A while back I featured a guest post offering a brief look at the history of Seiko, but for a while now I’ve wanted to write something about the brand myself. It’s not so much that I was looking to do an in-depth brand history, nor to provide an account of their laundry list of technical innovations over the years — though to be sure, there’s much to say in both cases. Seiko is Japan’s most iconic watch brand and, despite many people assuming it started as a product of the quartz revolution, its origins stretch back to a small Tokyo watch shop which opened its doors in 1881. Seiko has been at the vanguard of Japanese watchmaking ever since, with such pioneering offerings as Japan’s first wristwatch, its first chronograph, and its first dive watch, in addition to countless quartz-based innovations over the years.
Instead, what has always intrigued me most is the unique character and appeal of Seiko as a brand (although, of course, this is inseparable from the history and technical innovation alluded to above). I have been a keen Seiko owner for a little over a year now courtesy of a Seiko 5 Sports SRPD75K1 I got back at the end of 2021. Like so many watch-buyers who have gone before me, it was the first mechanical watch I bought and it quickly kicked my nascent interest in watches up into the highest gear. That Seiko 5 immediately became my go-to watch, to the point where I’ve had to tone it down a little recently after developing a callus at the point where the crown rests on the back of my hand. And while I’ve now made a point of moisturising my hands more often, I wear both the callus and the watch that caused it with a kind of fanatical pride.
Spend any amount of time reading or talking about Seiko and you are likely to find this kind of zealotry everywhere you look. There seems to be something about it that breeds obsessiveness. Ask a Seiko wearer about their watch and, in my experience, they’ll rattle off a paean of enthusiasm about their chosen timepiece. A love of all things Seiko lights up watch blogs across the internet, hashtags on social media, and searches on online sales platforms. Their watches have caught the imagination of collectors, collaborators, fan communities, aftermarket modders, and every kind of watch fan imaginable.
As to why the brand inspires such devotion among its followers, there are no doubt as many stories to tell about this as there are Seiko owners. Nevertheless, a few common themes emerge. Firstly, there’s the matter of value. Before becoming a watch nerd proper, I bought a bunch of cheap watches over the years, many of which I still like and wear (a Todd Snyder Timex collab, a MWC field watch, and a Swatch and a Casio calculator watch both dating from my school days, to name a few). But there’s no question that my Seiko 5 — an automatic watch which I bought for not much more than I’ve paid for quartz watches in the past — is in a class of its own. What’s more is that by all accounts the same sense of getting bang for your buck translates all the way up the brand’s price ladder (more on this presently).
This point about affordability goes hand in hand with another consideration in the form of quality. Seiko would not offer any kind of value at all if it weren’t producing watches that were extremely well made. A cheap watch that doesn’t deliver always ends up feeling too dear. Seikos, by contrast, always seem like a steal for offering the kind of design, reliability, and build quality they do, not to mention their habit of outperforming price-point competitors from other brands. There was a time in the West when Seiko movements were considered mere cheap alternatives to their Swiss counterparts; now (as Gene Stone and Stephen Pulvirent put it) they are celebrated in their own right as producing something ‘distinctly un-Swiss, with a different aesthetic style, different finishing techniques, and, at their core, a different set of value’. Lest we forget, the Japanese word seikosha translates as ‘precision’, meaning that Seiko stands for quality in every sense of the word.
Then there are the questions of variety and crossover appeal. Simply put, Sieko makes a watch for just about every watch fan imaginable. In terms of technology, whether you’re after a classical mechanical calibre or a futuristic GPS-enabled solar-powered quartz movement — every one of which is produced in-house across the board, by the by — Seiko has got you covered. Then there are the various product lines which means they have a watch to suit every budget: These include, inter alia, the aforementioned budget-friendly Seiko 5, the sporty Prospex and dressier Presage lines in the mid tier, and the sought-after Grand Seiko and top-of-the-line Credor sub-brands at the top of the pile (Getting your hands on the latter will likely involve multi-year waiting lists and five-figure prices, but for that you get the likes of hand-painted dials, precious materials, finely-finished movements, and obsessively crafted timepieces that go toe-to-toe with Switzerland’s luxury offerings). All of which means there is a Seiko for everyone, including the most seasoned and picky of watch enthusiasts. Show up anywhere with a Seiko on your arm and those in the know will almost certainly offer you a nod of respect if not some chat about the virtues of Japan’s most respected watch brand.
It is a truism in the watch world that budget Seikos are a kind of gateway drug for watch collecting. It certainly proved true in my case, for watches in general and Seiko in particular. If I had my druthers (not to mention the wrist size to carry them all off) there are any number of their watches I would buy. I love the look of the recent GMT version of the Seiko 5 Sports, the bulky 6159-7010 ‘Tuna Can’, the sleek 6159 diver, the characterful SARB017 ‘Alpinist’, the iconic 6105 ‘Captain Willard’, the tour de force Credor Eichi, plus half a dozen other Prospex models, a host of Grand Seikos, and basically any vintage number you could throw my way. Like I said, there’s a Seiko for everyone, and unfortunately for my bank balance there seems to be rather a lot more than just one in my case.
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