How to buy a Seiko watch?
If you’re wondering this question it’s likely you’ve gone through a similar process to many other men:
- You’re not really into watches but you notice a few Seikos around your college or office and start to learn more
- Getting more into watches, you want one of your own – a mechanical watch though, not a quartz
- But where to start? A Rolex is too far, you want to test the waters…
There’s more than one budget watch company out there so why choose Seiko?
Why Buy A Seiko Watch?
Simply put, Seiko is the most widely-known Japanese watch company next to Casio.
Seiko watches are affordable but that doesn’t mean low-quality. Seiko’s are by and large reliable and come with a quality feel for the price you pay.
Premium, original design
Affordable prices also do not have to mean bad design. Many affordable watches are ‘homages’ (also known as rip-offs) of luxury watches like the Rolex Submariner. Seiko takes their own designs that have real history behind them and iterates to keep them modern.
Flying under the radar
Rolex makes great watches, but they have a reputation. To some, they mean success, ambition and confidence. To others? Arrogance, greed and peacocking. By contrast, to 99% of people a Seiko will just look like a good watch on your wrist.
There’s a Seiko for everyone
Seiko produces a wide variety of watch styles, they run the gamut from casual field watches to dive watches to formal dress watches and everything in between. Whatever watch you are looking for, Seiko will sell one you should consider. In fact, you could build an entire collection from Seiko if you wanted to.
In this article I’m going to cover:
- The history of Seiko [jump to]
- The key watch terminology you need to know [jump to]
- Common Seiko materials [jump to]
- Seiko bezel options [jump to]
- More on Seiko bracelets [jump to]
- More on Seiko clasps [jump to]
- Essential Seiko movements you need to know [jump to]
- Top Seiko watches I recommend [jump to]
- When to buy a Seiko watch [jump to]
- Where to buy a Seiko watch [jump to]
For the professional watch enthusiasts among you, there will be a topic conspicuous by its absence and that’s Seiko’s high-end offerings sold under the King Seiko and Grand Seiko brands. Seiko offers a huge variety of watches so to make sure I do the company justice, in this article I’m going to be focusing on the main brand and it’s most popular offerings. But watch this space!
Without further ado, how did a one-man watch and jewelry shop in 19th-century Tokyo turn into an international watchmaking superpower that today dominates the low and mid-end market?
Seiko: A history in watches
Japanese clockmaker apprentice Kintaro Hattori founds ‘K. Hattori’ a watch and jewelry shop – succeeds by offering hard-to-find watches through building close relationships with Swiss manufacturers
Kintaro manufactures his own clocks through a new company: Seikosha (meaning house of exquisite workmanship)
Renamed Seiko, releases first wristwatch
The first Grand Seiko is launched (production halted 1975, resumed 1991)
One of the first companies to release an automatic chronograph (Seiko 5 Sports Speed Timer) AND also the first company to mass-market quartz watches (the Astron) https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-16/a-concise-history-of-the-quartz-watch-revolution
When iconic Vietnam war movie Apocalypse Now is released, with Martin Sheen as Captain Willard, and a Seiko Prospex Diver 6105-8110 on his wrist, it is confirmed to civilians what US servicemen already knew. Seikos are affordable and can take a beating. In truth, this watch was one of many servicemen wore, competing against Seiko’s own DX 6106 as well as the Glycine Airman, the Rolex GMT Master and many more for time on the wrist of US military personnel.
Seiko partners with Italian supercar designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. This partnership culminates three years later when the Seiko Giugiaro is seen on Sigourney Weaver’s wrist as Ripley in Alien – cementing Seiko in western pop culture by proving they could do more than just dress watches and dive watches.
Thinking outside the box didn’t end in the 80s. Everyone today recognizes the Amazon Kindle, famous for its e-ink technology which gives it top-drawer battery length and visibility in direct sunlight. The Seiko E Ink was the world’s first e-ink watch, good legibility being an important benefit for watches – demonstrating Seiko’s interest in any technology which would help its customers, no matter how non-tradition it might be.
We’re in the 2010s now, almost there. Seiko releases the Fugaku 6830 from sub-brand Credor. An understated name befitting a very small watch. This was the world’s smallest tourbillon by volume and Seiko’s first tourbillon.
There you have it, a Japanese brand with a deep attachment to America and not afraid to utilize modern techniques while still respecting watchmaking tradition.
How is Seiko doing today?
They continue to maintain a wide range of watches and some might argue that expanding ever-deeper into the US market is taking its toll.
In recent years, quality control has been mentioned online with some users finding Seiko’s US service center carries out repairs slowly or ships the wrong parts to local stores.
It is unusual but not unheard-of for Seiko watches to run slow and some Seiko diving watches have misaligned bezels.
That said, people love Seiko for a reason and I wouldn’t let a few errors get in the way of trying the brand out. Just be careful, make sure you get the manufacturer’s warranty for example.
Analysis of a Seiko watch – Need-To-Know Terminology
To help you make an informed purchase decision, I have put together the essential words and phrases you need to understand the anatomy of a watch. Particularly when researching or buying online, this is critical to understand how each watch is put together.
