Seiko Presage Cocktail Time: The Ultimate Guide to the Collection

Seiko Presage Cocktail Time: The Ultimate Guide to the Collection

In their relatively short tenure on the international market, Seiko’s Presage “Cocktail Time” watches have already established themselves in the minds of many enthusiasts as one of the watch industry’s very best value prospects in the realm of automatic dress watches — boasting in-house movements, high-end finishing, and the colorful dials that lend them their nicknames, each inspired by concoctions from Japan’s world-famous high-end cocktail bars. Here is a guide to the Seiko “Cocktail Time,” with highlights and milestones from the modern collection.

Happy Hour in Japan

Seiko Presage Cocktail Time "Cool"

Seiko served up the first round of its “Cocktail Time” watches exclusively to customers in Japan. The first of these  “JDM” (Japan Domestic Market) models debuted in 2010 and carried the Reference number SARB065. Now discontinued (and accordingly in high demand by collectors), this watch (above) and its siblings, the SARB066 and SARB068, featured 40mm cases in stainless steel, which were fairly thick at 13.3mm high. The movement inside the cases was Seiko’s Caliber 6R15, with bidirectional automatic winding, a 50-hour power reserve, and an impressive resistance to magnetic fields of 4,800 A/m. 

Unlike the many Presage models that followed, the originals were not nicknamed after specific cocktail concoctions but simply for different styles: the SARB065 with its ice-blue dial was “Cool,” the SARB066 with a pale, cream-colored dial was “Dry,” and the reddish brown dial of the SARB068 made it “Sweet.” Despite the very similar reference numbers, the dials of this original trio differed in aspects beyond their colors: the “Cool” is the most direct antecedent of the Presage models, with its simple diamond shaped hour markers; the “Dry” added stylized Roman numerals at 12 and 6 o’clock whose shapes called to mind cocktail shakers and martini glasses (a bit on the nose); and the “Sweet” added big, curvy Arabic numerals at 12, 3, 6, and 9 (the date numeral in the 3 o’clock window looks particularly awkward as it impinges on the larger numeral 3, a rare design misstep for Seiko). Nevertheless, these JDM references are all quite desirable to collectors today, and their success in Japan spawned the more “international” Presage models we see today.

Mechanicals Meet Mixology in Presage 

Seiko Presage Cocktail Time

The Cocktail Time watches would remain on a menu only available to Japan and its visitors until 2017, when Seiko adapted the dressy model for its recently re-introduced Presage collection. The name Presage was first used for a series of Seiko watches in 1960 and was resurrected in 2016 as part of a major buildout, and re-branding, of much of Seiko’s vast timepiece portfolio. Presage watches, from the beginning of this new era, were to stand apart from other Seiko sub-families (like the sport- and tool-oriented Prospex collection into which Seiko folded most of its dive watches) in their exclusive use of in-house mechanical movements — i.e., no quartz, and at least at the start, no Spring Drive. The first wave of Cocktail Time watches under the Presage umbrella included a ice-blue-dialed “Martini” (Ref. SRPB43) a brown-dialed “Manhattan” (SRPB46, below), a cream-colored “Margarita” (SRPB44) and a deeper-blue “Blue Moon” (SRPB41, above).

Seiko Presage Cocktail Time Manhattan

The dials, then as now, are defined by a sunray finish with a radiating texture from the center whose rippling edges give the impression of a bird’s eye view into a cocktail glass; slender applied hour markers whose facets evoke those glasses’ stems; Seiko’s emblematic razor-style hour and minute hands; and a subtly curved seconds hand designed to sweep under the domed crystal, made of Hardlex, Seiko’s proprietary mineral glass. Collectors will note that these Presage models can be differentiated from the JDM models by their dial text: the former have “PRESAGE” and ‘AUTOMATIC” stacked on two lines above 6 o’clock, while the latter feature “Automatic” and “23 Jewels” in that space. 

Seiko Presage Cocktail Time

The stainless steel cases of the Presage Cocktail time models are slightly larger in diameter than their predecessors, by ½ millimeter, while the profile is slimmer by a somewhat substantial margin, just 11.8mm, which to most wearers is much more suitable for a dress watch than nearly 14mm. As in the JDM originals, the movements inside are in-house-made automatic mechanicals. The three-handed models with center seconds and date are equipped with Seiko’s automatic Caliber 4R35, which was introduced into the collection in 2011 as an upgraded version of the popular 7526 movement, with added manual-winding functionality and hacking seconds. Powering their siblings, with analog date subdials at 6 o’clock and analog power-reserve displays in an arc from 12 to 3 o’clock, is the automatic Caliber 4R57, an enhanced version of the 4R35 that made its first appearance in 2016. 

