Is there a more misunderstood watch brand than Seiko? It’s difficult to think of one. Seiko is often thought of as (a) the product of the Seventies quartz crisis, (b) the maker of second-tier watches and (c) not especially cool or stylish. None of which – unlike Seiko’s watches – is remotely accurate. Seiko has been in business since 1881, when an entrepreneur named Kintaro Hattori opened a watch and jewellery shop in the Ginza district of Tokyo. He progressed to selling wall clocks, pocket watches, watches with alarm functions, and finally in 1913, wristwatches. Depending on who you talk to, the company he named Seiko means either ‘exquisite’, ‘success’, ‘force’ or ‘truth’.
Today the Seiko Group has annual revenue of around £1.8bn and is made up of a dizzying menu of watch sub-brands and product lines: Grand Seiko (high-end), Seiko Sarb (mid-range), Seiko Presage (dress), Prospex Sea (dive), Prospex Street (‘urban’) and Seiko 5, which isn’t even a watch, rather a standard that a set of its watches are held up to meet. (To add to the headache, the Seiko Group also has subsidiaries that make jewellery, clocks, glasses and golf clubs. In the Eighties it was notable for its pioneering range of synthesisers.)
Seiko’s watch movements initially copied those made by the Swiss, but its watchmakers were soon innovating on their own. With foresight, it began experimenting with quartz watches – a crystal powered by a battery, in place of a mechanical movement – and in 1969 its Astron became the first mass-produced quartz watch. More technical innovations followed with the first computer wristwatch (in 1984) and Spring Drive (in 1999), technology that combines the accuracy of quartz with a mechanical movement, to create an ingenious hybrid.
Today Seiko produces watches with quartz, kinetic, solar and mechanical movements of varying prices, from £35 to £400,000. Historically cheap, it offers watches with reliability and accuracy far greater than some watch companies selling ‘luxury’ pieces at ten times Seiko’s prices. Criminally undervalued in the West, its catalogue is vast and its global reach unrivalled. It is the only company to offer terrifically affordable watches for a couple of hundred pounds alongside handcrafted Grand Seikos that cost as much as a house.
The company has been gaining more respect recently, particularly with its Grand Seiko line, which is increasingly sought-after by collectors, as well as its relaunched Seiko 5 Sport Line, arguably the most pocket- and wardrobe-friendly way into the world of mechanical watches.
We’ve selected our ten favourite Seikos from across the current catalogue. Though, to be fair, we could have picked ten more. And ten more after that.
There are two main reasons Seiko fanboys get out of breath when it comes to the ‘Snowflake’. One aesthetic, and one technical. First, the dial, which in colour and texture represents freshly fallen snow, a nod to traditional Japanese water paintings. Second, Seiko’s patented ‘Spring Drive’ technology, which powers the watch: a unique hybrid of the mechanical and ‘quartz’ technology, the combination of battery and crystal typically found in cheaper, though more accurate, timepieces. Seiko’s Spring Drive tech shares 80 per cent of its components with a mechanical watch, and unlike other quartz watches doesn’t rely on a battery to power its crystal. The result is highly accurate watch whose second hand moves with a calming sweeping motion – a suitably hypnotic companion to the meditative ‘snowflake’ dial.
The original Seiko 5 lines debuted in the Sixties: straightforward automatic winders in a durable case with a day/date window. The catalogue of Seiko 5s is now so labyrinthian, even a fully paid up Seiko nerd would have trouble guiding you through the various branches. (The Seiko 5 Sports Brian May x Limited Edition “Red Special” Automatic Guitar Dial Black, anyone?) There’s no debating the excellence of this field watch though, which comes in black, blue, green and beige and matches minimalist, super-legible design with goes-with-anything versatility. At the price, a literal bargain.
Inspired by the night sky – Japan has a fascination with the moon – the hard-fired blue enamel dial is the work of a Seiko master craftsmen with almost 50 years experience. The second hand has a gold-coloured counterweight in the shape of a crescent moon, which catches the light at various angles as it glides over the dial – a suitably poetic touch. Comes on a smart deep blue leather strap. Limited edition, and numbered.
Sporty, thin and tough, this classic tool watch adds a GMT function that allows you to tell the time in two places at once. An excellent travelling companion for anyone not WFH, and a watch that does a good impression of a Rolex Explorer II for anyone else wanting to look flash over Zoom.
An offshoot of the Seiko Prospex collection, the excellent ’Street Series’ models tweak the sports watch aesthetic to give it a more knockabout ‘beater watch’ feel. Available in blue (SNEE533), green (SNE535) and grey (SNE537), the so-called “Tuna Can” case has given a textured matte treatment and is water resistant to 200m.
One of the many great things about Seiko is its prices. You can buy more expensive pairs of jeans. That means it’s feasible to justify buying a new watch for reasons no more serious than it looks cool, and why on Earth not? A good example is the SNKM97 from Seiko’s Recraft series, a retro-themed collection that debuted in 2015. One standout is the SNKM97 with its groovy Sixties design vibes: green dial, orange second hand and golf-tone markers, housed in a classic vintage Seiko cushion case.
Seiko has been making dive watches since the mid-Sixties. This is essentially a homage to its 6309, a diver produced from 1976 to 1988 and much-loved by collectors today. It’s pretty sizeable at 44mm though its square cushion case helps it sit comfortably on the wrist. The best value dive watch on the market anywhere today.
Designed with Japanese mountaineers in mind, today’s Alpinists are noted for their reliability, their technical specs and their craftsmanship. The interior rotating compass bezel embodies the collection’s heritage as a watch intended for going out and about. Looks cool, too.
‘From a cocktail bar to your wrist’ is a fairly odd marketing slogan, but then we are in the land of Lost In Translation, so perhaps it makes sense. Yes, Seiko’s classic/retro dress watch line really is inspired by cocktails. The hour and minute markers apparently ‘evoke the stem of a cocktail glass’, while it’s your choice of dial colour: blue (inspired by the Blue Moon cocktail), grey (Side Car), gold (Margarita), ice blue (Skydiving), silver (Martini), brown (Manhattan), dark grey (Espresso Martini), light gold (Gimlet), silver (Spritzer) or green (Mockingbird). What time is it? It’s happy hour.
At the other end of the price spectrum is Seiko’s Prospex SRQ029, launched in late 2019 to mark 55 years since the 1964 release of the ‘Crown’, the brand – and Japan’s – first ever chronograph. More of a tribute than a re-edition, don’t let the vintage touches on the dial fool you – this is a painstakingly modern piece of watchmaking.