Grand Seiko Introduction
A crisp finish, leading-edge technology and luxury details are present in every Grand Seiko model produced since 1960, when Seiko launched the line of “Ideal Watches” for the Japanese domestic market (JDM). When Grand Seiko debuted, there was a widely held belief that the only true luxury watches were made by Rolex, OMEGA and other Swiss watch manufacturers. Grand Seiko watches were designed to compete directly with the Swiss on price and quality. Seiko worked to prove that its Japanese-made watches were on par with anything produced in Europe.
Grand Seiko History
The first generation of Grand Seiko lasted from 1960 until 1972. To realize its luxury watch ambitions, Seiko created a rivalry between two of its factories — Suwa Seikosha and Daini Seikosha — to accelerate innovation and develop a watch that met the Swiss standard. The Grand Seiko First, an elegant three-hand 35mm dress watch in a gold-filled case, was created by Suwa. It was fitted with the in-house Caliber 3180 manual-wound mechanical movement. Seiko certified this movement to its internal chronometer standard, which was more stringent than the Swiss-based COSC chronometer certification. A total of 36,000 Firsts were produced from 1960 to 1964. The signature Grand Seiko lion is engraved on the caseback, and earlier models have a hand-engraved GS logo on the dial.
Seiko followed the First in 1963 with the Self-Dater (Reference 5430.5722A), a stainless steel model with a low-beat (18,000 vph) movement, and in 1967 the 44GS was released. It was the first GS produced by Daini Seikosha. More important, the 44GS defined the “Grammar of Design,” a Japanese design aesthetic focused on ensuring that all Grand Seiko watches have the “sparkle of quality.” The Grand Seiko Style includes:
- Double width index at 12 o’clock
- Multifaceted hands and rectangular hour markers
- Highly polished bezel, planes and 2D surfaces
- Half-recessed crown
- Flat dial
- Curved sideline
- Reverse slanted bezel wall and case
Seiko produced nine Grand Seiko models for men and women before taking a 16-year hiatus. The company successfully established that fine wristwatches could be produced in Japan. When the model reemerged in 1988, Seiko worked to introduce quartz to luxury watch buyers.
The Grand Seiko Modern Era
Grand Seiko’s modern era began with the 95GS, a highly accurate +/- 10 second/month quartz watch that would leverage the company’s quartz technology advances of the past decade. Grand Seiko became the canvas for a series of engineering innovations that would continually raise the standard for accuracy and efficiency in watchmaking. Seiko described this as the “pursuit of the ideal watch,” and it touched on all facets of the watch from the inside out. By this time, Seiko manufactured all of its components in-house, which even included growing its own quartz crystals for the tuning fork oscillators. Vertical integration allowed Seiko to manufacture its less expensive watches in massive volumes. For Grand Seiko, it provided access to purpose-built components of the highest quality for its hand-crafted watches.
Seiko created dozens of quartz and mechanical watches over the 30 years that followed the 95GS, most of which were still JDM models. New technology included a mechanical movement (calibre 9S) that surpassed COSC chronograph standards and offered a 72-hour power reserve. It also included ultra-precise automatic and manual spring-drive movements that combined a mechanical mainspring with an electronic regulator.
In 2017, Grand Seiko was established as a stand-alone company that was separate from Seiko. The change allowed Grand Seiko to broaden its reach into new markets and to further differentiate its handmade timepieces from Seiko’s lower-priced, mass-produced watches.
Grand Seiko Design and Features
Grand Seiko strictly adhered to the rules formalized under the Grammar of Design from 1967 until it became independent in 2017. Since then, several new styles have been added that more loosely apply the rules without straying too far. A good example is the less-than-half-recessed crown on newer models like the 60th Anniversary Grand Seiko Chronograph GMT Reference SBGC238.
In general, Grand Seiko watches convey the feeling that they are formed, not manufactured. The Zaratsu polishing gives each watch a reflective quality that brilliantly bounces the light from angles and flat surfaces. The way light plays on the dial is particularly interesting as there is a light side and a dark side to each marker, plus the underside of the hands also cast a reflection. Each hand-crafted dial is inspired by Japan’s environment or culture. The Grand Seiko Snowflake (including Reference SBGA211) dial, for example, looks remarkably like wind-blow snow in the mountains of Nagano nearby one of the Grand Seiko production studios. The dial on the Hi-Beat 36000 LE is inspired by the feathers of a peacock.
Cases made of platinum and rose gold have a luxurious heft, while the steel and lightweight titanium models are extremely easy to wear. Highly polished bezels are a hallmark, but sapphire crystal and ceramic bezels are also available. The new Grand Seiko GMT Sport (Reference SBGE253) borrows its bezel design from Rolex Explorer 2. Casebacks on the vintage models carry an engraved lion, Grand Seiko’s symbol, but most GS watches feature display casebacks that reveal the movement and, in the case of the Grand Seiko Godzilla, the menacing monster.
Grand Seiko Value and Collectibility
Since Grand Seiko was primarily a JDM brand, it is somewhat of a niche luxury brand. The fact that all Grand Seikos are produced in limited quantities also makes them particularly attractive to collectors. Retail prices on new models start at $3,000 for a three-hand sport edition (Reference SBGV243) and peak at $185,000 for a bejeweled Heritage collection piece (Reference SBGD207). The Grand Seiko Snowflake Reference SBGA211 retails for $5,800, but preowned models can be had for $5,000-$5,800. While a used Godzilla will approach $11,000, watches like an automatic steel Grand Seiko blue dial regularly sell for under $1,000. With countless quartz, spring drive and automatic models for sale in the $1,000 to $3,000 range, there are plenty of affordable ways to add one of these exquisite timepieces to any collection.