Case – The body of the watch housing internal moving parts
Crown – Twistable knob on the side – sets the time, allows manual winding
Watch crystal – Protective, transparent top to a watch – The quality of the crystal determines its strength and level of protection
Bezel – The metal ring around the outside of the watch face holding down the crystal – Some bezels such as those found on dive watches will rotate
Lugs – Metal projections from the case which secure the leather/rubber strap or metal bracelet
Movement/Calibre – The mechanical clockwork which operates the hands and complications
Bracelet/Strap – The material (usually metal, leather or rubber) that holds the watch case tight on your wrist
Clasp – Where the watch bracelet widens or opens to let you fasten the watch on your wrist
Seiko Common Materials You’ll Find
What are the materials you will normally find in a Seiko watch?
- Steel – 316L which is industry standard, used for watch cases, bezels and bracelets
- Sapphire crystal – premium option, extremely scratch resistant, less shock resistant
- Mineral crystal (also known as Hardlex) – budget option, relatively scratch resistant, more shock resistant
- LumiBrite – proprietary lume found in regular Seikos AND premium Grand Seiko watches – 10 minutes of bright sunlight = 3-5 hours of gradually fading light
The bezels of Seiko watches
I mentioned bezels earlier and it’s worth exploring further because there are several variations that can be found on Seikos.
- Plain – used on dress watches
- Fluted bezel – dress watch option seen in vintage models, a common ‘mod’ for modern Seikos
- Rotating bezel with engraving/insert & notched for grip
- Internal rotating bezel (eg. Alpinist)
The bracelets of Seiko watches
What kind of bracelets and straps will you normally find on a Seiko?
- Three-piece stainless steel common across the board (Seiko 5 SNZF17J1)
- Five-piece jubilee bracelet: rare, vintage and after-market option
- Milanese bracelet – again rare (can be found on some Seiko 5 Sports SRPD73K1)
- Solid or hollow end links:
- Low-end Seikos (eg. Seiko 5) have hollow end-links (more rattle-y, can stretch & deform over time)
- Mid-tier and upwards Seikos (eg. Seiko Ion Prospex) have solid end-links (less rattle, no stretch)
- Leather or silicone straps available (Ion Prospex has silicone strap as standard: dual layer with texture for grip on the inside, corrugated at the lugs for extra stretch/expansion)
- Silicone not paired with high-quality watches, a reputation for stickiness, tearing and attracting dust and lint – consider a vulcanised nitrile or PU rubber strap (more durable, less comfortable)
- Interesting fact: silicone ‘waffle strap’ [pic 8] was a 1967 Seiko invention, found on many divers, improves breathability
The clasps of Seiko watches
The clasp is what keeps your metal bracelet or leather strap attached to your wrist so it’s extremely important.
- Stainless steel
- Stamped (thinner, light and cheap feel), not machined (heavier, tighter tolerances for less noise)
- Often double-locking mechanism (Prospex)
- Some come with a single lock and push release on the side (Presage)
The essential modern Seiko movements
Want to know what makes a Seiko tick? This is precisely what a watch’s movement does.
There are several key characteristics you can expect from a mid-range Seiko watch:
First, the vast majority of Seiko watches will have an ‘automatic’ movement which means it winds itself using the movement of your wrist. No manual winding should be required but you can give it a jumpstart if the watch has stopped after being unworn for several days. How long will the average Seiko run for without any winding? Approximately 40 hours.
Next, the average Seiko will have a ‘hacking seconds’ feature which means when you pull out the crown, the seconds hand stops, allowing you to more easily set a precise time. Historically, this was a feature favored by pilots, divers, the military and any environment where every second counts.
What features should you expect from a Seiko movement? Most Seikos are relatively straightforward with just hours, minutes and seconds hands plus a date function. For most men, this gives you everything you need and nothing you don’t.
What about the ‘sweep’ of the watch’s second hand? Most Seiko movements beat at 21,600 beats per hour (bph) which results in less than ten changes of the seconds hand per second. This results in a slight judder that is less smooth than the 28,000 bph found on premium and luxury watches such as Rolexes.
Here are three of the most common movements found in Seikos:
Seiko 7s26 – the cheaper movement
- Non-hacking, automatic and manual winding not possible
- 41 hr power reserve
- Accuracy somewhere between -20 to +20 seconds a day out the box, settling down to somewhere in the range of -15 to +15 seconds a day after a fortnight, if not better
- Found on Seiko 5s and other older models
4r35 – the mid-range movement
- Hacking, manual and automatic (self-winding) winding possible
- 41 hour reserve
- Date display
- Accuracy of -20 to +20 seconds a day, settling down to -10 to +10 seconds a day or better
- Found on Seiko Cocktail Times and newer lines
6R15 – the higher end movement
- Hacking, automatic (self-winding) and manual winding possible
- 50 hours power reserve
- Accuracy of -10 to +10 out the box, settling down to -5 to +5 seconds a day or better
- Automatic, hand-winding, hacking
- Found on Seiko Prospexes and old Alpinist models
The movement is the beating heart of a watch so make sure to do your research and find out which movement a watch you are buying has at its core. Seiko updates their movements on a semi-frequent basis so it is worth checking, particularly if you are considering buying second-hand.
