Spotlight on King Seiko vs. Grand Seiko – What’s The Difference?
James Elliott29 August 2022 | 6 min read
Seiko is one of the world’s biggest watch brands whose impact on watchmaking can be traced back to the late 1800s. We recently wrote an article that covers the company in detail called: Seiko takes on the World: Japanese Dragon vs Swiss Monopoly, which I highly recommend. While they are best known for their high-quality budget watches, Seiko has dabbled in the mid and luxury markets, most notably with their King Seiko and Grand Seiko ranges.
In this article, we’ll try and unpick those ranges as we compare the history, positioning, and current offering by comparing King Seiko vs. Grand Seiko. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that straightforward, but by the end of this article, you’ll be in a position to know whether a King Seiko or a Grand Seiko is the right watch for you.
Let’s get started!
- A Bit of Seiko History
- King Seiko vs. Grand Seiko – The Battle of the Sub-Brands
- King Seiko vs. Grand Seiko – What’s the Deal in 2022?
- King Seiko vs. Grand Seiko – How to Make a Buying Decision
A Bit of Seiko History
Before we jump into the sub-brand itself, let’s take a very quick history lesson on Seiko.
Founded back in 1881 by Kintarō Hattori, ‘Seikosha’ began its life as a watch and jewellery reseller before starting to manufacture its own range in 1892. Over the next 130 years, the brand expanded globally to become a household name in Asia, Europe, and North America.
Seiko’s popularity is largely down to their diversity, with excellent watches across the dress, sports, field, and dive watch categories – they really do have something for everyone. But their real USP is how they balance quality and price. Most Seiko quartz watches start at the $100 – £200 mark, with their more-premium automatic models usually well under $750.
That low cost doesn’t come at the consequence of quality with their dive watches certified by PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) and a number of exclusive figures such as Novak Djokovic, Sean Connery, and Roger Moore all sporting a Seiko at one time or another.
Seiko Founder – Kintarō Hattori
But while the brand dominates the budget sports and adventure markets, they’ve always kept a hand in the luxury market. A desire to compete with iconic Swiss watchmakers such as Rolex and Omega led to the formation of two sub-brands – King Seiko and Grand Seiko.
And it was in the mid-1960s that the King Seiko vs. Grand Seiko debate started.
King Seiko vs. Grand Seiko – The Battle of the Sub-Brands
In the 1960s, Seiko had a problem. While they were taking the world by storm as a brand, they were still considered inferior to Swiss-made pieces. In some ways, this was justified as Seiko watches were designed to be more cost-effective and simply didn’t match the level of build quality.
To overcome this, two of Seiko’s watch factories, Daini Seikosha and Suwa Seikosha, were given the task of each creating a piece that could challenge the status of Swiss timekeeping and change the perception of Japanese watches.
For Grand Seiko, this was led by the creation of the 44GS, a 38mm model with a 27-jewel, 18000 frequency movement that was right up there in terms of performance. These ‘GS’ range watches started to meet chronometer standards and eventually put Seiko on the map regarding high-end performance.
A vintage Grand Seiko 44GS Ref. 4420-9000 from 1967 – Source.
Even though they were set up to compete with grand Seiko, King Seiko always lagged slightly behind its bigger brother. The first King Seikos were made with unmarked, manual winding, 25 jewel movements that were not internally tested chronometers. King Seiko’s biggest release was the ’44KS’ model in 1964. The 44KS was a remake of Grand Seiko’s 44GS but didn’t quite meet the same chronometer grade of the original.
A vintage King Seiko 44KS Ref.44-9990 from 1966 – Source.
By the late 1960s, the Grand Seiko’s 44GS model had achieved worldwide recognition as one of the most accurate watches in the world, easily meeting the standard of excellence of the Bureaux Officiels de Contrôle de la Marche des Montres.
The Grand Seiko range received notoriety and became popular across the globe in its own right, penetrating a market that the traditional Seiko brand had never achieved.
As the Grand Seiko range soared, King Seiko found itself without a purpose. Grand Seiko no longer needed an internal brand to challenge it, and there wasn’t really a market that sat between Seiko’s traditional offering and the higher-end position of Grand Seiko – for that reason, in 1975, the King Seiko brand was discontinued.
The Grand Seiko range continues on to this day as a completely separate brand from Seiko. To this day, Grand Seiko still has the same mission to create “the ‘ideal’ watch with standards of precision, durability, and beauty that would lead the world.”
King Seiko vs. Grand Seiko – What’s the Deal in 2022?
In 2022, the King Seiko vs. Grand Seiko debate has taken another turn.
The Grand Seiko range has been going strong since the 1960s, with the brand now a staple option in the luxury watch market. Today, the brand focuses around 5 collections:
- Masterpiece – The dress watch range
- Elegance – The ladies’ range
- Sports – Diver and pilot watches
- Heritage – A nod to the past, including the modern 44GS
- Evolution 9 – The flagship range
Our pick is the now-current 44GS which retains the look and feel of the original 1960s model but naturally provides a sleek, modern twist. The SBGH277 model pictured above comes in at 40mm, is accurate to +5/-3 seconds a day, and boasts a 55-hour power reserve thanks to the 9S85 movement.
It’s a true luxury piece that’ll set you back just over $6,000 brand new. If you like the look of it, we’d recommend checking out the entire Grand Seiko range on their website.
When it comes to King Seiko, things are a little different. While the brand was discontinued in 1975, Seiko recently released a King Seiko range under their standard Seiko brand.
The SPB279 model pictured above is one of five slender 37mm pieces, with an automatic Seiko 6R31 movement, accuracy of +25 to -15 seconds per day, and a very decent 70 hours power reserve. There are other nice features here too, such as a sapphire crystal and 100m water resistance, that come together to a price of $1,700.
For Seiko, that’s a pretty high price point. But, you are getting a high-quality watch with a very strong movement steeped in 1960s history. Definitely one to consider if you’re looking for a premium Seiko.
King Seiko vs. Grand Seiko – How to Make a Buying Decision
The question of King Seiko vs. Grand Seiko isn’t straightforward, so it’s a little tricky to point to a definitive answer either way.
If you’re shopping in the vintage watch market, looking for an original piece from the 1960s, the Grand Seiko models will definitely be of higher quality and, by default, will drive a higher price. Given that King Seiko models ran for a shorter time window, they may be a little harder to come by, though.
In the current watch market, it’s hard to make a direct comparison. Grand Seiko is now a fully-fledged brand with 5 distinct collections, each sporting several models to suit any taste. These watches are pitched at the luxury market, so expect to be paying at least $3,000 to get your hands on one.
On the other hand, King Seiko is now a small range underneath the broader Seiko brand. There’s just one model to choose from, albeit with 5 different dial-colour options, all boasting good-quality specifications around the $1,700 mark.
While it always comes down to personal taste, if you’re on a tighter budget, the King Seiko range will likely be for you. However, if you’ve got a little more to spend and are looking for higher quality, there’ll be a Grand Seiko watch with your name on it!