Seiko is known around the world for making terrific watches, but that was not always the case. The company has been in business since the late 1800s, but for some time, they made watches that were deemed acceptable by Japanese buyers, but were ignored by people around the world who were accustomed to buying watches made by the Swiss.
After World War II, the Japanese watch factories were in poor shape and they were not in a position to make timepieces that would get the world to take notice. The Japanese government formed an agency that urged Japanese watch makers to compete against one another to try to improve the quality of Japanese-made watches in general.
For the most part, the results were not good, but by the mid-1950s Seiko was producing a watch called the Marvel that started to get some notice around the world. The company decided to start a competition within the company to see if they could get good results by getting their engineers and designers to compete among themselves.
There were two factions, and each of them took a different approach. One worked on making a watch with an improved movement that was more accurate and less troublesome. The other worked on the design of the watch itself and particularly the “fit and finish” of the completed timepiece.
The result, which came about in the 1960s, was the Grand Seiko line. The Grand Seiko line was highly regarded, and finally let people know that the Japanese were capable of making an attractive, well-built and highly accurate mechanical watch.
Unfortunately, this success did not last long, as by 1969, quartz watches were introduced and by the late 1970s, many companies that made mechanical watches had gone out of business. Seiko discontinued the Grand Seiko line in 1972, as sales had dwindled while customers flocked to buy the highly accurate quartz models sold by their competitors.
Times change, however, and by the 1990s, there was once again a growing market and appreciation for high quality mechanical watches. Seiko made the decision to relaunch the Grand Seiko brand in 1998 and built a new factory for the express purpose of making mechanical watches once again.
The company is doing well, and Seiko is reportedly spinning off Grand Seiko as a separate company.
These watches represent the best of the company’s work, and today, the Grand Seiko line is revered and regarded as perhaps the equal of the best of the Swiss made watches. The company’s Spring Drive, which uses mechanical parts to drive a quartz timing circuit, makes for perhaps the most accurate mechanical watch in the world.
There was a time when Japanese watches, or anything made in Japan, for that matter, were regarded as cheap and inferior and priced accordingly. That has changed, and Grand Seiko, while making a quality watch, is also priced like a quality watch. New examples of models in the Grand Seiko line start in the low four figures, and you may well expect to pay more than U.S. $25,000 for a top of the line model.
Rest assured, however, that you are getting one of the best-made watches in the world.