Top Seiko Watches I Recommend
It’s important to find the Seiko that’s perfect for you. But when there’s so much variety to choose from, it’s completely understandable you want somewhere to start.
Without further ado, here are some of the best Seikos I’ve owned and some I wish I owned!
Seiko Ion Prospex SRPB55
This is a quality dive watch and one of my all-time Seiko favorites. Its 200m of water resistance matches some luxury watches such as the Black Bay Fifty-Eight manufactured by Tudor: Rolex’s sister company.
Seiko 5 SNK793
Seiko 5’s come in an incredible number of varieties but I absolutely love this one. Why? This is highly affordable dress watch option.
This watch can sometimes can be found for less than $100 but is mechanical, comes with a practical day-date complication and a sunray dial and exhibition caseback for extra class. You really can’t ask for much more at this price point.
Seiko 5 SNZF17J1
A more adventurous Seiko 5! You have the same day-date complication but a chunky unidirection stainless steel bezel and thicker, heavily lumed hands for extra help telling the time in the dark.
See what I mean about the Seiko 5 being versatile? This is a smart-casual option with a 120-click unidirectional bottlecap-shaped bezel (hence the name). The uncoated stainless steel of the bezel gives this a slightly classier look while being slightly reminiscent of the Rolex Explorer II. The crown being placed at 4 o’clock instead of 3 o’clock is a trademark Seiko feature which is a nod to Captain Willard’s Prospex Diver.
Seiko 5 SNK800
I couldn’t include the sporty dive-inspired Seiko 5’s above without including the OG Seiko 5. This is a classic field watch style and one of the most popular Seiko models – ever.
Why? It’s a versatile, smart-casual look which you can have a bit more fun with this model. The fabric strap doesn’t feel cheap and comes in a variety of colors, matching the look of each watch.
Seiko Presage Cocktail Time SRPB43
If you have a slightly larger budget and you’re a fan of Man Men and midcentury design then this is the perfect dress watch for you.
Why? The sunray dial has been taken up a notch and combined with the three-dimension, beveled hour and minute markers this just oozes class. Designed in collaboration with an award-winning Tokyo mixologist named Ishigaki Shinobu, it won’t surprise you to learn this watch looks good during the day but looks even better in cocktail bars and upscale nighttime events.
This watch is definitely on my wish list!
Seiko Alpinist SPB121J1
First made in 1959 for Japanese Yama-otoko, mountain men, the Alpinist is one of Seiko’s most popular watches online and for good reason. It’s inner bezel, a somewhat unusual feature in and of itself, provides genuine practicality for hikers in the form of a rotating compass ring. The traditional forest-green dial and mountain-shaped hour markers reinforces the image Seiko is going for here.
Sapphire crystal and 200m water resistance add to the practicality, making this watch as tough as any other. This watch’s specs have also been bumped up for 2021 with anti-reflect (AR) coating on the inside of the crystal, a ‘cyclops’ date magnifier for easier reading. Plus, a 70 hour power reserve means you can leave this watch on your dresser Friday evening and it will still be ticking when you pick it up Monday morning.
I have the previous iteration of this watch and although the color never worked for me, I see why this model has a fan following all of its own. The 2021 edition is definitely a great upgrade I think people are going to love.
Seiko Prospex SBDC051
One of Seiko’s premium divers combining old and new design. Again, we have the old-school crown placement at four o’clock but a modern pointer arrow-shaped hour hand to make the watch super-legible.
The brushed stainless steel design will hide scratches but also makes this worthy of your wrist at work. I’ve gotta get myself one of these!
When to buy a Seiko
How do you know the time is right to buy a Seiko? Or any watch for that matter?
You can buy a watch at any time as long as you have the funds. That said, keep this in mind:
A watch rests directly against the skin and is highly visible on the wrist, making it a deeply personal part of a man’s wardrobe. For this reason, a good time to buy a watch is a life event such as graduating college, milestone birthdays, getting married or a promotion at work.
Whatever the reason for you buying a Seiko, make sure you are buying it for yourself and not to impress a co-worker or fellow watch enthusiast. Find your perfect watch, not someone else’s.
Where to buy a Seiko
There are many ways to buy from Seiko. You can purchase via Amazon, authorized dealers, department stores. Plus, you can always go second-hand of course.
Unless you’re an experienced watch collector, my recommendation is to buy from a certified Seiko dealer. This can be either a specialist watch store or a department store but the reason is you want to make sure you get the manufacturer warranty so you are fully protected in the event you get a watch with a misaligned bezel, malfunctioning movement or another defect. Other businesses might offer their own warranty and sometimes they will honor your purchase and resolve the issue but know that there’s an element of risk involved if you go down this route.
What does Seiko themselves have to say on the matter?
Seiko believes that the best way for you to select and purchase a Seiko watch is at one of our authorized retail stores. Only in these stores can you be sure to find the latest Seiko collection, and be sure that your new watch bracelet is sized and fitted correctly, free of charge.
How to make sure you’re using an authorized dealer? Use the Seiko store finder to locate your nearest authorized dealer anywhere in the world.