A guide to every Seiko brand

A guide to every Seiko brand

Borna Bošnjak

I think I’m quite confident in saying that most watch enthusiasts started with that one watch. The one that perhaps wasn’t the most informed pick, nor the most expensive, but the one that merely showed you the way to the deep rabbit hole that watches can be. I’m also fairly confident that for many, that one watch was a Seiko. The brand has one of the largest and most faithful fan bases in the world, and is in a unique position where it’s able to offer a watch with “Seiko” on the dial for as little as $300, or as much as $300,000. But in the pages of catalogues scattered with endless alphanumerical references and names that are far from memorable (so much so that the best Seikos are known by their fan nicknames), it’s hard to know what’s what. How is an Alpinist different from a Prospex, and is every Presage a Cocktail Time, or is it the other way around? And what about Grand Seiko, and why are they so expensive? Aren’t they just Seikos? Oh, and what’s Credor? I’ll attempt to answer all of those questions and more, and the easiest way to do that will be to look at all the major brands under the Seiko umbrella.

Before we begin

orient mako ii FAA02002D9 blue dial bracelet
Orient Mako II

To paint a picture of just how confusing this whole thing can be, especially if you’re a newbie, we’ll start with a brand that has nothing to do with Seiko at all. Or, does it? The answer is, kinda. The Seiko Group first splits into three entities – Seiko Group Corp., Seiko Instruments Inc., and Seiko Epson Corp. It’s this last one, usually denoted as just Epson, that not only produces Seiko’s quartz and Spring Drive watches (more on which shortly), but also oversees Orient and Trume. Orient is well-known for its affordable, everyday pieces such as the Mako diver and Bambino dress watch, as well as the higher-end Orient Star brand.

Trume doesn’t get as much attention, but it is in fact Epson’s take on a Seiko Astron-adjacent type of watch – the name an amalgam of “true” and “me”. While these are notable exceptions of watchmaking not directly under the Seiko Group Corp. ownership (seeing as Epson is managed completely separately), it certainly doesn’t encompass everything that Seiko Group manufactures – I’m sure all of us have seen an Epson printer or projector.

Seiko

seiko sna413 skx009 sarb017 6139 6000
All watches sold under the Seiko brand name over the years. From left to right: “Flightmaster” SNA413, SKX009, Alpinist SARB017, “Cevert” 6139-6000

Now we’re getting into the meat and potatoes of the watches that made Seiko the brand we know and love. Currently, the Seiko Watch Corporation recognises eight main lines of Seiko watches: Astron, Prospex, Presage, King Seiko, 5 Sports, Coutura, Diamond, and Core. These are the sub-brands (collections, families – it gets very confusing) that cover the wide range of offerings from the main Seiko brand.

seiko skx009k
The Seiko SKX009 is the watch that started it all for many enthusiasts

Starting with the Seiko 5 Sports sub-brand, introduced in 1963 as an entry-level offering that featured five key attributes that Seiko deemed important for its time. If you’re not aware already, you’ll quickly learn that there’s a lot of folklore surrounding Seiko, and the Seiko 5 is no different. As ye olde forum posts would say, the five key attributes were the Diaflex mainspring, Diashock system, automatic winding, day/date complication, and water resistance. Seiko itself tells the story slightly differently, saying that the “5” stood for automatic winding, day/date in a single window, water resistance, recessed crown at 4 o’clock, and a durable case and bracelet. Naturally, Seiko’s own account is the more trustworthy, but which one you choose to believe is part of the fun with these pieces.

The Seiko 5 was renowned for its affordability, with signature pieces like the SNK series perhaps the most famous. These days, the 5 Sports line is divided into three “series”, that being the Field, SKX, and SNXS – the latter two recounting fan-favourite past references. It’s worth pointing out that the current Seiko 5 Sports SKX Series is merely inspired by the legendary diver, diversifying what’s likely the best-known Seiko diver into a more casual and trendy everyday piece.

seiko alpinist sarb017
Seiko Alpinist SARB017

Then there are the Prospex and Presage model lines, encompassing perhaps the largest selection of Seiko’s current collection. The Prospex is a collection mostly concerned with the sportier side of the spectrum, divided into sea, land, Speedtimer, and Street Series. It contains popular models like the Turtle, Samurai, and Willard, but also the more recent inclusions of the Alpinist and Speedtimer chronograph, as well as the high-end LX line. That means that a watch under the Prospex moniker can be an entry-level Turtle with a Hardlex crystal, or something like the LX SNR029 diver with a Spring Drive movement and retailing for US$6,000. That doesn’t mean that the high-end stuff is limited to the LX line either, as certain high-end Prospex watches like the SLA055 have Grand Seiko-derived mechanical movements. For the most part, however, the Prospex line is home to entry-level and mid-range sports watches with 4R or 6R mechanical, or solar quartz chronograph movements.

