Aviation inspired design is quite popular in the watch world. In many ways, there is a natural overlap between aviation and horology. Both value precision engineering, precise tolerances, and accurate measurement. The aviation watch encompasses many distinctive designs from the traditional type A and type B fliegers like those of IWC and Laco, to intricate slide rule flight computers such as the Breitling Navitimer, to the huge flight instrument style exemplified by Bell & Ross BR01 series. In addition, a host of others draw inspiration from historical, industrial, or fanciful sources to create their own interpretation of what we might imagine gracing a pilot’s wrist. Whether any of them are really useful in the cockpit in this age of sophisticated flight computers is debatable, but this hardly matters. First, because the vast majority of these watches are sold to people who, like myself, get no closer to the cockpit than the First Class restroom – if I can swing the upgrade. Second, because it is great fun to explore the broad range of watches that interpret this generally handsome and functional aesthetic. Watches like the Seiko SNN231.
The SNN231 (which to may be one of the only Seiko’s without a clever Internet forum nickname) is not marketed as a military or aviation watch, but borrows heavily from both. The watch face is black with white markers on a stepped dial. A non-rotating inner bezel bears large minute markers and an inverted triangle at 12:00. A second’s track marked in 1/5 increment is printed on the inner vertical surface of this ring, surrounding a sunken, inner dial with Arabic hour markers. The fine markers on the bezel wall are a distinctive detail in what is an already an arresting dial. Subdials replace the numbers 12 and 6, with minutes shown above, seconds below. A date window sits within the lower subdial at 6:00. The date wheel has the same white on black motif as the rest of the dial, which may seem like an obvious choice, but one that is overlooked on many a watch. “Seiko Chronograph 100M” is the only text on the dial, in the 3:00 position. The markers are painted with Seiko’s proprietary luminous material, which glows brightly. Swords shaped hands reinforce the aviation theme. It is a bold, sporty look reminiscent of the IWC Big Pilot chronograph, Sinn 356, and the instrument clusters in 1980s vintage Porsches and BMWs.
The case is 42mm wide with a flat Hardex crystal. It has a slight arc and sits comfortably with no hard angles against your wrist. The top surface is brushed, while the sides are polished. It has a slim brushed bezel accented with a polished beveled edge – a clever detail that breaks up the otherwise uniformly brushed top surface of the case. The narrow bezel and large dial make the watch appear much larger than it is, comparing favorably to some 44mm pilot style watches, but without their extra bulk. The 3:00 crown is ridged, as are the shrouds for the chronograph pushers at 2:00 and 4:00. The textured shrouds look as if like they might screw down, but they do not and neither does the crown. Regardless, the watch is still rated for a useful 100m-water resistance. The screw down case back is relatively unadorned, bearing only the Seiko brand and minimal information. It’s not fancy but perfectly in keeping with the watch’s functional design.
The reliable 7T94 quartz chronograph movement powers the Seiko SNN231. It is not exotic, but highly practical. Many inexpensive quartz watches provide accuracy and convenience but it seems that finding one with a second hand that lands on its markers is nothing short of a miracle. The SNN231 is that miracle. The small second hand on the lower subdial is dead on, as is the large chronograph second hand, which ticks in 1/5 second increments, creating the illusion of a smooth sweep mimicking that of an automatic movement. The chronograph pushers function smoothly and the second hand resets smartly to 12:00 as it should.
The 22mm black leather strap is thin with a slight sheen and white stitching, lightly padded, and tapering to a 20mm brushed and engraved buckle. It is perfectly nice, but maybe a little too nice. This is a watch that carries something thicker and less fussy. As an incorrigible strap junkie, I could not resist a swap that would better compliment the industrial elements in the watch. A thick, riveted, crocodile grain pilot strap from StrapCode ($49.99) gave it just the right look.
With its handsome looks, eye-catching details, and smooth movement, the SNN231 definitely punches above its weight. MSRP is $250, but it is easy to find between $110-150 online. If the 231-color scheme is not to your liking, Seiko makes other models with brown or green dials, on bracelets, or in a black ion coating. When you find the one that suits you, buy it with my blessing. It is not every day that you find a watch that exceeds expectations like this Seiko.
Pro: Masculine and detailed with a deceptively smooth movement.
Con: Could benefit from a strap swap, but now I’m just nit picking.
Sum: Jet plane looks, plain Jane price.