The many unofficial nicknames of Seiko watches are a testament to the Japanese brand’s following and cultural presence. Bestowed by an adoring international public, perhaps no other brand except Rolex has been given a similar tribute. While some nicknames are iconic and some are obscure, this phenomenon adds to Seiko’s personality alongside its many other quirks.
Seiko’s habit of naming its products with little more than a reference number certainly contributed to these aliases proliferating online and among fans — especially during a time when the company seemed less media-savvy than it is today. While the Cocktail Time and Alpinist, for instance, are rare examples of names that come from the brand itself, there are still many popular and worthy models waiting for a name that sticks.
Monster, Turtle, Tuna, Sumo, Samurai, Shogun, Arnie, Mohawk, Spork, Ashtray, Starfish, Atlas, Sea Urchin, Speedy, Willard, Pogue, Bond, Senna, Landshark, Stingray, Bottle Cap, Big Boy, Jumbo, Knight, Zimbe, UFO… All of these (and more) are names of Seiko watches, but none of them are used by the company itself. However, the very cool By Seiko Design website includes a few entries in which actual Seiko designers discuss the public’s nicknames of certain models: here and again here.
It’s beyond the scope of this article to cover all the nicknamed Seikos out there, many of which are no longer produced (though some remain available online). Below, however, are some of the most notable and fun examples you should know about.
The nickname “Turtle” makes sense as soon as you see this watch’s curved, shell-like case shape. The Turtle, which currently lives in the Prospex collection and is one of the brand’s most popular affordable dive watches, is the descendent of a vintage watch (which has also recently been reissued) fans call the “Willard” or “Captain Willard” for the character who wore it in the film Apocalypse Now. There’s even a “Mini Turtle” and, more recently, a “King Turtle.”
Also called “Tuna Can,” this name applies to a wide range of Seiko dive watches that have a certain distinctive case design. With a protective outer “shroud,” the strap attaches directly to the bottom of the case, and the result is a watch that sits high on the wrist with roughly the proportions of a can of tunafish. Pretty it is not, but it’s unique, ultra capable, and has an interesting story as well.
It could be its jagged bezel, with an appearance like the bared teeth of a predator, or that the watch overall just has that aggressive, ugly-cool appeal. Whatever the origin, the “Monster” nickname is fitting for this affordable dive watch that one would feel no hesitation in beating up. Having gone through several generations and redesigns, the brand recently released an update that places it in the Prospex line and takes it in a decidedly sleeker and slightly less “monstrous” direction.
Do you see it? Even Seiko’s own designers seem a little bewildered as to why this particular model is called the “Samurai.” Does its case shape look like a samurai’s helmet or armor? Umm… maybe? Do the hands look like samurai swords? No. Maybe it’s just “the kind of design that would evoke a feeling of Japaneseness in the eyes of foreign people,” as one of the Seiko designers suggests. Somehow or another, though, the name stuck and it now sits alongside the Turtle as one of the brand’s core affordable dive watches in its Prospex collection. As with the Turtle, there’s also a more premium “King Samurai” version as well.
The Arnie got its name from none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger having worn it in, not just one, but multiple iconic action films. Originally hailing from the ’80s but recently rereleased, it has a solar-charged movement, a bevy of buttons and an ana-digi dial with a no-nonsense, military look.
The traditional dive watch known as the “Sumo” looks more like… well, kinda like a Rolex. Again, it requires a stretch of the imagination to find aspects or details that appear to have any connection to the Japanese sport. Presumably, its name is due simply to its substantial girth of 45mm. In any case, the nickname adds some fun to another handsome, solid, high-bang-for-buck dive watch you can potentially wear every day for many years.
The “Ripley” was named for the character in the 1986 movie Aliens who wore this appropriately sci-fi-looking chronograph. One of the many striking designs resulting from the collaboration between Seiko and famed automotive designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Ripley’s popularity saw it come back as a reissue in 2015. Quartz-powered and affordable, the Ripley can still be found at reasonable prices.
Rather than simply emphasizing the critical first 15 or 20 minutes on the diving bezel with another color or markers, as most dive watches do, the “Mohawk” takes a unique approach. The first third of the bezel is actually dramatically raised. This also makes it easier to grip and turn, sure, but the result is yet another totally offbeat, asymmetric, almost ugly dive watch that nobody but Seiko could pull off.
The “Sea Urchin” comes from the ultra affordable Seiko 5 Sports collection of recent decades. These are basic dive watches that, like so many others from the brand, surprise their owners with the quality, value and personality that are at the core of Seiko’s wares and present global success. You can still get one for under $200.
The “Starfish” is reminiscent of watches from the likes of Breitling and TAG Heuer with steel bezels and “rider tabs” — but exaggerated in characteristic Seiko form. Early examples featured Kinetic movements and two-tone designs, but later versions had automatic movements and sleeker looks. The aquatic animal connection is common for dive watches, and the pointed tabs make this nickname feel natural.
Again named for its bezel, the “Ashtray” probably has the least appealing and most irreverent name on this list, but it’s got some killer ’80s personality. These were tough Seiko divers with titanium cases and quartz movements that look genuinely ready for action. While the bezel’s grooves don’t quite look like you could rest a cigarette in them, the name seems appropriate.
Like the Samurai and the Sumo, the “Shogun” dive watch’s nickname suggests its “Japaneseness,” but also reflects fans’ regard for it as a “high-ranking” diver: a shogun was a military dictator in feudal Japan. With its traditional design, the Shogun watch is like a premium version of Seiko’s beloved basic divers, with features such as the well-respected 6R15 automatic movement and a titanium case.