DOXA SUB 300T PROFESSIONAL COMPARED TO THE SEIKO SKX781
© Dr. Peter McClean Millar - October 2002
Before I start this review, let me explain a few things. I am not a watch collector. I know very little about watch movements or the technical things about them other than what I have read in various watch forums. I'm just an ordinary guy who likes certain watches and I'll try to give an honest, unbiased, man in the street opinion on the Doxa SUB 300T while comparing it with the Seiko SKX781.
Ok, a little background first. My trusty Casio databank watch which had been my constant wrist companion for over 12 years fell silent on me so it was time to get a new watch. I need to qualify that statement with my somewhat jaundiced views. Watches with electronic 'movements' are not watches; they are small computers which happen to tell the time. A 'real' watch has a mechanical (preferably) automatic movement. I tried several of the new databank watches but they had changed noticeably from my old DBW-320 and as is the case for many things, more was less, so I decided to go for a 'real watch'. About 18 months ago I gave up the ratrace and went back to school, so money wasn't as abundant as it was before. This limited my budget somewhat. I had always liked Seiko diver watches and I had a 25 year old Seiko chronograph which still keeps good time so after a lot of lurking on the different watch forums, I decided on the Seiko SKX781. This watch is affectionately known as the 'Orange Monster' by its owners. It's a big heavy brute of a watch with a bright orange face and amazingly bright luminous markers. I ordered one from Singapore and was delighted with it. Everyone noticed it and commented on it. My father and brothers bought one each and we were all very happy with our purchases.
Cast your mind back to 1988. I was working in the Middle East running subsea ultrasonic inspections out of Qatar and Abu Dhabi. I worked with a lot of divers and one of the watches that several guys wore really caught my fancy. It was an orange faced Doxa SUB 300T. I had never seen such a beast of a watch before and I had never heard of Doxa. I wanted to buy one but they hadn? been made for over 10 years. I tried hard to find one but in the end gave up and moved effortlessly into the electronic watch age. I later worked in China and started to buy watches which I liked because they were cheap. Some were fakes but some were genuine and included a Rolex Air-King and a Titus. These were real fancy watches and I'd wear them at formal business dinners. I'd always hoped to come across an old beat up 300T but never saw one again.
I suppose I had forgotten all about Doxa until 1995 when I was working in a place called Dalian in North China. There wasn't a lot to do except read and on trips back to the UK we would all pick up a load of novels to share. One of my mates was into Clive Cussler and had all the books published to date. He urged me to try one. Well, I got hooked and just devoured them. What made me smile was that the hero, Dirk Pitt, always wore a Doxa SUB 300T. My favorite watch had come back to haunt me.
About a month or so ago I came upon the Official Doxa Forum on www.watchuseek.com and found out that Doxa had released a limited run of 1000 watches for the SUB 300T Professional and a similar number for a Clive Cussler inspired Seahunter. I liked the Professional more than the Seahunter because it just seemed closer to the original watch I had seen all those years ago. There were 10 left and I wanted one but $949 was just too much money to spend on a watch. I kept visiting the Doxa webpage www.doxawatches.com and drooling over the watches. It was then that I decided that I would sell the Rolex that I seldom wore and use the money to buy a SUB 300T Professional. They were running out fast and I knew that if I didn't buy one I'd just kick myself for not doing it. Doxa stated that the watch would be retired at the end of October, so I gave myself 2 weeks to try to find a good one secondhand and failing that buy a new one from Doxa. I didn't qualify for the special price of $749 so it was going to cost me in excess of a grand to get my hands on one. As luck turned out I found someone who was selling number 434. It sounded in great condition so I paid the money and waited. It took a week for it to come from London. My mother always said that sometimes the wanting is better than the having. I couldn't help but wonder if this would be the case for the Doxa. When the watch finally arrived it was in many ways better than I had hoped for and in some ways a bit of a disappointment. I had been wearing the Orange Monster constantly for almost 3 weeks and I had gotten used to its size and feel. The bracelet on the Seiko was in my opinion the best I had seen on any watch. From the photos I had seen, the new Doxa bracelet had more holes in it than a Swiss cheese and looked a bit flimsy compared to the solid mass of the Seiko. I suppose the bracelet is a good place to start the real review.