It’s a great example of how Seiko has merges and dissolved certain product lines over the years, perhaps best shown by the Alpinist. It was the first sports watch in Seiko’s catalogue, the Laurel Alpinist releasing back in 1959. That eventually evolved into the Champion entry-level sub-brand, before becoming its own sub-brand of the Prospex sub-brand in the ’90s, before moving to the SARB series in 2006. Interestingly, many other SARB reference numbers are part of the Presage collection. Seiko simplified this in 2020 with the Alpinist SPB121, which now confirmed its belonging to the Prospex line thanks to the logo displayed on the dial.

seiko cevert 6139 6000 flightmaster sna413
Seiko “Cevert” 6139-6000 and Flight Alarm Chronograph “Flightmaster” SNA413

And that leaves us with… everything else. As far as Seiko goes, there are the Astron, Coutura, Diamond, and Core collections that I still haven’t touched on. Astron and Coutura are both examples of Seiko’s take on more contemporary, integrated-bracelet watches, with the former being a particularly tech-focused collection housing solar-powered, GPS-connected pieces. The others largely house the most accessible Seiko pieces, with some notable collections like the recent Age of Discover revival, the delectably retro ReCraft line, and the fan-favourite Flight Alarm Chronograph, or Flightmaster, to its friends.

Seiko Crown and Lord Marvel

seiko crown special
Seiko Crown Special

I’ll briefly sidetrack going through Seiko’s current sub-brands by talking about the Crown. The story starts with the Seiko Marvel, developed by Suwa Seikosha to compete with high-end Swiss watches, and a first in-house movement for the company. Its next generation, the Lord Marvel, went a step further with Japan’s first high-beat movement. The true replacement for the Marvel, however, was the Crown. Released in 1959 (a year after the Lord Marvel), the Crown is most notable for the top-end Crown Special models, housing the Calibre 341.

Whereas the high-beat Lord Marvel would continue to be produced into the 1970s and achieve significant results at observatory chronometer trials, the Crown would cease production only a year after its release. With minor modifications to the 341 movement, Suwa Seikosha created the 3180, the movement housed in the first Grand Seiko created in 1960, a spitting image of the Crown Special models.

King Seiko

king seiko 5625 7120 white dial
King Seiko 5625-7120

Okay, so that wasn’t quite true about having touched on every Seiko line, but I’ve purposely left out King Seiko. The first-ever watch to carry this name was released in 1961, created by the Daini Seikosha to compete with Suwa Seikosha’s latest and greatest Grand Seiko models. Similarly to Grand Seiko being developed from Seiko Crown, the first King Seiko models took the 54A movement from the Seiko Cronos, the hand-winding, low-beat calibre remaining in the collection for the 1964 44KS as the 44A. It was followed by the 1969 45KS with another manually wound calibre, this time upgraded with a 36,000vph beat rate, as well as a line of automatic calibres beginning with the 56KS (produced by Suwa) in the same year.

King Seiko SJE089J1 and SJE091J1
King Seiko SJE089J1 and SJE091J1

All Daini King Seiko models stopped production in 1975, but have been recently revived as a sub-collection under the Seiko brand, considering the corporation’s unified flagship is now Grand Seiko. While the two lines competed in the 1960s and ’70s, King Seiko was brought back in 2021 to sit alongside the Presage line in terms of style positioning, while offering a recognisably vintage style not present in the popular line. The two share similar movements too, with 6R31, 6R55, and 6L35 calibres on offer, though King Seiko models tend to reach a higher price point when compared to Presage models with equivalent movements.

Grand Seiko

Sothebys Grand Seiko First
Engraved dial variant of a Grand Seiko First, referring to the Grand Seiko script. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s

Grand Seiko – the crown jewel of the Seiko Group. An evolution of the aforementioned Crown and Crown Special, the first Grand Seiko debuted in 1960. It began with the Grand Seiko First, immediately impressing by being tested to chronometer standards by the Bureaux Officiels de Contrôle de la Marche des Montres, the first Japanese watch to get chronometer-certified. Whether it’s an ultra-rare engraved dial or one of the more “common” embossed and printed dials, the First is among the most collectible Grand Seikos around.

Discontinued in 1964, the First was replaced by the Self-Dater, adding (unsurprisingly) a date complication, but also the “Seiko” script to the dial. These (and technically the First) are also known as the 57GS, following Seiko’s later naming conventions, notable for its quick-set date and being the first Grand Seiko to sport Zaratsu polishing. The 57GS was replaced after three years of production by the introduction of Grand Seiko’s first automatic watch, the 62GS, produced for only a year.

King Seiko and Daini Seikosha would come back into play in 1967, using the King Seiko 44KS as the basis for what would become the most impactful Grand Seiko to date. Simply renamed the 44GS, the mirror-polished surfaces of its geometric case were informed by Taro Tanaka’s Grammar of Design, the same outlines that would continue to influence Grand Seiko watches until today.

