If you’ve been in the market for a mid-range watch in the last 30 years, you will inevitably have come across both Seiko and Citizen during your search. The competing Japanese manufacturers both pride themselves on their rich timekeeping history, their reputation of high quality and a diverse portfolio in Sports, Diving and Dress pieces.
The now age old debate of Seiko vs Citizen has waged on in the timekeeping community for a while and whilst we don’t suspect our humble article will settle the debate once and for all, we hope it will help you identify which brand best suits your tastes.
We’re going to run through their histories and movement styles as well as putting some of the flagship models from each brand up against each other to help give you a true comparison of these mid-market warriors!
Let’s jump in….
‘Hajime’ – The Birth of Seiko
Founded all the way back in 1881 by Kintarō Hattori, ‘Seikosha’ began it’s life as a watch and jewellery reseller before making the transition to manufacturing their own range in 1892. Over the past 130 years or so, the brand has expanded across the globe and is now a household name across Asia, Europe and North America.
Seiko have aligned themselves heavily with the sporting world and are perhaps best known for their association with the diving community. Their sports watches have gained acclaim both as lead sponsors for stars such as Novak Djokavic and gaining certification as the trust watch of PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors.)
Seiko Founder – Kintarō Hattori
They also stamp their mark on popular culture with Seiko’s being the watch of choice for Sean Connery and Roger Moore’s James Bond roles and in line with their Japanese roots feature heavily on characters within the Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid video games.
Both the sports and action hero associations have given Seiko a reputation for producing durable, adventure-ready pieces that can withstand all the elements. Keen to diversify their image, the Grand Seiko range specialises in luxury, dress pieces with the explicit goal to compete with Swiss brands such as Rolex and Omega
‘Chōsen-sha’ – The Rise of Citizen
Citizen came to the party slightly later in 1918 when Kamekichi Yakamazi founded the Shokosha Watch Research Institute and in collaboration with Swiss watchmakers and investors began commercial exporting throughout Europe and beyond in the 1920’s.
Like Seiko, Citizen are best known for their sports watches playing to the active buyer who wants to look stylish whilst partaking in their latest adventure. Unlike Seiko, they don’t operate a separate luxury brand, but they do have a long and large range of dress watches that sit within the mid-market bracket.
Citizen HQ, Tokyo – Image Source
Citizen partners with some leading organisations throughout the world including Disney, Premiership Rugby and the UK military’s RAF Red Arrows. They also sponsor individuals such as Eric Larsen, an adventurer of both the North and South Poles, in line with their ethical commitment to global conservation and energy (more on this later!)
Citizen have grown into a larger electronics manufacturing organisation in modern times, with the brand having operations in the computing, television and hand-help gaming spaces.
‘Rikigaku’ – Lighting the Way with Quartz Movement
Seiko has a rich, pioneering history when it comes to movements as the original commercial founder of Quartz technology. Up until the late 1960s, mechanical watches were all the market had and whilst the romance of manual mechanics still attracts customers to this day, we all know their accuracy is relatively poor. The electronic oscillation of a Quartz crystal changed the game with timekeeping and has ensured a lasting reputation of accuracy for Seiko up until the present day.
For those of you au fait with your watch history, you’ll know the birth of quartz, also gave rise to the Quartz Crisis of the 1970’s as traditional Swiss watchmakers struggled to compete with their Japanese counterparts. Whilst Citizen contributed to this in their own right, Seiko led this movement forward and have retained their reputation as a major market influencer in the mid 1900’s until the modern times.
Original Seiko Astron – The World First Commercial Quartz Watch
Jumping to the present day, Seiko actually offer a range of movements, and rather ironically, that includes automatic mechanical pieces as well. For some examples of each movement, check out the below models:
Quartz – SKS641P1, SKDG91P1 & SUP250P1
Mechanical – SARB017 & SNXS73K
Moving over to Citizen and the story for some years is very similar. They followed Seiko’s journey closely utilising mechanical watches until jumping onto the quartz bandwagon in the 1970’s, again taking advantage of the additional accuracy and subsequent mass-manufacturing opportunities that followed.
With their great competitor, Seiko, setting the foundation for quartz movement, Citizen needed to hit back with some innovation of their own and they did this in 1976, with the release of their Eco-Drive technology.
The concept of Eco-Drive was fairly simple – a quartz watch that will never need a new battery, fully powered by the sun. Every watch in the Citizen Eco-Drive ranges features an ultra-thin, silicon solar panel which efficiently turns any light source into energy; and up to 6 months worth of energy at that! At the time this was revolutionary and gave Citizen their own seat at the pioneering watchmaker’s table, and whilst solar powered watches are commonplace in modern times, no one has harnessed the technology quite like Citizen.
Interested by how it works? Check out Citizen’s Eco Drive promotional video below:
‘Tatakau’ – Putting them Head to Head
So with the histories established and the legacy of each brand’s movements established, it’s time to put some watches head to head. Now a quick search online is going to yield many results for items in both the Seiko and Citizen ranges and this means it’s hard to find watches to compare together.
So, in the spirit of fair competition, we’ve taken 3 key categories both brands strive to hit (diving, general sports and dress watches) and picked one from each that at the time of writing, retailed at a similar price.
‘Saisho’ – The Diving Watches
For Seiko, we’ve taken a model from the Prospex Monster range, the SRPD29K1. Seiko’s legacy in diving ranges all the way back to 60’s with their original and updated ‘Drivers’ range, some of the best known and trusted watches in history. They maintain their commitment to the diving community, quoting from their website that they are always ‘striving to bring ever greater reliability and safety to both professional and recreational divers.’
