Is Seiko the Top Watch Brand for Men in 2023?
Ignatius Quiaoit4 September 2023 | 12 min read
Are Seiko good watches:
When it comes to choosing the perfect watch, one question that often resurfaces is, “Are Seiko good watches?” For decades, Seiko has been a brand synonymous with precision, durability, and all-round good value for money. With the amount of brands on the market competing for your money and all of them promising unique value propositions, the decision can get tricky.
So, does Seiko hold its own in this highly competitive landscape? Is it still the top choice for those looking for a watch that combines value for money, style, and durability?
In this article, we take you through the Seiko Journey that follows up from our previous in-depth article, Seiko Takes on the World: Japanese Dragon vs Swiss Monopoly, and help you decide to answer the all-important question “Are Seiko good watches?” and ultimately help you decide whether Seiko truly is one of the top watch brands in 2023.
I. Seiko (the brand)
Glass on glass. Passerby after passerby. Walking down the grey steps of Ginza, one notices the high-end shops that adorn both sides of the street. Acting as luxurious mirrors of consumption. From high-fashion brands to expensive car dealers, one could get lost in the abundance of products and services on offer. For a watch enthusiast, this street is heaven. From the likes of Audemars Piguet to Patek Philippe, but one does not go to Ginza for the Swiss watches.
Following the street from the Tokyo Metro subway station, one can make out the facade of a stone building. A simple 3-hand clock sits above the roof. Symmetrical glass windows reflect the glistening lights from the surrounding skyscrapers onto the sidewalk below. This is the Seiko House Ginza. What started as a simple newspaper building was then renovated and built to be the latest store for the K. Hattori Clock Store.
The building positions itself along Ginza ever-so-right so that every passerby can catch a glimpse of this historic building. Externally set in stone and marble internally, the building’s facade and structure are a testament to the tradition and heritage of the brand that is housed in it: Seiko.
Although carrying decades of history within its walls, the Seiko House Ginza is just a store. Coming out of the building and walking down along 4-Chome Ginza, one can find the Seiko Museum. The building houses several exhibits detailing the rich history of the brand and its products.
Following the floors, we learn that Seiko was founded in 1881 with Kintaro Hattori when he first opened his small shop called “K. Hattori” in Tokyo, Japan. After being in the watchmaking business and doing apprenticeships with the likes of F. Perregaux & Co., Hattori decided to move into manufacturing. He named this new venture Seikosha.
Following years of pocket watch manufacturing, Seikosha developed Japan’s first wristwatch in 1913, the Laurel.
The years following their venture into watch manufacturing and experiencing several setbacks, Seikosha found themselves in a unique spot in the world of watchmaking. For one, they were, if not the only non-Western brand to compete with the Swiss at their observatory accuracy trials.
The year is 1967. Swiss brands and their respective watches have dominated the accuracy trials for decades. Then comes a newcomer, and not just any newcomer, a non-Swiss newcomer. Seiko sends two of their constituent companies, Daini Seikosha and Suwa Seikosha, to compete against the Swiss at their own game. Both companies place second and third, respectively. This is a massive blow to the Swiss.
What’s more, in the very next year, Seiko came in first at the Geneva Observatory trials. The Swiss, and their brands were furious. They demanded an end to the trials. Swiss brands threatened government officials with a boycott. The Swiss decided to end the trials forever.
It is not just accuracy that Seiko decided to compete with the Swiss. Movement manufacturing is another.
In the late 1960s, watches have become more affordable and accessible for the everyday man. The proliferation of various complications widens the choices available for everyone. One of these is the chronograph.
However, most chronograph movements are hand-wind. Manufacturers have not yet cracked the code for installing an automatic winding movement into a chronograph, except for Heuer, Zenith, and Seiko. The history is contentious. Each brand boasts that it was the first to develop an automatic chronograph, ahead of every other brand.
Heuer debuted the Caliber 12 automatic chronograph movement. Boasting a micro-rotor and essentially “minimal” thickness, the movement was introduced along with the Carrera line of chronograph watches. But, a few months earlier, Zenith came out with the legendary El Primero movement. Nothing like the others, this chronograph movement set itself apart by running at a whopping 36,000 vibrations an hour.
Yet, on the other side of the planet, Seiko unveiled their first automatic chronograph movement, the Caliber 6139. Even after sending their official congratulations to Heuer for their achievement, the movement was ready months before the Swiss.
In the history of watchmaking, nothing has rattled the industry more than the Quartz Crisis.
Yet, you could say, only one was able to ride out the storm stronger than ever. And they were the ones who started the crisis in the first place.
Although the Swiss were the first to develop the technology that would become quartz-powered watches, it was Seiko who perfected it. Understanding the potential for near-perfect accuracy, Seiko developed the first mass-produced quartz watch: the Seiko Astron.
What followed was inevitable. Seiko knew the secrets to mass-producing new technology and implementing them at an affordable price. Yet, as we all know, Seiko does not skimp on quality and quality watchmaking. Adding all these together, we can see why they were victorious during the crisis.
D. Spring Drive Movements
The introduction of quartz and the long history of mechanical movements have prompted Seiko to rethink their strategy. Where can they go from here? That answer would come in the form of a young engineer at the brand: Yoshikazu Akahane.
Following development from the ’70s to the ’90s, Akahane and his team were able to debut the Spring Drive movement at Baselworld in 1999. By combining the mechanics of mechanical movements and the newfound accuracy and power of quartz, the team was able to develop a movement with a smooth sweeping seconds hand while keeping the accuracy of +/- 15 seconds a month. An absolute example of innovative technology.
Now, when everyone thinks of Seiko and their higher-tier brand, Grand Seiko, everyone thinks of the Spring Drive.
Watches have graced the big screen ever since the inception of affordable, high-quality timepieces for the everyday man. Seiko can list themselves as a brand in filmmaking.
In the extra-terrestrial and starred movie Aliens, we get a glimpse of the Seiko worn by Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, as she battles an alien being deep in outer space. The watch, now famously known as the “Giugiaro,” was designed by the famous Italian automobile designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. With clean lines and solid colours, the watch exemplifies the history of car design that Giugiaro was known for.
Quite the departure from previous chronograph watch designs, the Giugiaro is like having a piece of avant-garde art on the wrist.
Seiko reintroduced some Giugiaro-inspired watch designs that were quickly snatched up by the general public. Although not designed by the man himself, the designs evoke the very essence of the original watch.
Known for his early use of Rolex Submariners and his current brand partnership with Omega, James Bond can be seen wearing an example of the growing power of Japanese watchmaking.
Sir Roger Moore can be seen wearing several Seikos throughout his reign as 007. In For Your Eyes Only (1981), Moore was filmed wearing a Seiko 7549-7009 “Golden Tuna.” Although less refined as compared to the previous Rolex showings, this marks the certain departure that watchmaking was experiencing at the time.
During the height of the quartz crisis, Sir Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) wore the Seiko 0674 5009 Quartz LC. Outfitted with the latest gadgetry, Q installs a ticker-tape printer to send messages to 007. The watch can be seen on 007’s wrist until the end of the movie.
From an international man of mystery to a rugged Vietnam soldier, Seiko has also been to the jungles of Vietnam. Starring in the war blockbuster Apocalypse Now (1979), Martin Sheen was given the Seiko 6105, now known as the “Captain Willard” after the character’s name, from then director Francis Ford Coppola.
Coppola’s direct experience with Vietnam veterans’ praise for the watch compelled him to include the watch in the movie.
Due to the popularity of the watch among vintage collectors, Seiko updated the watch with a modern movement and modern high-quality watchmaking.
Who could also forget the action-packed, and also alien-filled, movies of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yet, why mention Arnie without mentioning the watch that was given the same name, the Seiko H558-5009, the Seiko Arnie.
Debuting in Schwarzenegger’s movies the Commando (1985) and Predator (1987), the Seiko Arnie is one of Seiko’s own quartz watches that hit the big screen. Looking minuscule compared to the monstrous arm of Schwarzenegger, the watch braved many battles and fights, all while the second hand kept on ticking.
In 2019, Seiko reintroduced the Arnie with the Seiko SNJ025. Sporting a solar movement, the watch continues the legacy of professional diving standards from the original Arnie. With it’s 47.8mm black durable case, the watch showcases the manufacturing process that Seiko possesses in producing excellent value timepieces.
II. Years Till the Present
So, what does this all mean for the watch buyer in 2023?
In Seiko’s long and illustrious history, the brand has evolved to become one of the major players in the world of watchmaking.
Nothing exemplifies this more than quality watchmaking using high-quality materials in every watch line and brand that is under the Seiko name.
For the new watch buyer, one can look no further than the Seiko 5 lineup.
The Seiko 5 line traces its roots back to 1963 when the first Seiko 5 watch rolled out of the factory. The watch was Japan’s first-ever automatic day-date watch. Seiko wanted to produce a high-quality everyday watch that could fit the five criteria needed by the everyday Japanese man:
- An automatic movement
- A day-date display at the three o’clock position
- Water resistance
- A recessed crown at the four o’clock position
- A case and bracelet built for durability
For years, the Seiko 5 line was considered the budget king. Its price point in the market was no match for other watch brands. High-quality materials with excellent finishing. Take into account the numerous styles and dial options present, along with the various collaborations that they have with fashion brands and athletes.
One can point to the success of the Seiko SKX line of dive watches, previously available in 38mm and 42mm diameters. Watch collectors and casual watch buyers alike can point to this humble yet rugged dive watch as their first entry into quality watchmaking. Sporting the ubiquitous 7S26 automatic in-house movement, the watch most definitely graced the wrist of every watch enthusiast out there.
