CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

As I type this Dispatch, I am on a transatlantic flight to London for a short visit, a mix of business and pleasure.  As a former CIA Case Officer, separating the two can be difficult.  In my W.O.E. travel pouch is my Rolex GMT Master II 16710.  On my wrist is the Arabic Seiko, the understated watch that I plan to wear while in London due to the increased watch theft in the city. Why I am bringing the Rolex at all is a story for another time.

Watches of Espionage CIA Spy Watch

Arabic Seiko

Once an obscure watch, the “Arabic Seiko” (aka the "Seik-W.O.E." and the W.O.E. hype watch) is a popular reference within the W.O.E. community, and for good reason.  In part, its popularity is owed to the fact that it’s just a downright cool and unique piece at an affordable price point–but it’s also received consistent coverage on W.O.E. to bolster its reputation.  

Just as important, however, is the deep meaning it has for our community.  Many of us have spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East over the past 20+ years.  I personally have a strong affinity for the rich culture and language of the Arab world and this piece is a constant reminder of that connection and that specific period in my life.  A lot of veterans and NatSec folks can identify with this connection.

Arabic Dial Seiko

Additionally, while I never wore a Seiko in any operational capacity during my time at the CIA, the Japanese brand has a long history in the Intelligence and Special Operations community. Our predecessors in the 1960s and 1970s wore "SOG" Seikos during covert operations carried out during the Vietnam War. Maritime Special Operations units (including the Navy SEALs) were issued Seiko Divers until at least the mid-1990s and the CIA even modified a digital Seiko with a covert camera for intelligence collection. 

In short, the ref Arabic Seiko connects with every facet of the community in one way or another, and that’s what makes it so popular. It is a great conversation starter, and you can’t go wrong with this W.O.E. “hype watch.”

Watches of Espionage Seiko

Origin Story

If this is the first time you are hearing about the Arabic Seiko, you are probably wondering how a former CIA Case Officer came across this unique timepiece.

Did W.O.E. pick it up at Khan el-Khalili Souk in Cairo to support a cover legend, or receive it as an honorary gift from a Middle Eastern intelligence service after an impactful operation?  The truth is, it was purchased online.  Amazon’s algorithm served it to me in early 2022, something that I even wrote an article about for Hodinkee.  It is not a daring spy story, but it does say a lot about the state of technology and (commercial) surveillance.  Amazon knew I would like this watch before I even knew it existed, and that is fascinating. 

At the time I had two Arabic-dial watches in my collection: A Breitling Aerospace (a gift from King Abdullah of Jordan), and an Arabic Breitling Aviator 8 Etihad Limited "Middle East" Edition in black steel, both watches that a treasured, something that would make my Arabic tutors in Beirut proud.

Breitling Arabic Seiko
W.O.E. personal Breitling and Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley


The Arabic Seiko is a simple black dialed Seiko 5, with large Eastern Arabic numerals.  The day feature is in Arabic and English, with the Arabic word for Friday (الجمعة) in Red, English “SAT” in blue and “SUN” in red, presumably honoring the holy days of the three Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Judaism and Christianity.   

There are actually two readily available Arabic dial Seiko’s, the 42mm SNKP21J1 and the smaller 34mm SNK063J5.  Beyond the size, the main difference is the smaller version has an integrated bracelet, making it difficult to change out straps.  I own the 42mm and while it is larger than most watches in my collection, the 12.5mm thickness makes it wear much smaller and lie flat on the wrist.  There is a wide gap between the watch and the spring bar, making strap changes easy.  The visible caseback showing the 7S26 automatic movement is something that is always fun for those new to the hobby.

Social Media and “Influence”

Chrono24 video discussing correlation between W.O.E. posts and Seiko Arabic dial sales.

The watch is also a story of social media “influence” and subliminal advertising.  After a month on the wrist, I posted it on the @watchesofespionage to my (then) 30,000+ followers in February 2022. Over the next 24 hours, Amazon’s price for the watch incrementally rose from $140 to well over $200, as followers were quick to visit the everything store. Within 48 hours demand surpassed supply, the watch sold out.  At time of writing, Amazon’s price for the watch is $213.01, nearly double what I paid for it.

After analyzing purchasing data on Chono24 and other sites, Thomas Hendricks of Chrono24 crowned the Arabic Dials the top selling Seikos for 2022:

We looked at the data and we saw spikes in sales correlating to posts from one popular account.  Watches of Espionage is a niche but influential account covering the intersection of watches and spycraft, run by an anonymous former CIA operative.  Followers of the account will remember that WOE published an article detailing his love for these Seiko references in early August of this year.  Subsequently, sales for these two references spiked significantly on Chrono24 and other platforms in the following weeks. 

I now wonder how many people have purchased the Arabic Seiko watch after seeing coverage on the Watches of Espionage platform, my guess is in the thousands of pieces, most purchased online or the lucky few able to secure one in a more memorable place like Dubai.  

W.O.E. Arabic Seiko Dial
W.O.E. personal Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley

Advertising and Influencers

We are bombarded with advertising, especially on social media, however the modern consumer (you) is not stupid.  The “wisdom of the crowd” can see through most marketing schemes and identify platforms that are genuine.  One of the reason’s the Watches of Espionage community continues to grow is authenticity, and the increase in sales of this watch is a perfect example.

Despite a proposal from a major retailer for an official “affiliate” relationship (which we declined), W.O.E. hasn’t received financial remuneration from Seiko or any other company for promoting this timepiece.  This is authentic and organic promotion for altruistic reasons.  One of our goals at Watches of Espionage is preserving and promoting watch culture in the National Security space, and this watch is a fun entrée to the world of automatic watches, especially for those who wore Digital Tool Watches during the Global War on Terror (GWOT).

Arabic Seiko Special Forces
W.O.E. personal Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley


At the end of the day, I do not care if you buy this watch or any other for that matter.  But if this unique and affordable timepiece catches your interest and expands your view of time, that is a good thing.

Despite my now extensive and growing watch collection, the Arabic Seiko will continue to adorn my wrist on a regular basis, including this visit to the United Kingdom.  This watch has been on my wrist in 8 countries on three continents.  It has flown in helicopters, skied down mountains and been inside more than a few SCIFs.  If it is lost, stolen or damaged, it can be easily replaced at an affordable price, even if slightly inflated after the release of this article.

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This article has been reviewed by the CIA's Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.


Key collector


Key collector


Just recently bought one of these while on a desert deployment, my favorite piece in my collection as a daily. Great memento from the sand box.

Alex L

Great work. I got two of these old new stock watches- one for wearing and one for my toddler when he grows up and inherits dad’s rad kits. I just discovered at an inopportune time that the damn thing has NO lume… and I have it on a nato. Lol. All well. Still rad. Just moves to a different set of rad dad non-tactical kit for my boy.


What model Seiko is this? I always thought that part of the Seiko 5 criteria was that the crown was at the 4 o’clock position.

Simon Bradbury

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