Both bracelets have the same brushed finish with center portions being a bit more polished. The Seiko links are removable right up to the last one before the lugs. This is handy if you have spare links from resizing and some of the top links get badly scored, they can be easily replaced. On the Doxa it is possible to remove 6 links. The Doxa uses screwed pins whereas the Seiko used a new type of collared pin. Doxa supply 2 screwdrivers for removing the links and bracelet. Several people have complained about shearing the grooved heads whilst trying to remove the pins. There was a concern that the supplied screwdrivers were of poor quality, however, I prefer to believe that it is just that the screws have been overly tightened and the channel in the head isn't deep enough for the screwdriver to get a good purchase and impart enough torque before shearing the edges of the screw head. I had to remove 3 links on my bracelet and only had a problem with one screw. The collared pins on the Seiko were a little bit 'fiddly' and I had to be careful not to lose the collars. I found removing links about as easy as it was on the Doxa. My father, however, spent several hours with his Seiko and almost came to the point of heaving it through the window.
Both bracelets are around 3mm thick and are 22mm wide. The Doxa, however, stays at 22mm all the way to the clasp whereas the Seiko tapers to about 20mm at the clasp. The clasp on the Doxa is a fairly standard 'friction grip' type with a divers extension and security clasp. The Seiko is similar except it uses a pin and 'grippers' which is released by 2 press studs on the sides. The 300T has the Doxa name and fish logo stamped on the clasp whereas the SKX781 has Seiko forged on it. The lettering does not show on the back side of the clasp as it does on the Doxa.
When I first got the 300T I couldn't help but feel that the bracelet was a bit flimsier than the Seiko. There were just too many spaces in it. I liked the look of the old Doxa bracelet and this new one was just too 'empty'. Even after wearing it for a while I still can't help but feel that something is missing. I was even thinking of transposing the Seiko bracelet onto the Doxa to see what it would look like, but, the design of the case and lugs on the 300T make it impossible to do a straight swap. In fact, I'd say that there would be very few steel bracelets which would fit the Doxa. This in my mind is a great pity but does ensure the uniqueness of the 300T.
After a bit of 'fiddling about' I was able to make a new bracelet using the original clasp of the reissue SUB 300T bracelet and the Seiko SKX781 bracelet. In the end it was a fairly simple operation and I didn't need to drill out the smaller links on the Seiko bracelet, which I thought I would have to do to get it to fit. It took all of 5 minutes and 3 screwdrivers. If you want to use the Doxa clasp then you would need slightly bigger pins or superglue the existing ones. Not as drastic as it seems as some superglue dissolver will soon free them again.
If you just want to substitute the Seiko bracelet and keep the Doxa one in pristine condition then it is a very simple and easy swap (about 3 minutes flat!). Here is a full review of The Bracelet Modification with photos. A new SKX781 bracelet runs around 49 dollars. The bracelet was very comfortable and in my opinion is a fairly cheep alternative to the open link bracelet that comes with the SUB 300T.
I'm not sure if the new design of the lugs dictated the design of the bracelet or vice versa. Whatever the cause, the new rounded lug design helps to make a rather long watch fit comfortably on the wrist. The Doxa measures about 59mm tip to tip while the Seiko is a mere 46mm. The curvature of the Doxa? lugs goes a great way to negating the length. Other than the new lug design, the 300T case is fairly similar to the old version of the watch with the signed, screw down crown in the 3 o'clock position. From the side the bezel reminds me of a tank turret and the serrated edge makes turning it easy. The Seiko has an altogether different bezel design with large scalloped edges which match up with similar scallops in the case. The Seiko has by far the smoothest turning bezel I have ever seen. It feels like the tumblers of a safe compared to the ratchet and distinct click of the Doxa. The bezels differ completely too. The Seiko has large numbers and graduations on an inward sloping brushed finish bezel. The design of the bezel will ensure that it is difficult to mark or score and is raised enough to offer some protection to the Hardlex crystal. The bezel on the 300T has a polished outer ring indicating the dive depth for a no decompression dive and a brushed finish inner ring showing the corresponding dive time. The bezel sits proud of the Sapphire crystal by about 0.3mm and so does impart some protection from scoring. Another difference in the crystals is that the crystal on the Seiko has not been treated with antiglare whereas the Doxa has an anti-reflective, quad coated, scratch-resistant, sapphire crystal. I never noticed any differenece in the anti reflective qualities of either watch, perhaps because the SKX781 crystal is slightly domed and hence will reflect light differently to the flat surface of the 300T.
