Seiko: the Uncle, Pakcik, and Atuk’s Watch
I remember my school days in the 70s and early 80s. Whenever I sit in a coffee shop, I will see many Seikos strapped with stainless steel bracelet dangling on the pakciks and atuks wrist. Seiko is dubbed as affordable and preferred watch by the elderly in the 70s and 80s. Yuppies wear them too! The 70s are bulky, colorful, sporty and sturdy looking. The Rolex 'jubilee' and 'oyster' styled bracelet are common features in the Seiko models. Many wear the traditional 70s automatics and a few catching up with the trendy leather strap quartz of the 80s. Some of them still wear it until today. The closest examples are my uncles. They only have one watch. A Seiko automatic watch cost RM200 is considered expensive to common people in the 70s. But, with good care the Seiko still runs with good timekeeping until today. It is a true nature of mechanical watch – lasting and serviceable. My uncle who is now a retired soldier recalled buying his beloved Seiko when he first joins the army in mid 70s. The watch is too sentimental to him. Old watch, old people, great old story.
Exploring Seiko, the Great Stories behind the Brand
“What, old Seiko for 6k? You must be crazy!” my respond to an otai collector who bought a vintage Caliber 6148 Hi-Beat 36000 Grand Seiko. True, how many people have you seen wearing vintage Grand Seiko these days? And, how many owns King Seiko. What is so great about these signature watches? Why the vintage expensively priced? Some of these Seikos are more expensive than the Swiss equivalent. For the new production, these top models are only available in Japan and a few selected watch power houses around the world.
Grand Seiko Chronometer, Swiss rival of the 60s. Have you seen it strapped on anyone's wrist these days?
To gain knowledge about this commoners’ brand (my first impression on Seiko, brand for ordinary people), I started to befriend the 'otai' Seiko collectors. Not long ago, since 2005! Surprisingly, the non-Japanese values this masterpiece more than the Japanese themselves. Believe it or not, browse the Internet and you will find a lot of previews about this Japanese masterpiece especially the Grand Seiko, King Seiko, and few top models. Not only the top line, others like the Seiko Divers, the mechanical alarm wrist watch, and chronographs are well respected and well valued. Some becoming a cult by its uniqueness like the famous mechanical-alarm – the Seiko Bell-Matic. http://www.bellmatics.com/ The vintage Divers have been tirelessly discussed in many watch forums. The great Grand Seiko has been an evergreen topic in several recognized websites. The Seiko famous signatures have always been compared to many much alike featured Swiss watches. In my Internet browser’s favorite, I have developed a long list of bookmarks - all about Seiko. Check it out! You can find Seiko featured in many watch enthusiasts’ blogs and websites these days.
Seiko Bell-Matic - the famous executive watch of the 70s.
The Exciting World of Seiko
What makes Seiko an interesting brand? Vintage or new, this world recognized brand has many untold success stories. To summarize, I wish to highlight my observation as the following:
Reliable and Varieties of Watches Movement
Independent from other watches movement producers, Seiko makes all the watches parts in-house. Although the company has many overseas manufacturing and assembly plants, the creation and mass production of its product lines retains the Seiko philosophy for perfection. The mechanical movements are more robust and reliable compared to Swiss manufactured movements at its class like the ETA, A. Schild, Ronda, and other commonly used ebouche. The Swiss common brands of the 60s and 70s are somewhat boring. Almost 50% powered by ETA and A. Schild movement. On the contrary, Seiko produces more than a dozen of movements to power its radical line of signature watches right from elegant dress watch, sporty looking chronometer, until the professional instrument grade.
World's First, Standard, and Trend Setting
At time when Swiss watches used 'minute hand winding stem - forward and back' to change the date calendar, Seiko already used the 'quick-set calendar setting' in its watches. Hence, Seiko also introduced the 'crown-push date-day setting mechanism' in late 70s. Although Seiko do not introduced the use of sapphire crystal, but they are the first to introduce treated hardened mineral glass (named as ‘hardlex’) for their sports watches in the late 60s. Seiko also invented the 'vertical-clutch column-wheel' mechanism to reset the chronograph watch. This mechanism has since becoming a world standard followed by all Swiss mechanical chronograph movement manufacturers. They are also the first to use '516L hardened steel' watch case in the top line production for the Grand Seiko and King Seiko series. Seiko also obtained 'C.O.S.C. certification' for a few of its elite Grand Seiko and King Seiko models. Seiko also produced a few movements to rival the Zenith El-Primero (el-primero means the only one!) that run at 36,000bph.
We will never forget the Seiko Astron; the world’s first commercially produced quartz watch in 1968. Quartz is well-known of its accuracy. What else? Forty years after that, in 2008 Seiko launched world’s most accurate automatic chronograph movement – using the "Caliber 5R86, 50 jewels, Spring Drive tri-synchro regulator, +/- just one second timekeeping accuracy per day, and using the most advanced instant chronograph stopper mechanism". Not only that, Seiko also produced world’s "most accurate quartz movement with -10 seconds accuracy per year". The movement is only used in the new line of Grand Seiko Quartz models. The new breed of Seiko quartz movement is no match by the Swiss ETA and Ronda.
Affordable to All Walks of Life
Without compromising quality, Seiko produced varieties of watches to offer to all walks of life. Every range offers unique selling proposition and quality matching with its Swiss rivals. Say a budget, you can find one to suit your need! I would rather buy an automatic Seiko 5 than buying the ETA or Ronda powered Swiss quartz watches. Honestly. Why? Lasting is the word. As a collector, the Seikos are affordable so we can own and appreciate the differences within varieties of models in our collection – all the time! Interestingly, you can describe each watch differently, especially on the movements empowering from behind the dial.
Unique to the Selected Few, Rare to the Avid Collectors
Besides mass producing watches to cater for the lower to upper-middle market, Seiko also produced watches for the high-end and upper-upper market. For example, the 'Credor Spring Drive' editions are respectable by the Swiss rivals and highly sought-after by many wrist watch collectors. The Credor Sonnerie (mechanical watches with multiple chimes) priced at USD200k is now acceptable to the rich and to the industry. Now, the 'Ananta Chronograph' edition launched in 2009 has developed long waiting list. Seiko only produces 200 pieces of Ananta in a year. A lot more unique surprises might come from Seiko in the future and this is much anticipated by the Swiss rivals. 'Quiet Revolution' is suitable to describe Seiko. Like what the founder proposes many decades ago.
Well, after a few years of exploring and comparing, I started collecting Seiko. Not the brand new but the vintage. I like the vintage look of the 60s dress watch - the 35mm to 36mm size strapped with leather. I guess this influence comes from my other 60s Swiss favorite - the Omega. Anyway, the 60s dress watch looks the same across brands – the Swiss and Seiko. But my 60s Seiko are mostly signature watches like the King Seiko, Skyliner, Sportsman, Sportsmatic-P, Champion, and Crown. The sporty looking 70s are also my favorite. Even until today, I still hunt for good ones as part of my collection. The chronographs and divers are the preferred one. Not to forget the Bell-Matic and few good Lord-Matic (LM) specials.
My Seiko Sportsman c1965; powered by 17 jewels hand-winding Cal6602B movement. 39 hours power reserved with +/- 4 seconds a day, not bad for a 45 years old huh!
“Anyway, you can’t keep everything with you. Unless you want to have a mini watch museum for yourself! Watches come and go and my collection changes after sometime. But, I still keep a few good conditions in my collection. Serviced and tuned. These Japanese masterpieces indiscriminately placed next to my Swiss. So, whats next dude?” – thetick-thetick