automatic" in a cursive font, and beneath that it's printed "29 JEWELS" in a serif font not unlike that used for the SEIKO logo. The printed texts are all in the same cream colour as the text on the sub-dials.

This consistency is much appreciated. "Busy" watch dials aren't in vogue these days and this consistency balances the look of the dial and prevents it from appearing messy or cluttered.

As for the most important aspect of a watch, telling the time - the hours are indicated around the watch face in a visually pleasing off-white san serif font. In line with the field watch aesthetic, and these applied hour numbers are large, bold, legible and lumed.

Beneath "11", "12", "1" and "2" the 24 hour clock numbers of "23", "24", "13" and "14" are printed in a faint grey. Similarly, above the "4", "5", "6", "7" and "8" are printed "16", "17", "18", "19" and "20". The faint font of these 24 hour markings add functionality without making the dial too busy.

Along the rehaut of the watch, the minutes/seconds and sub-seconds are indicated with off-white coloured lines. The "05", "10", "20", "25", "35", "40", "50" and "55" seconds are also labelled.

Even here you can see Seiko's attention to detail - at the 0, 15, 30 and 45 second points, a little lumed globule is applied on the rehaut.


The hour, minute and second hands

The hour and minute hands are syringe-shaped with a needle tip, and have a generous amount of lume applied in the middle. The edges and tips of the hands have a reflective mirror-polish. It's stunning how reflective they are - at the right angle they shine fiercely and at certain other angles they appear black because all the light is reflected away. 

The hour, minute and second hands are line up perfectly against the hour and second indications on the dial of the SARW019. The hour hand has the perfect length, and the tip ends right where the hour numbers begin. Similarly, the minute hand points right at the minute/second indications on the rehaut.

The second hand is a thin, long needle that features the same mirror-polish, except that its tip is painted white, again for better legibility. It features a round counterweight that is lumed. Gorgeous. You know you're holding a precision device when the hands point all the way to the respective hours, minutes and seconds.

The lume on the hour, minute, second and power reserve hands glow very brightly for about half an hour after a short span of time in the sun or under bright lighting. The hour numbers and quarter markers are also lumed, but fade more quickly.


Final thoughts on the dial

Overall, the watch dial is absolutely enchanting. It's like an essay on how to be eye-catching and resplendent while being restrained. It starts of with a field-watch look, but the shimmering dial, gorgeous colours and refined polish, which are never too flashy, jump out at you and allure you. It's eye-catching but not distracting and could easily work as a dress watch. What you end up with is a versatile watch that would look great when you wear a suit, but would also shine as casual, weekend wear.


The strap

The chocolate brown strap of the SARW019 is really a match made in heaven for the watch. The strap is made out of nice, thick calfskin leather that's matte but reflective. It isn't glossy like some crocodile leather straps, but still catches the light. It's yet another example of the SARW019's effortless good looks that aren't too loud.

The strap appears to be handstitched (you can tell by how closely the stitching is to the corners of the strap) in a light bronze colour, providing contrast and giving some visual flair.

Because of the thickness of the leather, the strap doesn't wrinkle easily and is very durable. This also meant that it was stiff when first worn but a few days of wear breaks it in and it wears very comfortably now.

The strap comes with a Seiko deployant buckle (engraved with the "SEIKO" logo) that's so functional I wish all my watch straps used it. It works like any other butterfly clasp - it has two curved segments that, when folded together, clip into place and hold the watch strap in position.

The twist is that the buckle is deliberately designed to look like an ordinary non-deployant watch buckle. At it's tip, it has a rounded pin that is used to size the strap. Just insert the rounded pin into the appropriate hole on the leather, close the clasp, and the watch strap looks like an ordinary leather strap with a buckle!

The deployant clasp is released by pressing two buttons on its sides and works perfectly.


The movement

What really sold the watch for me was Seiko's 6R21 calibre movement in this watch. You're not going to find any other watch with the amazing functionality and durability of this movement at this price point. And that's not even hyperbole. 

The 6R21's design is largely based off Seiko's extremely popular 6R15 calibre movement. The 6R15 movement is widely recognised as Seiko's answer to ETA's 2824 calibre - the 6R15 operates as a workhorse movement and is known to accurately and reliably tell the time without the need for any servicing for up to 10 years.

And of course, when it comes to servicing, there's no shortage of spare parts so you know your watch's longevity is almost guaranteed.

What's the difference then between the 6R21 and the 6R15? The 6R21 actually has a higher beat rate of 28,800 bph (4 Hz) - the balance wheel vibrates, and the second hand beats eight times every second!

The higher beat rate allows for greater accuracy in the movement (because the deviation in each oscillation of the balance wheel is reduced, among other things). It also results in a smoother, more pleasant sweep of the second hand. Watching the second hand beat at 8 times every second is mesmerising and a definite step up from other movements that beat at 6 times a second.

In addition, the 6R21 also features a date complication, day complication and power reserve indicator complication (as described earlier in this review).