One other difference with the Seiko is that it has a bezel guard from about 10:30 to 1:30 and 4:00 to 7:30. This obviously protects the bezel and the screw down crown, which is in the 4 o'clock position, but does leave a number of areas where dirt tends to accumulate. I had initially thought that the Seiko was a big bruiser of a watch but the Doxa dwarfs it both in length and height. Having said that, the Seiko feels slightly heavier, possibly because of the solid bracelet.
The caseback for the Seiko is the normal type with the Tsunami image, serial number and movement number. The Doxa has the fish image, serial number and Limited Edition 434 / 1000 marked on it. Nothing more to say really.
As I'm sure most people know, Doxa was the first watch company to use a luminous bright orange dial instead of the common black and white. The idea behind the orange dial was to achieve high readability under extreme dark diving conditions. The Seiko SKX781 pays homage to this fact. There is quite a difference in the orangeness of the two dials. The Doxa is a much deeper and redder orange, while the Seiko could only be described as a yellow orange. The other major difference between the dials is the luminous substance used and how it is applied. The 300T uses Tritium while the SKX781 uses Lumbrite. The Seiko's markers are individual metal inserts which are very heavily coated and are a very nice touch for a watch which cost $150 dollars. They glow unbelievably bright and after 8 hours are still easily readable. The SKX781 should really be called the Orange Monster Lighthouse. There is nothing bad about the luminosity of the Doxa. The markers are painted on the face and glow brightly, but fade quicker than the Seiko. The Seiko wins in terms of luminosity because the luminous material is more active and there just is a lot more of it.
Staying with the face, I had a close inspection of the lettering on both watches using the magnifying lens on my pocket knife. The black lettering on the Doxa is much darker and distinct than on the Seiko. However, for both watches the density and quality of the application is good.
For anyone interested in a further review of the Seiko SKX781, then I suggest you take a look at an incredibly detailed disection by John Davis. I recommend this to anyone as both a superb piece of writing and a tremendously informative review.
Buying a Doxa SUB 300T isn't like buying an ordinary watch. You can only do it from the Doxa site. You get to pick your own number for the watch and you have to wait for several days for it to be delivered. This whole process is an experience and Doxa have made that experience more enjoyable by the packaging that the watch comes in. An aluminium cylinder, almost 26cms in length houses the watch, steel bracelet, leatherette strap and 2 screwdrivers. You just have to say "WOW" when you get it. Top marks to Doxa, it is awesome. The documentation consisted of the warranty, watch instructions and the certificate.
The Seiko came in a standard plastic watch box. Fairly tacky but I doubt most people would mind. The instruction booklet was multilanguage and comprehensive. There was an additional instruction and care of watch booklet with a credit card type guarantee card.
One bonus that does come with the SUB 300T is a leatherette strap. This is black with orange stitching and makes a great alternative to the steel bracelet. Some people have commented that it would have been nice if it had been longer so it could be worn over a dive suit. In my opinion this would have made it too long for day to day wearing. In any case it is a nice addition to an already superb package.