grand seiko vfa 6185 8000 palladium
Grand Seiko V.F.A. 6185-8000 in palladium

After only a year in production, the 44GS was replaced by Suwa’s 61GS, and the Grammar of Design influence was immediately apparent. The 61GS brought a high-beat, automatic movement into the fray, and heralded the introduction of Grand Seiko’s V.F.A. Standard. Standing for Very Fine Adjusted, the mechanical calibre 6185 were rated at +/- 1 minute per month, which rivals Grand Seiko’s modern movements. Soon after Suwa’s introduction of the 61GS, Daini unveiled the 45GS. Not to be outdone by Suwa, Daini also had a line of 45GS models equipped with V.F.A. movements, this time with the manually wound 4580. Alongside the 45GS and 61GS, Seiko also focused on marketing Grand Seiko to women for the first time by introducing the 19GS. The collection was powered by small, manually wound movements that ran at 36,000vph, the pinnacle of which was the V.F.A.-rated ref. 1984-3000. This was a booming period for all things Grand Seiko, prompting Suwa Seikosha to introduce the 56GS collection midway through the lifecycle of the 61GS. The 56GS brought smaller cases and more varied styling, including funky faceted crystals and swooping case lines, but no high-beat or V.F.A. movements.

 

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The 56GS was discontinued in 1975 along with 61GS and 45GS, and the name would stay dormant until 1988, when it would be revived as the 95GS. Building on the success of quartz technology and the Astron introduced almost two decades prior, the 95GS brought quartz to Grand Seiko, along with a deviation of 10 seconds per year. It also brought new design, leaving the signature GS dauphine hands in the ’70s, instead opting for the stick handset found in some 61GS models.

grand seiko heritage collection quartz gmt sbgn013

Grand Seiko remained quartz-only with the discontinuation of the 95GS and introduction of the 9F in 1993, its iterations remaining in use today. It’s one of the rare luxury brands that still focus on true high-end quartz rather than just a means to have entry-level watches, going as far as displaying some of its best work via exhibition casebacks. 9F movements are rated to a minimum accuracy of 10 seconds per year, also famous for their Auto-Adjust Mechanism that ensures the seconds hand has no shudder when ticking across the dial.

Five years later, Grand Seiko introduced the SBGR001, the brand’s first mechanical watch since 1975, and even though all 50 production examples of the 9S5 calibre submitted to COSC passed the chronometer test, the boffins at Grand Seiko weren’t satisfied, instead creating their own set of regulations. The Grand Seiko Standard and its variants remain in use by Grand Seiko today, and all of its mechanical watches must satisfy the parameters until today.

Grand Seiko Calibre 9R65 caseback closeup
Grand Seiko Calibre 9R65

The final step in Grand Seiko’s rebirth came in 2004 with the introduction of Spring Drive to the brand. Today, the technology is an integral part of what Grand Seiko offers, using a mechanical mainspring to power the equivalent of an escapement (dubbed the Tri-synchro Regulator) that uses a glide wheel which is regulated by a reference quartz crystal. Though the idea came about all the way back in 1977, Spring Drive spent more than 20 years in whatever must be the watchmaking equivalent of development hell, first seeing commercial use in 1999, two years after public announcement of the technology. Curiously, Seiko chose to debut the technology in Seiko and Credor-branded watches, rather than Grand Seiko. And that leads us nicely to the final stop on this journey.

Credor

credor ultra thin 6730 5090
Credor ref. 6730-5090

To those who know the Credor of today, you may be surprised to find out that the brand begin as a line of ultra-thin quartz watches. In the years following the shock the industry experienced thanks to the quartz crisis (and Seiko’s own Astron that started the trend), Seiko needed to branch out and separate its quartz offering, too. Because the Seiko group loves amalgams, the brand’s top line was given the name Credor – or Crêt D’or in the first few model years – from “crête d’or”, meaning golden pinnacle/crest in French.

Credor Locomotive Dial dynamics
Credor Locomotive 50th Anniversary

Pinpointing Credor’s design ethos at this time is difficult. Its collections included ultra-thin pieces like the Lassales and Dolces with unique case materials like the tungsten carbide reference pictured above, but also things like the Locomotive, a Gérald Genta design from 1978. In any case, it was considered to be among the upper echelons of Seiko sub-brands, adopting the signature tri-crested logo in 1980. Just like Grand Seiko, Credor often co-branded dials as “Credor Seiko” – a quirk I’m personally very fond of considering the brand’s positioning today.

credor seiko 6s74 chronograph
Credor Seiko 6s74 Chronograph

The 1990s saw Credor expanding on multiple fronts. The brand revived the ultra-thin, dressy designs with a revised calibre 6870 sitting at just 1.98mm, but also ventured further into sporty territories with the Pacifique and Phoenix collections. These sporty, youthful pieces included the 6S line of mechanical chronograph movements, but these didn’t really stick. Instead, the group integrated these collections (and accompanying “Credor” movements) into the Seiko line-up as the Brightz, with Credor’s post-2000 efforts looking more and more like the brand it is today, focusing on the use of hand-decoration and Spring Drive.

Credor Eichi II 22
Credor Eichi II

The Eichi is certainly the most recognisable Credor model these days, and its clean design features and ultra-high-end movements paint a telling picture about where the brand sits in the Seiko ladder. That’s not to say that Credor never does anything a bit crazy. Unlike those quirky sporty and skeletonised chronos of the late ’90s, however, Credor doing something unexpected nowadays means skeletonised minute repeaters, hand-carved dials, and gem-set and lacquered tourbillons.