Affordable Retro: Tissot Heritage Seastar PR 516 GL


PR516GLWith the holidays looming, the potential for Christmas bonuses or just the need to add another watch to the stable, one recent find fills a lot of checkboxes on the “What to Buy” list…the Tissot Seastar PR 516 GL. Let’s take a look at that list, in a nutshell. It’s made in Switzerland by none other than the Swatch Group. On the price scale, it falls into the “affordable” range for most watch lovers, well under $1000.00 USD. It offers a lot of value for the money too, both in the features that come standard on it and the quality of construction. It also has history, being a reissue of a model Tissot produced for a number of years. Finally, it has a retro-cool look that harkens back to one of the more interesting periods in our history. This review will cover each of these facets in more detail.

In the current watch stable of the monolithic Swatch Group, Tissot falls in at the top of their middle range according to the hierarchy listed in their annual report. Tissot does produce a few high end models, usually in limited editions to commemorate any number of special anniversaries in their history but overall, the majority of Tissot watches can be had in the $500.00 to $999.00 USD range. The PR 516 GL falls within this price range depending on where you find one and which model you select. When you can find a well-crafted, value-packed Swiss automatic wristwatch from a reputable brand in this price range, you’ve had a good day.

It’s important to keep in mind the name of this particular watch when looking because “PR516” can also denote other watches made by Tissot that look nothing like the one this article covers. The “GL” makes the difference in the name, and frankly, this watch has a lot of name in the game. The dial alone has six lines of text, including “Tissot” “Visodate” “Automatic” “Seastar” “PR516” and “GL”, yet it seems to work out well, even if it does give the watch a bit of an identity crisis. To help break this down into bite sized morsels, this basically means:

  • Tissot (Brand)
  • Visodate (Feature, i.e. the Day and Date windows)
  • Automatic (Movement type)
  • Seastar (Line)
  • PR 516 (Model)
  • GL (Submodel)

Fortunately, it lives up to all this dial hype and does so with style and capability. The original, introduced in the late 1960’s is a product of the design ethos of the time. Designers were pushing the boundaries a bit and leaving behind some of the plain, simple but elegant designs of the early 60’s in favor of watches that made more of a visual statement. The word “Cool” was entering the lexicon of daily language and could now be appropriately applied to many of the watch designs coming into the market. The Seastar PR516 GL could be counted among them. The reimagined modern version remains remarkably true to the original. It’s a bit larger, as befits the modern trend toward larger watches but not oversized by any measure. At 40mm wide, it manages to hit the “just right” spot with most watch wearers.

TissotBlackPR516The dial, in my case black and silver, closely mirrors the appearance of the original and is very 1960’s in appearance. It has a silver chapter ring with large, blocky indexes affixed which floats just above the black dial. This part has a faint sun ray pattern that can be seen in bright light, giving the dial more character. The effect is much more apparent in models with the silver or blue dial. The dial also features a vintage Tissot logo, a raised silver block with the letter “T” in the middle. This is a nice touch of class on the watch. The hands, which mirror the indexes in size and shape, are easy to align with the indexes when setting the watch. The hands of the watch contain luminous material that glows brightly after being exposed to light. The indexes also feature luminous material that appears in normal light to be a black line but which actually glows a pale green in the dark. The hands are significantly brighter in the dark than the indexes.

One of the features of this watch is a day and date display, located at the 3 position. These change simultaneously right at midnight with a noticeable click. With the day display, you can choose between a normal day abbreviation or one that has the number of the day of the week in red alongside the day (i.e. 1MON, 2Tue and so forth).

The case is made of 316L grade stainless steel, an industry standard for steel watches. It is polished on the sides and brushed on the top with a large crown that is easy to grasp, yet doesn’t protrude significantly from the case. Pulling the crown to the first position sets the day (counter-clockwise rotation) and the date (clockwise rotation). Pulling the crown to the second position stops the second-hand and allows for setting the time precisely.

Powering the watch is a basic ETA 2824 movement. Aside from the rotor, which carries a modest degree of finishing, the movement is unremarkable and unadorned. On the plus side, it is known for its robust character and dependability, performing its task with typical Swiss precision. It features 25 jewels and can be viewed through the transparent case back. One interesting characteristic is the representation of a steering wheel, which is placed over the movement and underneath the transparent case back, an homage to the racing spirit of the original model.

One of the welcome features on a watch of this price range is the slightly domed and beveled sapphire crystal. The dial is easily viewed through the crystal, which lacks any type of anti-reflective coating. The crystal rises about a millimeter above the case and has a beveled edge all the way around which actually seems to channel light onto the silver chapter ring, making it stand out nicely. I’m very pleased with the crystal, which as I said is a nice touch at this price point.

There are a variety of dials available with this particular model. The one I chose is a basic stainless steel model with a black dial and silver chapter ring. The watch also is available with a blue dial or a silver dial and also in a yellow gold PVD plated case with a white dial. The models with the white/silver dial have the effect of combining with the chapter ring to make the face look larger, although this is an illusion as they are all the same size. The models with the blue dial and silver dial come with an interesting retro bracelet in steel while the black dial model and the gold model have leather straps with deployant claps. Both the bracelets and the straps feature large holes in the racing strap style.

photo copy 16My experience wearing the watch with the leather strap included was very comfortable. The soft, supple leather strap feels good on the arm and does not add weight to the watch. It is easy to size by moving the deployant device. I have not tried on the one with the stainless bracelet but understand from others that, while fashionable, it is not as comfortable to wear as most bracelets. I outfitted mine with a mesh bracelet that is both very comfortable and which actually compliments the retro look and feel of the watch. It is exactly the kind of bracelet that works well on a watch of this period look.

Accuracy, while not in the chronometer range, is acceptable. The watch gains about 20 seconds a day on the arm but this is acceptable for a watch in this range. I generally just stop it now and then and wait for the seconds to catch up.

Overall, the Heritage PR516 GL is a great watch with a vintage look but without the drawbacks of  a vintage watch. The price point nets you a day and date display, a viewable automatic movement with hack feature, a deployant clasp strap and a sapphire crystal, all for about $600.00 depending on where you find them. Multiple sales outlets carry these on the internet and the likelihood of fakes are low in this price range. One should always be cautioned to purchase from a reliable seller.

Tissot has a solid reputation for quality, reliability, style and affordability. These combined traits make for a nice watch that you will be proud to own.