Yet, Seiko decided to discontinue the entire Seiko 5 lineup. It was time for a revamp. In 2019, Seiko released the new Seiko 5 Sports SRPD lineup. Sporting the same dimensions as the brilliant SKX007, the new lineup was met with mixed reviews. For watch enthusiasts, they detested the discontinuation of the SKX lineup. But others accepted the new lineup and praised it for introducing a new era in Seiko’s affordable lineup.
Last year, Seiko surprised the world with the launch of the Seiko 5 Sports GMT. A new Seiko GMT movement with the ability to track different time zones for below half a grand? The watch world couldn’t believe it. Yet, staying true to the spirit of the Seiko 5 line, Seiko did it in the only way they could.
Just this year, they expanded the collection with two new dial colours, yellow and charcoal grey.
Even after revamping the SKX lineup, Seiko continued to appease the enthusiast market by *finally* introducing the Seiko 5 Sports watches in 38mm. After the success of the reintroduction of the Seiko 5 Sports line, buyers were clamouring for an update to the SKX007’s little brother, the SKX013.
Seiko is not only creative within its design studio, but the brand has collaborated with several fashion houses to develop unique and interesting watch designs.
One of these fashion brands is the New York-based apparel store Rowing Blazers. Sporting both the dial-only and divers watch SKX designs, Rowing Blazers designed several dials and bezel colours for their collaboration.
Owing to the hype and brand equity that is Seiko, these limited editions were quickly snatched up and are now being sold in the grey market for almost twice their retail price.
For affordable, high-quality manufacturing, Seiko has you covered. But what if you wanted to up your wrist game? Maybe you’ve been in the collecting game long enough that you want to move up.
Being a billion-dollar vertically integrated watch powerhouse means that they will have watches for every budget available. And that’s the case with the 62MAS reinterpretation, the SPB143.
Taking inspiration from the first Seiko dive watch, the 62MAS, which originally comes in a black dial, the SPB143 is part of Seiko’s higher-tier Prospex dive watch line. The SPB143 comes in several colourways and collaborations. Some consider it to be one of the best Seiko watches.
One of these is the Shohei Ohtani Limited Edition. Seiko designed an SPB143, the limited edition being the SBDC191, with Japanese baseball athlete Shohei Ohtani. The watch sports a grey dial with a striking red-accented seconds hand. Ohtani’s signature is prominently etched onto the folding clasp.
With the SPB143 and the Prospex collection, one can expect expertly finished watches for the same price as an entry-level Swiss dive watch. Not to mention the upgraded movements and excellent dial variations.
Seiko’s line of dive and sports watches usually take the limelight from their other offerings. This was not the case, however, when they relaunched the King Seiko line of watches last year.
Born as the brother of the now-famous Grand Seiko line, King Seiko was created to provide high-quality watchmaking to the general populace. Although neglected and faded away into obscurity, Seiko decided to revive the King Seiko line and name.
Sporting a mid-century stainless steel case size of 37 mm case and being priced above the current dress watch options of the normal Seiko lineup, the new King Seiko watches are the highest form of dress watches from Seiko.
And yet, just this year, Seiko released one limited edition King Seiko in 37mm along with upsized 39mm offerings for the lineup.
With an illustrious history, products to support it, manufacturing on another level, and technological advancements that have shaken the industry, what’s not to love and fall for the brand that is Seiko? Can we consider Seiko a luxury brand?
For the watch buyer in 2023, Seiko has everything that one looks for in a high-quality timepiece.
Starting from their humble shop along Ginza, the brand has a distinguished history in constructing in-house movements and dial design. This means that for every Seiko watch you own, you know that you have decades of expertise within the watch.
Wouldn’t you want a piece of a brand that beat the Swiss at their own game so hard that they decided to stop the trials indefinitely?
Or what about a high-accuracy quartz movement from the brand that started the Quartz Crisis?
Moving up the scale, why not get a movement that marries the beauty of mechanical movements with the wonder of quartz accuracy? Spring Drive is in the heart and soul of the brand.
Why not get a piece of cinema history on the wrist? From aliens to the jungles of Vietnam, the hall of cinema Seikos is vast and wide.
But we get it. It’s hard. Just with the number of choices, Seiko beats every other watch brand currently on the market, from the sheer number of Seiko 5 choices and Prospex divers, not including the numerous collaborations for each line.
Yet, with all these choices, all this proof to back up the amazing innovation present within the walls of the Seiko House Ginza, what’s important is whether you pick this Seiko or that, you know that you will end up with a high-quality timepiece made with only the best case materials present.
To emulate the spirit and to quote what the Seiko attendant said to me, “Just pick one. You won’t regret it.”