Hands-On: Rowing Blazers x Seiko Collection

Summertime Chi with this summer's hottest watch release

We got our hands on the new Seiko x Rowing Blazers collaboration and took them for a walk around Chicago’s Lincoln Park Boardwalk.

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Back in 2010, a young guy who had recently graduated from Georgetown University bought his first vintage watch after seeing it posted on an even younger blog called Hodinkee.

The watch was a Seiko Rally Diver from the late 1960s featuring a checkered pattern on the bezel that resembles a racing flag.

“I’d been following it for months,” Eric Wind, the once-young guy and now proprietor of Wind Vintage, said of his purchase. “It was about $300 from watchestobuy.com [link is to the actual watch!]. That was the beginning for me.”

Wind said he soon went on to buy his first “nicer” vintage watch, a Heuer Carrera ref. 2447S, and eventually (regretfully) sold that Rally Diver.

Today, the Rally Diver makes its return, along with two other collaboration Seiko watches, as part of a Rowing Blazers x Seiko release. Rowing Blazers, helmed by Jack Carlson, Wind’s best man, has collaborated with Seiko to release three Seiko 5 Sports models. The Rally Diver, along with the Artillery Zigzag, are both limited edition models of 500 watches, while the Colorblock is a special edition collaboration between the two brands. All have an MSRP of $495 and are available via rowingblazers.com, seikousa.com, and the Hodinkee Shop.

It’s the brand’s first wristwatch collaboration, though they’ve long sold a selection of affordable vintage watches curated by Wind Vintage and Foundwell.

I’ve gone in-depth on the Seiko 5 Sports line before, but to summarize the specs here: 42.5mm diameter x 13.4mm thickness, and 46mm lug-to-lug, featuring Seiko’s 4R36 automatic-winding movement, visible through the display caseback. The model features 100m of water resistance and a clicking uni-directional rotating bezel. While 42mm is a relatively large diameter, the shorter lugs mean it wears well on pretty much any wrist.

Wind said Rowing Blazers first met with Seiko back in 2017 and eventually iterated through 50-plus designs before arriving on these final three versions. Of course, Wind took a role in the design process, in particular with the Rally Diver because of the personal significance it holds to him and his journey as a collector.

Besides the colorful bezels, the dial of the Rowing Blazers x Seiko collab also makes a few changes to the standard Seiko 5 Sports line: the second hand is swapped out for a striped one to evoke Rowing Blazers’ nautical motif, the lume color is an off-white that’s neither fauxtina nor a pure, bright white, and the Rowing Blazers emblem is featured at 6 o’clock. Each watch will come on a bracelet and is also accompanied by a NATO-style strap chosen specifically to complement its bezel.

Rowing Blazers has been selling NATO-style straps for a while now, so the additional straps that each of these collaboration models come with are of similarly high quality. The croquet stripe strap that comes with the Artillery Zigzag is a particular standout, inspired by the stripe colors of a vintage croquet wicket (a mainstay of Rowing Blazers’ collections and designed here by Carlson’s girlfriend).

We featured Rowing Blazers founder Jack Carlson in an interview last year, when he explained how he fits watches into Rowing Blazers’ overall aesthetic:

“The world of watches fits very nicely into everything else that we're doing at Rowing Blazers. It is a world of a lot of tradition, a lot of somewhat archaic knowledge, and of course a great deal of history and style.

The watch is just one of many different little winks I try to weave into our imagery and storytelling. Rowing Blazers is a brand that is rich all the way through in that you can go back to a lookbook or an image and notice something that maybe you didn't the first three times that you looked at it. You can keep digging, keep discovering new things. Watches are a part of that.”

Clearly, this collaboration with Seiko is an extension of that philosophy. First, collaborating with Seiko just feels so Rowing Blazers. Seiko is an enthusiast favorite, and at $500 this collection is about as accessible as a mechanical watch can get.

“I always love a high-low mix and I am very interested in authenticity. I think what you find is that a lot of [rowing clubs] have really charming, fun traditions and there’s not necessarily this sense of elitism when you’re actually there,” Carlson recently told Lithium Magazine. For more from Carlson on the release, check out our friend Charlie’s write-up over on Revolution, where he chatted with the Rowing Blazers founder.

The Rowing Blazers x Seiko collab is this ethos — authentic, but not elitist — packed into a 42mm stainless steel case and finished off with a colorful bezel. The Seiko 5 Sports is accessible to anyone, but steeped in Seiko’s history as a maker of tough, built-to-last divers (like that vintage diver Wind bought).

The bracelet is sturdy and comfortable, especially for a watch at its price point, and, importantly, it’s easy to size. After wearing these around for a few days, they’re (cliche alert) the perfect summer watch. I worked out with it, biked with it, spilled some beer on it at a Cubs game. Sure, it’s a tall watch at nearly 14mm thick, but the relatively small lug-to-lug means the center of gravity has somehow been perfectly positioned so that the watch sits on your wrist without jangling around much.

The Colorblock is my personal favorite — and lucky for us, the one that’s not limited — with the four colors on the bezel evoking vintage yacht timers in a way that’s very on-brand for Rowing Blazers. It’s also a pattern Rowing Blazers uses elsewhere in its SS2021 collection, for example on its Colorblock Windbreaker.

Likewise, the Artillery Zigzag is a pattern used throughout Rowing Blazers’ collections, so it feels right at home on a watch bezel. Finally, the Rally Diver’s checkerboard bezel provides a connection to Seiko’s proud dive watch history, staying true to both Rowing Blazers’ and Seiko’s principles of authenticity and tradition.

It’s exciting when a collaboration feels authentic and true to the various contributors — in this case, the Rowing Blazers x Seiko collaboration is exactly that, pulling elements from Seiko, Rowing Blazers, and Wind himself in a way that delivers a product that’s greater than the sum of any one individual.

Head to seikousa.com or rowingblazers.com to scoop up your Rowing Blazers x Seiko watch now.

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