In the world of watches, there’s a constant striving for perfection, from creating the most accurate, to the most technologically advanced, to the most visually stunning timepieces that have the power to win watch enthusiasts over. While the Swiss watch industry is recognized for its centuries-long striving for this perfection, leave it to the Japanese to bring that level of perfection up to standards that are unmatched. One of the best examples for this desire to create the best wristwatches in the world lies with Grand Seiko. The brand was founded by Seiko in 1960, and has since embarked on a quest to create the best timepieces on the market. Now, more than six decades later, Grand Seiko is recognized for having achieved exactly that: timepieces that combine the best in accuracy with iconic designs and the highest levels of finishing. Let’s take a more in-depth look at Grand Seiko and why it has become increasingly popular with collectors. To guide us, we’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions about them.
Is Grand Seiko the same as Seiko?
While both Seiko and Grand Seiko are part of the Seiko Watch Corporation, they are not the same brand. Grand Seiko was, in fact, part of Seiko for years. In 2017, however, Grand Seiko became a fully independent watch brand. The reason was simple: by becoming its own entity, Grand Seiko has been able to take the next step as a luxury watch brand that is positioned significantly higher in the market than Seiko. Whereas Seiko focuses on affordable watches for a wide audience, Grand Seiko is in the market segment that competes with the likes of Rolex, Omega, and Breitling. In doing this, it has gained significant recognition from watch fans everywhere.
What makes Grand Seiko so special?
Grand Seiko is a special brand because it combines the finest in watchmaking in terms of technology, design, and finishing, and has been doing so for 60 years. It all started with the amazing history of the brand. Check out the article I wrote in 2020 that dives a bit deeper into this history. The short version is that Grand Seiko released its first watch in 1960, which was the first example of its quest for excellence.
In order to create the best wristwatches in the world, Grand Seiko has constantly developed new movements that are considered some of the best ever made. The watch brand made a name for itself with their so-called “Hi-beat” movements that operate at a higher frequency than those of most of its competitors, making them more accurate. It’s a joy to see the seconds hand glide along the dial of these watches. When the quartz revolution took over the watch industry, Grand Seiko also produced some of the most accurate quartz watches in the world before ceasing to exist in 1975.
Additionally, Grand Seiko implemented Taro Tanaka’s “Grammar of Design,” a set of design rules Tanaka established to make sure Grand Seiko watches stood out. Prior to this, Seiko watches had been deemed boring. But with Tanaka’s new guidelines, Grand Seiko produced some of the most spectacular timepieces of the ’60s and ’70s, including designs that still form the foundation for three of the four Grand Seiko collections.
Finally, there is the incredible level of finishing that is both a testament to the craftsmanship of Seiko watchmakers, as well as the brilliance of Tanaka’s design rules. Two of his four rules combined design and finishing. To make sure his vision could come to life, Grand Seiko has always released watches with incredible mirror finishing, something that is also known as Zaratsu polishing. This technique is a unique feature of Grand Seiko watches that is done by hand, and requires an incredible amount of skill.
These three pillars of technology, design, and finishing are still the foundation for what makes Grand Seiko so special today. After being reintroduced as a Seiko sub-brand in 1988, it began releasing high-end Seiko quartz watches. However, the brand really started reclaiming its fame in 1998 when Grand Seiko released their first new mechanical movements. The brand also introduced their incredible Spring Drive technology in 2002, leading to even more accurate movements.
What is the difference between King Seiko and Grand Seiko?
In 1959, Seiko split their Suwa Seikosha factory and Daini Seikosha factories into two separate entities in hopes of driving innovation and competition. Their goal was to produce the best wristwatches in the world. Suwa Seikosha started producing Grand Seiko watches, while Daini Seikosha produced King Seiko watches. Both brands created some of the most interesting and accurate timepieces in the 1960s. During their quest to produce the best watches in the world, the Seiko brand introduced the iconic Astron, the world’s first quartz watch.
The Seiko Astron resulted from the same quest for accuracy that Grand Seiko and King Seiko were on. This new technology soon made the pursuit of mechanical excellence obsolete. Quartz movements are considerably more accurate than mechanical calibers, a major reason why King Seiko disappeared, and why Grand Seiko ceased production of its timepieces in 1975. Vintage Grand Seiko and King Seiko watches are much appreciated by collectors. King Seiko pieces, in particular, can often be found at very affordable prices.
Is Grand Seiko worth the money?
The answer to this question is a wholehearted “YES!” If there’s one brand that offers great value for money, it’s Grand Seiko. Its history, movements, design, and finishing are all pretty much unmatched for the money. Recently, we’ve seen a noticeably steep price increase for the Evolution 9 collection, which are equipped with the latest generation Spring Drive and Hi-beat movements. Some of the stainless steel watches have come close to the $10,000 mark, a point at which a lot of people draw the line when shopping for a watch. But fear not: Grand Seiko offers great watches starting at around $3,000, and plenty of the mechanical and Spring Drive timepieces are priced between $5,000 and $8,000. It’s hard (if not impossible) to find something better at this price point.
Is Grand Seiko better than Rolex?
Another question that pops up quite frequently is whether Grand Seiko is better than Rolex. This question is more relevant now that more Rolex watches are becoming unavailable through official dealers, and their prices are constantly going up on the pre-owned market. As a result, the watches from the Geneva-based brand are becoming increasingly unattainable, causing enthusiasts to search for alternatives. When answering the question of whether Grand Seiko is better than Rolex, I like to divide the question into two parts.
First, there’s the question of whether the watches are better. While both brands offer absolutely amazing timepieces, a lot of watch journalists and collectors consider Grand Seiko watches to be superior. When it comes to design, there is no denying that Rolex has more iconic timepieces in its catalog. But if you read more about Grand Seiko’s history, you’ll soon learn about the incredible designs that they have to offer, many of which have become iconic in their own right. Furthermore, Grand Seiko offers better-crafted, superbly finished movements. When it comes to overall build quality, both brands make some of the best watches in the industry that will last you a lifetime. Rolex has really upped its game over the years, and both brands are hard to beat in terms of quality. Finally, the finishing on Grand Seiko watches is generally considered to be the best in the industry, and better than their Rolex counterparts.
This brings us to the appeal of both brands. Rolex is the number one luxury watch brand in the world, and it has steadily worked to create this image. If you buy a Rolex, you’re buying a piece of true luxury. Grand Seiko, on the other hand, is much more of a brand that creates exquisite timepieces. It’s not about the world of luxury, but instead all about creating the best watches in the world. It’s this difference that makes Grand Seiko a brand for true watch fans, rather than those looking for a statement of success. With Grand Seiko becoming independent in 2017, it has also taken major steps toward becoming a well-respected luxury brand. Nevertheless, wearing a Grand Seiko is not about the success of the person who wears it, it’s about the craftsmanship of the watchmakers who have successfully created some of the best watches in the world. If that’s what you’re looking for, then Grand Seiko makes the timepieces you’re going to want on your wrist.