A Bar Full of Stars

Seiko Presage Cocktail Time Star Bar Editions

The first Cocktail Time watches drew inspiration from a very specific source, namely Japan’s “top bartender,” Ishigaki Shinobu, who contributed to their design. The second wave of Presage Cocktail Time models, unveiled toward the end of 2017, continue that spirit with dials meant to evoke — rather than international classics like the martini and margarita — a pair of specialty cocktails invented by Japanese master mixologist Hisashi Kishi for his Star Bar in Tokyo’s world-famous Ginza district. Both are offered in a three-hand-date and a small-seconds/power reserve version and both are notable for their dials, which depart from the established radiating textured finish in favor of a cloudy, fizzy motif that calls to mind the froth of a freshly shaken cocktail. The “Starlight” models (SRPC01, SSA361) feature a dark blue colorway inspired by Kishi’s award-winning, eponymous cocktail that resembles a starry night sky. The “Sakura Fubuki” watches, with their subtly textured, pink-tinted dials, take their cue from a cocktail that mixes gin with sweet sake and tops it off with floating grains of malted rice on its surface, calling to mind freshly fallen cherry blossoms (sakura in Japanese). The Star Bar editions, both limited editions aimed at the Japanese market, opened up the floodgates to other special limited editions in subsequent years. Among the notables are the mocha-dialed “Irish Coffee” (Ref. SSA401), the blue-and-gold-detailed Sapphire Sky (SRPE13, limited to the Taiwan market), and the silver-dialed “Phuket Paradise” (SSA402, limited to Thailand). 

Take a Number

Seiko Presage Cocktail Time "Negroni"

Yet another variation on the Cocktail Time theme emerged in 2020, with a new range of watches whose dials featured Arabic numerals, in a font that Seiko describes as “in the image of a vintage bottle’s label,” alternating with the baton hour indexes. Also making their debut on these watches was a new cocktail-inspired finish, a delicately embossed crisscrossing pattern that enhances the gradient effect of the dials. In keeping with trends, the watches’ stainless steel cases have been downsized to an even more understated 38.5mm in diameter and 11.8mm in profile. All are fitted with box-shaped Hardlex crystals, color-coordinated calfskin straps, and the automatic Caliber 4R35 to drive the razor hands and 3 o’clock date calendar. Options in this style include the “Negroni” (Ref. SRPE41J1, with gradient dark red dial) - the “Old Clock” (SRPE43J1, with blue dial; the cocktail in question is primarily vodka, blue curacao, and Maraschino liqueur); and the “Mojito” (SRPE45J1, with green dial and gold-colored details).

Seiko Presage Cocktail Time Matcha

The 38.5mm, vintage-numeral-dial extension of the Presage Cocktail Time has become popular enough to spawn its own series of Star Bar limited editions, again with the creative input of master bartender Hisashi Kishi, like the 7,000-piece “Raku” (Ref. SARY181, above), named for Kishi’s cocktail creation that uses local green tea leaves and hojicha from the Kyoto region. The distinctive green gradient dial has a stunning finish that resembles powdered tea — hence the alternate nickname “Matcha” that many fans, perhaps teetotallers, have bestowed upon it. 

Open Bar, Open Dial

Seiko Presage Cocktail Time Open Heart Grasshopper

In 2021, Seiko added a new in-house movement to the Cocktail Time repertoire, the automatic Caliber 4R38, which can be seen (as in, from the front as well as the back of the watch) in the “Open Heart” models. In these models, whose steel cases are 40.5mm around and 11.84mm thick, the dials feature a large cutout at 9 o’clock that allows the wearer a glimpse of the movement. The thematic connection to the larger Cocktail Time family is a bit of head-scratcher — if you saw tiny metal gears floating in your cocktail at a  bar, you’d almost assuredly send it back — but the Open Heart models do offer yet another style in the popular line, along with even more clever drink-inspired dial colors, including “Blue Acapulco” (SSA439J1) and “Grasshopper” green (SSA441J1).

Before the last call, you’re probably also curious about that value proposition mentioned earlier. The Seiko Presage “Cocktail Time” watches carry an MSRP of $425 for the 38.5mm models, $450 for the 40.5mm three-hand-date watches, and $575 for the models with small seconds and power reserve. The Open Heart models are only available on the secondary market in the U.S.A. at the moment, but prices are comparable to those above. Cheers, or as the Japanese say, “Kampai!”

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