I'm not going to say much about the movement technically because I don't really have a clue and more knowledgeable discussions can be found elsewhere. The details of the mechanism can be found on the movement page. The 300T uses a Swiss 25 jewel self-winding mechanical movement with 28800 bph and 42 hours of power reserve based on an ETA 2824. It has been modified and decorated by Doxa. The SKX781 uses Seiko's own 7S26 movement. This is 21 jewel, self winding, 21,600 bph and non hacking. Both movements are considered workhorses and are expected to give good longevity, reliability and accuracy. Both watches are around the same age and over a period of 2 days I attempted to assess the acuracy of each. I tried to wear the watches the same amount of time each day. I wore one watch for about and hour, whilst keeping the other in my pocket and then swapped them. Over the 48 hour period the 300T lost 9 seconds, which is pretty good in my books. The SKX781 gained 23 which was a little surprising. From what I have read on other tests, watches can gain or lose time depending if they are worn, left face up or face down or kept in an automatic watch winder. Temperature is also a variable. I think a longer testing period would have been better and the test was not particularly scientific but I felt it would be unfair to compare the accuracy by wearing one and leaving the other on the table. One noticeable thing about the sweep hand movement is that the Doxa is smoother. The Seiko whilst still having a smooth motion is a little jittery. The ticking sound of the Doxa is also faster. The reason why the 300T has a 'smoother' sweep than the SKX781 is simply because of the higher beat of the balance. It moves the second hand by smaller increments at a higher frequency thus achieveing the same over all speed as lower beat watches. The arguable advantage of a higher beat watch is that it will be more stable and therefore easier to regulate to within greater tolerances. I'm sure there is someone out there who could explain it all in terms of woopdeedoops and counterrotating franglesmugle counterbalances etc, etc, but I can't. The accuracy of the watches was not of paramount importance to me. I keep my watch at least 5 minutes fast and provided it doesn't gain or lose minutes a day then I'm happy.
So what is the watch like to wear? Well, I have fairly small wrists and my biggest concern before I got the Seiko was how would it fit on my skinny wee arm. In fact once the bracelet was resized it sat very well and is very comfortable to wear. You can imagine my concern with the 300T because it is longer and taller than the SKX781. I had visions of walking round with something like a silver shoebox hanging off my wrist! However, I needn't have worried because this is when the new style shape of the lugs and the cutaway bracelet come into their own. The lugs make the back of the watch contoured and allow it to hug the wrist. The new bracelet is, without question, very strong, but it is also light. The fact that it maintains a width of 22mm over its whole length helps to distribute the weight of the watch evenly. This is a good thing because the 300T is undoubtedly one of the biggest and heaviest watches on the market, but having said that, it is also one of the most comfortable to wear. Within a short time the perception of weight and bulk of the watch disappears.
Now we come to the intangible effects of owning a Doxa SUB 300T. First, you have a handmade, limited edition, Swiss timepiece which should last you all your life. This makes you part of an elite group of people. Doxa won't make any more of that model and I would expect they will command a decent resale price in the future. Secondly you have a piece of history. Doxa, after all, were the people who originated the orange faced diver and the unique bezel. Thirdly, people can't help but notice the big orange 300T. They want to know what it is. Most will not have heard of Doxa, but many will have heard of Clive Cussler and it is a neat tie in to the books and the history of the dive watch.
I would advise any owners to join in the discussions that take place at the Official Doxa Forum over on www.watchuseek.com. The members all seem erudite and eager to answer questions. Ernie Romers and Robert Wiemer are particularly quick to respond with help and suggestions. Special mention has to go to the people at Doxa S.A. namely Geraldine de Comtes and Rick Marei who are incredibly responsive and courteous. There is a feeling of being part of a family when you own a 300T and you just can't put a price on that. Although there is much more Internet traffic regarding Seiko watches, it is unlikely you would ever get a reply from Seiko regarding their products. Doxa S.A, being smaller and more responsive give that something extra and make the whole SUB 300T experience much more enjoyable. Doxa have been very brave in opening themselves up to such easy access via the forum. It could easily focus on the negatives as well as the positives of owning a Doxa. However, it has allowed Doxa to respond very quickly to questions about their products and it has shown them to be incredibly responsive regarding any minor problems that may come up. It is a pity other manufacturers don't follow Doxa's lead.
I'm extremely happy with my 300T. I feel I got a great watch at a great price. I would like to keep the watch in as good a condition as possible but this isn't a watch to be locked in a drawer and looked at. This is a watch that should be worn so that you can enjoy wearing it and let people see it. I would like to hand mine on to my son, but that leaves me with the problem of getting another one for myself. I also like the Seahunter, so maybe if I win the lottery this weekend I could get one of those before they are sold out.
So was the wanting better than the having? Absolutely not! Having a Doxa SUB 300T is one of the best experiences you can have. It has taken me almost 14 years to get one and the wait was worth it. There is just something about the 300T that defies words. It's that certain 'je ne sais quoi' that makes you feel good about owning something special. The 300T has that certain something by the truck load.
In the end I could sum up by paraphrasing Sir Winston Churchill 'a woman is just a woman, but a Doxa SUB 300T is a damn fine watch!'.