The date is adjusted by pulling the crown out one step and rotating it anti-clockwise. The day is adjusted by rotating the crown clockwise instead. Both the rotation of the crown and the sweep of the respective hands on the subdial are very smooth. Even adjusting the date is a pleasurable experience with the SARW019.

The complication for the power reserve indicator on this movement is probably its most notable feature, because you'll be hard pressed (read: it's otherwise impossible) to get a mechanical watch of this quality with a power reserve indicator at this price point.

Other movements anywhere close to the price range of the SARW019 that do include a power reserve indicator have a lower beat rate (generally 21,600 bph vs the 28,800 bph of SARW019) and a poorer daily rate (i.e. accuracy).

A note on the performance of mechanical watches: if you're new to the world of mechanical watches, and you're wondering why its accuracy seems to be so poor compared to that of your quartz watch, here's a quick primer.

A mechanical watch, at its core, is powered by a spring called the mainspring. As the mainspring unwinds, gears are turned, and the speed of this is regulated by a balance wheel and (generally) an escapement, which are then connected to the hands of the watch (to tell the time). The balance wheel itself regulates time based its oscillations on a tiny hairspring.

On the other hand, a quartz watch tells the time by running electricity through a quartz crystal that vibrates many times a second. A microchip reads the vibrations and tells the time based on the number of vibrations counted.

Because of these differences in time keeping, a mechanical watch is much more susceptible to changes in position (due to gravity), temperature and even micro-deviations in size of its tiny gears and components. This results in quartz watches being more accurate.

However, mechanical watches keep their charm because of the longevity of the movement (which can last for decades and maybe centuries if well maintained) and the fact that it's all powered without any electricity or modern circuitry.

Speaking of the daily rate, my SARW019 has performed admirably well, consistently losing only about 4 seconds everyday with daily wear. This is far within the tolerances of its officially specified daily rate of +25/-15 seconds per day.

Because the actual loss per day is so consistent, it's easy to get the watch regulated by a watchmaker (or when the watch is serviced) and the timekeeping would be very close to perfect. This wouldn't be too much of a hassle because the movement is easily regulated, with a simple regulator located above the balance wheel.

As for when the watch will need to be serviced, the Seiko SARW019 has performed admirably and consistently so far. It's truly a workhorse movement. I'll keep this space updated over the years as to it's long term performance.

Another standout feature of the 6R21 movement is its power reserve of more than 45 hours. This is an ideal amount of power reserve for a watch like the SARW019 because the watch to continues to keep time for up to 2 days without being worn (so you could wear a more sporty watch over the weekend and come Monday it'll continue to run).

A point to note however is that the movement is known to exhibit a variance in isochronism when the power reserve is low. In simple terms, this means that the watch's daily rate changes slightly when it has about <10 hours of power reserve - so for example if the watch was left to only 5 hours of power reserve, it wouldn't consistently lose 4 seconds the next day and the accuracy is affected marginally.

I haven't been able to test this out though as I've been wearing the watch nearly daily (it's that great). In any event the variance in the daily rate is likely to be small and simply keeping the watch wound would obviate any of these sorts of concerns.

Being a high quality movement, the Seiko 6R21 has hacking seconds and is manually windable. Pulling out the crown two steps stops the second hand (and you can see the balance wheel on the movement stop oscillating through the exhibition caseback). This allows the time to be set precisely as required.

Watch winding is also very efficient on the SARW019. The Seiko 6R21 is an automatic movement, so it's self-winding via a rotor on the movement (visible in the exhibition caseback). Due to the relative heft of the watch, the rotor doesn't swing wildly as you move your arm about, and the watch is really quiet. But because it's an efficient winding system, about 3-4 hours of continuous wind is enough to fully wind the watch each day.

Of course, if you wanted to, you can also rotate the crown clockwise to wind the watch. In total about 20 winds is enough to fully wind the mainspring.


Parting thoughts

All-in-all, the Seiko Presage SARW019 impresses me at every level of horology - in performance, price, practicality and presentation. It looks both elegant and robust, keeps time really well and punches above its weight in functions as a watch. All at a relatively good price point. There's really not much more that I would ask of the watch. It reminds me of Seiko's SARB017 "Alpinist" watch that's a cult favourite - a sleeper hit that rose to prominence because of the great value, stunning good looks and absolute utility. It's a shame that the watch hasn't received more attention because it's a Japanese domestic model. Then again, that raises the SARW019's status as one of the best underrated watches at this price point. Meanwhile, the SARW019 will continue ticking along at 8 times per second on my wrist. Like clockwork.

Do we enjoy the smart life with this? Resoundingly yes - It's the old school charm of mechanical "smarts".

Who should buy this? Anyone who loves mechanical watches and wants to add a Japanese watch to the collection.

Who shouldn't buy this? Anyone who wants a watch for accurate timekeeping to the second (you'll fare better with a quartz watch).