Seiko occupies a special place in the vast world of watchmaking. As part of the Seiko Watch Corporation (which also includes Grand Seiko and Credor), Seiko is in a unique position: They create watches for everyone, no matter their budget. From quality quartz watches to high-end mechanical timepieces, Seiko has it all. Let’s dive a bit deeper and find out what makes the Seiko brand so special.
Seiko vs. Swiss Brands
When you ask people about Seiko, most will mention something about the brand’s quartz watches. In fairness, quartz watches are their bread and butter. However, that doesn’t mean Seiko should be defined by these alone. Seiko also has a tremendous collection of high-quality mechanical watches with interesting histories.
And when I say history, I mean proper history. Many people don’t realize that Seiko has been around for over a century. In that time, Seiko has set itself apart from the Swiss watch industry by making innovation a key focal point. Moreover, Seiko has a long tradition of producing affordable timepieces. While most Swiss brands exclusively offer expensive luxury products, Seiko offers quality mechanical watches that start at decent prices, and go up to very expensive pieces from their Grand Seiko and Credor brands. Let’s begin by taking a look at Seiko’s impressive track record.
Seiko: Synonymous with Innovation
Seiko dates back to 1882, when Kintarō Hattori opened his watch and clock shop in Ginza, Tokyo, Japan. In 1924, the first wristwatch appeared under the Seiko name, beginning a great legacy.
Seiko has since developed some very iconic watches that have come to define the brand and revolutionize the industry. One example is the Seiko Marvel from 1956, which featured the brand’s first in-house movement. That watch was supplanted by the Seiko Gyro Marvel in 1959. This latter timepiece boasts a “Magic Lever” mechanism that increases the winding efficiency. In 1960, Seiko introduced their first Grand Seiko watch. After many decades as Seiko’s luxury arm, Grand Seiko has now become its own separate brand.
In 1964, Seiko released the first Japanese chronograph. Seiko celebrated this model’s 55th anniversary with a remake in 2019. The year 1965 saw the debut of the first Seiko Diver – a renowned watch that was re-released in 2017. In 1969, Seiko debuted two world firsts, one being the world’s first automatic chronograph watch (the Seiko 5 Sports Speed Timer) powered by the now-legendary Seiko Caliber 6139.
The other first changed the trajectory of the watch industry forever. I am, of course, talking about the world’s first quartz watch, the catalyst of what we now call the “quartz crisis.” The 1969 Seiko Quartz Astron and its innovative quartz movement sparked a revolution. It was much more accurate than any mechanical movement could ever be. Perhaps the most remarkable detail about the Quartz Astron is that its case was made of 18-karat yellow gold. Today, most people associate quartz movements with cheap watches and materials.
Seiko’s innovative nature continued to flourish in the ensuing decades. They introduced the Kinetic movement in 1988, and in 1999, they released the first Spring Drive movement. The latter appears across the different Seiko brands, including in some Grand Seiko watches. The latest big innovation, the Astron GPS Solar, premiered in 2012. This watch uses solar power as its energy source and GPS signals to automatically adjust the time depending on your location. It’s the latest in a long line of groundbreaking innovations that make Seiko the unique brand it is today.
Seiko’s Popularity Explained
There are many reasons why Seiko is so beloved by people all over the world. As mentioned, Seiko is a very innovative brand – what’s not to love about that? Moreover, their mechanical watches are high quality and very affordable. Together, this makes Seiko watches worth every penny you spend on them.
Seiko has also created a number of design classics that have attracted quite a large following. The Sumo, Monster, and Turtle are some of the nicknames fans have come up with for certain models. Seiko, in turn, only uses reference numbers for their watches. If you look through the brand’s history, you will discover that Seiko has designed watches that are universally loved – only the biggest companies can claim that.
One last reason for Seiko’s popularity is the pride and craftsmanship that goes into every single one of their mechanical watches, no matter the price. Whether you buy a $500 Turtle, a $3,500 Marinemaster 300, or a $8,200 Grand Seiko Hi-Beat GMT, every single watch is made by craftspeople with an incredible eye for detail and a great sense of pride. If you speak to people who have visited Seiko, they will tell you that the craftsmanship is remarkable and their dedication unmatched. Many report leaving the Japanese headquarters feeling more respect for the brand than when they arrived.
Current Seiko Models
The current Seiko catalog consists of five models: the Prospex family of diving watches; the recently relaunched Seiko 5 Sports line of sports watches; the Presage with watches that focus on style, quality, and durability; the Premier series with classic designs; and the Astron collection with GPS solar technology. Overall, it’s a varied collection of watches with prices ranging from around $300 for the least expensive Seiko 5 Sports model to $3,500 for the Prospex SLA021J1, also known as the Marinemaster 300.
Recent Seiko Introductions
In addition to their regular models, Seiko has also celebrated some of their greatest achievements by releasing a number of fantastic limited-edition watches in the last couple of years. This is where I think Seiko has really showcased their abilities. They have proven that they know how to pay homage to their past and keep up with the latest technology, resulting in some truly amazing special editions.
Some of the most memorable are the Seiko SLA017 diver released in 2017, a tribute to the first Seiko diving watch from 1965 (the 62MAS), and 2018’s Seiko SLA025, a re-creation of the legendary Seiko automatic diving watch from 1968. The latter is my personal favorite. It’s nearly identical to the 1968 model, featuring a monobloc steel case and the 8L55 Hi-Beat movement (essentially a Grand Seiko movement). The construction and finishing are top notch, and the watch feels incredible on your wrist.
At around $6,000, it is very expensive for a Seiko, but the price clearly wasn’t an issue for fans. The limited run of 1,500 pieces sold out in a matter of days. Today, the watches are highly sought-after on the pre-owned market. The rich history, timeless design, and incredibly innovative movements make this watch, and Seiko generally, unique in the world of watches. Most importantly, however, Seiko is special because its fans have a personal connection to their timepieces. I know, because I am one such fan. After all, Seiko is the brand that first got me interested in mechanical watches, and that is something I will remember forever.