Just like Lady Gaga, I like Monsters. My Seiko SKX781 Orange Monster has been a faithful companion on all my aquatic adventures, limited though they may be. If I am packing for a week at the beach, the Orange Monster comes with me. When I bought new swim trunks this past summer, I got them in blue and orange to match the watch. Heading out to the pool? Grab the Monster. It sees winter service too, lending a badly needed pop of color when it is time to shovel the driveway. It has been through sun, sand, surf, snow, and ice, all documented on my Instagram feed.
"So," wrote a keen reader, "when are you going to review that Orange Monster we keep seeing?" This is a fair question. The SKX781 is a wildly popular watch, highly regarded, and amazingly affordable, but it is also discontinued. I figured I had already missed the boat. Why report on an obsolete watch? Then I got my mitts on a new SRP455 Blue Monster. This is Monster 2.0, improved and upgraded, but still imbued with monster DNA. I could not possibly review the new one without first addressing the old one. Let the Monster fans rejoice! You are about to get two of these beasts reviewed in one week. Today, the Orange.
Seiko has a remarkable ability to crank out high quality dive watches at relatively cheap prices. The SKX781 is an excellent example. It starts with the 7s26. This is Seiko's old faithful movement, a 21 jewel, 21.6k bph automatic with a quickset day/date complication and a 4 o'clock crown. Power reserve is over 41 hours. The movement does not hack or hand wind. It starts with an easy swing of the wrist that the forums have dubbed "the Seiko shake." Although these mechanisms are properly finished, they are not decorated. Shock resistance comes courtesy of Seiko's proprietary Diashock protection on the inside, and a soft plastic ring on the outside. You will find the 7s26 (or the 3 o'clock crown 7s36) under the hood of many Seiko and Seiko 5 products, and for good reason. They are inexpensive, accurate, and enjoy a solid reputation for reliability and easy service. If you are a car guy, think of it as the Chevy small-block V8 of the watch world.
This workhorse movement is encased in a stainless steel chassis built for 200m water resistance and general abuse. The case is 41.5mm across, over 12mm thick and incorporates a shroud around the upper and lower sections of the bezel. The big bezel is a commanding feature. It is convex, creating a dished effect, with polished scallops at the edge that cut into the case below. Its face is brushed and the markings are broad and black save for the lume pip in the top triangle. As one would expect on a diver, it is unidirectional and moves with a firm click. The crystal is Seiko's Hardex mineral compound, and has just enough dome to eliminate the mirroring that can occur with flat crystals under water. The fat screw-down crown is undecorated but is polished with deep channels for easy grip. As mentioned above, it is positioned at the lower right quadrant. The bezel shroud also acts as a crown guard. Flipping it over, you will find a solid, screw-in case back that is polished and decorated with the "Seiko Tsunami" design in high relief. This not only looks cool, it also indicates that the watch is rated for scuba diving, as distinct from Seiko's other 200m watches that do not bear this mark.
Like the case, the dial displays a number of clever design elements that you may not expect in a budget priced diver. The chapter index is a separate ring that is cut around the markers and curves up the inside of the case, adding a bit of dimension to the dial. The hour markers are rectangular with an inverted pentagon at 12. Small printed numerals indicating minutes/seconds are marked in increments of five at their inner edge. The hands are thick and edged in black. The stubby hour hand is a broad, bisected arrow head that is echoed in miniature on the second hand. Black-on-white day/date discs are displayed in a 3 o'clock window. Then, there is the color: a glorious, in-your-face, "Hey! Look at me!" orange. Dial text is limited to the Seiko brand on top and "Automatic Diver's 200m" below. It is bold, bright, and easily legible in daylight. Now, you should turn out the lights.
The markers and hands are treated with LumiBrite, a proprietary paint that sucks down sunlight and radiates it with an intense green-white glow. How bright? Here at Time Bum Laboratories, we would use the scientific term "Monster bright." It charges fast and glows strong. Seiko claims 10 minutes in the average room will give it 5 to 8 hours of energy. It is frankly amazing and among enthusiasts, has become the standard by which other lume is measured. Interestingly, that Vitamin C orange dial is less significant. In true darkness, color means nothing, and orange disappears from human eyes around 20-50m underwater.
You can buy a SKX781 on a rubber strap or a stainless steel link bracelet with a flip lock diver's clasp. I'd suggest the bracelet. It is sturdy and comfortable, and between the links and the micro adjustments in the clasp, it is easy to find a proper fit. The rubber strap is Seiko's standard vented design. There is nothing particularly wrong with it, but you can find better rubber straps in the aftermarket. Given the small difference in price, the bracelet is the better buy.
The Orange Monster is a great watch, but when you consider it sells for $200 or less, it is an outstanding deal. While it has been discontinued, there is still a ton of stock still out there, so it is not hard to track them down and they are in no way "rare" enough to carry a premium. If the orange is too much for you, you can buy black dial SKX779, or you can check out the new line of Monsters – but I'll cover that in the next review.
The SKX781 is a stout watch, but while it is undeniably aggressive, I suspect it seemed more "monstrous" when it was first released in 2000, before the era of the wrist-borne hockey puck. Even though the Monster may now be on the smaller end of the "large" watch scale, its burly case and outrageous dial still demand respect.
Pro: Rock solid and that LUME!
Con: Discontinued, sort of...
Sum: Fourteen years on, it is still one of the greats. The Time Bum approves.