This model specifically comes in a stunning black, stainless steel finish with silver lume hands and indications. The large 40mm case is supported with a unidirectional bezel, day/date indicator and steel strap.
Inside the case it utilises Seiko’s 4R36 movement, giving 41hrs power reserve, ISO certification and 200m water resistance. Seiko have also recently partnered with PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) with all their watches certified by the profession directly.
At the time of writing, this piece retailed directly from Seiko at £470. This generation of the Monster has only been on sale a number of months at the time of writing, but older versions can be purchased in the second hand market for under £350.
For Citizen, we’ve picked out a model from the ProMaster Aqualand, the BN2039-59E. As we saw with the quartz movement, Citizen have a habit of working from the foundations of others to push the bar further. Their diving history is steeped in groundbreaking exploration, working to make some of the first diving watches used at 800m and 1000m depths.
The Aqualand comes in with a silver, stainless steel case matched against a black face and silver, lume hands. It has a striking red one-way bezel as well as a host of chronograph features such as depth memory, dive mode and rapid ascent alarm which will all operate down to 200m.
At 46mm it’s slightly smaller than the Seiko but utilises the Eco-Drive technology we’ve seen earlier so battery life is assured for 6 months on full charge.
Brand new, this one comes directly from Citizen at £495. Not too many models were available on the pre-owned market at the time of writing, but those that were only gave a £30/40 saving so you may be best off spending that little extra to go new!
‘Ni-banme’ – The Sports Watches
Seiko’s 5 Sports range has been around for a while. First delivering the Sportsmatic to the market in 1963, it’s built up a solid reputation of reliability and durability over the years now coupled with some modern, 21st century design uplifts.
Again this range is huge, but we’ve picked out the 5 Sports Mens Automatic, model no. SRPD63K1. It has the classic look and feel we’ve come to expect from sports watches, matching a stainless steel strap with a bright face, this time in a deep green with accompanying gold colour dials.
It utilises the same 4R36 movement we say with the Prospex, delivering the same 41hrs power reserve but this time only a 100m water resistance. It comes in at a comfortable 43mm size and has a handy day/date indicator at the 3 o’clock position.
If you want to pick up this 5 Sports model brand new, it currently sells from both Seiko and trusted retailers around £250. If you shop around elsewhere though, you’ll likely find prices dropping to around the £200 mark if you want to shave a little off!
For Citizen’s contender, we’ve chosen the a piece from the Men’s Sports range, specifically model no. AW1598-70X. The first thing you’ll notice is it looks remarkably similar to the Seiko 5 Sports and their stylings are almost identical.
And for the most part, the specs are too. This piece also has the stainless steel strap with green face, with silver/lume hands rather than the gold/lume we saw with the Seiko. It’s also 43mm in size and has a 100m water resistance rating.
The key differences are of course in the movements, with the Eco-Drive again present in this model, with this piece only sporting the date indicator rather than the day/date.
In terms of price, this one is only slightly cheaper brand new at £219 with some trusted reseller prices bringing it down to the £200 mark if you look around carefully!
‘San-ban’ – The Dress Watches
Moving away from the active wear pieces, both brands offer a selection of dress watches suitable for a more formal occasion. For Seiko, we’re going to take a look at an item from the Seiko Mens range, the SGEH83P1 model.
This simply designed, quartz movement watch combines a classy brown leather strap with a cream coloured face held inside a 41mm stainless steel case. It has a mix of numbered and dashed indications held against silver dials and a date indicator at the 3 o’clock position.
You’ll barely notice this on your wrist at an incredibly thin 9mm and only weighing 9g. If you do fancy taking a dip, it will see you good down to 100m but as with all non-diving watches, that should be avoided. This piece won’t set you back very far, coming in brand new anywhere between £110 – £150 depending on the retailer.
Jumping over to Citizen, we’ve put forward the CA4283-04L from their Mens Leather range. This piece comes with a slightly lighter, but still brown leather strap, this time matching it against a rose finished stainless steel case which houses a deep blue face.
At 43mm it’s slightly larger than the Seiko and does include some chronograph features tracking up to 24 hour time as well as a date indicator. This one’s slightly thicker at 12mm but does include that 100m water resistance and Eco-Drive movement we’ve become familiar with from the Citizens.
The cost of this one is slightly higher with prices varying across online retailers anywhere from £125 – £160.
‘Hantei’ – The Final Verdict
As we called out at the beginning of this article, the question of ‘which is better, Seiko or Citizen?’ is always going to be a tough one to answer. Both are steeped in a long history, have their own claim against some impressive technological advances and offer customers a wide range to choose from, especially if you’re shopping below the £400 mark.
The general consensus is that Seiko has a slightly greater prestige and status in the watch industry given their history and association with very high quality, accurate timekeeping. But when we put watches side by side, Citizen does seem to give you a little more for your money when it comes to functionality, especially with chronograph additions.
Both manufacturers operate and distribute worldwide so getting down to your local watch retailer or having a detailed browse online will help you in making the best decision. Both brands also have an extensive, multi-year guarantee so you’re in safe hands when making a purchase. Also remember that Seiko have their Grand Seiko range if you’re looking to move into the luxury market but you’ll be up against Rolex and others in that range.
Most likely in the mid market, it will come down to individual taste and styles on a piece-by-piece level rather than judging on a collection or brand given the similarities, so go for the one which catches your eye!
So that just leaves us to say whether it’s Seiko or Citizen, we wish you some happy watch hunting and we hope to see you back soon for our next insight into other great watch brands.
We don’t currently stock Seiko & Citizen pieces, but feel free to browse Amazon to see current prices & availability: